I specialize in mixing records. A great mix of a song can take it from the feeling you get when you walk through a nice room to the feeling you get when the elements and lighting in that room make you feel like you want to live there. Who mixes your song can be as important as who you choose to sing, play guitar, or play keyboard on it! I strive to highlight exciting emotional moments in a song using the latest tools and proven classics to create a memorable experience. In our conversations about your music, I learn what your vision of the song is and together we craft the perfect “lighting” for your music.

Production and Sound Design


I have produced many kinds of records from song-driven pop and rock records to very experimental electronic records, from soul to folk and areas in between. I have spent my life studying the things that work in simple or complex, layered arrangements. My love for an eclectic span of musical styles cannot be overstated! I have decades of experience with hardware and software synthesis and sound design tools along with years of audio engineering and musical training. Perhaps these tools and my perspective on audio and music can help your vision become a tangible reality?

Exciting news! I was recently elected as the producer representative for the Grammys (NARAS) Board of Governors and as co-chair of the Producers and Engineers Wing Committee in San Francisco. I hope to do great things for recording and music education and for raising the voice of indie artists in all genres! Onward!



As an ASCAP affiliated composer and songwriter, I have written music for myself as a solo artist, several singer-songwriters, bands, as well as numerous television shows, film, games, commercials, and movie trailers. I spent years signed to a record label as a singer/songwriter and understand the many different structures of a song and the craft of lyric writing. I have also composed countless instrumental pieces in varying styles from quirky television themes, to orchestral string and horn arrangements, pop, hip hop, and rock tracks, field recording sound collages, and many styles of electronic music and beyond.



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  • 01.
    S.O.B. Featuring Michael Buble
  • 02.
    Bird Strings
    Seth Lael
  • 03.
    Jellyfish featuring Julia Reeser
  • 04.
    Lazy Guys
  • 05.
    Take That
  • 06.
    McKay Garner
  • 07.
    Cortes Alexander
  • 08.
    S.O.B. and J Dilla
  • 09.
    On the Road (It Ain't Easy)
    Seth Lael
  • 10.
  • 11.
    Every Other Thought
    Cortes Alexander
  • 12.
    AFib 1 and 2
    Seth Lael



Since studying music at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts and playing in countless bands as a drummer, guitarist, vocalist, or keyboardist, most of my life has been lived as a working musician. I have spent the last twenty years as a producer, audio engineer, and composer. During fifteen of those years I owned and operated a commercial/project recording studio in Los Angeles. My wife and I have now lived in beautiful San Francisco for the last several years.

I have been fortunate to have worked as an engineer or mixing engineer on records for up-and-coming as well as familiar, Grammy-winning artists such as Red Hot Chili Peppers, J Dilla, Michael Buble, Mike Shinoda/Linkin Park, Mickey Hart (Grateful Dead), Zakir Hussain, Flogging Molly, Styles of Beyond, and others. I had the honor of working on records with renowned engineers and producers such as Ariel Rechtshaid, Dana Nielsen, Ryan Hewitt, and many others. I have composed music for television shows such as America’s Next Top Model, Grey’s Anatomy, Dawson’s Creek, Burn Notice, and more. My work on video games and films include Total Recall, Transformers (the movie), and Sony Playstation to name a few. The debut album from my collaborative duo, doppio, was featured in 3 categories for the 2011 Grammy Awards including Best Electronic Dance Album, Best Engineering Non-classical, and Best Electronic Dance Single. I am a consultant for Dolby Laboratories on their Expert Listening Team where I help develop new audio technologies.

Musically, I strive to be a bridge between experimental and traditional music approaches with an ear to new technologies and musical techniques. I build my own electronic instruments and controllers and am always looking for new ways to explore music and sound. I have a deep love for audio and sound design with a solid understanding of varying forms of hardware and software synthesis and signal processing.

I am an active member of the San Francisco Bay Area music community participating in several mentoring and networking groups including the NARAS P&E Wing (Grammys), BARMMAP, Balanced Breakfast, the Ableton User’s Group, SF-EMM, and others. I do my best to try to help spread the love for the craft of audio through interviews, blogs, articles, and workshops. I love meeting new people so send me a note below!


A special thank you to the amazing Studio Trilogy in San Francisco for permission to use some of the studio photos at the top of this page. Visit Studio Trilogy at http://studiotrilogy.com

Mixing and Sound Design Tips


Salt is the Best! Salt is the Worst!

Here’s a tip when doubling or stacking vocals and adding harmonies.   Choosing the right lead vocal mic can take 1 minute or years of searching. Perhaps there are things that you love about that magic mic, like how it adds this perfect amount of euphoric saturation to the higher frequencies, has just the right presence for the vocal, or adds a thickness to the lower frequencies. Behold the glory of your new, perfect vocal mic! That’s great! Some tube mics, in particular, are well-loved for these exact reasons. The sound of Aretha Franklin pushing tubes into distortion on some popular hit records just sounds all the more exciting to me. So heck, why not use that new tube mic it on all 27 congruent vocal parts on the chorus of your new song?!   This idea may just work out perfectly in some situations. I particularly like saturated vocal sounds and even complete records at times. Just take some time, experiment, and listen to make sure that those things that you like poking out on that one track of vocals don’t start to get more and more exaggerated when stacking more doubles or harmonies on top of that first lead vocal. This is particularly one thing to watch when the vocal parts are singing the same phrases at the same times, like everyone belting harmonies and doubled parts with the same exact rhythms. Saturation or distortion, especially, can be one of those wonderful things to watch out for, that you can’t take back, like adding salt to a recipe. Salting every ingredient before it goes into a soup,...


Most of us want to use the original drum sounds and recording when mixing, but sometimes, the recording is not up to par or the producer hears a different tuning or sound than the one that was recorded. Drum sample enhancement or replacement can be useful in these situations. When deciding to use drum triggering software like the excellent Steven Slate Trigger plug-in, don’t forget that the app triggers different samples of different drum hits depending on the velocity of the original drum hit triggering it. This means that setting up the gain structure of the plug-in is very important (as usual). If the drummer’s original performance is really going at it and smacking the kit, try starting with getting the same intensity in the plug-in. I suggest not just looking at the meters, but listening and comparing the crack or lack thereof of the original hits and the triggered ones. Sure, sometimes you may want to change a timid hit into a big rocking one. But, if you are going for original intent, it’s great to try to just change the sound and not the performance if you can. If not set up properly, you may get a monster sounding song with drum fills played like a lounge drummer or a light, sensitive tune with Tommy Lee blasts in the middle of it. If that works for the tune, go for it! I won’t judge. But, I say make sure it was intentional and not an oversight if you can. I think it’s a good start to try to shape the sound and not the overall performance if...

2 Myths About the Need for Room Treatment: Acoustics: The Truth is Out There

I have heard different people say that acoustic treatment was not necessary in their studio room because they were not using microphones and only worked with synths and/or samples. Room acoustics can be crucial for many reasons if you are monitoring your audio with speakers. There are two sets of misconceptions that come to mind that often fly about the web related to room treatment. One is confusing acoustic treatment or “tuning a room” with sound proofing. They are very different things. Building ISO booths or trying not to disturb the neighbors requires sound proofing which involves materials with dense mass and separating the transfer of vibration using things like lots of drywall, z channel, green glue and the like. A second misconception is that if you are not using microphones, room treatment is not necessary for accurate sound and choices about sound. Acoustic treatment for recording with microphones and for monitoring the sounds you have recorded or want to record can involve very different approaches. Room modes and reflections from your speakers on surfaces can create nulls and peaks in certain frequencies of audio. This means that if you are either choosing or creating a synth sound because it sounds “thick” or “bright” or whatever, the room may be the reason that you THINK you want to use that sound for a certain purpose. In reality, that sound may be very different in character from what your monitors are telling you in your room. Your monitors rely fully on the way your room makes them sound, not unlike cupping your hands around your cell phone speaker while music...


Making your bass instrument wider in a mix does not mean you HAVE to make all your LOW END FREQUENCIES stereo. If you want your bottom in mono but like the sound of a bass that feels wider, try adding widening effects like wide chorus/ modulation, short delays, or other techniques via an aux send. Then, put a hi pass filter on the fx return so there isn’t big low end in the stereo effect. I like using a Roland Dimension D or the Soundtoys Microshift plug-in for this purpose. This makes the bass feel wider without eating up bandwidth down low in both channels (L-R). That said, if you like wide low end as well and don’t care about certain applications that like mono bass (vinyl perhaps), go for...

DRIVE THE BUS: Using a dedicated saturation/drive aux send

I like having one or two “Drive” auxiliary buses that I can send things to that I want to poke out on specific lines in a track. I can ride the sends to these for various amounts of grit and punch, or I can ride the return level for how much I want this to come forward. I particularly like this on guitars that were originally clean to medium gain sounds or on synths where I want one riff to come forward a bit dirtier. In plug-in land, I often use Soundtoys Decapitator or Sansamp. Try it in hardware with your Culture Vulture or some gnarly tube box. If you haven’t tried this, go for it! It’s fun and powerful stuff! Also, find this tip and more on my facebook mixing/sound design page:...

SNARE DRUM POWER: Reverb effects

Here is my current mix’s crazy snare drum reverb return chain, left to right, top to bottom. Crack ‘n splat. Just enough grain in the reverb to splatter and come forward. The chain is: EQ to determine what the reverb “hears” (kind of a tweaked Abbey Road curve), big reverb with tempo-friendly decay, Massey CT5 in Limiter mode bringing the details forward, Soundtoys Decapitator with a touch of saturation that makes it a bit grainier . This way I can keep the reverb level low and still get a tone that cuts through without being tooooooo “effecty” or lush. Sounds cool! Try something similar with your effects and let me know if reality flips upside down. Also, find this tip and more on my facebook mixing/sound design page: https://www.facebook.com/mckaymix...

TRACKING TIPS: Click Track Skills

I am playing drums on several songs for Seth Lael’s record this Friday at Jingletown Studios in Oakland. We have just one day in the studio and need to come away with final drum tracks to use for overdubs later at my studio or Seth’s. For this and other reasons, I will be using a click track for tracking. Today I am making custom click tracks for myself for the session. Each song may have different sounds for the numbered counts and subdivisions, often with more subdivisions on slower tempos. I sometimes like to create different pitched sounds for the measure leading into the top of the tune or for tricky sections to keep placement of takes consistent. So there are seventeen and a half bars of 6/8 then ACCENTS on 8th note duples? Yup, some high pitched 8th notes on that half bar can cue the coming accents in your ear. Excellent. Some of the intros are kind of rubato guitar and a slightly different measure of click can also signal the coming downbeat of pocket for rhythm tracks coming out of “free” sections where meter is rather ignored. Sometimes, if I don’t have a scratch vocal to track to, I will create an additional “coach” track of my voice in certain spots saying things like “bridge in 2, 3, 4.” This is mixed into my headphones for cues which can save a take if rehearsal time is limited for all involved. I used to get asked to do this occasionally from the control room for some sessions. I later realized I could record a track like this...

SUCCESSFUL SESSION SECRETS: Getting the most from hiring a session musician

So, you’ve hired a bass player (or other musician) for a session on your song. Don’t forget to have things prepared before the session like charts if needed, notes about specific things like bass tone, references of songs or styles you think may be similar to what you need, and an encouraging, receptive attitude! Here are some additional things that may not be apparent. Being a great bass player doesn’t mean that you can write great bass lines for a particular song. Writing good bass lines doesn’t mean you can play bass. This applies to most instruments and instrumentalists. Keeping this in mind when hiring session musicians can help determine what you get out of it. Often it is a good idea to have in mind what you want before the session and make sure you get that from the musician on the tracking date. Your idea can be documented before the session by you either playing a scratch line in on a keyboard or by simply recording yourself humming the idea on the track to present at the session. After your idea has been executed to your liking on the tracking date, allow the session musician to do a take or several takes totally from their perspective, experience, and vibe. One of the two approaches or a combination of both is bound to be most excellent. This approach can help save you time and money AND possibly give you parts that are better than ever. First and foremost, get what you want recorded first and if time allows, let the specialist do their thing!...

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