Not many former janitors get to tell Jimmy Page to redo a guitar part, but that’s exactly what Mike Fraser, who worked his way up from cleaning the floors at Vancouver’s Little Mountain Sound Studios to being one of the industry’s A-list triple threats (engineer, mixer and producer), found he had to do one day.
“We were recording the Coverdale/Page album, and Jimmy laid down a guitar part that was fine,” says Fraser. “The only thing was, the way he played the part before was way better. So I thought for a second, ran the words through my head, got on the mic and said, ‘Um, that was really good, Jimmy, but I kind of liked the way you played it earlier.’"
So how did Page respond to Fraser’s suggestion? “He was really cool. He said, ‘Oh, well, that’s no problem. I can just do it the other way if you think it was better.’”
Over the years, the Canadian-born Fraser, whose big break came when he was able to put down the broom and assist Bob Rock on sessions, has had a hand (or two or three) in a trainload of gold, platinum and multi-platinum releases by rock’s elite: from AC/DC to Metallica to Aerosmith to Joe Satriani, they’ve all come to rely on what Fraser likes to call “an honest, no b.s., friendly approach to making music.
“I like high energy and a sense of realness,” he continues. “I want to hear a band play me a song and sound like they really mean it. I think that’s what audiences want, too. Pure raw emotion is always the ticket. So it’s my job to go in there and capture that magic moment.”
That same philosophy holds true for mixing: “If the heart and soul of the performances are on the tape, I have to preserve those elements. Sure, there are times when I might do some edits and throw on some effects, but only if they enhance what’s already there and what’s great. I should be invisible. It’s all about the artist and the songs.”
Fraser, who favors Neve or API boards for recording (“nice warm punch”) and SSL consoles for mixing (“very crisp clarity, amazing automation”), says that he still feels like he’s living out a dream when he walks into the studio and finds himself face-to-face with one of his heroes. “But you have to say to yourself, I’ve worked for this. I deserve to be here. And then you prove it all over again.”
Read on as Mike Fraser talks us through 10 of the most important and memorable albums of his brilliant career.