A musical life can take a few twists and turns before settling in. Early on as a musician Billy Mohler studied upright bass at both the Berklee College of Music, and the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz. But he’s found a niche developing artists and producing, especially solo artists and Indie bands. Mohler also plays guitar and keyboards – and drums. In fact, when he’s working with a solo artist he often plays all the instruments on the album. These days, he works in his own studio in the Los Angeles area and harnesses the power of the Dangerous Music D-Box for analog summing and monitoring. At the 2012 Grammy(r) Awards one of the recent albums Mohler has songwriting credit on was nominated for “Best Latin Pop Album,” Nuestra by Gustavo Galindo.
Mohler says, “I’ve been using the D-Box for about 3 months, and it’s incredible, I love it. I work mainly in-the-box, so it’s nice to have for bouncing out mixes or songwriting sessions. Everything sounds wider, a little more transparent, more punch. It kind of bridges the gap for me,” he explains. “You can drive it hard so you can give it a nice analog crunch. It adds that next level of glue that I wasn’t getting from my in-the-box mixes. Mixes have a clear separation between the instruments and being able to sum the bass on its own output, I notice a smooth consistent bass response that I wasn’t getting from my in-the-box mixes. There’s just more definition in each instrument, more character and punch.”
The success with his own mixing on the D-Box is illuminating, as Mohler describes, “I’ll do a mix in-the-box, and then I’ll do a summed mix with the D-Box. And every time I’ve sent them to bands – and I don’t tell them which mix is which – every time they pick the D-Box summed mix. So I started realizing, ‘OK, I’m not going to do the in-the-box mix anymore’ – nobody’s picking the in-the-box mix, and I don’t even like it. It’s obvious.”
Mohler discovered Dangerous Music on a gig for a Kelly Clarkson record where he played bass, and worked with producer and engineer David Kahne – who has a very large Dangerous Music setup. ” I got to hang out a lot with David [Kahne] at his studio and we started a friendship. Once I began really getting into recording, I had heard everybody was raving about the Dangerous gear, so I jumped in and got the D-Box.”
One of his latest projects due out in June 2012 is The Drowning Men (Borstal Beat Record), where Mohler produced, engineered, and co-wrote the record and Ryan Williams (Thirty Seconds to Mars, I’m A Robot, Deftones) and Todd Burke (Ben Harper, Trevor Menear) mixed the album. “I found The Drowning Men through a great friend of mine who thought we’d hit it off and we did! Over the past year the band and I wrote a bunch of music, I produced some demos, and then they got their deal. I just finished their record, it took three months and I couldn’t be happier with it! The Drowning Men have toured with Alkaline Trio, Airborn Toxic Event, Flogging Molly, and Lucero to name a few. I’m so excited for the record release!”
“The D-Box is great for somebody like me who has a project studio,” he adds. “I’m doing a lot of Indie bands, and I have a very basic setup. The D-Box kind of levels the playing field for me without having a great console or having a lot of outboard gear – it really warms up my mixes.”
“The fact that I can have independent monitor control for two headphones is perfect,” says Mohler about the D-Box in tracking sessions. “It’s mostly a vocalist and myself, or an acoustic guitar and myself in my studio. And the monitoring sounds incredible in the headphones, it blows away all the other monitor controllers that I’ve used, it sounds flat, but has a great punch to it, it sounds true to what I’m recording.”
With the D-Box’s 8-channels of summing, Mohler has a carefully thought out process to get the most out of mixing with his track output assignments, “I do all the drums on 1 and 2, 3 and 4 is guitars and keyboards, 5 and 6 is the bass and anything else that’s low, like an 808 kick, and vocals go through 7 and 8. The cool thing is I can play with those groups’ faders like I’m mixing off of stems at that point.”
“When I’m working in the digital format I’m usually minus 6dB or minus 10dB on my master fader,” he explains further. “I don’t want to ever go into the red. There’s no point in pushing it into the red – it’s not a pleasant sound in the digital format. But with the D-Box I push my tracks into the red and they sound amazing. They sound crunchy, they get this cool harmonic distortion going on – for some mixes – for others I’ll keep it out of the red. But if you push it, it’s an analog circuit and it reacts in a completely different way. You can drive your mixes without plug-ins. You can get something similarwith a plug-in on the master fader, but it’s not the same, it’s just a half-assed version of what the D-Box does.”
Describing how he started doing ‘artist development’ Mohler remembers, “I fell into it a few years back. I didn’t really realize it was artist development, I thought it was production. I kind of realized it after a couple songwriting sessions, I would write a song with the artist and then produce a track with the way I heard it after knowing the artist and getting to know their vibe. I’d really try to hone the track into what I thought their style was – but I didn’t realize that was more than just songwriting.”
In his studio Mohler uses both Pro Tools and Apple Logic software, his interface is the Apogee Rosetta 800 with a Big Ben clock, and some mic pres and compressors, “It’s a very basic setup, my studio is an overdub suite – I’ll go record drums at a friend’s studio and bring the files back to my studio. I can live at my studio for a month or two with a band, and take my time, it’s a cozy spot to work.”
“I got into mixing out of necessity,” he continues. “And for me the D-Box is so simple, that’s really the great thing about it. There’s a lot of fancy gear out there that can do a million things, I’m not into that kind of stuff. I don’t work like that, I like to have very simple gear, a very simple layout, that’s why the D-Box is so appealing, it’s got the 2 headphone outputs, the analog summing, you can plug your iPod into it. It’s an all-in-one box, it’s simple, but it does what I needed – that why I picked it up.”
With Artist development, Mohler has had great success. “That’s what my career is really focused on now. It’s really an affirmation and a lot of fun. I was nominated for a Grammy this past year for an artist I developed, Gustavo Galindo. He was in a band, a Latin artist in an English Indie Rock band, but I felt he had something special. I developed him, I co-wrote 6 or 7 of the songs on the record, then he signed with Universal, and got nominated for a Grammy in 2012. It was another affirmation: This is working,” concludes Mohler.
Mohler has been very busy lately working with Awolnation (Red Bull Records), their first single ‘Sail’ was recently Certified Platinum in the US, he was a writer and electric bass player on the album. He co-wrote and played bass on Samantha Ronson’s new record Chasing the Reds and also played bass on The Bright Side the new album by Meiko. Mohler is Currently producing and writing with some local artists in Los Angeles: Last American Buffalo, Shane Alexander, and Trevor Menear.