"The Reason" Behind A Smash Record
13th GRAMMY Producers SoundTable explores "The Anatomy Of A Hit: Hoobastank's 'The Reason'"
With more than 80,000 registrants, NAMM celebrated its 104th birthday in high style at the Anaheim Convention Center, where The Recording Academy hosted the 13th GRAMMY Producers SoundTable, presented by the Producers & Engineers Wing. The gathering offered an in-depth examination of Hoobastank's multi-platinum album, The Reason, at a "molecular" level, according to Producers & Engineers Wing Executive Director Maureen Droney, who welcomed the crowd to the panel discussion, featuring the band's founders, vocalist Doug Robb and guitarist Dan Estrin; album producer Howard Benson; engineer Mike Plotnikoff; and famed mixer Chris Lord-Alge. "We're going to open up the hood and take a peak underneath," suggested panel moderator Glenn Lorbecki, a producer/engineer, studio owner, Recording Academy National Trustee and Co-Chairman of the P&E Wing.
Hoobastank vocalist Robb may not be "a perfect person" as he sings in "The Reason," but the GRAMMY-nominated song that he and Estrin composed proved to be pretty close to it — a worldwide phenomenon that spurred their album to multi-platinum status and its own GRAMMY nomination.
"The minute I heard that opening line, I was hooked," recalled Benson, a veteran producer who has worked with such bands as My Chemical Romance, P.O.D., Papa Roach, All American Rejects and Cold with his longtime engineer Plotnikoff. "I thought, oh my God, this is great."
"Or, 'Oh my God, this is depressing,'" echoed Robb to laughter from the appreciative audience.
"Every single show, it was the loudest the crowd got," said Estrin. "They'd always sing along to that opening line."
"When you hear that song coming from the speakers, it's just an incredibly well-balanced recording and mixing process," said Benson, who just finished recording the band's new album at Bay 7 Studios in Valley Village, Calif., where he recorded The Reason. "This is one of those weird songs: No matter where you hear it, it sounds good, whether it's in mono or stereo, a large stereo or a car radio."
To demonstrate, an instrumental demo of "The Reason" was played, then compared to the finished version. Benson credits the album's great sound in large part to Vancouver native Plotnikoff. "He learned from analog guys like Bruce Fairbairn and Bob Rock," said the producer. "There are very few engineers out there who know how to record basic guitar sounds, basic kick drum sounds. That's what makes records great. You try to capture and deliver a vibe."
Plotnikoff cited his preference for "vintage" equipment, like a Neve console, 1073 pre-amps circa 1973–74, a Fairchild compressor and tube mikes, in getting a "warm sound and rich harmonics" on the Hoobastank recording.
When Lorbecki mentioned that subliminal audio information "down low" on the Hoobastank album contributed to its depth, Plotnikoff nodded: "You're probably hearing the sub-bass, which I add to the bottom. It always makes the records sound great. It's super-tight and it doesn't fold the speakers. And then Chris does a great job mixing it."
New Jersey native Lord-Alge laughed. "I have a newspaper levitating an inch off the ground in front of my speakers when I prepare to mix something from Howard and Mike," he said. "I have assistants crying in the room because it's so loud. 'Are you mixing Hoobastank in there? Man, you're shaking my teeth out. You're killing me.' The sub-woofer'll knock the dust out of your console."
With all the talk of technology, equipment and technique though, in the end, the essence of a hit is something you can't really plan or quantify. "We're all up here like we know what we're talking about," said Robb. "But there's no formula. We never thought 'The Reason' would be a huge hit. I wasn't even sure it would be a single."
"The key is trust," added Benson. "The band has to trust you through the process of making suggestions. Most of the time, you can't tell that until you start working together. These guys view their songwriting in a very pragmatic way. That's why they've been so successful."
Benson tells of how Robb and Estrin wrote additional songs after recording The Reason, coming up with the first single, "Out Of Control," which helped launch the album and pave the way for the title track hit. The same thing happened on the new record.
"Don't walk out without trying as hard as you can, and doing everything you can," said the producer, "including writing more songs when you think you're done."
After a preview of the new album's first single, "If I Were You," it was time to take questions from the audience, including the expected: "What does Hoobastank mean?"
"You know when you do something really stupid in high school, and can't live it down?" laughed Robb. "We were just trying to find a name that nobody else had. We don't take ourselves seriously, but we take what we do seriously."