Looking over Mike Fraser’s completed project list, his career spans the last thirty years and forms testament to the role Vancouver, and Mike himself, has played in the history of modern music.
His induction into the industry was a journey of fate that started with Mike picking up a guitar with his high-school band. But it didn’t play out like he’d initially planned.
Despite his tenacity and iron-will, Mike realized early on that he couldn’t get close to the instrument, couldn’t make it sing like he’d intended. Despite this, and the day job he’d taken driving logging truck, his desire to get into the music industry persisted.
During the 1980’s and 90’s there was no better place to get a start than sitting elbow to elbow with Bob Rock and Bruce Fairbairn, of the famed Little Mountain Sound recording studio in Vancouver, B.C.
“I actually started out as the janitor at Little Mountain Sound,” Mike explains. “Previous to that I worked driving logging truck with my dad. As much as becoming a janitor was a symptom of necessity at the time, I was always watching closely, in between trips to the mop bucket, what the boys at console were doing. Pretty soon I was tracking jingles and taking on other small projects for the house.”
It was on the Aerosmith production that Mike had his first epiphany moment, officially making his way from production assistant to full-fledged Mixing Man.
“I spent most of my waking life on-hand at the studio, even lived out of a sleeping bag there for a year and a half. We tried to keep our schedule to five days a week, but I recall one time with the weekend coming, we were working with Aerosmith, and realized we’d have to come into the studio on a Saturday to finish the project. Bob and I were both groaning about it until, sitting there in the office, we spotted Perry and Tyler walk by the window in their leather trench coats. We both looked at each other and decided we could be in worse places than spending our Saturday night with the boys from Aerosmith.”
It was on the Aerosmith production that Mike had his first epiphany moment, officially making his way from production assistant to full-fledged Mixing Man. “Bruce had to leave town one time, and he put me in charge of building some rough mixes. About half-way through, the boys had come in to take a listen to what we had done. After a bit they looked at me and said, ‘You don’t really want to be doing this do you?’ I remember thinking ‘oh-oh. They don’t like what I’ve done here.’ They let me hang for a bit then suggested in fact what I really wanted was to actually mix the stuff down, to finished form.
“We managed to get four songs mixed down, but Bruce wasn’t pleased when he got back to the studio. He’d expected me to be finished all the rough mixes and here I was with only three or four songs done. The guys stepped up and suggested he take a listen to what I’d mixed down. After taking a moment to do just that, he responded by announcing they’d found their new mixing guy.”
The rest, of course, is history.
From the AC/DC Live Rock Band Track Pack, to the Iron Man II soundtrack, to Slipknot, Rush, Zeppelin, Guns and Roses, Metallica, Van Halen, Finger Eleven, and Sam Roberts, Mike’s Curriculum vitae reads like an extant list of industry professionals, including some of the most sophisticated musicians in the world.
I remember thinking ‘oh-oh. They don’t like what I’ve done here.’ They let me hang for a bit then suggested in fact what I really wanted was to actually mix the stuff down, to finished form.
For his efforts he was presented with the JUNO Award for Recording Engineer of the Year, twice – in 1989, and again in 1992. He received JUNO nominations again in 1995 and 2008.
When asked about his more memorable moments, Mike reflected, “Alex Lifeson of Rush was a sweetheart, a true pleasure to work with. Guys like that have been through the ropes, worked their asses off and made sacrifices. What they bring is true goods, they are very real and bring nothing but the skill and talent to the table.”
Speaking to fate again, if the guitar was the mistress that led him to the ball, it was Fraser’s musical ear and innate understanding of the mechanics of song that led to another high water mark in his career. Back in the early 1990s, AC/DC had been recording in Ireland, at the hands of George Young – brother to Angus and Malcolm – when a family emergency kept the band from completing the album they were putting together. Owing to the fact Bruce Fairbairn had a rock-solid reputation for quality and consistency, AC/DC wound up on the doorstep of Little Mountain Sound, where they were so pleased with the early results, they opted to completely scratch the work they had already done in Ireland and re-record the entire project, compliments of Bruce and Mike. The Razor’s Edge was released on September 21st, 1990. Mike has been working with AC/DC ever since.
With a view that extends over three decades, Mike says he’s witnessed just how changes in technology have affected the way the industry does business. Although it can be a full-time initiative itself, he says that staying on top of changes in the industry is key to adjusting to the paradigm shift. “It’s not just the marketing and distribution departments that are affected. More work is coming my way via digital transfer now, as opposed to face-to-face in-studio work – a good 80 to 90% now comes in by File Transfer Protocol.
As for bands, it’s sometimes a struggle for new talent to rise to the top among all the competition. “I’d have to say, one of the best new groups I’ve worked with is a great band out of Calgary called the Fast Romantics. I came across a demo they had done and knew straight away I wanted to work with them. I appreciate a fresh sound, a fresh approach to music, and they’ve got it.”
A shout out to Mimi Northcott and Canadian Recording Services for hooking us up for this interview.