In early 2012 Grammy-winning mix engineer Michael Brauer got a phone call from Sony Legacy’s Vice President Rob Santos that led to a very interesting assignment: remixing 2 of Elvis Presleys famous concerts at New York’s Madison Square Garden for the upcoming deluxe box set Prince From Another Planet. Of course both concerts had been published before: The evening show from June 10, 1972 only a week after the concert took place on the LP Elvis As Recorded At Madison Square Garden (1972), the afternoon show 25 years later on the CD An Afternoon In The Garden (1997).
I have always loved those concerts very much. As soon as I heard about the upcoming release, I wanted to know more about who Michael H. Brauer is, what his famous Brauerize® compression and mixing technique is about, why the new box set really is worth buying, and how it felt to remix the King. And that was not exactly an easy task for me because I really have no clue about sound engineering. I then decided to take the bull by the horns and ask Michael Brauer himself who turned out to be an extremely nice guy with a fascinating background!
In fall 2012 – just a couple of weeks before the box set Prince From Another Planet was finally released – I interviewed him about what to expect. A German version of my interview with Michael Brauer was first published in the well-known German fan magazine Graceland (issue 208) of the Elvis Presley Gesellschaft e.V. Here is the orginal English version of the interview.
The Memphis Flash: Michael, your list of credits is very impressive and wide-ranging. Being famous for your trademark Brauerize® compression and mixing technique, you have worked for stellar names such as Luther Vandross, Aretha Franklin, The Rolling Stones, James Brown, Aerosmith, Jeff Buckley, Bruce Springsteen, Phil Collins, Tony Bennett, Billy Joel, Rod Stewart, Paul McCartney, Pet Shop Boys, Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson, to name just a few. Your work with Coldplay and John Mayer resulted in several Grammy Awards. Apart from that, there is relatively little known about you. What is your background?
Michael Brauer: I was born in New York City but raised in Paris until I was seven and then returned to New York City. I’ve always been based in NYC, first at Mediasound where I learned my trade. When I went independent, I moved to Right Track for a couple years and settled in a small studio, Quad Studios for about 8 years. After that I moved to Sony Studios for 6 years and then back to Quad until about 3 years ago when I moved to Electric Lady studios where I’m very happy to be.
The Memphis Flash: All very well known studios, that’s for sure. In what sense is NYC the ultimate place to be for you?
Michael Brauer: I grew up here so the energy I get from here is in my blood and I draw from it everyday. When I leave to work someplace else, which is very rare these days, I can feel the battery slowly draining and after a few weeks I need to get home to recharge.
The Memphis Flash: You said you also lived in Paris for a couple of years. Is it true that your family is related to the famous French novelist Jules Verne (1828 – 1905) who wrote – among others – the adventure novel Around The World in 80 Days?
Michael Brauer: Yes, he is my great great great uncle on my mother’s side.
The Memphis Flash: Some creative family you have there. Is Jules Verne – besides other influences – in any way an inspiration for you?
Michael Brauer: He was an inspiration in the fact that he was very creative and unique in predicting the future. I’ve had several family members that were incredibly creative thinking “out of the box”. Maybe somewhere inside my psyche I felt I could and should continue that tradition since it was in my heritage. I wouldn’t be successful without the background I learned at Mediasound studios and watching my dad work so hard being incredibly focused for hours on end and a perfectionist in his work. He was an industrial designer and did logos and packaging designs for Winchester guns and many other companies. I think I learned a lot from just observing his tenacity.
The Memphis Flash: Is there a moment, a specific experience you remember where you just knew that music is what you wanted to be involved in for the rest of your life and how did you get started in the music business?
Michael Brauer: I put together a band in boarding school when I was in 9th grade. That was when it all started. When I had to stop it in college because my grades were bad in Pre Med, I realized that music could not be simply a weekend warrior type commitment. So I told my dad my decision to make music my life. As it turns out, being a musician in a band wasn’t the life I wanted but recording became a way to stay connected to music and still be creative. When I mix music, I’m happy. No matter what else is going on around me, music never lets me down and I never let it down.
But officially it began when I was hired as an intern at Mediasound studios in NYC. It was an old converted church. All the great upcoming engineers were the staff [Bob Clearmountain, Mike Barbiero, Ron St. Germain, Michael DeLugg, Ed Stasium, Godfrey Diomand, Tony Bongiovi, Harvey Goldberg] and this was my stomping ground from 1976-1985. I went from intern to assistant in 8 months and then staff engineer by 1978.
The Memphis Flash: From intern to staff engineer in 2 years? That’s some career. What were the people that influenced you a lot during those early years?
Michael Brauer: Working with Luther Vandross was an important step towards learning the feel of R&B which led to my working with many other R&B greats during that ten year period.
The Memphis Flash: Being famous for your trademark Brauerize® compression and mixing technique, how would you describe this “sophisticated application of compression”, as Rick Clark called it, in simple words to someone who is not a sound engineer or mixing professional but just someone who loves music? In other words, what do I hear when I listen to my favourite artist/band after your work is completed?
Michael Brauer: It’s pretty simple really, you hear a lot movement and feel a lot of emotion in my mixes. I want a song to bring out the spirit of it’s story. I want the singer to grab your attention and feel and relate to his/her happiness, anger, loneliness or simply their physical energy that makes you want to get up and dance.
The Memphis Flash: You once said that what makes you stay creative, what makes you explore new musical territory is wanting to be mixing the greatest bands and artists of our time. In what sense is Elvis Presley a priority for you? How did you get the assignment to remix the recordings of Elvis Presley’s Madison Square Garden concerts?
Michael Brauer: I was contacted by Rob Santos from Sony Music.
The Memphis Flash: Simple as that? Was it something you wanted to do for a long time or was it simply a matter of knowing the right people and having worked successfully for RCA/SONY before?
Michael Brauer: I love mixing archival projects. Mixing Elvis was going to be a thrill especially considering one of the shows had never been released [sic]. I had worked with Rob before on a live Phili concert so he knew my work. My intention in mixing the show was to bring out the spontaneity of the moment in time. I wasn’t looking to make it sound modern, I just wanted to maintain the sounds that were appropriate for the time and bring out the rawness of the show. Is it perfect mixing on my part, no. Perfect mixing can make music seem sterile. I wanted to make it feel real like you were there with witnessing all it’s glories and all its faults.
The Memphis Flash: Being from New York, did you attend one of the Madison Square Garden concerts back in 1972?
Michael Brauer: No.
The Memphis Flash: The LP Elvis As Recorded At Madison Square Garden (1972) was released only a week after the two concerts presented on the box set Prince Of Another Planet (2012) took place. What was your first impression of the original recordings and mix?
Michael Brauer: It felt good to me, I could hear everything really well but the spontaneous energy of the evening was missing a bit. It felt more like a documentary of the evening vs an event. I say that respectfully.
The Memphis Flash: In what form did you receive them?
Michael Brauer: The shows had been transferred to Pro Tools.
The Memphis Flash: How did you work on the recordings to improve them?
Michael Brauer: I never remember what I do to get a song feeling good. It’s not important to me what I do along the way, I just search and push buttons until my idea comes to fruition and I feel good. My technique is in play everyday because it helps me make the music dynamic and exciting.
The Memphis Flash: Any big challenges?
Michael Brauer: There was a ton of leakage on Elvis’s mic.
The Memphis Flash: What can fans expect the concerts to sound like now?
Michael Brauer: Not sure about the sound but certainly the feel will be more like you are at the show. It feels alive.
The Memphis Flash: You once said that you make it very clear to your clients that if the artist’s/band’s visionary or someone he/they completely trust is not present at the mixing session, you’re not interested in mixing the record.
Michael Brauer: Times have changed since I wrote that. That is my preferred scenario but in the past few years, only about 40% attend, so I try and get them to skype me and I set them up with Nicecast so that I can live stream the mix to them and we can make changes in real time. It’s as if they are in the studio. Archival mixing doesn’t apply to this situation. But I had Rob Santos and someone who actually attended the concert give me a lot of insight and suggestions. I always try to get as much information as possible before I sit down to mix. They were a great help.
The Memphis Flash: Let’s assume Elvis Presley could have been present at your mixing session, what would you have asked him?
Michael Brauer: You being the ultimate stud, how many women did you get at these concerts and what was the code word you gave the Colonel to get them up to your suite? Actually, I think he does tell the colonel on one of the songs during the afternoon show :-).
The Memphis Flash: The answer to that question for sure is one a lot of guys would like to know… Anything else only he could have answered to your full satisfaction :-)?
Michael Brauer: Why did you let the Colonel talk you into doing bad movies and then going all glimmer with Vegas?
The Memphis Flash: Were you in any way impressed by the Madison Square Garden concert performances of Elvis Presley and his band while working on them?
Michael Brauer: Yes, the musicianship was amazing. And I think between the two shows he got pitchy on only one word. Extraordinary considering he’s running around stage the whole time. I mixed the show in two and half days which meant I flew through about 50 songs in that time. To me it felt like the afternoon show was better than the evening.
Maybe I would have asked him why the evening show didn’t have the same energy. But I think I have my own opinion on why that was, from what I gather his friend, a comedian, who was the warm up act got booed and he was pretty upset by it. Or maybe not, don’t know, just a guess. The afternoon show was hard to beat in my view.
The Memphis Flash: Final question. Will we hear more Elvis Presley mixes with the famous Brauer touch in the future?
Michael Brauer: If Rob Santos calls me again, yes.
The Memphis Flash: I keep my fingers crossed that he does → review of Prince of Another Planet. Thanks again for taking the time to answer my questions.