CJ Teffner is a writer, performer, producer, and multi-instrumentalist who approaches music with honesty and refined attention to detail.
The Arizona-based artist is also a celebrated songwriter, studio musician, and mastering engineer, and he put those skills to good use on his recently released EP Stars. A twinkling introspective collection of four tracks, Stars was five years in the making but totally worth the wait. While Teffner wrote and produced the music and lyrics, vocalist Robyn Cage helps him bring his striking stories to life, painting an intimate picture of his journey of personal growth for listeners to enjoy and learn from.
CJ revealed how he mixed the tracks that comprise Stars in a special guest blog as part of Musical Notes Global's Producer Spotlight series. Check out what he had to say below.
"Recording Of Stars"
I’m excited to have been asked to share some insights into the recording of my latest EP, Stars, which was released July 13 of this year. Stars is a dark and dreamy group of songs, three of the four are acoustic guitar based with one full band song. I wrote and recorded all of the instruments and vocalist Robyn Cage sang them.
I’d worked with Robyn in the past and her delivery and conviction are so pure that the songs’ true essence really were able to be conveyed. I recorded with mostly vintage gear, classic microphones like the Neumann U87 and lots of tube preamps and compressors. I didn’t do it to give it a "vintage" sound, but because the gear just sounds so natural and lets the performance shine through.
When I started the initial mix on Stars, I found the right place to high pass the acoustic guitars to remove some mud, usually 100hz, because I like to close mic with large diaphragm condensers and it can get muddy down there. Then finding where to scoop the mids a little to make room for the vocals. The same idea goes for the vocal, finding the right balance of clarity and weight, without being tubby or ess-y. I tend to use a single reverb bus for all tracks on acoustic songs as it sounds more cohesive. I have a love affair with the UAD EMT 140 plate reverb, and what I do is roll off the top and bottom end so it’s smooth, and then use some pre-delay to let the initial signal be heard dry and then the reverb comes in, maybe 30ms. I find this really helps with clarity in the mix.
My reimagined version of Ozzy’s “Crazy Train” uses backwards guitars, as well as using MelloTron flutes, the sound at the beginning of The Beatle’s Strawberry Fields and Led Zeppelin’s Stairway To Heaven, to really create a mood. On “Meant To Fit” the instrumentation is vocal, acoustic guitar, piano and cello and the song.
“Please Forgive Me” is very similar, but has a fretless bass solo in it, which gives it a sort of orchestral feel in a minimal acoustic setting. I like to use Universal Audio plugins like the SSL and Neve strips because they just sound open and natural, the sound getting out of the way of the performance.
The song “Stars” ends up as a pretty big production by the end, my Queen influences start to come out! By the end of the song there are probably 12-16 vocal tracks going, so the backups get thinned out a bit and panned. For this song I make use of automation on eq. For instance, when the lead vocal is happening I’ll pull down the highs a couple of db’s on the guitars or synths. That way they aren’t distracting from the vocal, but I’ll have the eq come back up when the vocals aren’t happening to give the listener a focal point. It’s subtle but works, and for me that’s what it’s all about. The sound of the mix should be about the song, not the other way around.
After it was mixed I had it mastered at Sterling Sound. Professional mastering is crucial to getting you mix to really come together. The tracks will come back smooth but detailed, full sounding but not bloated, and not over compressed. l always leave a lot of headroom for the mastering engineer. I feel Stars came as close to what I wanted as possible. On that note, I’ll leave you with a quote:
“No one ever finishes an album, they eventually abandon it.” Dave Stewart
Listen to Stars on Spotify.