Initially as a young 10 years old trombonist in the school orchestra, by the time Rob Hoffman hits high school, he adds guitar, piano, drums, and the complete saxophone family to his instrumental list. Rob spent his childhood surrounded by his parents’ love of music and immersed in the sounds of The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, and Beach Boys. These musical influences, together with his natural musicality, drive for learning, and dedication to his work, are behind this seasoned producer, songwriter, and recording engineer today. Rob’s impressive resume includes working with many amazing artists and producers, including Quincy Jones, Michael Jackson, Christina Aguilera, Etta James, Phil Collins, Jam, and Lewis, to name just a few.
Soon after graduating from Full Sail institute, Rob commenced work as a “runner” at the legendary Hit Factory recording studio in New York. His passion for the work was noticed by one of the assistants at that time, Brian Vibberts, who called Rob for his first recording session – with a full symphony orchestra – for the soundtrack to “Wolf” (1994) composed by Ennio Morricone. Only a few months later, Rob meets Bruce Swedien, who was currently working on Michael Jackson’s “HIStory” (1995) album. This meeting was to make the deepest impact on his professional development.
You’ve had the opportunity to work with many brilliant producers, engineers, and artists very early in your career. Can you share some of the experiences and lessons you learned from them?
Right place right time! Bruce Swedien is, of course, my all-time mentor. He approaches every project with such attention and care. Clearly, he’s not a fix-it-in-the-mix kind of guy. I think the simplicity of his mixes in this day and age would shock many people. He taught me if you can’t get it right in the balance no amount of plug-in’s and tricks is going to fix it. He would often talk about getting “the engine” of the song right. And that might be the groove in a dance or R&B track, but the engine could also be the vocal and piano in a ballad. What moves the song? Get that right, and everything will fall into place.
And then, of course, Chris Lord-Alge, the polar opposite of Bruce in terms of processing!!! I remember my first day with Chris and I was kind of staring at the patchy and outboard gear in the middle of the first mix saying, “WTF is this guy doing?” But over time I got his process, and how he hears, and now my own process is kind of this odd hybrid between Bruce and Chris…
Producer, songwriter, and recording engineer – do you prefer one role more?
I’m very lucky, I get to move between these roles on a regular basis. For me, there’s no preference, but it’s probably most enjoyable to start the process as a songwriter and see a project all the way through the mix. Lately, I’ve been engineering and mixing mostly, and its kind of nice to not have the pressures of producing and writing, the pressure is off so to speak. One job – make everything sound good!!
What is your approach to a new project? What is the key to a successful creative project?
It’s a cliche, but if the song isn’t there we can’t move forward. There’s no amount of tricks and editing that can fix a terrible song. After that, it’s all about musicians and their performance. From Bruce and Quincy, I learned all about casting, getting the right guys for the job. I’ve been so fortunate to work with some of the best musicians on the planet, and it just makes tracking and mixing so much easier. The right player takes a great song and makes it unforgettable.
Is there a specific process in your workflow?
I still write charts!! Even for songs that are only a solo endeavor as I might do for TV or film. It helps me see where I’m going, how it all fits together. And secondly, track layout. My Pro Tools sessions all have the same flow. Effects grouped together with the master fader, vocals at the top, followed by a kind of old-school tape layout – drums, bass, guitars, keyboards, and then the extra stuff. I’m always interested when I get a session from other people and the tracks are just all over the place, even song to song within the same project. It’s especially crazy in a song with 50+ tracks!! Being able to find everything quickly, especially in this age of desk-less mixing, is just so much more efficient.
Could you please share with us some recent interesting projects?
In recent years I’ve been traveling a lot and working on projects all over the world. I’ve spent a lot of time in Poland and China. One of my clients, Mietek Szczesniak has become such a great friend and is a prolific artist. In the last year we’ve finished 2 records, and have one more in the works. We’ve worked in Warsaw, Poznan and here in Los Angeles. His musical range is unreal. One of these records was a full orchestral interpretation of well-known pop records and the other was a Brazilian-influenced record in Polish using a famous Polish poet’s lyrics. That record was co-produced with Wendy Waldman who wrote Vanessa William’s “Save the Best for Last”, and the great Brazilian musician Paulinho Garcia. Following that, I went right into recording and mixing a record with Paulinho. And in the meantime, I’m working on three different records with Wendy ranging from gospel to americana.
How did you discover Amphion Loudspeakers?
Well, I’ve been on the same nearfields for over 12 years, so I’ve been very reluctant to change. But they’re big and don’t travel well. I’ve got a great hookup in Europe so I can usually get a pair over there when I’m working. However, the model I’m used to is no longer made and parts were getting scarce. So it was time to take a serious look at what was out there. My first stop was to see what Dave Bryce had to say on the subject. I trust his ears and his integrity. A quick check on Gearslutz confirmed everything he was saying and I knew I had to listen.
What was your initial reaction to the Amphion studio monitors?
I first heard them at a friend’s studio, I think they were 18’s. The first thing I noticed was the soundfield. It was so open, wide and almost see through. Bruce used to talk about seeing colors in music and with the Amphions, I could really see and understand what he was talking about in a way I never had before.
What specific elements do you most appreciate in the MobileOne12 system?
For my main speakers, I went with the Amphion One12’s. Unbelievably portable and they sound amazing. Honestly, when I opened the box I was a bit nervous, they looked even smaller in my room, and the amps are just tiny. But the first bit of music I played alleviated any fears. Just beautiful!!! Now with all the traveling, I do I can bring these guys everywhere…
What makes the Amphion One12 studio monitors particularly useful for you, and how do they help you achieve your end goal?
Translation is everything. It doesn’t matter how great a nearfield sounds if the mix doesn’t translate on everything they’re useless. Bringing my first Amphion mixes to mastering confirmed what I was already feeling, there are no surprises. One thing I very much appreciate with the Amphion package is that they sound great at low volume. So many monitors fall apart at low volume, but these sound great at any volume.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
Music is a cooperative movement and the voice of generations. It’s important to have fun, entertain people, and tell stories, but we can’t lose sight of the power we wield as songwriters and music makers, to tell the truth…