LA Beat Interview: Mixerman

Mixerman bookMixerman’s not a household name yet, unless you have a recording studio for a house.

About ten years ago, several different people from the music world started recommending The Mixerman Diaries to me. Posted on the Pro Sound Web, a recordists’ forum that typically contained dry technical discussions about the fine points of high-end audio engineering, it appeared as an engineer’s daily musings from a session with a bidding-war band. The tale immediately struck a chord with readers, particularly those who had spent time in a studio, or had any involvement in, as he puts it, “the confluence of art and commerce and all the wacky fuckin’ shit that can happen because of it.”

By the time he finished the diary, over 150,000 people were tuning in daily, incredible numbers in the pre-smartphone/ social media age. Clearly, his audience had expanded beyond the small number of people in the record-making business, and even a cursory reading reveals why. It’s not really about the process of audio engineering, it’s about the clash of forces that can ensue when the creative and business ends of a band find themselves in opposition. In the story of the fictionally-named group Bitch Slap, no one from either side manages to completely run the show, though it would be hard to come away from the book without a strong sense that when it comes to business, the house always wins in the end.

Mixerman, who had already gained a reputation in onine audio forums as a highly knowledgeable advisor on technical matters, says today that he knew he was reaching outside his community when he wrote the diaries. “I knew what I had. I was trying to create a viral response, and I got one.” While the first few weeks of the diary remain online, if you want to find out what happens to Bitch Slap as their sessions come to a close, you’ll have to buy the book. The Daily Adventures Of Mixerman is an essential addition to any studio lounge, but for the full experience, pick up the audio book from Itunes or Audible. He and his pals have cooked up an old-fashioned radio play inspired by the Firesign Theater, complete with music to illustrate the hapless engineer’s frustrating day-in day-out reality.

He’s written two other books more specifically aimed at recordists – Zen And The Art Of Mixing and Zen And The Art Of Producing – and still maintains Mixerman.net, where you can read the early parts of the diary, listen to his occasionally-produced radio show, or peruse the Womb forums, where some of the world’s most prominent audio pros shoot the shit about gear, best mic placement practices and hockey. And he’s continued mixing and producing records at a steady clip. But the diaries refuse to rest, and Mixerman is presently hosting a fundraiser on IndieAGoGo with the intent of raising the funds needed to turn the tale into an episodic TV show.

We spoke to Mixerman and his producer Thomas Marino by phone about their hopes for the show, the changing paradigms of the music business, and why they expect this story to appeal to people who have never stepped inside a recording studio.

The level of dysfunction in the book embodied by Bitch Slap is pretty horrible even though all of us who have been involved in recording can relate to some aspects of it. Do you think those traits are getting more or less prevalent in the years since you wrote the diaries?

Mixerman: Well a little less prevalent because the madness has been toned down a bit. Now the madness is, you gotta try and make a record on way too little money, which creates its own dysfunction and its own set of problems. So that’s probably the more prevalent scenario today. And what I see most is people, bands also… you can’t get a deal today unless you’re playing a lot of dates and made some noise on the internet and really gotten yourself to the point where you’re ready to blow up.

I just worked with a band that’s in this situation now, out of North Carolina, called The Broadcast. At the end of the day they gotta run their business. And so these are microbusinesses and the ones that survive have good business people running them. And it’s a shame because now that tends to favor people who have good heads on their shoulders AND are creative. There’s plenty of people who are creative and can’t do ANY fucking business at all. We don’t want to lose those artists but I fully expect things in this industry to kind of level out and there to be a better balance than the way it is now.

But personally, as a record maker, I like the way it is now. For me, it’s great. I work with all these independent bands that have enough money to make a proper record, and I don’t have to deal with people above them. I’m dealing directly with the client. We can make the album the way we want to make it and it’s great. That’s the way of today at the moment. Make it yourself, and if it’s great people will come.

I understand there’s a campaign underway to turn the book into a TV program. What do you think your dream outlet would be for it?

Mixerman: Well there’s a lot of outlets. I didn’t make it too public but, I developed this, probably around 2008, for television. I had a production company involved, I had Fox Studios ready to bankroll it, but then you need a buyer. And there was a limited number of buyers that could pick up this script as it was, it was a full-length 30 minute script meant for subscription-based television. It’s obviously salty like the diary so, that restricts some… and I had some political restrictions. There were outlets that Fox Studios couldn’t do business with, and there were outlets that my production company couldn’t do business with. And as a result, we had a very short list of buyers, and we didn’t get it sold.

So I put it in a drawer, my main business is making records so I continued doing that. And Thomas Marino here contacted me here late last year at some point, and was inquiring about it, and we met and started talking about how we’d approach it if we were to do it, and Thomas had some great ideas. As we started to work on it we realized, the script as we have it written now for television might be just a little bit safe, because we were trying to sell it to traditional outlets. We have so many more outlets now. We have Netflix, we have Hulu, we have all sorts of internet outlets.

Marino: And then, of course HBO or Showtime. Cinemax now is doing original programming as well. I mean there’s just so many more outlets now than there were before. Netflix might be a good contender because they’re the one that’s really trying to branch out, they have that new show House Of Cards with Kevin Spacey.

Mixerman: So our plan in talking about was, you know what, if we’re going to make the show the way it really deserves to be made, we’re going to need to make it ourselves. Because I have no doubt, I just know the reaction that this story gets, and I have no doubt that if we can put together a killer two-episode pilot, it’s gonna go crazy. It’s gonna blow up.

When I wrote the original diaries, that was in 2002. The internet wasn’t nearly what it is today, it was a baby. So I was getting 150,000 unique IP addresses visiting my story, at the end of the story, every day. Today you can multiply those numbers by ten. And now you put it in a video form, and so long as it’s compelling, it will be seen, and it will blow up, and it will be picked up.

Marino: The goal is, we have to get the pilot made, and in order to get the pilot made we have to have the proper funding.

Mixerman: So we’re doing a combination between fan funding on IndieAGoGo, get to our page and you can see the trailer. The trailer is an adjusted version of the audio book trailer, so you can see what the audio book is to and listen to some of the great performances by basically titans in our industry, with Ken Scott who worked with the Beatles and Ron St. Germain who’s worked with everybody you can imagine including U2 and Mick Jagger. So we got some really great people to help us with the audio book, so we’re using that to give people an idea what it’s like to bring these characters to life. Television is very character driven and the story is very character-driven, so it’s an obvious fit.

What has the reaction been to the audio book so far?

Mixerman: It’s been good, all positive reviews, people are picking it up. It’s been selling. And, it’s gonna take a minute for it to snowball because you gotta listen to twelve hours to get through it. And a lot of people still aren’t on the audio book thing yet. I did the audio book very differently from how most people do it, it was not just a straight read. I put in Foley, that was produced by my buddy Aardvark. We put in Foley, we put in music – everybody has little musical motifs like Peter And The Wolf. You start to like, want those to come in, because every time they come in for the first time in a chapter you get their musical motif. There’s music that the band, that Bitch Slap plays, we put together a band and put together a bunch of music for that, so when I talk about them making takes over and over, you can hear some music and what’s going on.

So I decided to treat it a little more like Firesign Theater so it’d be something a little more entertaining for people to listen to, than just a dry read. And of course I read it myself and I know how I meant to inflect everything, so it’s being delivered, as it was intended by the author.

Do you think there’s a danger with the changes in the recording industry that modern audiences won’t relate to things like “big recording budgets” and “bidding war bands”?

Mixerman: Well first of all, there’s still big recording budgets. (Ed: listening to the tone of the response on tape, I am afraid I have offended Mixerman by suggesting his profession no longer pays so well, and thus insulted his manhood. For this I should apologize).

Second of all, there may not be such a thing as “bidding war bands” now but it’s only a matter of time before there is, and it could happen any day. That could always happen. If two labels want a band, a bidding war can happen.

Granted it’s not as common today as it was in ’02, but it was MADNESS in ’02. I mean, it was ridiculous how much money people were paying for bands that they were never putting out. And the pendulum has swung the other way.

But this business, you know, when you’re dealing with art and passions of art and money, anything can happen. So I don’t think it’s fair to say that bidding wars are archaic, they’re just not as common.

And there’s still big budgets.

Marino: And also, I do believe that a viewer will see the other aspects, the human aspects, the human condition aspects, that Mixerman goes through, and they’ll be able to able to relate to that. They don’t have to be quite familiar with the recording world or the bidding war band situation, they can relate to Mixerman on different levels.

Mixerman: The studio shit, that’s all a story line, what’s going on with Bitch Slap and the studio. Eventually…we don’t have plans for five years with Bitch Slap, so Mixerman moves on. That’s just the setting.

Now, it’s not like WKRP In Cincinnati where the radio station has almost nothing to do with it. It is an important part of the story line because of what we do. But the point it, what people will relate to is this idea of operating under a committee, and how frustrating that is. And having a weak leader who’s not taking care of business, or having too many cooks in the kitchen. Everybody can relate to this, and the frustrations that occur. And that’s really the main theme of this is, you know, the confluence of art and commerce, and all the wacky fuckin’ shit that can happen because of it.

But at the end of the day it’s about Mixerman, and he’s a character that you invest in. And the other characters, you know, Willy Show, and we’ve introduced a new character that’s not in the book called Wanda Wares, that’s Mixerman’s manager, these people are all compelling characters. And ultimately people are gonna be drawn to that.

Has being the author of this work ever led to audio production work for you?

Mixerman: I get calls because of the books that I put out, absolutely.

Does anyone ever worry that you’re going to use their experience as fodder for your future writings?

Mixerman: You know, shortly after I wrote the book, that conversation would come up. It never lasted very long.

Marino: In my personal experience, I had a little bit of fear before I met him because I approached him about the idea of a movie or a TV series and in the back of mind, I thought, is this going to be a Charles Bukowski kind of moment where he writes a Hollywood book? Is it gonna be the Making Of The Mixerman Movie Or Television Series and I’m gonna be the character in that book? I kinda worried about that?

Mixerman: Yeah this was all a ruse! I don’t care about the television show, I just need the experience so I can write it into a book!

Marino: Who knows, maybe I’ll be the one to write the book!

Mixerman: He keeps threatening me, telling me he’s going to write a book like “Tuesdays With Mixerman” or something really ridiculous like that.

Thomas, what drew you into this project as something you wanted to be involved in?

Marino: Well I was a fan of the diaries when they were originally being posted daily, and I kind of lost track of it after 2002 or 2003, I kind of forgot about it. Last year it was kind of weird, I was laying in bed, not really able to sleep, and something came to my mind that reminded me of the diaries. And it was kind of a nostalgia thing, I started having awesome memories of all the great stories, and comedic moments throughout the journal entries. And so I thought, I gotta look this up and did a little google search on Mixerman and  saw that he now has Mixerman.net, and the first five or six weeks of the diary were posted for free and so, I start to read it again and I was right back in there. It was so compelling again. Like, that’s a great story.

And I was like, wow this would be great for a movie or television, you know, I’d really love to see these characters on the screen. And I got to thinking, in today’s day and age of Hollywood, it’s all about the remakes and the re-boots and the sequels and the prequels. Nothing is original anymore. And this is a great original story.

So I really started to envision this, I said I want to contact him and at least see, you know, what are the possibilities. So, I made the contact, we shared a couple emails, and at the time I was living in Kansas City. I flew out to California and we met. We really clicked and became great writing partners. So, it’s been a great experience.

Mixerman: Let me just say this. We need about $150,000 if not more, to make this properly. And we’re not going to make it anything but properly. So we really do need to collect that, to put together that kind of funds. We’re looking for fan support, and my fan base has been watered down over the years and is so spread out now that it’s hard for me to reach them quickly. We always expected a bit of a snowball campaign, interviews like this will help get the word out. But at the end of the day we’re also looking for private investors. Big funding so, if anybody’s interested in that they can reach me at Mixerman.net. And if anybody’s just a fan of the book, there’s perks, help us get this thing on television. 

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