Podcast Episode #2 producer / engineer Henry Hirsch (Part 2)

My guest today is multi-platinum award winning producer/enginner Henry Hirsch best known for his collaboration with Lenny Kravitz. In part two of this interview we talk about:

  • Helios Consoles
  • Doing projects together at Schleiwies Studio
  • Arun Pandian and his Helios Console in New York
  • Drum Micing
  • The best advice today’s Henry would give young Henry


Links and Show Notes:


Guest: Henry Hirsch

Host: Clemens Schleiwies

The Podcast Website:

Schleiwies Studio:

Analog Online Mastering:

Arun Pandian:


00:00:05 - 00:00:16
Clemens: Let's talk about Helios consoles as you have owned and use them so much.

00:00:17 - 00:00:18
Henry: Yes.

00:00:19 - 00:00:22
Clemens: How much does the Helios has to do with the trademark sound?

00:00:22 - 00:07:35
Henry: Well, let's start with Helios. Let's just look at it clearly. Initially, it was a company built for a design for Olympic Studios that had cut Zeppelin records and Rolling Stones and all these records and engineer that was working there. And an electrical engineer was basically asked by Keith Grant to build a console for the studio. And so they built aa4 track console because that's what they were doing at the time. And. It was just a custom console for the studio and there was no company. There was no Helios console company, but groups would hear the stuff. This is one of the very first transistor boards everything had been with. They would call vacuum tubes and everything had been like that at that point. And so it had early germanium and transistors in it. And that was like considered to be like the cutting edge stuff. You had X on separate channels, which wasn't common. The modern board basically was being created, in essence. And so he built this custom console for Olympic Studios not to sell. But everybody loved the sound of the board. And Glenn Jones was working there and he's doing Zeppelin one. And some of these records still to this day sounds just remarkable. And so because of those records, I was attracted to this brand. And it turns out that that he left Olympic Studios. And because so many people had heard it, he started opening up a company and he called it Helios. And he started manufacturing these these recording consoles custom, each one for the studio. It different but similar, similar ideas, but different and different transformers and different technical things, different setups, logistics. But there was something about the sound of it that I could do with drums, especially where when I would crank the mic pre, I could get like this overdriven quality about it. There wasn't distortion, but it was like this sound that improved the drums in a way that was like really special. So I thought it was like, I mean, was this part of the design? Was this thought out? So I was with Keith Grant, and Keith Grant was a classical musician and engineer, and he's I would say, you know, what about the mic? He's using it the way I'm using it is like, I don't know what you're talking about. You know, everything was clean. It was like, No, hear the peak meters, you follow the peak meters, like, Oh, wow, I thought I was onto something and maybe nobody else knows about it. And so initially it was like, Well, I can do drums with this thing, and then on again and go my way. I got an outboard rack of eight channels of Helios. A signal which is still down on the bottom is today of Helios. And he did started doing drums with this stuff. And my drum sounds just like just like on are you going to go My Way Vanessa's record and and then on Circus and it continued on even after and it's still in in the Bahamas, as I said. And I was just fascinated with this ability to to transform sounds from this little snare mix sound in this little thing. And I would put microphones around a drum kit and just pick what sounded best with a snare drum, which sounded best with the kick drum. And I would do what we called the whine and I would wind up the mic pre or on the line returns. They also had the same sound depending on the transformers. And so each Helios had its own distinct quality about it, but they did share a lot of common ergonomics, mainly the fact that you could sit in the center of the speaker. And be able to not have to move. So there were a lot of wrap around consoles that they built somewhere, not wrap around this console here is not a wrap around console, but a lot of them were wrap around the original Olympic console turned into one that they used for their 24 track, which I had bought then, because at this point I was totally all for Helios consoles and I bought it from Keith Grant who was selling it. Keith Grant was ill at the time. He later died, unfortunately, and I bought this for Takashi Kobayashi to put in Studio A in the studio was building because I was this is this was I knew that this was my career. It was Helios consoles. And really ever since then I've tried to search out and find where I can work. That is a Helios console and of course I owned one myself. I had a church and I bought one myself. But logistics and issues with the studio there in terms of noise and other issues that I was having there, we the church we bought, I felt no longer was something that I could do. So I, I sold the Helios console and I lost the healer. So I always need a studio. I always need to record. I can't not record. So I had talked to C Studio and I had that console, the Olympic console, and it was just incredible. I mean, the you could do had a meter on it where you could meter peak levels for everything the buses sends, you know, the master bus out. Everything was on one little pot which you just turned, which is just amazing. So. All the audio could be done sitting in the center of the speaker. You need to know other equipment and you could do everything. I didn't use the Helios compressor at the time, actually, I just started using here. Clemens has it and it blows me away and it makes perfect sense because it's the same thing. It's the same brilliant type of design, so it makes perfect sense. So Helios and I became synonymous, and initially these consoles were very inexpensive and people hated them, mainly because they had the transformers were such that they distorted quickly and everybody was buying these consoles. And I would always work on a Neve and it was the opposite of the Helios. I could never get a sound, but yet everybody said Neve is the way to go. So back then the Helios people were throwing them away. Matter of fact, you know, the dark side of the moon console was given to a guy named Mike Hedges was they were going to throw it out. Nobody wanted old gear. This is when the music business was turning into the digital thing and everybody thought this whole stuff was junk. And now this old stuff is now worth millions of dollars. And yet the records are. Are they being made with this stuff? I don't know. That's another another question to be asked. That's the story with the Helios. So when I saw Clemons advertisement online, I was like, Helios. He still has one of those consoles. It's like I said, you know, and I'm living in France now. And so I was like, Wow, I'm going to go see Clemens studio. He's got this Helios. He says, Well, yeah, I don't if you can like the setup and all this, I'm like, I think the board is going to take care of itself. And sure enough, we come, we're here. Yeah. And it worked.

00:07:35 - 00:08:00
Clemens: We spent the last four days getting sounds, checking out everything, and we are sitting right now in front of the console. So my, my console is the, is the old, um, Hansa studio console Berlin with David Bowie recorded his Berlin albums. So how do you envision how we could do projects together?

00:08:00 - 00:13:56
Henry: Well, okay, so initially it was like I'm walking into a studio that does mastering and mixing, but there is a recording room and I'm like, Are. We're going to go to a mastering studio, but we can record. Imagine that you go into a mastering studio and you go into Sterling, say, and you don't have any recording equipment. You don't have any ways to do anything to fix anything. And all of a sudden you listen to your music and you're like. Did I do that? Is it this bad? And because the speakers would always be so fine tuned and and Clemens has these speakers and these Lipinski speakers, and they're exactly that. We could hear the smallest little detail there for for different than recording speakers. They're there for playback speakers. It's just amazing. And but imagine having a studio where you can actually instead of trying to Band-Aid it, where you can actually repair by doing something to your mics, which means that the sounds you have to make sure they fit perfectly within a bed of your digital recording. And we could do this by locking the Studer up to the computer so that they're complete. The Studer then becomes a slave to the computer, and we cut to the tape and we can make these great sounds, insert them into the mix, and all of a sudden you have a drum sound and you have an engineer who's got all this experience. So instead of trying to Band-Aid it and make it something that it's not, you do it for real. And so the idea came to me that there's this is a real hole in the market doesn't exist. And so I figured with this Helios console and with the way the studio is set up that we musicians can come in and can play or we can just mix and do the mixing. If the recordings are really good, which is fine, but use the Helios is as Clemens does use it as his mixing console exclusively. He has his own system for doing it and I bring my system into it and then we'd work together and do the mixing together. And most likely Clemens would do all the mastering for all the records with his studio. He knows the speakers better and that's what his job is. And he'll do that and he'll assist me because I can't set up microphones. I'll break everything and but we're like tuning drums together and we going over how to get the sounds. And we did a drum sound, as Clemens said, and it came out really, really good. And I played the drums, ironically enough, because I in Germany, I did the drums also on this record I did in Berlin, that again, getting back to those old days. But you're going to find a Lippa where I did a song called Garuda Blotches, that's the name of the band, and the song was Kreutzberger Nesta Huge number one hit. And I played the drums on that. I played all the instruments on that record. If you go back and listen to it, it sounds like old Bloody Old Blue Dot by the Beatles. It's like, you know, it's all disco. It's like 1978. It's horrible. But I did it all. And it's ironic that all this German things are now coming back, that I'm now in Munich and I'm with Clemens and and I'd been here before 40 years before, and here I am again. And that's the idea. The studio is going to be a mastering and mixing studio that has the capability with very little extra expense to be able to actually change, especially things like bass and drums. If the bass is wrong on the recording, there's just no fixing this. You have to replay it. And that's just the bottom line. And I love doing bass laughs anyway, because I think that's the most important thing on a record, because that's how speakers are going to grab it and how it's compressed. And, and a lot of that is like redoing stuff but not doing all of it. It's like, let's keep it as a bed, put it up on two channels on the desk and go, okay, let's, let's now we can hear it how a new bass will work. And it's just the mastering then is done. Say Clemens touches it up. I go back home and that's it and we can get it. And I have a studio in New York as well, and we could start talking about that. But that's how I envision working here with Clemens. I feel that we can use this in a way that will benefit people's records. It'll take them out of being extremely close and tied to their music emotionally, and it'll put them in front of two very experienced engineers, musicians and professionals that can say, you know, I think this is the best advice. And we're going to start with our first project probably at the end of October, and then we're going to continue from there. And if people like the idea and they feel that it's something that they could do, then that's what we're going to do. I've always prefer tape. I still prefer tape, but I think the digital recordings that are being made right now, which is unlike what was happening back in the early days, has gotten so good. And I'm a big fan of so many new recordings that I hate it when when guys my age and guys that are older than me, I always go, you know, I hate all these records and never even listen to the records. I hate them. They all sound bad. They're all crap. And I'm like, No, they're not. They're actually really, really great sounding records. And I'm a big fan of so much modern music, which is unusual considering my love for tape. So I'm trying to think, okay, well, maybe you can mix the two together for real. Not on the computer, but for real. Don't use plug ins and don't use fake stuff on the computer. Just do it with the real stuff. But then. You know the pressure. You're not under any pressure for time and punching in and having to edit the tape and all this stuff. None of that's going to be the case. Yeah. You'll have to punch the bass in. But it'll be seamless. It'll use it in a way that's more specialized and not as the full project. And so it will be cost saving and you'll be able to use it in the highest way that it was initially made to be used for. So that's how I see it.

00:13:57 - 00:14:07
Clemens: Right. And a real funny story is like you worked on that exact console right in the studio.

00:14:07 - 00:14:52
Henry: That's correct. It's amazing. I used to look over the wall while we were in the control room, and and you could see the wall. You could see East Berlin across the way. It was just all rubble. It was one building and all this rubble. And it was this big building, this big studio complex. And they had a bunch of rooms in there that I used to go in and record because I was doing as a piano player. And as it turned out that, yes, that this console was in their studio. And one of the rooms, I knew nothing about it. But it's ironic that here we are, the fact that I use this board 40 years ago and here we are 40 years later and talking about doing this type of work is amazing. It's amazing. Yeah.

00:14:53 - 00:14:58
Clemens: So and there's another Helios in New York, right? Yes. Yes. Tell me a bit more about it.

00:14:58 - 00:23:54
Henry: Okay. Well, let me introduce you to Arun Pandian. Arun is a friend of mine who I started working with in 2005. So, you know, when you talk about a rune, you tell me about somebody that appreciates old records. And I met him and he had a band at the time, and he asked me if I could fix the audio. And I had this RCA cue that I was using with Lenny. So Arun came to the studio and I did this mastering for him and he was like, Wow, this is really great. And Ryan said, Do you have a recommendation for a board? I said, Why don't you get I see there's a WSW console for sale. Why don't you get that at those cons? So I use some of the inputs down in Miami. We're letting out a studio. Why don't you check it out? It may be a good sounding board. So he did. He bought a WSW console and in Dumbo in New York City, which is a part of Brooklyn, he opened up the studio, which is in this basement studio, and he put this WSW console. And so Arun would come out sometimes to my studio, which is in a church at the point in Hudson, New York, And he would come out and he'd listen to what I was doing and check what I was doing, sit on the couch and. And I had my Julius constantly was like, So, you know, if you ever want to sell that board, you know, I'd be interested in buying it. I'm like, Okay, well, I don't think so. But, you know, I think that, you know, it's great. And he loved it. Appreciate. He understands all of this stuff. He's a remarkable engineer. He can pick up any piece of audio equipment and make something out of it. Just remarkable. And he has this studio in Dumbo, and it's somewhat similar to the studio here. It's not very big, but when you have somebody that talented that supersedes anything else, and I plan to use Arun and his his his tremendous knowledge of orchestral recording, he's written doctrines on it. He knows everything there is to know about stereo recording. I'm not like this. I don't have any of those types of skills. So we're really good team. So Arun Studio in New York is going to be it's a little larger than this and I'm going to look to doing tracking there. As you said, Arun is going to make a great partner for doing that. And he's also teaching now, which is great. And so we're going to do projects there and together, and sometimes they'll do it like during COVID. Arun was doing all that stuff, or he'd send it to me and I would listen to my headphones and I hope between the two studios that we can take advantage of that experience and my demeanor, which is never give up, never stop, never believe you're beat. Be believing in your in your instinct that if the mic sounds good, use it. If the mic sounds bad, lose it and have no preconceived notions. If you want to follow the book and get everything in phase, you get everything perfectly. You're going to peak meter, go for it. Or if you want to just go wild. Yesterday we did drums and I'm like, Fuck it, I'm just going to just like crank these Mike Priest or before they totally snap and all of a sudden these little dead drums in the room come to life. They jump. I go out and hit the drums on the scooter and, and it's like it's just within literally a half an hour because of the desk and because of what I know how to do. I picked some Mike Clemons set That was great. My collection here, we ended up using like a U. 47 and then 49, and it came 54, which is one of my favorite mikes. We put that underneath the snare and then I ended up, you know, put a close mike on the top of the snare. We had Tom Mix, and I chose the Tom Mikes, who were buying microphones for their isolation because I like the stereo image to have the toms and I like everything in that stereo image to be tight. And so I don't like a lot of leakage on those microphones. So any mikes like for for teens or broad mikes like Neumann's, things that have much more gain, I would rather be able to turn up the mic pre on the board and get more of a putting you know this this wound sound and use microphones that have a specific purpose in my mind in terms of rejection and terms of cancellation or, you know, other sounds around it and then having no preconceived notions. So we put a DX 25 on the kick and I kept putting it up and putting it up and so on the front. And I'm like, You know what? I just like the beater side. And he beat already 20 on the Beater. It sounded great. It was like it just as soon as I put the the preset on full on the board, it was like you wouldn't have known where it was located. And all I had to do was just deal with the snare leakage on the mic, which is minimal because it's a directional radio mic. And that's why I chose it, because I knew there would be leakage from the snare and it was minimal and that was our kick sound. And then I'd go between the mics and choose and, you know, to be an overhead on the right, which could become the snare sound. It is no rules. I never end up using the close mic. I didn't need to. It's, you know, it sounded awful. And if it sounded great, I would have used it, of course. But that's the way you do it. It's like you set up microphones and you come into the control room, you put them up, and most likely you're going to go, Oh, boy, here we go. So the tools that you need are the tools. You have to have great microphones, the equipment has to work and you have to have gear that has a specific sound to it. And this Helios console has a signature to it. So we went to work and immediately it had that sound. And that's just the bottom line. And just use your skills and your ears to try to take someone's music who very close to it, very nervous about it, who only has maybe a few thousand dollars left in their bank account and they're calling changes and move the hi hat up a little bit, you know, take the snare drum down a little bit. You know, you've got to, you know, do this to the kick drum. And, you know, Clemans is doing this every day. So let's say instead of going through all of that, let's just make it right. And now you have the opportunity to do it. And if you love what you're doing and you want to cut something from scratch, we'll do it from scratch. That's the Arun stuff. You're talking about an engineer that is is what he's talent is is I can't emphasise both Clemens and Arun. Their work is is just amazing. It'll be a great team because anything Clemens does, I fully trust. I've listened to his discography and every piece of work that he's done and I was blown away by it. I wouldn't be here if I wasn't. And with Arun, it's just, you know, since 2005, he and I become best friends and his studio, even though it's in a dungy basement in, in Dumbo, it's, it's better sounding than any 3000 day studio that you'll ever find. I think that's that's really the storyline. The storyline is, is that what you see is not necessarily what you get. You go into a big studio and you think, okay, the studio has made this record, it's done this. It's like, I'm going to get that sound. That's not how it works. It doesn't work that way. You need somebody to operate the Helios, so it's can sound more like a Led Zeppelin record if you don't know how to operate the board. And it's not just about cranking prize, it's about using the compressors, about using the cues, about doing ads. It's it's a system. And if you don't know how to do that system, you're not going to get close to those sounds. It just won't happen. I'm very, very excited to be working with both studios and to be able to offer my experience and what I've brought in the past to Lenny's music and helped him succeed in the career that he had. When Lenny and I would work together, I produced so much stuff with him. And as I've said many times, it's like all his vocals. We used to stack vocals and I would listen to it isolated in the airy speakers that I was using. And I tell him to sing the right side because I could hear it very clearly. I never had music up and being brilliant like he is, he could sing harmonies in his sleep. He could sing four part harmony. And the one thing I'd consider is that if you have people that have this type of experience and they tell the truth, I think it's worth listening to what they have to save. And if it hurts a little bit, it's worth it because in the end it's going to make for a better project and you need people that are going to be critical and that are not afraid no matter how much status they have. That's not in music recording. It is such an art and so much of his random and the computer has made it so specific and so by the book that it's wonderful in its place. But this randomness, even in the computer, still exists. It's just humans. We're all human beings. So we can use computers, we use tape. And that's how I envision this entire process working.

00:23:55 - 00:24:07
Clemens: Well, fantastic. Henry um, one last question. Like, you look back on a very long, successful career in audio, so I think your work sold more than 50 million copies.

00:24:07 - 00:24:08
Henry: Yes.

00:24:08 - 00:24:13
Clemens: What is the most important advice today's Henry would give young Henry?

00:24:14 - 00:27:31
Henry: Okay, well, the young Henry was so connected to the recordings that it was it got beyond it was it was like almost like a disease. It's like I work 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I never took a vacation. The Lenny records to me were, like, so critical for my life. I mean, it wasn't just that they were being successful because we didn't know if they were going to be successful or not. I would tell the old Henry, you know, take a break, maybe just take a break and listen to it in the morning and just and just give yourself a little bit. Take the emotion down. And but I didn't and, you know, I was always, always working and always trying. I would do 50 mixes, 60 mixes. And there really wasn't much difference between the mixes. But I didn't know that because I thought they were just bad. And that I think as I've gotten older, I've realized, let me just have someone in the room with me, like a Clemons or Rune who go, Henry, you know, I think it really sounds good. And I'm like, You know what? Okay, you know, if I got people around me, I'm going to listen a mellower older and I would just advise that young Henry to live life a little bit more, which I'm still still pretty wound up. But as I, you know. CLEMONS Like, let's go see Munich, Let's take a break. And I'm like, well, I still want to work on the board. And he's let's take a break. And and that's what I tell Henry. You know, it's like the bottom line to all of this and this is the best advice I could say to everybody, is that. I hated the stuff that I did. But then I go back and I listen to it and I'm really proud of it and really feel I did. I did a good job and I'm really proud of the success of these records. I was just so emotional that that it overwhelmed you. I mean, I think everybody can relate to that. I think no matter who you are, you're overwhelmed with trying to get it right. What's a big deal is the music. Is the music quality? Does it need to be on the earth? Does is it going to is it going to last? Does it have a reason? Does it make people happy? Does it make them sad? Does it move them? That's why we do this. That's why I do this. It's like it's not for us alone. It's for someone else. It could be just your girlfriend. Or it could be 50 people. Or 200 people, or even 2 million people. Or in the case of Ed Sheeran, 3 billion people. And with Lenny Kravitz. Yes, 50, 60, 70 million records. There's a lot of records to be sold. And I'm incredibly proud of that now. But I'm only proud because I can look back and go, you know what? What the fuck was I thinking? And that's what I tell old Henry is like, Get the fuck out of the room. Just stop. Just take a moment. You know, enough's enough. Because that Henry would never do that. So that's my message.

00:27:32 - 00:27:37
Clemens: Well, perfect. Henry, thank you so much for your time and welcome. Goodbye.

00:27:38 - 00:27:40
Henry: Good. Clemens Well, thank you very much.

Post a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *