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Mötley Crüe Recording 'Saints of Los Angeles' –
September 2008: The path to success is never easy for any band, but Guitar Center's On Stage contests provide talented bands with once-in-a-lifetime opportunities that even the hardest working upcoming acts aren't always guaranteed. On Stage: Mötley Crüe, Guitar Center's first On Stage event, offers your band the opportunity to perform live on stage as the opening act on Mötley Crüe's 2009 US tour, plus a recording deal with Eleven Seven Records, a management deal with 10th Street Entertainment, $20,000 in brand new Gibson gear, and $25,000 cash. All you need to do to enter is record three original songs, capture your band's best performance on video, and submit them along with a written Q&A that explains why your band should win.

Vince Neil

Although Mötley Crüe has become one of the world's biggest bands, still filling large arenas and amphitheaters on tours like this year's Crüefest, they remember what it was like to be a young and hungry band on the Hollywood/Sunset Strip club scene. The Crüe's latest release, Saints of Los Angeles, revisits those lean and mean years on songs like "Down at the Whisky," "Welcome to the Machine," and "Face Down in the Dirt." In fact, the entire album should be required listening for On Stage entrants as it provides the Crüe's unique insight into how they overcame countless challenges in their ambitious drive to reach the top.

"Our goal was to record an honest, raw, guitar-oriented Mötley Crüe album," says Crüe bassist/songwriter Nikki Sixx. "It was all about the songs. The riffs and lyrics had to be great. I've always been completely involved in the recording process with Mötley Crüe, but this time it was all about making the music as honest as possible and keeping the time in the studio as short as possible."

Sixx brought along James Michael and DJ Ashba, who are also members of Sixx's band Sixx:A.M., to produce the album with him. The bulk of the production was done at James Michael's home studio, which is equipped with Digidesign Pro Tools HD and a Digidesign D-Control Icon console.

"We recorded and mixed the entire album in the box on my Icon console," says Michael. "I've mixed on large analog consoles as well as in hybrid settings with some external summing, but it's finally gotten to the point where the benefits do not outweigh the drawbacks, with the main drawback being the inability to recall entire setups and settings. The plug-ins that have come out in the last couple of years have made in-the-box mixing a reality. I use Waves SSL 4000 master buss compression and the Crane Song Phoenix tape emulation suite to put my head back in the 'analog' world when I'm building my mixes."

Tommy Lee and Mick Mars

Because singer Vince Neil and drummer Tommy Lee were both on tour with their other bands when work on the album began, the band members worked separately on their parts for Saints of Los Angeles. Sixx and guitarist Mick Mars began by collaborating during the songwriting process, sometimes working face-to-face but usually by sending hard drives back and forth between each other and James Michael. Sixx and Mars both have their own Pro Tools HD systems at home for this purpose.

"Once the songs were written we started to lay down some instruments," says Sixx. "Some of the bass parts that we recorded for the demos were perfect, so we used those on the final track. With the technology that we have now, it's all about the performance and not the room or environment that we record in. We don't believe in having a special room that we have to rent for $2,000 an hour. It's not even about the microphones any more. People have been spending 15, 20, or even 30 thousand dollars on a microphone and then they take days moving it a quarter of an inch trying to find the perfect sound. I don't want to sit there watching somebody positioning a mic in front of a bass cabinet. I want to rock. I'd rather cut the whole album in one afternoon. To me it's all about the songs and the performance. If you have a great engineer like James Michael is it's going to sound great anyway."

The recording process was equally painless for Neil when he cut his vocal tracks. "I recorded a song a day with James, so I was done in two weeks," says Neil. "James is a good singer in his own right, and he knows how to record a good vocal. The days of the traditional recording studio are pretty much gone. I recorded all of my vocals in James' living room, and Tommy, Nikki, and Mick did their own thing on their own time. There's no reason for me to sit there and watch Tommy play drums or Nikki play bass. You just have to go in, do your stuff, get it right, and get out of there."

James used his "favorite chain" to record all of the vocals—a Soundelux Elux 251 condenser microphone (now known as the Bock Audio 251) running into a Vintech X73i mic preamp/EQ and a Universal Audio LA-2A compressor/limiter. "Occasionally I'd use a Universal Audio 1176 limiter depending on what type of character I wanted from the compression," he says. James used a similar chain for the bass, running it directly into the Vintech and LA-2A, "but sometimes I'd prefer the sound of an API mic preamp depending on what was going on with the drums."

When recording guitars, James and Mick found that Digidesign's new guitar amp plug-in, Eleven, provided exactly the sound and performance that they needed. "I usually like to record with real guitar amps, but Eleven changed my mind," says Mick. "James knows my tone really well, and he knows how to stack different amps with different mics to get the sound that I need. Eleven comes really close to what real amps and mics sound like—you actually get the amp buzz and noise and everything else that you get with a real amp. It also gets rid of the hassle of working in a really big room, setting up the amps and placing mics. With the timeframe that we had, it was the most expedient way to get things done."

"I've recorded nearly every vintage guitar amp ever made," says James. "I have reaped the benefits of them as well as dealt with the nightmares that sometimes come with maintaining them and tracking them. I began experimenting with Eleven just prior to beginning production on Saints and made the decision that this was the perfect record to take the leap. Mick and I had so much fun digging into the tones and finding out how flexible and useful the program is. We really pushed Eleven hard and I'm extremely pleased with the results.

Nikki Sixx and producer James Michael listen to a mix.

"The key to making Eleven sound great is embracing the imperfections that it offers," James continues. "Real amps have imperfections, too. My biggest frustration with previous amp simulators is that they sound too smooth and perfect. Eleven captures the raw imperfections you expect to hear when putting a mic in front of a real amp. But the biggest benefit of Eleven is that you can recall every setting. How many times have you tracked a killer guitar part with the exact tone you want, only to find a couple days later that you need to change something? Good luck getting the exact same tone again for punch-ins! Being able to store an infinite number of amp settings and recall them instantly is a huge plus in today's recording world."

Sixx and Michael both feel that Pro Tools helped them focus on capturing the best performance from each member of the band because they didn't have to waste time searching for the perfect sound. Instead, they were able to get great sounds from the start—even while recording demos.

"One of the biggest downfalls in music in general is overthinking it," says Sixx. "You can spend way too much time looking at the same pictures of waveforms on the screen and thinking, Maybe I should change that little thing."

"For me this record really broke all of the stereotypes that exist about making big rock records," says James. "We allowed the focus to remain on the songs and performances, and we didn't let ourselves get hung up on purist concepts about gear and recording techniques."

"It's the producer's job to make sure the recording sounds relevant to the artist, not relevant to the times," adds Sixx. "The worst thing you can do is be a trend chaser. We're going to grow and evolve. We always have. But Mötley Crüe, like AC/DC, Queen, and Aerosmith, are what we are. Harley-Davidson is what it is. Ferrari is what it is. You're not going to buy a Mötley Crüe record and get a Three Doors Down album. And the same thing goes for bands like Three Doors Down—you're not going to get a Mötley Crüe album from them. That's what's great about music."

"Mötley Crüe always sounds like Mötley Crüe," says Vince Neil. "You can't change our sound. Even if we did a blues record it would still sound like Mötley Crüe."

Mick Mars and Nikki Sixx interview
Tommy Lee interview
Vince Neil interview

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