Philippe Weiss Interview
Co-owner and creator of The Red Room, Philippe Weiss, came from a background of DJing,Radio and Programming in Switzerland, before gaining his studio training in London, Paris and New York. Along the way he has worked with everyone from Erik Truffaz to Cee-Lo Green.... Today, he is acknowledged as one of the top mixers in France. Read his interview below to find out more about Philippe, his old and new studios, and the work he has done so far in his illustrious career...
Hi Philippe. Tell us about what you've been working on recently?
Philippe: A very recent project was mixing songs off the Cee-lo Green album. One song is done and validated and I'm still working on the rest. Other projects I have been doing are Ben Oncle Soul, which is doing really well in France right now - it's gone platinum. There's an electronic artist called Martin Solveig I've been working with, and I've done the latest single for a band called Yael Naim. In the last six months another big project I've done is with a new Belgian artist called Selah Sue. She's from the Dutch speaking part of Belgium and is signed to Because Music. I've got a few other things coming up too (producing, some remixes etc...)
And all of these have been done at The Red Room...
Philippe: Oh yeah, where mixing is concerned I am not working in any other studio, I don't move. It's different for production and recording - if the team have to move it's no problem but for mixing I just use our room. Jean Francois works the same kind of way (but recording and producing more externally as well.
You have teamed up with Miloco to represent your studio in The UK. What attracted you to bringing The Red Room to the Miloco group?
Philippe: There were a few reasons. The first reason is that the concept of Miloco is a little bit different to everything I'd seen in the past. I think having producers' studios and selling the studios through different producers really appealed to me. I think it is a really great idea. The second thing is that I can see that by the image of Miloco you have an independent feel. I can see that there are still people behind it and that it's not a huge machine. Even though there are big names associated with it, it's still very personable. There is a good team of people and I like the vibe of Miloco...
Your previous studio, The Room, was based in Switzerland near Geneva. What was behind your decision to relocate to Paris?
Philippe: Well at first I did have a studio in France, at Studio Davout in Paris. I had Studio C which had a SSL 4K and then a Neve VR. That was my first studio, it was around 2001. I then moved to Switzerland and built my studio in Geneva. But why did I relocate back to Paris ? Because in Switzerland, I attracted quite a lot of people, (I did 16 albums in just a bit more than a year) but the problem was they all wanted to work with me and I couldn't rent the studio itself because the price was too high for Switzerland. Being in Paris it's easier to sell the studio, so that was the first reason. Secondly, it was a family thing. So I moved back to Paris for business and personal reasons. It took me 2 years to find the right spot in Paris (right room, right space, right vibe). Then we decided to team up with Jean Francois (he was assisting me more than 10 years ago!). His focus is mainly on french projects and he does a lot of production as well.
When you setup the Red Room, what was the vision you had for the studio, in terms of the type of studio you wanted it to be, and how does it differ from the old Geneva studio?
Philippe: With the Red Room I wanted to build a studio with one of the best electrical systems possible. What I mean by that is having the shortest cables possible, having the best acoustics possible, and having absolutely no expenses spared. I wanted everything to the max to get the absolute best signal out of the studio. I'm really, really happy with how it now sounds. We did a lot of modification on the SSL and on the monitoring, to really push it to the max. But the most important thing is how it translates in the outside world. Achieving this was only possible with the help of Gil Martini (who takes care of the maintenance and improvements of the Red Room). He is an incredible technician.
Did you draw any inspiration for this studio from other rooms you have worked in around Europe?
Philippe:I should say that the influence maybe came more from the USA than the UK and Europe. I got very inspired by one particular New York studio where my mentor - a very very good engineer called Tony Smalios - worked, in a place called Unique Studios. This was around 1995. It doesn't exist anymore. There was also Battery Studios in New York.
So I was inspired by those studios, perhaps mainly because of the music itself which was around when I was living there between '97 and 2000. Those studios also had a very clean feel to them... with our new studio I wanted to make it our own personally, with things like our own record collections in it, but I also wanted it very clean. I think that sometimes, and only sometimes, not all the time, US studios can be a little bit more tidy than UK ones, ha ha, you know what I mean though, that the UK can sometimes be a bit of a mess! I have lived in both countries for 3 years each, so I do know about London, and I know the atmosphere which people like to have there. I actually really like it, it's great for the creativity and vibe of the UK scene, but if you brought a UK style studio to Paris people might not get it as much.
The studio is centred around an SSL 4000 G+ console. Where did you source this desk and what do you feel makes it so great?
Philippe: I bought it in 2007. It came from a private studio in Hong Kong. The desk was nearly mint, but I still made a lot of changes. I did a lot of changes on the output and that gave me a low end like never before on a 4000.
But generally speaking, I just think that the 4000 is the best console in the world for mixing, not necessarily recording. For mixing it is the best bar-none. You can really push the sound to the limit. What I mean by that is I'm NEVER about doing the pretty, clean thing. The 4000 really lets me push the boundaries. The ergonomics are really clever, amazing, and above all else I know the desk inside out. When I want a sound I know exactly every single position of the EQs, so I always know exactly what I want to do. It's hard to explain what I actually do with it, I guess I just use it like an instrument. I never read the numbers, I never know which frequency I'm pushing, it just happens. But this is the important thing - it can only work like that on 4000s which are in a great electrical state.
You have amassed a vast collection of analogue gear at the studio, with some particularly tasty mic pres and EQs. Which are your particular favourite bits of outboard which you find yourself using the most?
Philippe: The first one is a pair of Pultec EQP1A3 which I use on the mix buss. And then...
2. Alan Smart C2 (modified)
3. Roland Dimension D
4. EMT 246
5. Akai S612
6. Ensoniq DP4
7. Ear 660
... and soon the only Focusrite Sidecar in existence: The Focusrite Forte (not the studio one), which I am refurbishing right now.
Have you set your sights on any new additions for the spec in the near future?
Philippe: Yes the main thing I'm going to change is the main speakers with another custom TAD system. And add more instruments...
It would seem you are a big fan of vintage analogue gear, so how do you feel about the increasing trend in the modern day music industry towards mixing in the box, and do you feel it is having a positive or negative effect on records?
Philippe: I think I should say that, really, music is not about sound. People feel better by thinking it is about sound, and a lot of engineers and producers are hiding behind the 'thing with the sound'. But if the song is not good then there is nothing. I'm not just talking about pretty songs and so on, but also electronic music and hard core stuff - if the music does not have anything then you can't talk about sound. Sure, if the sound is good then you can of course bring a song to another level, but if the basis is not there then no...
This positive/negative thing is really something I'm not into. Yes, computers sound like shit, if you want to have my honest opinion. I use them because I have to. I think they can do "special" things, but you really have to be in between. I use very few plug-ins, I never really do anything in Protools - I don't really know how to use it. I mean editing etc...
I think young music has a young sound. I don't have any problem with people working in computers. It just doesn't fit my needs and it doesn't fit what I want to give, but I don't have any problem with 'in the box' stuff. But if one day I have to work in the box then I will stop my job and do something else. My first passion is music - I can't use a mouse to mix.
You are also very involved in mastering, acting as Sterling Sound's co-ordinator for France and Switzerland. How did that job come about and tell us a bit about the role you do for the company...
Philippe: Basically I went to New York in '97 and met Tom Coyne for the first time. He is one of the four owners of Sterling Sound. I started doing a lot of mastering with them as a client, and at one point when the internet was really developing, around 2001, I did the early testing for online mastering with them. I started to go out and find clients for them, although nothing was official. So I was doing a good job for them finding lots of clients. We got everything setup with this online system and officialised everything. They set it up so they had someone in every country, and my role was basically to be a French human interface. I look after 15 mastering engineers we have here, so I basically try to give the best advice as far as engineer choice is concerned. I then book the session, deal with any problems people may have, and act as a French-speaking person which is important. And then I'd say 98% of my own work gets mastered at Sterling.
It's well-documented that the recording industry is going through a challenging time. What do you think could or indeed should be done to improve the future of the music business?
Philippe: People should stop crying. Before they were making 2000% profits and now they are only making 150%!! Yeah, times are changing. If you don't want to adapt, then don't! Stop doing this and do something else. But what can be done to improve the future of the music business? Make better music possibly... but then again I'm not sure cos I do like a lot of stuff out there. I think music is getting better again, where I live, but that's just me. I think a lot of young people have access to technology which creates music, and that is a good thing. The young guys push the boundaries. They move it forward. This is what I love about the UK - they have this more than the USA, for example, they push the boundaries further. Music is happening in Europe right now, not really in any other part of the world.
It's hard. If the music industry dies, it dies, what can I say? I know that seems strange. All this talk of 'the music industry is dying', no, to me it's all just a question of profit. Maybe people are just watching more movies, playing video games or doing other stuff. Maybe they don't want to buy records anymore. But I hate all this negativity that brings people down - do something else. Don't talk to me about how it's the end of the world. There are guys out there going forward. If you cannot go forward then I cannot say anything for you.
The recording industry is going through a tough time. It is having to run at minimum cost with minimum employees. I personally made a lot more money aged 25 than at 37, but for me, again, it's not really a question of money.
As for the business - it has become a very conservative industry. There are not enough entrepreneurs. People are just getting a job with a monthly salary and that's it. They always play this game where they say 'we are young and we can adapt', but they are not adapting. They are old people, with old ideas and an old way of thinking, at least in France. I'm not so sure if it's the same in the UK.
You've worked with a very diverse range of artists in your career. Is there one record you produced or mixed which you regard as a key point in establishing yourself as a high profile producer/engineer?
Phillipe: Not really. It is a mixture of many things at once. I have really enjoyed everything I've worked on. Every artist or project has brought me a little piece and all of those pieces are building what I am doing right now. Working on very small setup helps you learn a great deal. Some of the clients who were doing "drum and bass" at the time owned a "mackie 32-8 buss" setup. It makes the process challenging and forces you to adapt. There are a few people that have inspired me or at least really "pushed" me in my idea's. Tony Smalios and Philippe Zdar (Philippe "Zdar" Cerboneschi) are very good examples. Philippe owns an incredible recording studio in Paris called "Motorbass".
... and can you let us in on any projects you have lined up in the near future?
Philippe: I'm doing some production with my team "the red Bastards". We're doing some remixes and production. It's a bit too early to talk about it right now though. I'm also building some equipment with Alan Smart from Smart research... but more on that late ;-) And lastly, I will obviously continue mixing... but less and less "pure" mixing.
How did you get in the business in the first place?
Philippe: I started at the age of 16 by being a DJ in a club called the Dolce Vita (in Lausanne, Switzerland), it was really famous at the time. They had so many things coming in it was crazy. I was into DJing soul, funk and rare groove and stuff like that. That was in the early nineties. I also did a radio show at Couleur 3. That was the very early stage. Then I left Switzerland to go to London at the age of 20 and I was at SAE, between '93 and '95. I then went to Paris to learn to be an assistant at studio level, at Studio Davout, and then after a year of that I did my first mix. That's when things started. When I did my first mix I can be honest and say I really didn't know what I was doing, but it worked and people started calling me. That record sold more than 100, 000 copies...
I learned well. I was in this big independent studio in Paris called Studio Davout, with Neves, SSLs, and lots of good engineers. And that really helped bring me forward. Also at the time we had lots of international projects coming in, so I had the chance to work on film scoring, rock bands like the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, there was quite a lot of reggae stuff... So I learned a lot at Studio Davout.
I then met Tony Smalios who I ended up learning a lot from. When I went to New York in '97, he started taking me on a lot of sessions and that's when I began to see the proper way of working. There was no budget limit, no time limit... very, very different to how it is now.
And then in 2000 / 2001 I came back to France, and took my own room in Studio Davout. That was the first time I had my own room, the first time I had things exactly the way I wanted. I had The Room after that in Switzerland, which led my path up to The Red Room now, back in Paris...
Speaking from your own experience of setting out in the industry, what's the best piece of advice you can give to any young assistant/engineer trying to get a foothold in recording studios?
Philippe: Having a passion for music is the first thing. The second thing is having a personal music culture that no-one can beat. All the guys that are successful know a lot about music, and I'm not talking about notes and I'm not talking about theory. I'm talking: what record came out when, by who, and why, and where was the session at the time, and why did something happen the way it did, and so on. Know your music. Personally, I was born in '73 but the 70s wasn't my music. But I went back and I learnt it. I bought a lot of records.
I'd say for advice, 'Feel it'. Feel it and forget Protools (they are going to love me for that!!). There's a lot of strange stuff going on right now, at least over here. I see very few young guys making it these days in France. In the last 15 years I can maybe tell you 3-5 names that really make a living, not just guys doing cheap stuff.
Philippe Weiss was talking to Miloco in September 2010.
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