The Song At The Heart

The Song At The Heart

He began his mixing career in 1993 when he opened HINGE studios in Chicago, Illinois.

Craig Bauer

Craig Bauer is a GRAMMY Award-winning mixer, engineer, and music producer. His contributions have been recognized by NARAS consecutively for 14 years, and he has been nominated twice for “Album of the Year” for his work on the Kanye West multi-platinum album Late Registration and double platinum follow-up album, Graduation. Craig began his mixing career in 1993 when he opened HINGE studios in Chicago, Illinois. In the early ’90s, Bauer’s clients included many of the top contemporary jazz artists, including; Brian Culbertson, Dave Koz, and Steve Cole.
In 1997, he began working with an obscure rap group dubbed “The Go Getters,” which included a very young Kanye West. Several of the demos West recorded with Bauer were later built into tracks on the College Dropout album. Bauer later mixed “Heard ‘Em Say,” “Roses,” “Bring Me Down,” “Addiction,” and “Late” on Kanye West’s Late Registration album, which was nominated for Album of the Year at the 48th Annual GRAMMY Awards in 2006.
We talked with Craig and learned what brought him into the world of sound, his creative side of engineering, and how he integrates Auto-Align into his musical workflow.

Tell us how you got into the world of music production and sound.
Growing up in Cleveland, I had a next-door neighbor that was half of an Acoustic duo we started as teens. At 17, we were asked to record a cover song for local film production and were sent to a commercial recording studio. From the first second of putting on the cans and hearing reverb on the vocal mic, I was mesmerized. And from that moment on, I was singularly focused on spending my life in the recording industry.

Can you talk about a very unique project you worked on and what made it special?
There are so many it’s hard to know where to begin. Upon first opening HINGE in Chicago, I received a phone call asking for a meeting to record a project for a local hip hop group named The GO Getters.
In fact, the manager of this group made it a point to try and cut a deal on the studio time. It turns out the group included a then-unknown Kanye West. The project ultimately disbanded, but Kanye and I would go on to spend many years working together. I think we all know how that turned out. I’ve been fortunate to have mixed a number of his early hits.

You opened HINGE Studios in 1993 and were an early adaptor for digital recording technology.
I was literally the first owner of a Euphonix CS mixing console and the first all-in-one, self-contained hard disk digital recording device from Otari called RADAR. It was subsequently sold to Iz Technologies and became RADAR II. The studio had 2 of these 24-track machines in addition to an ADAT and DA88, which were used to transfer clients' projects to the RADAR. Pro Tools came soon after when Avid was still known as Digidesign.

You can make anything happen that you want, given enough hard work and drive.

What was the longest project you ever worked on? And how did it end up?
I have a client that started with me the very year I opened and is still a client today. Larry King is his name, and he has a project that is signed to Frontiers Records in Italy. This is nearly 30 years and still going strong. Larry happens to be one of THE finest males vocalists I’ve ever recorded and mixed. An unbelievable talent.

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You clearly know a thing or two about dealing with top-level creative people. How is it working with guys such as Kanye West?
Well, as mentioned previously, my relationship with Kanye goes back to the very beginning. He certainly has had his moments, but I’m a great fan of his and all of his work. It’s interesting to work with some of the industry’s best. After a short amount of time together in the studio, all of the “stars” ultimately let their guard down and just become every day “creatives” trying to find something special in the process. I’m hugely grateful to have had so many opportunities to work with these “regular” people.

I can’t think of a drum recording where processing the drums with Auto-Align hasn’t made a substantial difference when I A/B the results.

Can you talk a little bit about your gear? What’s your studio setup like?
I’m an enormous fan of my Avid S6 control surface and Pro Tools. I’ve been with them from the very beginning, and I wouldn’t trade the gear I use for anything. It’s all an integral part of my own creative flow and output. All the guys I deal with there are dedicated, hard-working pros, and I’m glad to be friends with a number of them at this point. Pro Tools is definitely the industry standard for professional mixing.

How much is the artist involved when you mix? Can you share your creative approach?
When I’m hired to mix for any new client, it starts with a conversation about the material and hearing a rough mix. I generally mix unattended at this point and send the mix to the producer/artist for comments and any potential revisions. I take a good deal of time creating that first mix pass. Speed is never the goal. A killer end result is the goal, and I’m always trying to impress myself as much as the client. No mix ever goes out until that happens.

How do you decide to go for a new plug-in? In general, are you a plug-in freak?
I literally have more plugins than I could ever possibly name... or even remember at this point.
Plugins are the main tools of our trade, and I like having lots and lots of tools to choose from.
So..yes, I guess you could say I’m a plugin freak. ;)

Please break down the usage of Auto-Align.
For starters, there hasn’t been a single live drum recording I haven’t used Auto-Align in memory.
I can’t think of a drum recording where processing the drums with Auto-Align hasn’t made a substantial difference when I A/B the results. I often will check the phase of live piano recordings or any hard-panned stereo recording of a live instrument. It’s an absolutely essential tool in my arsenal.

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We'd love to hear in which songs/ albums you used Auto-Align and how. Can you tell us if you also use Auto-Align on Vocals or other editing parts?
You can literally hear my use of Auto-Align on drums of every single mix for the last number of years. I can’t stress enough the difference it makes in the end. It’s not subtle. Once you’ve heard it, there’s just no going back.

You share many of your mixing tips on social media and get great feedback. Do you remember the craziest response you ever received?
Well, I probably couldn't repeat some of the DM’s I’ve received in type here. But people are generally very appreciative of the workflow tips and tricks I share. I do recall one follower telling me he was moving (unasked) to Denver to be my new “assistant” and would do whatever I asked. That seemed a little odd, and I had to decline via DM politely. I’m still waiting for the unexpected knock on the door. ;)

As COVID-19 entered our lives, how did it change your workflow? Are you doing more work remotely? Are there any ‘life-saving tools’ you’ve discovered during those times?
Having recently moved from Los Angeles to Denver, the vast majority of my mixes are done unattended, with COVID still going on. I’m in the process of building a Northward Acoustics room here and expect more sessions to be attended once that is finished and COVID is a thing of the past. I have used the 2 on online “live” mix services here and there, but generally, the process is exactly the same here as it was in Los Angeles. People are welcome to attend the mix sessions if they like.

What’s the best piece of advice for life you’ve been given?
You can make anything happen that you want, given enough hard work and drive. If a kid from the east side of Cleveland can do it... anyone can!

Craig Bauer & Greg Wurth at "Inside the Studio"

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