Aaron Harris is an award-winning musician and composer. His critically-acclaimed releases have topped the Billboard Charts and appeared in television series, film trailers, documentaries, video games and more.
His work has appeared in projects for A24, Warner Bros., Universal, Disney, Lionsgate, Netflix, NBC, Red Bull and Samsung, among others.
Prior to his composing career, Aaron made his mark in the band ISIS (1997-2010), whose heavy, yet ethereal and atmospheric sound ushered in a new subgenre dubbed by the New York Times as “art metal.” ISIS’ albums were consistently lauded by critics across the globe during the band’s 13-year run and in 2017 Rolling Stone named ISIS’ album Oceanic one of The 100 Greatest Metal Albums of All Time.
After ISIS disbanded, he formed Palms with previous band members Clifford Meyer and Jeff Caxide and Deftones’ Chino Moreno. Their self-titled debut, which Aaron recorded and mixed, was praised by critics as “thrilling” and “just perfect.”
As a producer, Aaron has worked with Puscifer, Spotlights, Deftones, Team Sleep, Pelican, The Jezabels and Jakob, as well as his own bands.
Aaron. It's an enormous pleasure to have you here. We are such big fans of your work, and it feels awesome you like ours as well!
Thanks! I'm honored to hear that. I really like what you guys do, and I'm happy to be associated with Acustica.
Your work as a producer, composer and as a recording artist is nothing short of impressive. Is it difficult to wear so many hats at once?
Thanks. It all fits under the same umbrella in that it's all working in music, so it's really just shifting gears between projects. I approach them all in the same way I guess - determined to do the best job that I can. I've been focusing on composing the last few years. It really speaks to me and I work with a great group of people (Methodic Doubt) who inspire me. It's definitely challenging, and it pushes me to write every single day. I'm always looking for ways to get unique sounds and discovering new ways of doing things.
As a composer, how do you keep the ideas flowing? How do you break the creative block?
It can be tough. There's occasionally those days when nothing is working quite right, or sounding good, and ideas just aren't coming. When that happens I try not to force things (unless I'm on deadline) and start messing with new ideas. I've found that forcing a track to "work" just wastes times and can ruin things. It's better to let it rest and come back another day with fresh ears. That's not always possible because of deadlines, but when I have the luxury of doing that I will. Then I'll move on to another idea or some sound design. It's important to stay inspired and keep moving forward.
How did you get your 'first gig'?
I learned how to record by asking a lot of questions, reading books and a ton of trial and error. I would constantly ask our FOH mixers and the producers we worked with questions about their process and preferences. Why that mic? Why that mic pre? Why that compressor? Why that mic position? Why that EQ? I learned a lot that way. Most audio people like to talk about audio and geek out on their favorite pieces of gear. I eventually started mixing live sound for some of the opening acts we would take on tour with us, and started recording ISIS demos with a small amount of gear. From there I started doing a few records and things sort of built from there.
What are bands expecting from a producer nowadays? Has your role changed over the years?
It varies, but in general, I hope that an artist wants to work with me because they like something about my work and they feel I can help them get to where they want to go sonically. If I can, I like to get in early and hear demos and get my head around things. Then prepare a plan of attack for making the record. Even if I'm not mixing the record I like to give a well-produced record to the mixer. Too many times I've mixed records that were recorded/produced terribly.
Working for free to get exposure. 'Rookies' are obsessed with this dilemma. Is there a formula you'd recommend to start moving the first steps in the right direction without losing perspective?
Personally, I don't think there's any other way. You have to grind away and put in the groundwork. That's how you get experience and build a portfolio to present to clients when you're ready. If anything I think there's a lack of that nowadays, so if you're willing and able to do it, you're going to be one step ahead of everyone else.
On a more technical note, what are the ingredients of a great-sounding mix?
These days what impresses me is pushing sonic boundaries. I'm really impressed when an artist/mixer/producer isn't afraid to go for it. Sometimes I over think things, so when I hear a mix where it seems like they just committed to an extreme sound I really appreciate it. I don't mean extreme in an aggressive way necessarily, I just mean something in a song that really grabs your ear. Cool sounds seem to stand out to me more now than a complete and balanced mix.
As a sound engineer with strict deadlines, do you prefer to mix ITB or OTB?
I mostly work ITB but I have an Overstayer "Stereo Voltage Control" on my mix buss. It just sounds too good to not have as part of my workflow. The only drawback is that I have to print stems in real time, but it's worth it to me. I used to use an OTB summing mixer, but I feel like the summing in Logic Pro 10 is pretty great and I don't miss the OTB summing too much.
What do you like the most about Acustica Audio plugins and how have they improved your sound?
What I like most about Acustica Audio Plugins is that they're a complete package. They sound amazing, they're highly tweakable and they look really great, which to me is important because mixing nowadays is so visual. The fact that they're so powerful means I can use them in a lot of different things. They're inspiring to use, which improves everything.
Do you have any favorites?
My current favorites are the White2 mastering EQ, Lemon delay and Taupe.
What do they give that others don't?
They sound great even when you push them hard. They react like real gear. I also love how "deep" they are. They take a minute to explore and get your head around them because they are so complex, but once you find your way with them they become really musical and inspiring tools.
Do you have any go-to tricks you use when mixing?
I have some stuff that lives on my mix bus and some compressors/EQ's that I like on certain things. I like to use compression and delay in interesting ways. I love parallel compression.
As a drummer, how do you approach mixing what is possibly the most delicate instrument to get to sound right?
I'm not sure I approach a mix differently as a drummer. Maybe I do. I always start with the drums. I think that's fairly standard but not always the case. I think the most difficult thing to get right in a mix is the vocals. It's usually the most dynamic and precious part of the mix. It's what most people focus on. And usually, singers are pretty particular (understandably).
Which Acustica plugin(s) do you like to use on the stereo bus and the drum bus?
White2 lives on my mix bus. It's become part of my process. On the drum bus, Taupe and Viridian are really fun. Sometimes both together!
Believe me when I say I'd have another million questions for you. But let's save some for next time! Keep up the incredible work and thank you so much for sharing your knowledge.
Thanks so much for the inspiring plugins!