On Tour September 15, 2023

On Tour: James “Jimmy T.” Meslin with Grammy Award-Winning Dream Theater & John Petrucci

James Meslin on stage leaning on a Mesa Boogie guitar amp. guitaRF & VR2

Pushing Faders for Dream Theater & John Petrucci With The VR2 & guitaRF

Hi James! Tell us about your career and how you got started as an Audio Engineer.

I’m James Meslin, often referred to as “Jimmy T.” I am a recording and mixing engineer for both studio and live sound. I started my professional career in the studio as an intern. I’d bounce between that and my own “home” studio, keeping myself completely occupied with record production at all times.

Over time, I moved up the ladder in the studio – from intern to assistant and eventually head engineer. In 2015, I worked on Dream Theater’s double album, The Astonishing, which led to an offer to tour with them as a playback engineer.

Since then, I have balanced a life of live sound (mixing monitors, front of house, playback, live show recordings) with my roots in studio work and production. Bouncing between live sound and studio production can be interesting. However, I’m never really out of the studio. If mid-tour and traveling, I always have a laptop, some trusted monitoring, and loads of hard drives to continue studio sessions while on the move. Ultimately, being able to adapt between those two sides of the industry has been a serendipitous relationship. Experiences in one rolled over to the other, introducing me to knowledge, techniques, and problem-solving through a broader scope.

a guitar amp with the sE guitaRF on stage

What challenges did you face at the start of your career, and how did you overcome them?

Work/life balance was and continues to be a challenge. The audio industry is full of swings and keeping busy is always a goal. Projects may hit a lull, you’ll pivot to new jobs, and then the call suddenly comes in that the original project is on a fast track to finish. Sometimes that coincides with being out on the road. 

I’ve always taken my work home with me, taken the 1 AM phone call to discuss mix revisions, or left the house for a 7-week tour, etc. Prioritizing time away from work is healthy and often benefits your work when you’re back at it. Finding the time to do so in an industry that ebbs and flows is difficult, but I feel it’s important to carve out some time to reset. 

What is your favorite sE mic, and how do you use it?

I really enjoy a lot of what sE has to offer. Their microphone selection, the sE Munro Egg 150 monitors (discontinued but very worth it if you can find them used), and the various Reflexion Filters are all stellar and make frequent appearances in my sessions & gigs. Years ago, my first big investment in a microphone was the Gemini II. It became my go-to vocal mic, and I continue to put it up as an option for any session I do.

Despite the great range of products sE has to offer, my current favorite microphones are the RN17 and VR2. While very different in what they do, their ideologies are similar. Both models have a unique design to them that gives you a “two for the price of one” bargain. 

The RN17 is a pencil condenser with a large transformer in line. This changes everything you’d expect from a SDC. The depth, warmth, and fullness it delivers is unmatched, yet the precision of the small diaphragm mic is not lost. It’s incredibly musical and can be used in applications far beyond the normal scope of a pencil mic. For me, it has shined on drum overheads, cymbal spots, acoustic guitar, guitar cabinets, and room mics with the omni capsule. 

The VR2 is an active ribbon microphone that provides that two for one sound. All of the woof and body you’d want out of a ribbon microphone partnered with the extended top-end expected from a condenser. This makes it the holy grail for guitar cabinets, in my opinion. 

Miking guitar is often done with multiple mics that are blended to taste. The VR2 gives you a single mic option to achieve that effect.

I’m currently on the road with Dream Theater, and the VR2, mounted in a guitaRF, is the only microphone on John Petrucci’s guitar cabinets. Every night, the VR2 delivers us a consistent result that makes us all smile over the tone. In addition to the VR2, we are currently using the V7 MC1 capsule on James LaBrie’s wireless handheld, a V7 on John Petrucci’s vocal, and a V Beat on Mike Mangini’s snare drum.

Any tracking tips or industry advice for aspiring engineers or artists?

In terms of tracking tips, always experiment and be creative. Use recording and production as an extension of songwriting, don’t be afraid to commit front-end processing, and frequently hit save. As far as industry advice, anticipate everything to go wrong, have solutions, and keep a good attitude at all times!

“sE Electronics delivers reliable, durable, well-priced products that, above all, sound great. They have proven their equipment can handle traveling the world on the main stage while still offering a product that holds its own in a pristine studio setting.”

Special thanks to James Meslin for this fantastic write-up and for sharing his experience with the world!