Musician and Producer Mike Avenaim Celebrates The Hardware Return of the AMS RMX16
“Someone sent me a picture of the unit and I laughed because it seemed too good to be true,” he says. “Everyone knows the RMX16 is iconic because it defines the sound of an era. There’s hardly a pop song from the 1980s that doesn’t incorporate it and there certainly aren’t many serious producers and engineers who wouldn’t want one for their own equipment rack. I’m no different – I’ve had one on my eBay watchlist for years now but could never quite justify the cost and the possible maintenance issues of owning a piece of gear that old. But a new hardware version, released in the 500 format and selling at a price most people can afford, well that’s just amazing. When I realised it wasn’t a joke and AMS Neve really was launching this at NAMM 2020, I was delighted. It’s a genius idea and I’m so pleased I now have one in my studio.”
Originally from Australia, Mike Avenaim started his career as a drummer and built a strong reputation as someone who could perform in any musical situation. Having completed prestigious studio and live sessions with various bands, he relocated to the USA in 2010 and has subsequently embraced many different roles including musical director, producer, engineer, mixer and composer. Among the artists he has worked with are Scott Weiland, Lil Nas X, Tori Kelly, Hailee Steinfeld, Nick Lachey, Leslie Odom Jr., Ruel, NOTD, Bea Miller, Jorge Blanco, Disney, Emblem3, Zella Day, M-Phazes and Colby O’ Donis.
Mike’s decision to build his own studio came about in 2016 after a fall from a tour bus left him with such a badly broken ankle that he didn’t think he would ever play drums again.
“It was a stupid accident but it changed my life,” he says. “After it happened, I couldn’t walk for months so I had to reassess what I was going to do. I’d always been fascinated by the technology of making music so I decided to build a facility that would allow me to play and record drums without having to use my foot too heavily. I was already renting a space in Los Angeles that I’d been using as a drum room, so I decided to convert that into a remote drum studio.”
Located in LA’s NoHo district, Mike’s studio was specifically built to accommodate the needs of clients requiring live professional drum recordings and programming. It features a live room that can be configured to suit any style – from a slamming Led Zeppelin roomy rock sound to a dry 1970s Fleetwood Mac vibe.
“It’s not a commercial facility but I have ended up doing lots of different projects in it,” Mike says. “I use it as a writing facility and as my production space when I am working with other artists, so it is very versatile and a place where I feel very much at home.”
Unlike most studios that have a control room and separate live room, Mike has built everything into one space. Naturally, there are lots of drums in the middle of the room but the walls are lined with racks of outboard equipment, all carefully positioned so that Mike can see the VUs and meters as he plays. Although he runs everything into Pro Tools, he describes his set-up as a ‘hybrid analogue system’ because everything he records is analogue on the way in.
“I have loads of really cool analogue outboard including some Neve 1073 modules, some API and Chandler stuff, some retro instruments and lots of old compressors,” he says. “To me, these pieces – along with some really great microphones such as Coles 4038 ribbon mics – define the sound of recording drums. Being able to do things properly was really important to me. I didn’t want to use an interface or a plugin – I wanted a way of really manipulating what I was doing on the analogue side, not on the digital side. When I’m creating live drum sounds for a client, I use a different set-up every time with different kit, microphones, and routing. Sonically this makes it sound better and allows me to give my clients exactly what they want.”
Slotting a new AMS RMX16 500 into his studio was an easy decision for Mike to make. As soon as he knew it was being made available, he had his name down for a unit.
“I am obsessive when it comes to doing things properly. That’s why I’ve been lusting after an original RMX16 for so many years,” he says. “When UAD brought out a plugin I was really tempted to set up a UAD system for tracking but I didn’t want to use a plugin because I prefer to physically manipulate sound on hardware.
“For years I’ve been using an old SPX 90, which is also synonymous with the 1980s, but it isn’t the same. When I’m doing a remote session I like to give clients as many options as possible, so I print a lot of stuff on a stereo channel – a snare drum reverb, for example, or a kick or tom reverb –in order to give them something they couldn’t make themselves. What I’ve been trying to do all this time with my SPX 90 is now really easy to do with the AMS RMX16 500.”
Mike Avenaim’s RMX16 500 arrived in Los Angles just before the city went into lockdown because of the Coronavirus. Although he is confined to his home and his studio, he is already thinking of ways in which he can use the unit when he travels.
“I’ve bought a rack specifically for it – a six-bay Midas rack that will have the RMX16, a mic pre and a compressor in it so I can take it wherever I go,” he explains. “I may not have had it long but it already adds so much space to everything I am doing. It is much more than just an incredible nonlin reverb for snare drums; it’s also a fantastic vocal reverb and great for short reverbs of my entire drum buss when I use the ambient and room settings. A plugin is fine but it is not the same as being able to physically manipulate a piece of equipment to create the sound you want. There is something so inspiring about listening to what your drums sound like in real-time. When you put your cans on and hear it, it makes you play differently.”
Mike adds that the unit has proved very easy to use thanks to its intuitive controls. “It made sense immediately,” he says. “Everything is so straightforward – you just turn it on, scroll through and find all the sounds you want. I even like the mix knob, which I don’t tend to use when I’m mixing but is a great feature to have when I’m tracking.”
Until the lockdown is lifted, Mike is working on remote drum sessions for TV licensing companies and remotely producing and mixing projects for various artists and singer-songwriters.
“Having the ability to work remotely is really useful at this time – and having the RMX16 500 to play with is making life a lot more fun,” he says.