How Val Kotler mixed Danny Sanderson’s Visible and Hidden entirely remotely with LISTENTO

14 live tracks, fully mixed in just three weeks? We had a call with Val Kotler to talk about how Audiomovers helped him achieve this incredible turnaround.

Hi Val, so tell me about yourself, you’re based in Israel and you mainly work with live sound, is that right?

Yes, I’m primarily a live sound guy and I’m working with multiple artists here in Israel. It’s a little different from the US and in the UK, where usually the same engineer is working with a single artist at a time. In Israel, our market is teeny. So you have to juggle between a few different artists. So this is my primary thing: live sound, and I work at Waves Audio.

How did you get started with Danny Sanderson?

So in many cases, when we do the live shows, we are also recording the shows: multitracking everything when the artists ask for that. One of the artists that I have been working with for many, many years, is Danny Sanderson.

He’s a veteran, like a real veteran. He was contemporaries with the Beach Boys, you know, 60s, beginning of 70s, but he’s still very popular, because like, basically, the whole country [Israel] grew up on his songs. 

And he’s still, he’s very, still very vital and performing quite a lot. Especially considering his age. 

And what was the show that you worked on together quite recently?

Recently, we did a show, which is not unusual, but we took on a project, which was very close to his heart, it was like the B-sides. Not his usual hits that everybody knows and is aware of, but he played a show of around like, 20-odd songs, which were all especially close to his heart and meaningful to him. 

So it was a one-off set of B-sides, or deep cuts, whatever you want to call it. Of course, the people who like following his work, they definitely know all those songs! In fact, some of them were suggested through his Facebook and all of that, people, like, pulled out some references from like, 30 years ago. 

So we shot and multi-track recorded the show, with the idea that he wants to kind of preserve it—first of all, for himself—because most of those songs were never performed since he originally wrote them, and not even performed at the time when they were originally written. So in some cases, these songs are like 40-50 years old. 

Amazing. So then when you had the recording, you worked on the mix?

Yes, so we wanted to start mixing, but as everyone is very much aware, the pandemic was ongoing and so dragging him out of the house to the studio, and him being at a pretty sensitive age, it just wasn’t a very good idea. It was a real problem because  we usually work in very close proximity to each other. And, at my house, I’ve got kids, etc who are going to go to the school everyday…and bring in whatever they bring in from school? It wasn’t a very good proposition for him to do that because usually I mix in my home studio. And then going to the third party studio was, again, complicated because of all of those reasons. 

So we were trying to figure it out, and I suddenly remembered this thing called Audiomovers. So I called Danny and said, ‘There’s this thing, I’ve actually never tried it but I heard about it. And it should work. We can give it a try now’. 

Now, this actually amplifies an additional angle to this story, and which is very, very important. Danny is very used to his home speaker setup.

Right, everyone has their own setup and they have a sense of how things should sound on that – that’s where they listen to mixes.

Right. As an engineer, or an artist, one of the largest problems during mixing is how familiar you are with your speaker setup and their sound. This can change things a lot. Say in this particular room, on this set of speakers, it’s all sounding great. Then you take it to your system in another room or to your car or to a friend’s system and then it suddenly falls apart. 

Danny is very much attached to his personal home setup and he knows it very well. So when we thought about using Audiomovers, I realised this will kill two birds with one stone: From one side, most importantly, we can keep him safe. And another side, he is actually going to monitor my progress—our mutual progress—on the mix, in the perfect environment for him while I’m also monitoring this in a perfect environment for myself. 

So between the two of us, on our two systems, we could nail it. Well, I cannot even say it was painless. It was just perfect. It just worked right out of the gate. 

Danny is the best, but he is not a technically savvy person necessarily. He’s an artist. That’s my job. So for him to try to install some complicated setup over some third party software with me guiding him, it would’ve been a pain.

So instead we tried Audiomovers. I sent him the link and there it was. He just clicked on the link on his email. The page came up and he heard his music playing. And he was floored, like ‘Wow’, and it’s a perfect quality. ‘So we actually can do it!’. 

Before I thought we were going to do a trial session or something just to get proof that it worked. But instead it was like, “Well, nothing to wait for. Let’s start!”

‘Well, I cannot even say it was painless. It was just perfect. Wow! Because it just worked right out of the gate.’

Nice – and then how long did the process run from that moment?

We worked around two hours a day for around three to four weeks to complete the mixes. We mixed around 18 songs all together. It was a glorious success.

One of the things that is great regarding Audiomovers is that the link to my streaming page is a permanent link. We were scheduled to start sessions at 12pm. But usually by around 11:50am, we were already firing up the DAW, making sure that everything is running, so we can actually get started at noon. By 11:55am, the track is already running, so I’m just picking up from the last stop. At some point we’ll stop and start to tweak things and start getting it into shape. 

Three or four minutes after that, I’m calling him, to show him where it’s at and see if he’s ready to start working, because I’m already up and running. And he’s like “Yeah, yeah, go ahead. I’m already in”. By the third session, he had already gotten used to the fact that this is how we work. He was just getting his link up and getting in around 11:50am. Watching and hearing the progress and giving me his feedback. There were no logistical issues surrounding a pretty complicated concept. It’s not trivial what we did there. I was streaming high quality audio to his house with a half second delay, so we could work on it at the same time and work with each other’s feedback. And we could do it just like that.

Was it just you and Danny involved in the mixing process?

Of course, it was mainly me and Danny. There were some musicians involved here and there, because in a live show, there will always be some mistakes, a wrong note or something. So we would have to overdub very small parts because you know, we’re all humans.

The overdubs themselves were done offline. I would send them the exact pieces that needed to be fixed. There were only very small parts of the recordings that needed this. I always made sure to share a link with the musicians and confirm that the edits were all okay from their point of view, so that I could move along in the mixing process with Danny. This process allowed us to do this with a very quick turnaround. 

Is this fast paced turnaround a typical part of your process?

For the sheer amount of work that we did on this, it was super quick because a project of this size can easily take about three or four months of work. So the fact that we completed this in three weeks is pretty insane. A lot of this due to the flexibility that the technology allowed us to have. Sometimes it was like “I only have 45 minutes today” and in a usual mixing situation, we would just give up on that day completely because it’s not worth him traveling to me for a 45 minute session. Whereas with Audiomovers, you get 45 minutes of productive, efficient work, which is amazing. The time flexibility that it allowed us was pretty amazing. In this particular case, the project would’ve taken a lot longer without Audiomovers. 

The fact that we didn’t hate each other at the end of the project was massively due to that flexibility. It’s a funny thing, we felt extremely close to each other. It was very intimate and we were completely in sync. But this process also allowed us some distance. Nobody was breathing down each other’s necks, which made it a lot more comfortable and relaxed.

‘The time flexibility that it allowed us was pretty amazing. In this particular case, the project would’ve taken a lot longer without Audiomovers.’ 

Do you think anything in particular causes that feeling of pressure?

In my particular case, it’s just human pressure. You see the artist next to you, you’re working on their mix and of course, it’s your work so you want to do it the best way you can. But it’s their name on the project. I will have credit given to me at the bottom, which is nice, but it’s his work. His life’s work. So when he’s working on those mixes, he’s not partial. He’s involved mentally, this is his life in front of him. Especially in this case because it’s not just his standard hits that he’s played thousands of times. Some of the songs were written when he was sixteen and he hasn’t played them since. So it’s extremely emotional. 

Having an artist sitting next to you in such an emotional state, it can be very difficult on the mixing engineer. It’s not like we have a studio with 70 different engineers. We do it all. From recording the live to the final master. So you’re juggling many technical tasks and telling the client they need to be patient whilst you’re touching his life’s work. Working remotely allowed me to really concentrate on the work and get it done. From his perspective, he was very satisfied, which is all any engineer wants to hear at the end. 

You can check out the full live album on Spotify now. 

Neil Dowd
Author: Neil Dowd