Interview with John Winters, Hidden Level Audio

Hi John, thanks for taking the time to talk to us today. Is it a busy time for you at the moment? What have you been working on recently?

Thank you for taking the time to talk to us as well. It has been pretty busy for us, we have been doing little projects here and there to get our name out. We are a new small company trying to make a name for ourselves in the indie game world. We did some ambient sounds for a small game called “The Darkest Tower Defence” and that came out great. Also, we did some jeep sounds with some crashing using Krotos Igniter, for our friends in Indie-Pixel. Another project for Indie-Pixel we are picking away at is a game called “Wings Of War” and that’s a fly over plane shooter. Weaponiser would be great for that one.

You started Hidden Level Audio last year, how did that come about?

Chad and I have been friends for a really long time. We used to play in a metal band together and we both were into the production side of everything. Chad went to school for audio for video games after the band ran its course and he has been doing projects on his own. I have been working in audio production since graduating from the Art Institute of Seattle in 2004. I have worked on a ton of film scores and video game scores. I have run Pro Tools for the sessions and also do some stage management. When Covid hit I was pretty much completely out of work from the studio and from all the live sound stuff I have been doing for years. In the studio I have always loved sound design and all of the behind the scenes production that goes on. I started putting sounds to videos in my home studio, and knowing Chad had gone to school for video game production I went to him for some feedback. We both were fishing for any audio production gigs and kept getting turned down. So as a joke one day I was like “We should start our own sound design company.” Then a few days later Chad came to me and said “You know I’ve been thinking about what you said…let’s do it!! Let’s start our own company!!” So that was the birth of Hidden Level Audio.

While Dehumaniser 2 is more commonly used in sound design and game-audio, you’ve also been using it for music with the band ThunderBeast! How do you find working with the plugin for music?

It was actually really fun working with it for metal productions. Thunderbeast is my band so it was fun to shoot out ideas. Typically we would sit and write vocal parts together, but the singer (John Stratton) can only scream and yell for so long before the voice goes out. So using Dehumaniser 2 we could sit on the couch casually and just talk parts in and it would sound like a singer going crazy!! There for we could go a lot longer, and try a lot of different ideas for different parts.

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What are the challenges you usually come across when recording heavy metal vocals, and does Dehumaniser 2 help you overcome those?

Being human is a big problem when recording heavy vocals, haha. Like I said before, people’s voice will run out of gas when screaming for too long. Using this as a writing platform can really open doors for non-singers to at least scratch some ideas in and have something to listen to. I know when I’m writing songs I like to whisper parts just to have an idea. Now I can whisper parts in with DH2 and have it sound like a singer is singing it. Great scratch pad and starting place to take ideas to the next level.

Do you create your own presets in Dehumaniser 2, and do you have any tips for using Dehumaniser 2 for vocal production?

When we did “Remember The End” I built a patch from scratch. The patch that I made was pretty simple, it was pitch-shifted down a little going directly out. Then that pitch shift was also going to flanger/chorus then going out summing with the first pitch shift. The clean vocal was also going to that flanger/chorus then hitting a vocoder then summing with the two pitch shifted signals. Then to finish it off, other clean signal was hitting a noise generator to give it some grit, then that was summing with all of the other parts. So after we got a line that we liked, I would commit (or print) DH2 on another track so the computer didn’t have to work hard processing it in real-time. I would just print as I went along. I ran it through a third-party reverb, compressed it and it came out pretty good!! Gave him something to bring home and listen to so he could learn the parts so we could start performing the song. After we learned the song and performed it, we did go back and re-record the vocals for real without using DH2, but having that first draft really improved the real recording process.

Lastly, what bands / musicians do you think should be using Dehumaniser 2?

I feel anyone who is recording their own music or writing music could benefit from using DH2. For us we used it as a writing tool to prepare us for the real thing. That’s not to say it can’t be used for the real thing, but that just how we went about it. I would totally use it to distort any other backing vocals that may happen in a mix or as a special effect. It was really fun to play with and actually pretty easy to get going. There are all sorts of presets ready to go and they are easy to edit to get how you want it to sound. I feel any local band or established band could benefit from having this in their tool box!

ThunderBeast - Hidden Level Audio

In the Studio with: Hidden Level Audio / ThunderBeast

Join Chad Tenwick and John Winters from Hidden Level Audio in the studio to get a close look into a real recording session with seriously heavy-duty metal vocals.

Watch the process for producing ThunderBeast’s ‘Remember The End’, and pick up some awesome tips for how Dehumaniser 2 or Simple Monsters lets you bring out a beastly vocal in your production!

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