Joey Sturgis’ metalcore shines with Cubase
By Paul Lipscomb, February 20, 2015
Hailing from Indiana, producer and engineer Joey Sturgis has earned his accolades through all his hard work and can now consider himself one of the key producers in the metalcore scene. Sturgis mixes, engineers and masters many of his productions, giving them his very personal flavor. His credits are found on album covers by bands such as We Came As Romans, Attack Attack!, I See Stars and many more.
How did you find your way into music and producing?
I started recording when I was about 19 years old (2004). I played drums in several bands around that time and it came time for us to create a demo, so I learned what was necessary to do it on my own. My friend had a make shift recording studio in his garage and he lent me the key. We had a custom built PC running Windows 98 SE, the interface was an Aardvark Q10 (PCI based). We had Behringer preamps and a Behringer mixer. It wasn't the best recording gear. Well anyway, the band I was in played a show with The Devil Wears Prada and after their set I asked them if I could record them. At first they said no because they wanted to do it themselves! I kept bothering them for a long time until they agreed to do it. They came down and I recorded their demo, which inevitably lead to them getting signed to Rise Records. After The Devil Wears Prada got signed from the EP I made for them, the label owner caught wind of me and took some interest. Prada came back to me for the full length. The album was successful and then I went on to do a few more projects on my own before helping to realize the creation of Before Their Eyes with a few members of past bands I had done demos with prior. Soon after that, they were signed by Rise and once again Craig was seeing my name. At this point, I think he saw real potential in me and decided to give me a call. He suggested managing my schedule and helping me get bigger better projects. I was hesitant at first but decided to go for it. The first email I sent him was this list I had fathomed up, almost as a joke, of demands I wanted from him. Things like “I want to do a Metal Blade CD, I want to work with Adam D” etc. I knew those things would never happen, but somehow Craig helped make every single thing on that list happen. So, for that, I am extremely grateful.
When did you realize that things in your career were getting serious?
I started getting nervous when I first found out I was doing an album for a label (The Devil Wears Prada, Dear Love: A Beautiful Discord). I mean, I was just some guy in a garage. Towards the end, it came down to actually mastering the mixes and the label just wasn't confident with my results and we had to go with someone else for mastering. That ended up being the last time I let that happen, and I learned very quickly how to master! That's when I knew this was getting serious, because I had invested so much into knowing how to do every part of the process, and it quickly became a full time thing after that first record.
How did you come to use Cubase and Steinberg products?
My friend started on Cubase, and years prior I had started on stuff like Fruity Loops and Acid Pro. When I had stepped into his world, I had to learn Cubase because that's how his computer was set up. I learned how to produce, how to engineer, how to edit and record all on Cubase. That bond was formed simply because it was there first. After trying many other DAWs later down the road, I can definitely say that Cubase was meant for people who think like I do, and it allows me to accomplish the tasks in mind without a lengthy thought process or a complicated setup before hand.
Are you Mac or PC? What hardware I/O do you prefer and why?
I am mostly a PC guy; I'm only Mac when I'm forced to be. I prefer the RME stuff because it's rock solid and sounds great.
What are some features of Cubase that you couldn't live without?
I love slip editing and free warp. These features are used on almost every track in a production. The MIDI editing is far above any other DAW. The preset management system and the MediaBay allow me to soar in and out of session very quickly and creatively. I also love the way Cubase handles the internal summing, which allows you to have as much headroom as you need until you hit the 2 bus. Most VST plug-ins follow this rule as well, which is nice for mixing and not having to worry about overages.
I heard you spent some time with an Avid Pro Tools|HD system just to find your way back to Cubase. Do you mind sharing what happened?
I once made the move to PT HD because that is what most of the professional world is working on. Some of my clients were reaching a status that could have required multiple name producers on projects, and in researching these people I discovered they were all in PT. I figured if I wanted to be included, I had better step up. I had one year to prepare ahead of time. Also, in researching PT in general, I discovered some of the advertised features sounded great (like track guarantee, and better use of DSP). The biggest feature that drew me toward PT initially was Elastic Audio (Cubase was lacking this feature at the time). After learning PT, and even getting the hang of its quirks and bugs, I began a few of my “big projects” of the year in PT. Everything was going smooth with the audio end of things…. then came keyboards. I do most of my production effects and all of my keyboards using plug-ins and virtual instruments. Unfortunately, I have to say that Avid does not win on this one. It is so picky about plug-ins and plug-in compatibility that you might as well mic a keyboard amp… Seriously. I had to move on, because most of “my sound” comes from post production, and PT wasn't giving me any stability during post production. Some projects actually stopped opening toward the end. I had to rebuild from raw audio in Cubase to finish. Shortly thereafter, Cubase got Elastic Audio and I have never had to look back!
How much of your process is ITB vs OTB?
My process is almost entirely in the box, aside from microphones and preamps. I prefer to have the ability to mess with the audio in as many ways as possible without being stuck with one specific sound. I'm really trying to capture perfect notes and great performances. The sound manipulation and sonic character of those performances can come later in the box. My sonic foot print doesn't really lend itself to be very analog anyway.
What is your most memorable record that you've worked on and why does it stand out?
I don't know if there's a most memorable record, but there's certainly most memorable bands or time periods where things just felt right and made sense. A lot of the albums you do with a band the first time (first records) are very memorable and teach you a lot of lessons not only in audio but also in life.
When you're approached by an artist, does a road map appear for how their sound will be shaped immediately? Or does their sound take it's shape through experimentation over time?
It is honestly a combination of having a game plan as well as letting it flow. There are parts of the record that are totally 100% planned, and other parts that organically develop. I think it's important to allow both into your process, otherwise you'll be too stale. A little bit of chaos on top of a little bit of structure is the best way.
As your workload increases, how much hands-on time do you spend on your records?
I am there 100% for all of the creative duties as far as the song itself goes. The band is often hashing out takes with the engineers, and the engineers are trained to accept a certain level of quality in the performances. Then I hear the result and make decisions from there. If I don't like how a verse came out, I might tell the vocalist to consider either a vocal technique or another mood and then go and try it again. The method of being able to step away from the song and let the engineer hear it hundreds of times has freed up my ears to stay fresh with the material and focus on what matters the most, the song.
I know you have some audio products that you have released. Mind bringing us all up to speed?
Currently I have released a Vocal Compressor and a Peak Clipper. All of my products are available from my website. I am very passionate about creating audio software that I wish I had access to when I began, and these products are being made with the producer/engineer in mind. I'm making stuff that I want to use, and it's really satisfying to be creating products that are useful not only to me, but to other people who wish to be creating quality work as I strive to create every day.
I'm a home studio guy or a recent graduate from an audio program: what advice do you have to become and stay successful?
Stay focused, stay dedicated, and be willing to sacrifice your social life or even your family in exchange for knowledge and time spent learning and bettering your craft.
Who is Joey Sturgis outside of making records? What are some additional interests?
I am very passionate about video games. I love to play them, design them, and theorize about ways to become better at them.
I want to be your intern. How?
The only way to become an intern for me is to be a friend of a friend, someone who can be introduced to me from someone else I already know. I'm not interested in "cold" relationships.
Steinberg for creating a product that made my career possible.
Visit Joey at www.joeysturgistones.com.