“The hi-hat is a truly Satanic instrument, it gets everywhere and there’s nothing you can do about it”: Steve Albini’s Mix with the Master’s recording tutorial is now available to watch for free

Earlier this month, the world of recording lost a unique entity when engineer, Steve Albini passed away after suffering a heart attack at his studio, Electrical Audio on 7 May. Once carrying a reputation as outspoken, opinionated, and possibly even curmudgeonly thanks to his refusal to suffer no fools, in later years, the Shellac guitarist, and man who recorded Nirvana, PJ Harvey, The Pixies, Bush and many, many more, frequently opened up about his approach to capturing bands in the studio. 

Luckily for us, there’s plenty of footage to devour online, however many of these are short clips from interviews, rather than hands-on, in-the-studio demonstrations. Perhaps the most definitive documentation of Steve Albini’s studio workflow comes in the form of his session with online recording school, Mix with the Masters, and in tribute to Steve Albini, MWTM has now uploaded Albini’s in-depth video walkthrough to YouTube.

During the near-four-hour video, we’re treated to a comprehensive overview of Albini’s methods for capturing guitars, bass, vocals, and of course, his signature drum sound. It’s punctuated with an all-new Q&A session with Electrical Audio engineer, Greg Norman and longtime collaborator, Tim Midyett.

Captured at La Fabrique studios in the south of France — the man himself walks us through his microphone choice and placement, tips on tuning and dampening drums, while also lifting the lid on some of the ingredients to achieve the ‘Albini sound’.

Drum-wise, just some of the golden nuggets include his preference for double-micing toms (batter and resonant side), his use of Coles 4030/4038 ribbon mics as cymbal ‘spot mics’ rather than capturing a ‘kit snapshot’ in the traditional overhead placement, and why you’ll never hear a hi-hat mic on a Steve Albini-engineered recording.

Albini also details his use of a batter-side, small condenser mic (often a lavalier mic) on the bass drum, in combination with the now-discontinued Beyer Dynamic M380 placed inside the drum. Albini’s favoured ‘kick-in’ mic offers a bi-directional polar pattern, eliminatiing sound from the sides, and minimising the ‘beachball’ effect that can often detract from beefy bass drum sounds.

As well as this, he runs us through some of his distinctive floor-mic methods for capturing room ambience, and the placement of a front, stereo ribbon mic to create the overall stereo image of the drum kit.         


It’s not just the gear, though, Albini also shares tips on using side-chaining and peak-limiting to help minimise bleed between the mics, as well as demonstrating his way of bulking up bass drums at the mixing stage by creating a feedback loop using busses and an outboard EQ. 

Of course, it’s not just drums - there’s a treasure trove of information for anyone looking to capture traditional rock band instrumentation using Albini’s organic ‘sound-in-the-room’ methodology. 

It’s an incredible insight into the workings of an engineer who many consider to have been the last bastion of traditional recording, delivered in Albini’s own inimitable style. It’s not a short video, but we’d urge anyone who has a passing interest in production and engineering to give it a watch, just in case it goes back under lock and key.  

Stuart Williams

I'm a freelance member of the MusicRadar team, specialising in drum news, interviews and reviews. I formerly edited Rhythm and Total Guitar here in the UK and have been playing drums for more than 25 years (my arms are very tired). When I'm not working on the site, I can be found on my electronic kit at home, or gigging and depping in function bands and the odd original project.