Nashville-based producer, mixer and recording engineer F. Reid Shippen started his career as an intern while still a full-time college student. Realizing that attending class was losing him money, he completed his education quickly and settled into work as an assistant engineer. Shippen administered his career a jolt when he offered to complete a mix for a producer in order to save a hip-hop outfit some cash. If the producer didn’t like it, there would be no charge. Things worked out, he completed the record and has since had a hand in nine Grammy-winning songs or albums. This year’s Grammy wins include his mix of Little Big Town’s “Pontoon” and TobyMac’s album Eye On It.
Shippen finds that continual growth is one of the keys to his success. “Once you stop learning, you might as well quit,” he asserts. “I love working with other people because there’s always something new to learn. That’s one of the exciting things about this job. One of the nice things about Nashville is that there’s a culture of collaboration here that I don’t find in New York and Los Angeles. I was working on a record the other day and sent the drums to my buddy [Jack White engineer] Vance Powell. He ran the stems through one of his processors and sent it back to me.”
Shippen sympathizes with artists and the struggles that they face in a world that doesn’t always embrace them. “Their biggest overall challenge is near constant rejection, having to look that in the face and get up the next day and do their job,” he observes. “As a mix engineer, I make tens of thousands of subjective decisions based on other subjective decisions and then I get judged on them by friends and strangers.”
He used to find that after marathon sessions, an entire night would have passed unnoticed. That happens less now since he opened his own mix room, called Robot Lemon, four years ago. Unlike other rooms he’s working in, Shippen’s has windows. “I was in a killer [room] for nearly six years but I couldn’t see outside,” he recalls. “Finally when I built my own mix room I decided to put windows in it.”
Shippen works across genres both by choice and by necessity. “You don’t always pick your projects unless you have a trust fund,” he explains. “You don’t turn things down. If you only work on music that you love, you’ll go hungry a lot. I’ve had the good fortune to have a bunch of different stuff come my way and I like to keep things new, fresh and challenging.”
He’s a fan of the Dangerous 2-Bus summing amp, which he uses in conjunction with his SSL. “The guy who designed all of that stuff worked at Sterling [Sound],” he says. “I use the summing amp for the stuff that needs it. For example, something I’m working on now was mainly programmed drums. A lot of the kick is already effected so me slamming it through a console––it doesn’t really need that much. So I’ll skip the console because I don’t want to change the character to that extent.”
He also favors the Dangerous Monitor ST system. “All of my monitors go through that,” he says. “I don’t use the console at all. It sounds way better than the SSL monitoring system.”
Currently Shippen is working on records for Jonny Lang, Allstar Weekend and country artists Dierks Bentley and Keith Urban. He was nominated for Audio Engineer of the Year for the recent Academy of Country Music Awards. He jokes that all the Grammy-winning projects he has worked on, “It gets it through to my parents that music isn’t a hobby. But winning is always exciting.”