Multiple Grammy Award-Winning Producer and Engineer Chuck Ainlay Harnesses the Power of Solid State Logic's SSL 360° Link and UC1, UF1 and UF8 Controllers

For almost his entire career, multiple Grammy, CMA, ACM and TEC Award-winning producer, engineer and mixer Chuck Ainlay has sat behind a large mixing console — more often than not a Solid State Logic desk — while tracking and mixing. In 2020, Ainlay started working from home and since then, having integrated SSL’s UC1 plug-in controller, multiple UF8 8-channel advanced DAW controllers and the new SSL 360° Link software into his setup. “I don't really miss the console anymore," he says. SSL 360° link allows me to set up a knob per function workflow on any plug-in and control them with UC1. I now use UC1 with all my favorite SSL and 3rd party plugins.”

Record production has been moving towards hybrid-based production workflow for years. But then, observes Ainlay, who has amassed more than 3,500 record production credits during his career, “The industry changed significantly because of the lockdown. Before that time, give me the hardware and I'm going to sit and mix on an analog console, use console automation, the whole deal.” For many years, he says, he was “the SSL guy” in town. “I've just always worked on SSLs. That's home, to me.” So when SSL introduced its plug-in and DAW controller hardware and the 360° link software, he was ready to try it out. 

Peter Frampton, with whom he has collaborated for many years, gave him the UC1 plug-in controller, and then SSL's Senior Vice President Phil Wagner told him, “You should just put one of SSL’s Channel Strip plug-ins on everything. It’ll be just like working on an SSL analog console.” "Now, when I open a session, I just put Channel Strip’s on everything,” Ainlay says. “Then I scroll through the channels with the controller. It still feels different than an analog console, but I know exactly what to expect from years of turning the knobs, and you can see on the controller what's going on without having to look at a screen. It's as close as you can get to being on an analog console.”

Virtual mixing console with SSL 360° Link
​The software, too, offers a similar experience to working on a mixing desk, Ainlay continues. “With the new SSL 360° software and SSL 360° Link, visually it’s like you are working on an SSL console and I have access to all my favorite plugins with knob per function control. This completes my virtual mixing environment. "I feel right at home with the virtual mixing environment that I’ve set up using my SSL controllers and now with 360° Link and my UC1 plugin controller I can set up a knob per function control of all my favorite 3rd party plugins."

“It has an intuitive mixing surface, which was missing in the controller world," he continues. "It takes the controller world to a whole new level. With the SSL 360° environment and SSL 360° Link, you have immediate control of everything, and it’s all right there, just like on an analog console. "The interaction between software and the control surfaces is seamless, he reports. “As soon as you touch a fader on a control surface, it zooms to that channel on the 360°, so I just keep the 360° open on my large display.”

When first setting up the room, Ainlay would loop through external analog hardware when mixing. But now, he says, “Plug-ins have all gotten so good, so with the 4k [4000 E Series console] Channel Strip across everything, that covers all the essential stuff that I need. I like the forwardness of the E on certain things like drums and guitars. Then, for things like piano and acoustic guitars, I generally go with the 9k [9000 Series], which is more open-sounding. The compressor really feels like the 4000 compressor and the EQ basically switches between the 4k or the 9k.”

Leveraging SSL's UF8 and UC1 control surfaces
​Ainlay’s home setup comprises two eight-channel UF8s, putting 16 faders under his fingertips, with the UC1 plug-in controller off to one side, and a UF1 DAW control center. “Panning, cuts, solos and faders are mostly what I use it for,” says Ainlay, who works in Nuendo running on an Apple Mac Mini.

Switching over from his previous controller, he says, he was struck by the definition of the UF8’s 100mm long-throw faders. “The difference in the fader resolution was huge for me, because that’s mostly what I use the controller for.” With 16 faders available to him, rather than just a mouse, he says, “I’m able to push up a mix quickly. I can link a bunch of stuff and move it together. And if a project was tracked on an analog console, I can set up pre-mixes so that I can work on it. It's just really quick and easy to do things like that.”  

Ainlay originally set up his home studio for stereo mixing. “After I heard how great my room sounded, I ended up putting an ‘X’ on the floor where my chair was and built an Atmos room.” The immersive 7.1.4 monitoring system comprises custom speakers controlled and managed by a JBL Intonato 24 unit as well as a stereo pair of ATC SCM25A Pro Mk2 monitors. “I love the way this room sounds,” he says.

He also has SSL’s new UF1 DAW controller, which offers complete control of a DAW’s pans, sends, and plug-ins, and incorporates a 100mm motorized fader. “It's a cool little box,” he says. “If I had to go work somewhere remotely, I could just take that and a laptop and I’d have a fader and all the functionality I need in a very small unit.”

Over the years, Ainlay has worked on a lot of George Strait albums and was approached by the record label to mix the catalog for Dolby Atmos release. The Atmos mix of George’s  Blue Clear Sky album was recently nominated for a Grammy for Best Immersive Audio Album.

Remixing classics using SSL plug-ins
​Ainlay is also working on mixing Peter Frampton’s iconic Frampton Comes Alive double album, one of the all-time best-selling live records, for Dolby Atmos release. “Peter and I are best friends and do a lot of work together,” he says. In 2000 he mixed the album in 5.1 from the original 2-inch multitrack tapes for a 25th anniversary DVD-A release. “Now, I'm trying to deal with a recording from 1975, but with Atmos you really don't have the same sort of buss compression possibilities that you have when mixing in stereo. There was a lot of buss compression and buss EQ, probably done in mastering, so I'm trying to duplicate that, pretty much doing everything on individual channels. I have found SSL’s Drum Strip hugely helpful in trying to bring up the warmth and everything that I'm hearing in the old stereo mix.”  

With the SSL controllers in his home studio, Ainlay says "It's just added a whole other layer of coolness to my setup here."