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Nine Inch Nails: Pro Tools With Teeth

 

 

Autor: Stephanie Jorgl

 

 

 

 

Trent Reznor, the driving force behind Nine Inch Nails, has always leaned on the limits of computer-based recording. From the initial Studio Vision tracks of NINís 1989 debut, Pretty Hate Machine, to the full-scale Pro Tools production of The Fragile a decade later, Reznor has constantly used the most advanced music software and hardware available as brush, palette, and blunt instrument.

On his latest release, With Teeth, this iconoclastic singer, songwriter, producer, engineer, programmer, and multi-instrumentalist has once again taken technology to the edge. In addition to massive Pro Tools|HD Accel systems in the studio, Reznor is currently using twin Digidesign VENUE systems for his live shows. With the VENUE systems ó one at front-of-house and one on monitors ó heís able to use his favorite Pro Tools plug-ins to make NINís live performances as sonically satisfying as the records.

Recording With Teeth

Reznor recorded With Teeth using two Pro Tools|HD 3 Accel systems stocked with three additional HD Accel cards, running on duplicate Power Mac G5s, with six 192 I/O interfaces. The Pro Tools rig in Reznorís New Orleans home studio was duplicated in Los Angeles, making for a totally seamless recording experience.

For the new record, Reznor and crew recorded everything at 24-bit/96 kHz. But moving to a higher sample rate wasnít the only change. "The way weíve done every record in the past is to send the direct outs from Pro Tools into a large-format console like the SSL," he explains. "And we used hardware EQs."

On With Teeth, however, a lot more work took place inside the box. But another transformation took place during the albumís production: Reznor finally decided it was time to give up his large-format console. Coming from a man who was upset when sonic mayhemist Richard Devine teased him about the "huge archaic thing" in the center of Reznorís Nothing Studios, this marks a serious moment in the artistís technological evolution.

"Although we did mix on a large-format console, I saw Alan [mixing engineer Alan Moulder] going to the computer a lot more for EQing and compression, as well as things that seemed impossible to do in the real world," Reznor says. "And it made me think differently. Now Iím selling my studio in New Orleans, including my old console."

Atticus Ross, programmer, sound designer, and partner to Reznor in the creation of With Teeth, echoes this sentiment. "Although we used a lot of outboard synths and gear, Trent and I did use a lot more effects and instrument plug-ins," he says.

"Neither Atticus or I come from the engineering world," says Reznor. "As far as recognizing perfect emulations of Fairchild compressors, I donít even know what the original ones sound like. So when we were working in the demoíing phase and up through the time to mix, weíd use an EQ once in a while as an effect or a repair, but not on everything."

Reznor Takes Control With Pro Tools

When operations for With Teeth shifted to Los Angeles, Reznor and Ross looked for the perfect control surface for Reznorís home studio. "We wanted to take the demos up a level and finesse them," says Reznor. "So we started looking at control surfaces ó something that would feel real ó and the Control|24 made it feel familiar. It was an inspiring-to-work-on setup. And it was nice to be able to go from song to song without having to f#*% around with patch cables or any of that crap."

Reznor has always been the type to download the newest version of software. "But I never want the music to suffer because itís done on a computer," he explains. "And I donít think that mixing is as good with a mouse as it is when youíre holding faders in your hands. But with the control surfaces, the plug-ins, and the quality of the sound these days, it finally feels like a cohesive thing. Youíre not cutting corners by doing anything that way. Itís actually a better way to work."

When it comes to music production, itís never been about whatís easiest for Reznor. "Itís all about what sounds the best," he says. "Up until now, it has been large-format consoles. But with a nice balance of good mic pres complemented with Pro Tools, a computer, and a control surface ó that is the way I work now."

Embracing Pro Tools and a control surface, versus relying on a console for all mixing tasks, gave them greater flexibility when working between New Orleans and Los Angeles. "We could be out working with Alan, or back here in the home studio, and it didnít matter where we were at," says Ross. "We could work just the same at either place."

Plug-ins With Teeth

Reznor and Ross took full advantage of Pro Tools plug-ins while assembling With Teeth. "We used the Tom Erbe VST Spectral Shaper stuff, wrapped to run as RTAS plug-ins in Pro Tools. And we used the URS [Unique Recording Software] EQs a lot," says Reznor. Reznor says they also used Bomb Factory plug-ins quite a bit on the album.

The AudioEase Nautilus Bundle also got a workout on With Teeth. "Iíve found those to be really great sound design tools," says Reznor. "With PeriScope, Iím not really sure how itís doing it, but itís just a crazy-sounding and very resonant EQ. You can dial in the frequency range. In addition, we used RiverRun ó which is a granular synth, basically ó for sound design. Put any sound into that and you can make any sound you want. It is really cool and a lot of fun."

The iZotope Trash plug-in was put to good use as well. Reznor notes, "Trash has this really, really excellent distortion. Plus itís got a ton of stuff built into it ó amp modeling, everything. Itís more s#*t than you need. Itís got every kind of distortion imaginable."

As for reverbs, Reznor says, "ReVibe I like a lot. Iím not a big reverb guy. But if I want it to sound real and nice, and not like a Lexicon fake reverb, that would always be what Iíd go for."

They also deployed IK Multimediaís T-RackS. "I think the T-RackS stuff is excellent," says Reznor. "It sounds f&#%ing great. Other than that, we used [Cycling Ď74] Pluggo quite a bit. We used the one that basically is TurboSynth a lot." Ableton Live was useful as well, for sound design and alternate arrangements.

Another application that Reznor and Ross got into toward the end was Celemonyís Melodyne. "Itís got a weird interface, but the results are stunning," says Reznor. "We used it mostly for vocals. Melodyne did for us ó really quickly ó what any other application would have taken forever to do. And it sounds really good."

There is a huge Native Instruments Reaktor presence across the entire With Teeth album. "We put together pedal boards for Trent in Reaktor," says Ross. "We would pull distortions out of ensembles and use them for formant EQs, for delays, etc. And Trent had different controllers and foot pedals he could access while he was playing, so he could move around different functions and switch them on and off at any time. It was great."

Using various Reaktor effects created by themselves and others, they assembled a master setup where they could ride the effects into each other. "It worked really well," says Reznor. "We basically used that as a pedal, going out of the computer and into an amp. It ended up sounding like the worldís ultimate distortion pedal."

Most of the albumís guitar tracks were recorded through Line 6 PODs or Native Instruments Guitar Rig software. They also used various Marshall, Mesa, Line 6, Fender, and Diezel amps. Reznor recorded vocals through a Blue microphone.

Control|24 and VENUE on Tour

By taking two VENUE live sound systems on the Nine Inch Nails tour, Reznor can deploy many of his favorite Pro Tools plug-ins outside of the studio. When rehearsals started for the NIN tour, he even brought the Control|24 in to help map out which parts could be translated live, and to figure out how the band could use the VENUE systems to play back other elements as backing tracks.

As a result, the musical direction for the tour was totally complemented by the use of Digidesign hardware. "At rehearsals, with the Control|24 there, I could just cut out stuff and have the band try things around the tracks to see what worked and what didnít," Reznor says.

With Teeth is a definite switch from the atmospheric and hyper-layered The Fragile. "We were united in our dislike of a lot of modern rock ó that very perfect-sounding music, which doesnít sound perfect to me at all," says Ross. "Itís so easy to do that. I mean, anyone can do that now."

Reznor adds, "I just wanted to make something that sounds vital and that has a spirit, feel, and humanity to it. So my point ó even though we have all these tools ó was not to overuse them."

Remix "Only"

Pro Tools was at the heart of creating the Nine Inch Nails new album With Teeth. And nowís your chance to get an inside look at how they did it!

Digidesign and NIN have teamed up to bring you the Pro Tools session of the single "Only" from With Teeth. Based on the original Pro Tools session NIN used to record and mix the song, this session provides a unique insight into NINís creative process while simultaneously allowing you to see how a platinum-selling band like NIN uses Pro Tools to develop their sound. While youíre at it, try remixing "Only" and making it your own.

The Pro Tools session of "Only" can be download for free from the NIN website, and is available to all Pro Tools|HD, Pro Tools LE, and Pro Tools M-Powered system users.

For session details and to download, visit www.nin.com/onlyprotools

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