Chances are, if you’ve turned on a TV, radio or video game console within the last several years, you’ve likely heard the infectious music of Steve Ouimette. From his awe inspiring work behind the epic Guitar Hero video game series, to his composition and song writing heard in many popular TV shows and studio recordings, Steve is quickly becoming known for the creativity he brings to every project. With the myriad of options available to recording artists today, one thing remains consistent in Steve’s tone toolbox – Eminence speakers. We had the pleasure of catching up with Steve recently, here’s what he had to say.
Eminence: Was the guitar your first instrument? When did you first pick it up?
Steve: I wish I could say it was but my first instrument was the organ. My parents had bought one and signed my sister and me up for lessons. I did that for 2 years from 5-7. When we moved to California I started playing drums but I was more Bobby Brady than John Bonham so around 11 or 12 I switched to guitar. It was Ace Frehley who originally inspired me. After that it was Van Halen, Randy Rhoads, Yngwie and Angus Young.
Eminence: At what point in your life did you decide you were going to make a career out of your musical abilities?
Steve: From the first time I picked up the guitar I knew I wanted to do this for the rest of my life. Computers were in their infancy and MIDI had just come out so I was fascinated with the potential. I majored in music in college and during and after that worked in studios and was fortunate enough to learn a metric ton from Eric Valentine during his early years of running his own studio. The combination of all of that and working in the game industry sort of dovetailed into my forming my own company and doing this full time.
Eminence: Over the last several years you’ve been heavily involved in the wildly popular Guitar Hero video game series, writing nearly 100 tracks for gamers to play along with. Was it a conscious decision to get into the video game industry, or did it come about by accident?
Steve: It was definitely a conscious decision, but with a little push to get rolling. I’ve been involved in the tech and video game business since 1993 but in 2005 I was laid off when the company sold off their assets. It was at that point I decided to go full time in the freelance direction rather than do some work on the side with yet another job that wasn’t fulfilling. In 2007 I met up with the Guitar Hero guys just as they were getting close to the end of Guitar Hero 3 development. It turned out to be a great relationship and that game put me on the map. In all I worked on 8 games with Activision/Neversoft until they put it on hiatus earlier this year.
Eminence: Now that Guitar Hero is on hiatus, what’s keeping you busy?
Steve: It’s been a combination of music for television, video games and film trailers. Lately I’ve been doing re-records of classic dance tracks for Just Dance 3 (Ubisoft) as well as a lot of heavy guitar music for TV licensing. I find it ironic that the majority of shows that use my music are the cooking and home shows. HGTV and Food Network seem to use my music the most outside of sports shows. Who would have thought cooking and heavy guitars would pair up?!
Eminence: You obviously record a lot of guitar tracks, each with it’s own unique tonality. How important is the guitar speaker on each project? Do you change speakers to alter tonality?
Steve: The speaker is the final voice of the amplifier and crucial to the tone. I have 6 different cabs right now ranging from 4×12’s to 2×12’s to 1×12’s. Recently I picked up an amazing amp selector that lets me plug in 8 different heads and 8 different cabs. Then with a selection knob for amp and speaker I can choose which head routes to which cabinet. On the fly I can play the amp and switch through the various speakers to find the exact tone I’m looking for. Being able to do this has radically changed the way I record. It’s a dream setup.
Eminence: What would you list as the five most important things to achieving great guitar tone for recording.
Steve: Great question! Here are my five:
1. Back off on the gain. When you think you’ve got enough gain on the amp, back it down until it’s just about uncomfortable. The tones with less gain most always sound bigger than the super-distorted ones, which end up collapsing in the mix
2. Match the amp to the speaker. With the amount of options available there is no reason you have to settle on just one speaker. I like to load my 4×12’s with 4 different speakers and then choose the one I feel fits best in the track, then mic it up. It sounds a little weird in the room but is ultra-flexible for recording. My current favorite cab has a Texas Heat, Swamp Thang, Man-O-War and a Red Fang in it.
3. Matching guitar to amp. It probably sounds obvious but for every track you need the right combination of guitar and amp. Whereas a single coil guitar with a Tweed style amp might be right for one track, a humbucker with a Tweed might be perfect for another. How it sounds in the room also helps to determine how it will sound in the track.
4. The little things. Strings, pick type and cables. All of these little things add up, especially under the microscope of a recording. If I want more zing in my tone I’ll switch to a lighter string gauge. Alternatively the heavier strings don’t “give” as much and contribute to a more muscular tone. It’s a choice that makes a difference in the sound AND performance.
5. The part. More important than 1-4 is the actual part performed on the recording. I’m amazed at how simplifying a performance or adjusting it to fit around a vocal makes the recording sound so much better. Time and time again the coolest parts can overshadow the point of the song and sound busy. Although a lot of people laugh at KISS for being a simple band, Paul and Ace were masters of creating monster riffs out of simple parts and different voicings of chords played together. Malcolm and Angus are another duo that comes to mind. It’s the space in between the notes that makes the sound so big, and it translates to the recording very well. All about the part.
Eminence: There’s been a lot of discussion about mic’ing a guitar amp/cabinet for recording. What’s your method?
Steve: I don’t have one set method for mic’ing but I tend to like a 57 straight on the center of the cone with an additional mic about 3 feet back to capture the room. Of course that depends on the track and what it needs but a little bit of room makes the speakers come alive. It really depends but when is the last time you jammed your ear right up on a speaker to listen to it? Like drums the room has a lot to do with the sound of the amp although for modern production the immediacy of a close mic is almost just a given. Lately I’ve been using a Royer 101 in tandem with the 57 and getting amazing results. It’s no secret but it is a great sound.
Eminence: Do you prefer open back or closed back cabinets, and why?
Steve: 95% of the time I prefer a closed back design. It’s probably just because I came up on the Marshall side rather than the Fender side. That said, more recently I’ve been playing a few open back cabs and have enjoyed their open sound. It’s all-enveloping rather than directional. I won’t call it 3D because that term shouldn’t exist…3D is one of those terms people throw around a lot but hardly makes sense.
Eminence: Do you prefer high or low SPL speakers, and why?
Steve: Both. Low SPL speakers are great for adding more grind to non-master volume amps to my ears. The flip side is master volume amps and how they like a good, high headroom speaker. They’re also great for cleans when you don’t want any give or breakup. Because I do so many styles of music there is no one particular choice, it’s all of them. Oh yeah, and I never use the term “cone cry”…not acceptable!
Eminence: How do you break your speakers in?
Steve: The old fashioned way. Beat em up with old Marshalls full-up. There’s no better way to break a speaker or a sneaker in than use, and my speakers get a workout!
Eminence: What made you decide to work with Eminence for your loudspeakers?
Steve: For me it was for the quality, Made-In-USA manufacturing and variety. But in the end it came down to relationships. Eminence is good people that are so dedicated to their customers and artists I immediately felt like one of the family. And that is worth its weight in “insert your favorite precious metal here”.
Eminence: What Eminence speakers do you use the most, and why?
Steve: So many! I’m a huge fan of the Reignmaker because not only is it a great sounding speaker, I can ditch the external attenuator and just turn the volume down on the speaker (never thought I’d see that day). Aside from that I regularly use Texas Heat and Swamp Thangs together as well as the Man-O-War.
Eminence: What’s next on the horizon for Steve Ouimette?
Steve: “I just signed on with Rappapd Media Group for film and TV representation so there are new projects in the works right now. In January I will be speaking at NAMM on a panel on sound designer which came about through my virtual instrument “Cinematic Guitars” from Sample Logic. And finally, along with the ongoing work on game soundtracks you’ll still see my articles and reviews as a writer for Premier Guitar Magazine. 2012 is shaping up to be a great year.”
As a direct response to his popularity with guitar fans worldwide Steve released “Epic”, a solo CD and companion DVD on Sumthing Else Music Works in the Fall of 2010. Critically heralded as a dynamic and diverse album featuring an eclectic mix of guitar-laden virtuosity and wide reaching styles, “Epic” shines new light on guitar instrumental music by fusing cinematic drama and intensity.
Steve is a regular contributor for Premier Guitar Magazine where he writes a monthly column, “Hey, You Can’t Do That!”, as well as gear reviews and feature articles.
Learn more about Steve at his website, www.SteveOuimette.com
Photo courtesy CovingtonShoots.com