Romesh Dodangoda Produces with Nuendo
By Markus Thiel
British recording engineer, producer, and early Nuendo adopter Romesh Dodangoda is very well known for his work with bands like Motörhead, Bring Me The Horizon, or Bullet For My Valentine. From his studio based in Cardiff, Wales, he produces some of the hottest British acts who share his vision for broad and punchy drum sounds and extensive walls of guitar sonics. His preference for unique analog outboard and the vibe of properly heated up tube amps, represents his distinctive signature, revealing the devotion for pure sound by carving out its individual and authentic character. We talked with Romesh about his work and the magic happening when a band plays together at the studio.
Can you tell us something about your background? What brought you into the business?
I basically started playing guitar when I was younger. Like many, my main concern was always about how to get the guitar sound out of the speakers in the way I want it to. I started recording friends I know while trying to understand how recording works. My interest came and evolved from there really.
As far as I’m aware, you started with a very analog approach to recording…
Yeah, my first studio had an analog console in it — a Mackie 32-8. Eventually over time I added a whole stock of outboard, because if you want to record a drumkit you need a lot of different compressors. Also, if you long for a different vocal reverb, you had to have it. I think right about that time I first started using Steinberg Cubase for editing tracks by flying everything from my 16-track analog recorder to the computer and back again.
When you’re working with bands, are you usually involved in the whole process from the recording stage via mixing right up to the mastering?
Pretty much! Usually, it starts with a demo I’ll look at to check if the arrangement is right. If I feel there might be any changes to the song, I like to do it directly at the studio. The main thing I’m usually concerned with before heading to the studio is the arrangement, meaning if the song has any problems that have to be solved. But apart from that, most of my ideas I get in the studio while we’re recording. I’m in for the whole process in means that I mix a lot of the stuff I record as well.
Since you’re in for a lot of metal and rock productions, do you tend to a classic approach while recording — in the way of gathering the whole band at the studio all playing together?
It varies for me. Most of the time it’s great to set a whole band up and let them play. Since it’s usually the band that wrote the songs, that always makes a good starting point. Sometimes it’s different, especially if we start to work the song around a demo. It’s very band-dependent, but most of the time it’s a pretty much the classic approach.
Is this your favorite way to work?
Yeah, I definitely like it! It’s a nice bit of magic you get when everybody’s playing together. It is also fun for the band and keeps everybody involved at the same time.
From listening to your recordings, I got the impression that you are spending a great amount of time on guitar sounds while additionally taking special care on the drum parts, too.
Yes! I believe if you get the drum sound right, everything else falls on top very easily. When the drums don’t sound good you kind of start overdubbing loads of parts that don’t need to be there and just to try and make it bigger. If you spend some time to really let the drums stand out proud by being recorded well and set them to the right sound, you’ll need fewer guitar parts and extras to fill up the spaces. I spend a lot of time on drums from getting the tuning right to finding the right drum for a song. For me, that’s a huge part of a production.
Do you use a lot of your own drums?
Yes, I build up quite a big collection of snares and some kits that I like. In the recording process we won’t use one kit but use the kick from somewhere and the toms from a different set. I’m a big fan of Gretsch and I also got a Yamaha Custom Kit of which I favor the toms. It’s great to have a selection of options to play around with.
I experienced your mixes to be very lofty in the way of allowing every element its desired space but at the same time very dense — forming out a nice balance.
I’m a big fan of having a big wall of sound most of the time, but I think it’s all about being clever with the arrangement. For instance, in the verses, I tend to strip down a lot to acquire some kind of a mono-feel to experience the full width of everything when the chorus kicks in.
You’re also providing quite a collection of guitar amps at your studio.
Yeah, it got a lot easier since we recently installed a KHE amp cab switcher. This is absolutely amazing, because I can leave the amps on and full wired in the whole time. All you need to do is plug in a guitar and switch between the amps and cabs and A-B until you get the right sound for the song.
Do you use this setup for re-amping too?
From time to time. Actually, I don’t do a lot of re-amping since I like to develop the sound on the way and also the relationship between the guitar player and the guitar sound. They simply play differently to a certain sound and I’m trying my best to capture that while we’re going down. Even if I got multiple mics at the cab, I sum them down to one channel in the end like: “This is the guitar sound I want to hear!“ One thing I don’t like is seeing piles of mics when looking at my session. As soon as you’re going into layering guitar parts it ends up in a lot of hard work while never getting the right tone — because of constantly tweaking it. I’m always doing a DI-signal as well — so this is my optional undo if you like — just in case we did a real mistake at a take.
And you invest in a solid pre-production…
If you really put the time in and you get it proper in the tracking stage, you don’t spend hours of fixing things when it’s coming to the mix. So, preparation is really important for me.
Do you have a special sound philosophy when it’s coming to the mixing phase?
Not really! I mix quite fast, because if you do a lot of stopping and second guessing you start to obsess about the matter. I try to zoom out as much as I can to figure out what the song needs by trying to get the right feel. I spend the most time doing quite broad strokes to make the song happen really quick and then I go into details. I’m going with my instincts a lot when it comes to a mix. Details are important, but on the other hand too much work on details can also suck the life out of a song. If you notch too many things away, you sometimes lose the magic that lies within. You can easily take away some of the good stuff — it’s all a matter of balance, I think.
What happens inside the box? Do you use a lot of plug-ins with Nuendo, or are you trying to cover your sound ideas mostly with your outboard wired in?
It’s kind of both ways, really. It’s very common for me to print the signals in using a compressor, some EQ-decisions and others on the way to the DAW. But there are also some plug-ins I reach for, like Plug-in Alliance SSL 4000 E channel. I also use a lot of stock plug-ins that are great as well alongside some UAD-plug-ins. I also love plug-ins like Soothe by Oeksound and Water by Acustica Audio. But I tend to install not too much stuff, having less to choose from in the end.
Is there something you still miss in the digital domain? Any personal wishes for the future?
Oh, I don’t know! I think everything is pretty sweet at the moment. I mean I just started using Steinberg Nuendo 11 and I think it’s got everything I can wish for right now. I’ve been using Nuendo since Version 1 and it’s been an incredible tool for me. I think also what’s been interesting is the fact that a lot of features in Nuendo are brought to other popular DAWs much later, like the built-in streaming feature, making it possible to do some changes on a mix together with the client wherever they are. That is so powerful and also saves me a lot of emailing back and forth. Steinberg’s always been ahead of the game!