Burbank, CA (April 29, 2019)—Stephen George knows a thing or two, because—to quote the TV commercial—he’s seen a thing or two. Indeed, with a 40-year career that began with him co-founding one of the first industrial bands, working as chief engineer at a major label-owned recording studio and an exclusive stint with a multi-platinum record-selling artist, then running his own production facility and record label, it’s hardly surprising that George has a story or two to tell.
George, known to many simply as Stevo, is a founding member of Ministry, which started in Chicago as a synth-pop band before evolving into one of the pioneers of industrial music. After being “underhandedly expelled” from the group after four years, he formed the band Colortone, producing, engineering, co-writing and playing on the band’s Pasha Records debut. He also found time to add drums to major label projects by Ric Ocasek and Elliot Easton of the Cars, Jane Wiedlin of the Go-Go’s, Iggy Pop and others.
From 1989 through 1998, he was chief engineer at the Zomba Group’s Battery Studios Chicago, working on one hit after another by a succession of artists signed to the company’s various labels, including Jive Records. He engineered and mixed songs on the Backstreet Boys’ debut and Millennium albums, which together sold 27-times platinum; mixed songs on Britney Spears’ Oops!…I Did It Again and Britney albums, which sold 14-times platinum combined; worked on the motion picture-inspired Space Jam album, which racked up six-times platinum sales; and on and on. His name appears on over 100 million records sold.
During that time, R. Kelly set up shop at Battery for five years and persuaded George to exclusively join his team as mixer, recording engineer and programmer, also recording at facilities worldwide. “I was the R&B dude,” he says. “He liked me, and we hit it off.”
These days, R. Kelly has become notorious in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations, but at that time, says George, the work was rewarding. Indeed, he was awarded a Grammy certificate in 1997 in the Best Male R&B Vocal Performance category for mixing and recording “I Believe I Can Fly,” which won three Grammys. “He’s the most prolific songwriter I’ve ever worked with. One night at Record One in L.A., he wrote six songs, finished vocals on three, and three became platinum-selling records.”
Back then, the sessions could be epic. For “I’m Your Angel,” he recalls, “It was a 36-hour roll, from kick drum to final vocals.” A few weeks later, Kelly decided to make it a duet with Celine Dion, and made plans to take his tour bus to Canada to cut her vocals. But he wasn’t sure what key it should be in, says George. “Because I did all the MIDI programming, I had to program and record the song in six different keys—all in one night, to 48 tracks of analog tape.” The song ended up at Number One on the Billboard Hot 100 for seven weeks.
Eventually, George left Battery Chicago and moved to New York City. There, he worked with a diverse array of artists: Lil Jon, Max Martin, Michael Jackson, Usher, Ric Ocasek (on solo projects plus the final Cars album, 2011’s Move Like This), Maroon 5 and others. But in 2004, file-sharing took its toll, he recalls, and the bottom dropped out of the market. Manhattan studios started closing and the labels began major layoffs.
“I remember doing this record,” says George, “a band that Ric Ocasek produced. He got a gig, VP of A&R at Elektra, and his first signing was the Stratford 4. We were the only people in Electric Lady studios; it was like a graveyard. I was so lucky to be working. We do the record, master it with George Marino at Sterling Sound, hold the record listening party at Electric Lady, and the following week, Elektra is no more.” In 2015, the album finally saw the light of day on Spotify.
George had no work coming in, he says, when Zomba Gospel called and asked if he could mix a gospel track at home on his Pro Tools rig because they didn’t have the budget for a studio. “I did it in my bedroom in Manhattan and it turned out really good—the first mix I ever did in-the-box. They asked me to do the album, but my neighbors were beating on the walls.” Happily, he and his wife had a weekend getaway 30 minutes south of Woodstock, so he packed up his gear and set up Gimme That Sound Productions, his recording, mixing and production company and record label, in a refurbished barn. The album, the McClurkin Project’s We Praise You, won a Stellar Award for Best Contemporary Group of the Year.
The upstate New York studio gave George an opportunity to return to his first love, rock ‘n’ roll, he says. He signed a few artists and released a handful of records, including for My Pet Dragon, with whom he enjoyed modest success, producing three records and negotiating various licensing deals before the band imploded. In late November 2015, a fire destroyed the couple’s house. They rebuilt, but weary of the Hudson Valley winters, relocated to Los Angeles in 2018, where George subsequently set up Gimme That Sound West, moving a choice selection of his equipment into a multi-room complex in Burbank, CA.
The gear in George’s new hybrid analog/digital room represents his essential mixing and tracking signal chains. In addition to plug-ins by NuGen, Waves, Valhalla DSP, SoundToys and Avid, he has a Neyrinck-assisted Digidesign Control 24 worksurface and Heritage Audio RAM 5000 monitor system. Outboard, there are several Focusrite ISA 110 mic pre/EQs; Harrison, API and Creation mic pres, Focusrite Red 3 compressor/limiters, Manley Vari-Mu and a Tube-Tech CL 1B opto-compressor.
His lead vocal chain includes a compressor/limiter and gate with optionally-patchable transformers built by his mentor, Bob Lucas of Professional Audio Works. It’s one of only two in existence. “It sounds awesome, with no artifacts,” he reports. “It really clamps down. I always go with the transformers because it sounds bigger.”
George has his favorite mix processing gear, too, including a Publison Inferno and a Lexicon PCM80. “I use one patch, by Scott Martin Gershin, called String Chamber, a 3D reverb. I’ve been using it for 20 years.” On his Eventide Orville, he says, one engine is always set to the H910 pitch-shifter. “On the other side, I’ll dial in a plate or a Black Hole reverb.”
George previously picked up work as score engineer and score mixer on a teen feature, The Outcasts, and several episodes of streaming series Project Mc², so after decades of record-making, he is focusing on getting more post-production work. Last year, he signed on as a freelance re-recording mixer for a foreign language dub of animated series Splash and Bubbles at SPG Studios. In the meantime, at his new room, he’s ready to give his NS10 surround speaker system a workout with some 5.1—soon to be 7.1—mixes. But more than anything, he says, “I’m climbing out of my skin to do an Atmos mix.”
Gimme That Sound • www.gimmethatsound.com