For the past 15 years, multi-award-winning film re-recording mixer Paul Massey has relied almost exclusively on Harrison’s MPC mixing console hardware, whether working at his own facility or elsewhere. When the hardware is not available, he says, “I depend totally on the MPC Channel Strip plug-in from Harrison. They've done an amazing job at emulating the original hardware.”
London, U.K.-born Massey has been nominated for 10 Academy Awards, including for Ford v. Ferrari, The Martian and Walk the Line, winning for Best Achievement in Sound Mixing for 2019’s Bohemian Rhapsody, alongside Tim Cavagin and John Casali. The team also won a BAFTA Award for their work on the film. Massey received the Cinema Audio Society’s Career Achievement Award in 2022. A longtime resident of Southern California, he recently completed a new 9.1.6 immersive mix room in Ventura, which features a large MPC5 console that was previously at the center of his home studio in Ojai, a short drive away.
Introducing Harrison MPC5
“I first was introduced to Harrison’s MPC5 console around 2009, when I was building my first studio,” Massey says. “I completely fell in love with the way it sounded and its Toys package, the onboard plug-ins that the console provided.” Since then, he says, “I've come to completely depend on Harrison equipment for everything I do, whether it's music or dialogue mixing for film or for streaming.”
But when a project takes Massey away from home and he is not able to use one of the scaled down mobile MPC hardware systems that he keeps in Los Angeles and London, he relies on the MPC Channel Strip plug-in. The plug-in provides six essential components derived from the MPC5 console: a parametric eight-band EQ with RTA, a pair of multi-pole filters, a two-band de-esser, a two-band de-noiser, a compressor and control of routing, trim and polarity. “I depend on it one hundred percent,” he reports.
“I put it on every single strip when I'm mixing within Pro Tools,” Massey elaborates. “It's on my overall outputs and my individual inputs. Even if I've pre-dubbed or I receive tracks that don't need any EQ or anything, I'll always put the MPC Channel Strip on as a standard template, just to have the overall compression, de-essing and EQ easily at my fingertips. I find that the sound of the plug-in EQ is almost identical to the MPC5 EQ, which I absolutely adore. And it is so fast, so intuitive and so easy to use.”
He continues, “It's very intuitive and very easy to understand, without any training. One of the best things is in the bottom right-hand corner, where you can change the routing. If you want to do a radical EQ that's going to hit a compressor, or if you want to do some filtering before it gets to the compressor before you get to de-noising, you can change the order of the components extremely easily. And that's all automatable.”
While the features and functions may be remarkable, Massey is particularly drawn to the plug-in’s sonic performance. “Most impressive to me, beyond the ease of operation and all the rest, is just the way it sounds,” he says. “It's so similar to the hardware. I've had several opportunities to compare and directly A/B between the MPC Channel Strip plug-in and the hardware, and it is so close.”
As for the equalizer section, which offers controls for up to eight bands, “You can set it up however you wish,” he explains. “I typically use it in a four-band EQ setting with high and low shelving and bell curves in the lower mid-range and upper mid-range. There's extreme flexibility with the Q on every band; my preset is somewhere around a Q of 1 or 0.7. That way, I'm getting a very soft, very nonaggressive approach to mid-range control. But you can tighten that up and do whatever you want. If you're trying to get rid of a spike or harshness or a certain frequency area, it's extremely easy to find where the frequency is and then go through the various Q settings.”
“Within the EQ display there's an RTA display that you can select,” he adds. “If you're looking for something and can't quite see how wide that frequency area is, it's an extremely useful tool. I know a lot of people enjoy that RTA feature.”
Massey continues, “One of my favorite components is the de-esser. I love the sound of it. It's extremely similar to the hardware, but it has an even better visual display. There's a great function called Auto Solo. Once you've activated that, you can hit two bands that are displayed and, along with the RTA, you can clearly see where the sibilance areas are, and you can quickly home in on them. It's extremely easy to see what you're attacking, and how much you're doing once you've set it in place. There's no need for any additional de-essing plug-ins, in my mind.”
The compressor, too, is extremely similar to the MPC5 hardware, and features all the expected control parameters. “You can create a softness from this compressor, if you want a very gentle attack time, a very gentle ratio and a very gentle overall effect. You can almost make it sound like an old tube compressor. But when you really want to go for it, you can really hold something at bay as much as you want, without any artifacts. And you can really flatten something out if you want to. Once you've sorted out the attack time range and how that then affects the rest of the controls within the compressor, it’s very easy to use and very easy to control.”
The de-noiser is also extremely useful, Massey reports. “It's dynamically controlled, obviously, and you can set the depth of high and low cut-off and how much you want it to open up and pump and gate.
I typically will not use that on an individual production dialogue track, but I will use it at the end of a chain when I've done all of my work on my collective individual tracks. Then, you just want to smooth things out a little bit because some of the hiss or some of the generator noise is pumping slightly. You can set it up so that it hardly even attacks, but it completely smooths all that noise coming in and out.”
More Harrison plug-ins for vocal, bass and drums
Massey also uses Harrison’s Vocal Flow, Bass Flow and Drum Flow all-in-one signal processing plug-ins, especially when mixing music. “Those were a game-changer for me, especially used in conjunction with the MPC Channel Strip plug-in,” he says. “I've mixed a few concert films, and I had an opportunity a couple of years ago to mix the David Bowie movie, Moonage Daydream, which had a lot of 1970s recordings on it. They were recorded really well, but I found that to get some massive power out of the kick and snare the Drum Flow was invaluable. You can really add power with the tone generator.”
Massey, with David Giammarco and Jens Rosenlund Petersen, won the 2023 CAS Award for Outstanding Achievement in Sound Mixing for Motion Pictures – Documentary for Moonage Daydream.
“The EQ on all three of those plug-ins is more like the Harrison 32C console EQ, which is much punchier potentially than the MPC, which is a little bit smoother for film,” Massey continues. “If you want to bring a vocal forward, or if you want to bring kick and snare or bass into the 2020s, they’re unbelievable plug-ins. They have such power and add so much more than I could do with simply adding EQ. You could really bring a vocal forward; it just punches through the screen. I use the MPC Channel Strip on everything I do, then, if I need to go a little further, the Bass, Drum and Vocal flow plug-ins can work really well in conjunction with it.”
MPC Channel Plug-in iLok Update
In addition to AAX, the MPC Channel Plug-in is also now available in AU, VST, and VST3 formats, and uses the iLok license delivery system. MPC Channel Plug-in is currently on offer for a limited time at $99.99 (was $999.99) over on the Harrison eStore. The MPC channel, as well as a preview of the forthcoming Mix Bus V10 update, will be showcased at the NAMM 2024 show, visit the Harrison booth 18301.