Lance Powell shares his studio secrets

Grammy-nominated mix and recording engineer, Lance Powell has worked with a vast and varied range of artists throughout his career to date, counting the likes of Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, Miguel, Wu Tang Clan, Liza Minelli, Charlie Puth and more among the clients he has serviced. Here, he tells Headliner about his approach to work in the studio, his proudest moments, and the Merging Technologies kit that shapes his workflow…

“When I was a teenager I played guitar and made pretty pathetic attempts at starting bands,” says Powell of his path into studio recording. 

“I soon got my hands on a four-track Tascam Portastudio, and was hooked. Eventually I landed at Platinum Sound Recording Studios working under owner/producer Jerry Wonda and chief engineer Serge Tsai. It was a school of hard knocks, but I grew a lot and it prepared me to take on anything (or anyone) in the industry.”

Such sentiments certainly ring true when perusing his list of credits, having worked across an incredibly diverse line-up of artists and genres. His ability to crossover into so many styles is largely due to his commitment to facilitating the creativity of the client, as opposed to stamping his own mark on any given project.

“I try to keep out of the way as much as possible,” he explains. 

“For recording sessions, I'll get everything set up in advance and pay close attention to where headphone stations are placed, where spare floating mics are put, and I'll make sure line-of-sight is good between musicians and producers so it's easy and enjoyable for the artist to be creative and spontaneous. 

"When someone wants to record something, I don't do mic shootouts and compare preamps, I call on my experience to decide how I'm going to capture something. Every time we are playing back, I'm subtly adjusting the rough mix and fixing issues while they come up; I don't ever 'leave things for later' when I can avoid it.

Merging products don't get talked about a lot in the pop music world, which is a shame because they're a massive step up from the regular players you see everywhere.

According to Powell, one of the most memorable projects he has worked on to date was Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ 2019 double album Ghosteen.

“Ghosteen was one of my career highlights so far,” he says. 

“For the most part it was Nick Cave, Warren Ellis and myself in the room together. Warren is just a non-stop stream of ideas. Nick is a brilliant songwriter and producer and never ceased to impress me with how he can retain his perspective when focusing on the finer details of a song and at the same time thinking about the overall project and its direction.

“I went about capturing the mood of these songs by doing just that - capturing it. I never tried to stamp my mark or push things in a certain direction. It was all about setting up in a way that encourages creativity and experimentation and then sitting back, hitting record, and letting Nick and Warren do their thing. 

"With those guys you have to be on your toes - there are often very left-field requests being thrown at you, but when you just roll with it and don't worry about breaking any 'rules', it’s amazing what can come out of a session.” 

One of the most crucial tools in Powell’s audio arsenal is his Merging Technologies setup. As a long-time fan of the company’s kit, he believes it is only a matter of time until their technology becomes a staple of the studio sector.

“Merging products don't get talked about a lot in the pop music world, which is a shame because in my opinion they're a massive step up from the regular players you see everywhere,” says Powell. 

“When I decided to get rid of my outboard and focus on embracing ‘in the box’ mixing, I spent time demoing a lot of gear, but the Merging tech ticked all the boxes with no compromises in sound or build quality. And with the AES67 format it uses to interface with the DAW, the option to easily expand in the future was appealing too. 

"I love doing recording sessions on the go, so having a top-notch portable setup is really enticing. So 16 mic pres and 16 outputs in a single rack unit HAPI and full monitor controller in the Anubis routed together via a CAT5 cable? I'll take that any day over a bunch of cascaded prosumer interfaces or a heavy rack of outboard pres!

“Also,” he concludes, “Dolby Atmos is here to stay and I think Merging is naturally going to become one of the leaders in that field, too.”