13 Questions with

Jon Altschiller

Gone Phishin’ with Jon Altschiller

Jon Altschiller is a veteran engineer of New York City's recording studios but is recently known to many as the “Live Phish” Sound Mixer and Engineer for the band Phish.

Not FOH mind you; recording and mixing the bands live shows on the fly, to be released within an hour of the end of every show. A studio mix, live.

He has made a career doing many different styles of projects, which is not the norm these days, where most people have a specific genre they work with. Most try to focus on just mixing or just tracking, mastering or just doing live sound. But, if you are like Jon and think of yourself as an "audio engineer" — doing a lot of different things is just another day of doing what you love to do. Jon says: “If you want to do anything well, it is imperative that you enjoy the process... Being an engineer is not about the glory. It's about having the respect of the artists and the people around you.”

Jon got an early start in the music business playing in bands when he was 13. His first studio internship was after his sophomore year of high school. From there it was a natural progression to where he is today. During college, Jon would do live sound for his band while playing drums. After college, he turned his musical interests completely toward the studio. In 2001, after working in many of NYC's recording studios and mix rooms, Altschiller saw the need for something different. So, Jon started Chiller Sound, a boutique studio designed to deliver high quality sound.

Altschiller has recorded and/or mixed everything from pop stars (Mandy Moore, Ben Folds Five, John Mayer, Simon and Garfunkel) to jam band kings (Phish, Dave Matthews Band, Warren Haynes). He has mixed national TV commercials (Pepsi, Kohl's, Boar's Head) and mastered music for video games (Grand Theft Auto, Midnight Club). Jon has produced and mixed music tracks in both stereo and surround for television and radio broadcasts. In the world of 5.1 surround mixing, Jon has been a part of many exceptional DVDs and broadcasts. In the last few years, Altschiller has mixed 5.1 DVD projects for Phish, Dave Matthews Band, and Jason Mraz to name a few.

Mercury Recording Equipment Company’s 13 Questions

01 When did you know Music was more than a hobby or dream job and was going to be your “career”? Was there one thing that made that happen?

Music has been a focus of mine since I can remember. I started playing in bands at about 13 and I began working in the studio environment early as well. I got my first internship at a production company in NYC (Charles Morrow and Associates) following my sophomore year of high school... we were doing music for Nickelodeon shorts as well as for commercials. I continued working in studios and got my first full time job in a production company in NYC (JSM) after college but it was not until years later that I had that career moment.

After about 4 years working as an assistant/engineer in NYC, I was asked to do a record up at Bearsville, which would take about 3 months. I had to give up my full time job to do it, which I did. I walked into Bearsville studio A, sat down at the Neve, went into the live room and clapped my hands. I think that was it.

02 What aspect of music are you known for (i.e. engineer, mixer, producer, musician)? and What do you do that most people do NOT know you do as well (music related or not!)?

At this point, I am mostly known as a mixer. I think of myself as a general practitioner though. I have some clients that I do only mastering for and others that use me for tracking. Honestly, I enjoy the variety of disciplines. You may not know that I still play a mean game of golf. I played competitively through high school and into college. Then music just took over.

03 What is your musical ”guilty pleasure”?

HMMM, tough question to interpret. I choose this... I think my occupation is my musical guilty pleasure.

04 What do you think is the most important thing is to get a great recording? What stage of a recording is most overlooked?

The first part of my answer is simple, a great song and a great vibe when you're recording it. So many great songs that I hear from the 60s and 70s sound so raw when I use them for comparison to stuff that I am mixing today, yet there is something that is so perfect about the energy and the mix of each instrument and vocal in the way that I remember that song.

As far as modern recording, the time constraints on the recording and production process, as a whole is tough. Whether by budget concerns or everyone's need to be in 100 places at once.

05 Who do you admire in the recording world (engineers, producers, mixers etc...) and why?

Where do I start. Easy, Bob Ludwig. His ears, generosity and ability to make your speakers completely disappear. Bob Clearmountain. His mixes seem to bring what should be in focus, in focus. Kevin Halpin, my mentor. The best engineer I was able to work with. Last, but not least, John Alagia, the nicest producer I have ever worked with. What I find I admire most about John is that aside from him being incredible musically, and that we share tastes, he seems to always do what is best for the artist. Both musically and what is best for their interests overall.

06 What are your feelings on TAPE vs. DAW?

Each has their strengths and weaknesses in my opinion. This may sound weird (or not), but aside from the difference in sound, the pace of an analog session makes a big difference. Changing reels and catching your breath. Recalling the console between songs. Think about it. I find that when you're on tape, when you have to make choices about what to keep from the beginning of the recording process it can keep everyone a little more focused. As for DAWs, as a mixer, I couldn't imagine life without them.

07 What new Artist/Group is in your “player” right now? What Artist/Group has always been in your “Top 10”?

While not so new, Mumford & Sons has my interest now.

Top 10 is always hard. Beck, Fiona Apple, Beatles, live Grateful Dead, David Crosby, John Coltrane, King Crimson, Frank Zappa, Phish... and batting clean up, Radiohead. While the Beatles have always been in my top 10, I must say every iPod/iPad/computer of mine has all of Beck’s albums in them. Enough said.

08 What generation had the best music and/or recordings? and/or What generation’s music do you connect with the most?

I think we now we have the best recordings as far as sound quality. The technology we have available and the ability to use or not use vintage ideas and equipment give us engineers the best of all worlds. I think the Mercury gear is a good example of this thinking.

While I like a lot of the music that was recorded years back, I think the musical experience offered during my generation has been great. As a young child in the 60s, to growing up listening to AM radio during the 70s, “Live Dead” during the 80s, and in the 90s rediscovering studio albums. Not a bad run. I also think there are a lot of great artists creating great music right now.

09 You get to have one mic for vocals for the rest of your career, what is it and why?

While I would definitely take a U67 to any desert island, as my all around choice, I would take a U47. I like the size of the sound and the clarity they produce. I also think they work equally well on male, female and group vocals.

10 When did you first hear of Mercury Recording Equipment Co.? What was your first experience using Mercury Equipment?

A few years back I was about to purchase a vintage Pultec eqp1a from a friend. I sent pictures of it to another friend of mine (Matt Knobel) to check out the restoration work that had been done. He immediately called me and told me to buy two of the Mercury’s for practically the same price as the 1 vintage Pultec. I quickly purchased two EQ-P1s, put them on my stereo bus and they have been there ever since.

11 What piece(s) of Mercury Equipment do you own or have you used? What applications / sessions have you used it (them) on?

I own two Mercury EQ-P1s. I mostly use them on my mix bus as stated above; however, I have used them for tracking vocals, guitar, bass etc. I also use them for bouncing tracks through as well. They give incredible dimension to anything that goes through them.

12 What are your overall thoughts on Mercury Recording Equipment? And please describe Mercury Recording Equipment in 5 words or less.

I think that Mercury Recording Equipment is some of the best sounding gear that is being produced today. I like the looks, the feel and love the smart alterations to the original designs to give you just a little more flexibility than the vintage counterparts. I like Dave’s attitude of making things just a little better.

5 words or less: 3D with warm attitude.

13 What has been you most rewarding experience in the studio?

I feel very fortunate to have been able to work with so many great artists and a few of my favorite producers in such an intimate setting, “The Studio”. Ultimately that is most rewarding to me.

Recording Rachael Yamagata solo vocal and piano anywhere but particularly at Avatar. It just doesn’t get better.