During a conversation with InsideOut, Dream Theater drummer Mike Mangini talked about how he perceives the tracks recorded in the studio and how they’re perceived by fans listening to the final product.
“This record [the new DT album ‘Distance Over Time’] unfolded differently than any other one that I’ve done – because I was a part of that engineering process by default. Over the years, talking to Jimmy T [James Meslin, engineer] about frequencies I just don’t want in my drums – he soaked up all that and then did his thing, basically.
“So what happens is, when we get that initial sound… I said it has to be right because that is the sound that we’ll try to get back to for the beginning of every song so that the album’s consistent. So we hope to get it good enough right there. [Laughs] ‘Alright, it’s gonna work the whole way.’ That’s the first thing.
“So after I track, I am listening to – first of all, ‘Does it sound like it did before?’… There’s a musicality, and then there’s… *points at the computer* ‘Did I hit the right things at the right volume?’
“There’s a lot of hits on the drums. So for me back there, my ears pick up the drums way differently than any microphone ever could. The snare drum out there would destroy the window… and I hit so, so, so hard. What is interesting – a lot of fans don’t think that I do. It’s very bizarre.
“Because I know what the engineer is telling me about. My input levels are destroying. I literally distort overheads with my snare drum hitting it so hard. That’s just abnormal. So I’m hitting extremely hard.
“It doesn’t look like it either. Because I practice like Bruce Lee. You know that punch, you could knock someone over from an inch away. I practiced that for four hours a day for a couple of years straight – just hitting from a low height, pounding the drum.
“Anyway, I come in here… Did I hit it alright? And that’s only at this stage. You’ve got to understand, when I’m listening and I play and it’s recorded, I’m then out of it. I’m out of what’s happening in here [studio control room] after it’s done.”
Then it’s his job to EQ it…
“It’s always been out of my hands. So that’s up to interpretation. Different people interpret different things. A different team of people. As a team interprets, it changes the shape. It’s not any one – the sound is not any one person, including me. I hit it, I get it how I want it, and then I’m done. It’s pretty much how it is.
“When I’m listening at that stage – ‘Did I do what needed to be done?’ – and that’s what I listen to in the playback. After that, it’s a different team, a different interpretation.
“But it’s bizarre because no one in the world is gonna hear it the way that I experienced it out there, except another drummer that knows, ‘This is the reality.’ What’s interesting is that most of the world hears it from a different perspective.
“I used to wonder why my sound got interpreted so differently than how I experienced it. But it’s just because people are in a different physical space. The drums sound differently from, like, three feet in front than 10 feet in front than behind the kit than down low than up above. Jimmy T put some microphones near my ears – let’s get some behind me and lower so those mics are picking up what I’m experiencing.
“Again, I come in here and then I listen to it. Because now I have the job of… I have to, like, play correctly. So if I don’t do that and they do all this work, that’s a bummer. [Laughs] That’s just a wicked-long explanation!”