Synths are one of my favourite things to use when creating a track or soundscape and they can help you experiment with different sounds. However, the downfalls are they’re not cheap and can often take up a lot of space in your studio. Luckily I have found a solution after experimenting with different synth apps designed for smartphones.
When I started playing around with the Minimoog Model D I loved the idea of a Moog Synth being able to fit in the palm of my hand. However, I wanted to record it into the tracks I was making but wasn’t sure how. But, I believe I have found the solution.
For this, I used my iPhone, the lightning to USB charging Cable, and my iMac running Logic.
To start off with I plugged my iPhone into the iMac using the lightning to USB charging cable. I then went into the Audio/Midi settings on the iMac and Enabled my iPhone to be recognised as a device.
I then opened the Minimoog app on the iPhone and configured the input and output settings to IDAM MIDI Host.
I then opened Logic and created an external MIDI track and made sure the Use External Instrument Plug-In was checked and the Audio Input device selected was ‘iPhone’. You also want the MIDI Destination to be the iPhone as well. Then hit Create.
You should now be able to hear and play your iPhone Synth app in Logic.
Using this is a great way to experiment with Synth sounds and is a fantastic solution if you want a portable Synth in your pocket. Happy creating.
The Positive Side of Negative Visualization
Stagehands often joke that we aren’t paid to run a show track. We’re really there to fix problems and (on tour) load the show in and out. With a little bit of direction, anyone can follow a track: page a curtain, swap a microphone or move something from one place to another. You hire a prop master because she has specialized knowledge and can rebuild or repair a prop that breaks or get an audio technician because she actually knows the components of the system and can suss out a problem.
Troubleshooting, especially mid-show, is mentally demanding. You have to run through all possible scenarios, eliminate them down to the most likely culprit, and execute the fix or workaround all within the space of moments. Backstage, this comes in the form of video, mics, or com malfunctioning, usually armed with all the information of, “This sounds weird, can you fix it?” as someone points to their beltpack.
When you’re out at FOH, your problems usually center around a glitch with the console, something making a noise that it’s not supposed to in the house, or trying to work around mic issue as the A2 works to fix things. As always, this is while mixing the show, because you’re a position that has a specialized track, so you actually are paid to run the show.
While fixing problems on the fly, even in non-catastrophic situations like switching from a sweat-out main mic to a clean backup, your reaction time matters. It’s the difference between missing a word or an entire line as you think through the process of which channel you have to go to or which page of user-assigned macros you need to be on.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if our brains didn’t need quite as much time to work through problems? Well, (good news!) with a little mental exercise, it doesn’t.
Have you ever noticed it feels like it takes longer to walk to a new place than it does to walk back from it? You’re following the same route at the same pace, but something feels like it could be two completely different trips. What’s actually happening is that, on the way there, your brain is processing new information, which takes just the tiniest bit longer than when you’re walking back and now all your brain has to do is register a familiar sight.
The same thing can happen when you troubleshoot. If you’ve already worked through and fixed a kind of problem, you already know how to react and your brain can simply reference information instead of creating an entirely new plan from scratch. And it gets better: you don’t even have to physically experience a situation for your brain to pick up cues faster.
I’m sure you’ve heard of the term “Positive Visualization” as it’s a go-to in most guides to improve your happiness or your outlook on life. By all means, visualizing mixing a perfect show is wonderful, and can be a benefit all on its own, but we’re going to take a look at the opposite, but closely related, “Negative Visualization.”
I first heard the term in the podcast episode “Don’t Accentuate the Positive” of The Happiness Lab series. (I highly recommended the series, especially if you have any interest in psychology, plus that particular episode has a fascinating story about Michael Phelps.) While listening, I found I’d developed a habit of negative visualization over the past several years without realizing that that was what I was doing.
A few months into a run, I usually reach a point where I’m comfortable with the show and the company has settled into a routine, so everyone can relax just a bit. At this point, I’d start to play a “what if” game. If I noticed a cue would be easy to fire at the wrong time if I wasn’t paying attention, I’d walk through the process of what would happen if I did make that mistake. I’d make it my own mental exercise, going through what chain reaction that cue might set off and what specific process I’d have to use to recover from the mistake.
That’s what negative visualization is: mentally walking through a problem scenario. The benefit is that in a figurative world, you can also work through multiple solutions to that problem until you find the best one. So, in the event you find yourself in that situation, your mind reacts faster to decide on a course of action because it’s already done it, even if the trial run was just in your head.
I had an actress who occasionally sweated out her main mic, but always at the same point in the show. It became common enough that I made a point key up the macro page to the one with her backup shortcut if I knew the backstage area was warmer than usual, or it was just a hot day. In some instances, she would sweat out even in colder climates, and even for those, I was so used to the combination of buttons to switch to her back up, it was like I had my own cheat code which took the work of moments with minimal thought.
In another experience, I had the main fader bank on the console reset mid-show. I had a freeze of an “uh oh” moment, then switched to the backup engine. That same glitch has happened a couple of times over the course of a few years, but even with hundreds of shows between occurrences, the second time it happened, I didn’t even have that initial pause, my brain was able to recognize a similar situation and my hand immediately moved to switch engines. Now, if something happens on the console, I automatically default to the instinct to reach for the Engine A/B button. As my body is reacting, my mind can process if I should actually change or not so, if I need to, my hand’s already there, if not, I can pull back.
This kind of mental exercise is something that’s becoming more important given the current state of everything.
The news that Broadway and most large events won’t come back this year is demoralizing, and all of us face the hard reality of deciding on a course of action to either get us through the short term or consider changes on a grander scale. But the challenges won’t stop there. As the entertainment industry focuses on its eventual reopening, we’re looking to do it as we create a more inclusive, knowledgeable, and healthier environment, especially for the BIPOC and marginalized artists in our communities. For many white people, that requires us to be activists as well as advocates for our fellow technicians, musicians, and actors when we get back to work. For those of us not used to speaking up or purposely exposing ourselves to confrontational situations, we know it’s necessary if intimidating task. Especially so in workplaces where off-hand racist or sexist comments were previously considered “just kidding around” and bringing attention to them might have been met with “just ignore it,” “it’s too much of a hassle, and it’ll piss everyone off,” or “well, what did you expect?”
As we face all these problems and more, negative visualization can be a helpful tool to reevaluate and rearrange our future plans or make an effort, not only to step out of our comfort zones but to actively do the hard work of de-programming years and even decades of ingrained behaviors. If there’s a silver lining in all this, we’ll get plenty of opportunities this year to retrain our brains and mentally practice constructive reactions as we head towards getting back to work.
Language In Production
No, I don’t give a shit about cursing
Microaggression is a form of bias that can occur in everyday language, often subtle and said inadvertently. Language can be problematic when it’s a common phrase or saying and people avoid understanding its origins or implications. We use language to express ourselves, and even when we have the best intentions some phrases, wording, and terms, in general, are no longer applicable or widely accepted.
Just last week I overheard someone (a white thirty-something dude) say to one of our members of the production team (a 19-year-old black student) ask “how’s it going, Boy?” Racism is reprehensible and protests are happening across the world, and he had the balls to be casually racist. I doubt it even registered to that “southern boy” that what he said was horrible. The student took it well, I don’t even think he flinched, I’m guessing he is used to it. I didn’t ask him about it, maybe I should have, but I did give him a ride home since the city was under a curfew and we were working past it. I went to a protest last weekend as well. I took my dad’s advice and protested peacefully and kept my distance from the police. He lived through the civil rights movement as a young man in the south, recalling abundant racism and fellow students as KKK members. Although not surprised, my dad is concerned and worried about the future of our country. So am I. It feels like a dystopian society where we are repeating the same awful battles over and over.
“In many ways, overt racism has declined gradually since the civil rights movement, Kanter said, and white people often assume that because they do not utter racial slurs, or perhaps are well-versed in and value social justice, that they do not have to worry about engaging in racist behavior themselves” (Eckart, 2017).
We should avoid perpetuating stereotypes just because it’s always been done that way. Complacency is the root of many issues in our society. People get oddly protective over “the way it has always been done,” even if that way is racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, or generally just an asshole way to behave.
JK Rowling recently made a statement via Twitter that was trans-phobic where she attempted an awkward joke about people who menstruate. There are probably a lot of people who have never heard the terms cis-male/cis-female and have no idea what TERF stands for in this context (it means trans-exclusionary radical feminist). There are loads of new terms, phrases, and words to add to our vocabulary, and there’s plenty of old ones that we can let go to make room for them.
Handsome transgender teenager tearing the word Female into MALE in Gender identity, equality and human rights. Breaking silence about own gender identity transgender Pride and freedom concept.
Most of it comes down to simply respecting other people. Inclusive does not mean “people who are different, like how I am different.” The intention of inclusivity is not as meaningful as actually doing the work.
“People are tired of talking about diversity and inclusion, frustrated by talk not turning into impactful action, and overwhelmed by the number of issues to address and the scope of what must change” (Crayton, 2017).
It seems contradictory when we are working toward being “sound humans” rather than the “sound guy” when we are still using racist & sexist terminology. I’ve explained to more students than you’d expect why one end of a cable is male/female. There was a better way to explain connectors without invoking the birds and the bees. Maybe it doesn’t bother you because “that’s not what I meant by it” but the phrase “Master/Slave” when referencing control and communication is troubling as well.
Now I use plug/socket and hot (for voltage). I don’t want to be the person who singles someone out because I was ignorant, insensitive, or holding onto implicit biases. I want to be better than that, we all need to be better than that. Through teaching and education, we can reframe society into a transformative version.
Crayton, Kim. (2017, June 19). “There’s a big difference between an intention to be inclusive and a strategy.” Retrieved from https://qz.com/work/1308410/theres-a-big-difference-between-an-intention-to-be-inclusive-and-a-strategy/
Eckart, Kim. (2017, September 13). “Offhand comments can expose underlying racism, UW study finds.” UW News. Retrieved from https://www.washington.edu/news/2017/09/13/offhand-comments-can-expose-underlying-racism-uw-study-finds/
Im, Sinclair. (2020, June 12). Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/06/12/tech-industry-has-an-ugly-master-slave-problem/
June has arrived! We are officially half-way through the year. June is also Pride Month. Pride is known in the LGBT Community as a month filled with celebration, joy, and parades. But this Pride Month is different. Pride parades and events across the globe are canceled. But this doesn’t have to stop the spirit of Pride. I couldn’t write this article without including others. I asked our SoundGirls Community that identify as LGBTQ+ to share experiences and insight. Here is what some have to say.
What does Pride mean to you?
“Pride to me is just being true to yourself. Loving what makes you different from everyone else. Loving the parts of yourself that people will try to shame you for. Being you and loving it. That’s pride to me.” (Alexi Wright, She/Her)
“Pride means being able to bring your whole self to any situation and not feeling like you have to hide or amend any part of who you are” (Kacie Willis, She/Her)
“Pride means being unashamed of who I am and what I accomplish, or how I live.” (Samantha Potter, She/Her)
“Pride means not being afraid or ashamed of my own identity. (Luana Moreno, She/Her)
“To me, Pride is about being able to come together with my queer community and take up space in a way that we are not normally afforded.” (Audrey Martinovich, bi, she/her)
Have you ever experienced prejudice in a work environment because you are LGBTQ+?
“I’ve experienced the typical misogynists that come with working in a very male-dominated industry. A lot of LGBTQ women do go through some form of bs, which is very unfortunate because these women are more than capable of doing their job. But, I personally don’t have any crazy horror stories when it comes to my experiences.”
“Not overtly, as in “we don’t hire lesbians”. But I have experienced being equated to “the guys” and being expected to be complacent with the objectification of other women because I’m attracted to them. I have been objectified because I am a bisexual woman. And heard that this orientation is “just an excuse to be slutty”.”
“I am very fortunate to have never had my sexuality be an issue at work but I recognize that this is not the case for many LGBTQ+ people.”
In what ways can the Entertainment Industry, particularly the Audio Industry be more inclusive?
“The industry should make conscious and consistent efforts to provide educational/shadowing opportunities to students in under-represented demographics. It all starts with exposure.”
“Be more welcoming to women in general. Stop the boys club culture, because toxic masculinity and homophobia come in that same pack.”
“The audio industry can be more inclusive by marketing towards minority groups of all kinds and encourage participation. It’s becoming way more of a casual topic, gayness, and the like than it used to be. I think the Entertainment Industry probably has the highest ratio of LGBT-to-het/cis-gendered individuals. Audio is not a large group and by sheer numbers, there are just statistically more white straight men. It’d be nice if we could have a space for LGBT audio folk. It comes down to the question, “How do we get people who have no idea this industry exists involved in said industry?”
“The audio industry needs to make a conscious decision to be more open and include images of Queer, POC, and women in their advertising and media campaigns. Normalize the look of someone other than straight, white, men as a place to start. Hiring people with the intent to have a diverse staff. If Beyoncé can find 15 black women who can play the violin while being her tap-dancing backup dancers, it’s possible to find more queer engineers/producers for projects.”
What advice could you give to a SoundGirl that is struggling with their identity?
“Best advice I can give you if you’re struggling with your identity is, trust yourself.
Nobody knows YOU better than YOU. Trust that you’re not crazy, and there’s NOTHING wrong with you. Most importantly, love yourself. You’re beautiful in every way.”
“Anyone struggling with their sexuality or identity should find a group of friends through which they can find a support system. SoundGirls is a great community to sort of shout “Hey, is there anyone else like me out there?” and find those other people who can relate or at the very least, are strong allies. We should never be afraid to live like how we want, but there are some real-life limitations and it’s a tough line to walk — that world between being true to yourself and a working professional. Sometimes those can be mutually exclusive but often are not. Like most things, there’s a huge land of gray where we can live as ourselves and be amazing professionals in pro audio.”
“Reach out to the community, in private if needs be. It’s incredibly inclusive and most people in this group are committed to being supportive.”
“I would tell a struggling SoundGirl to find a community. Whether that’s a friend they trust or to post in the SoundGirls Facebook page. We are here for each other from amateurs to pros, gay/straight/everything in between and beyond, and I know personally that older LGBT+ folks went through some stuff and love passing down advice and guidance to the younger generation. Whatever you’re experiencing, someone has been through it. Find them and ask how they dealt with it and how it turned out.”
“The struggle is real…but on the other side of the struggle, you will eventually find peace. Breathe. Live life day by day.”
As a Black Queer Muslim Woman working in the audio industry, I am thankful for my SoundGirl’s Community. I am grateful that I have a community that is empowering and uplifting. At times, when I felt like my voice wasn’t heard or I was discriminated against in a work environment, I am always able to count on SoundGirls for support and guidance.
Have a safe Pride Month, filled with love and self-love.
Thank you to all of the SoundGirls that have contributed.
Black Technicians Matter
Before I get into this blog, let me say that I am writing this with very high emotions. My heart is breaking for BIPOC. I am horrified by the overwhelming lack of acknowledgment and responsibility in regards to the aggressive use of police brutality that has plagued this country for years, decades, even centuries. I am utterly sickened by the blatantly flagrant display of racism that pours out of the White House every single day. So, yes, it’s possible that you are reading a different, maybe more fiery tone from me today because I am fired up.
In an effort to provide some kind of tangible support, I want to use my small platform here to discuss some ideas for the future, when we’re able to live and work freely in the world again (remember, even through all of these recent atrocities, we’re also still in a pandemic). One day, we will be healthy again. One day, we will be able to work again. One day, people will start forgetting the protests, the rallies, the news. That’s the time that we need to remember that even when we’re not inundated daily by all of these disgusting displays of inhumanity pouring in through social media and other news outlets, it will still be happening and will continue happening until enough of us start using our fiery emotions as fuel to actually DO something about it. It’s not just the inhumanity toward BIPOC that is a problem, it’s also white complacency, and, frankly, blindness.
A couple of summers ago, I hired a crew of seven sound technicians to support my theatre company’s summer season. Generally, most of my hires come from the USITT convention, KCACTF, and SETC. A couple of weeks into the summer, one of my interns said to me,” I just wanted to let you know that I think it’s really great that this crew is mostly women and mostly people of color. You’ve created a really inclusive department, and I wanted you to know that I appreciate it.” Wow. What a fantastic compliment that I, in no way, deserved. What she said was true. They were mostly women, and they were mostly people of color. It’s just that I didn’t do that on purpose, and I didn’t even realize that’s what we had until she brought it up.
I was blind. I have to imagine that, as a black woman, the person that said this to me probably enters almost every situation looking around the room to see how outnumbered she is in terms of race. I didn’t think of that, because it’s something I never do. I really don’t walk into a new situation and think, “Oh good, at least there are other white people.” That summer’s beautiful blend of racial variety was a complete accident. I learned from it, though. I learned that as a person who regularly hires other people, I have an obligation to make sure that I am not just going through the same old motions and that I am using my privilege and my position to promote diversity and equity.
This is not to say that there is anything wrong with the organizations I listed above, in fact, it’s quite the contrary. USITT, KCACTF, and SETC provide so many opportunities for so many young people throughout the year, and I would be lost without them. They all have many subgroups within their organizations that are specifically geared toward marginalized communities such as BIPOC, Women+, and LGBTQ. I just think we can all be taking another step.
Maybe we should recruit specifically within HBCUs. In researching for this blog, I very easily came across this list of HBCU schools offering performing arts programs. I also came across this HBCU list which provides useful statistics related to the schools and their demographics. It takes two minutes for that extra Google search, and then finding department faculty email addresses after that is easy! As I’ve already mentioned, the theatre organizations and conferences I’ve encountered in the past are doing a good job of continuing to promote diversity and inclusion, but this thought led me to Google search “black theatre conferences,” and the first hit was for The Black Theatre Network. What a fantastic recruitment opportunity that I have been missing out on.
My point is that I don’t want us all to relax when the heat is turned down. Let’s keep moving forward. Let’s take another step—push a little harder. I want to challenge shop heads, recruiters, and managers to remember this blog during hiring season, and ask yourselves if there’s something else you can do. It’s our responsibility as artists to never stop learning, and never stop growing.
Diversify You Crew
The EQUAL Directory is a global database of professionals that seeks to amplify the careers and achievements of women working behind the scenes in music and audio. Any person around the world can add their name and claim their space. And, any person looking to hire a more inclusive creative team can find professionals in their area.
The directory features over 500 people of color who work in audio around the world. You’ll find editors, hosts, writers, producers, sound designers, engineers, project managers, musicians, reporters, and content strategists with varied experience from within the industry and in related fields.
While recruiting diverse candidates is a great first step, it’s not going to be enough if we want the industry to look and sound meaningfully different in the future. Let us be clear: this isn’t about numbers alone. This is about getting the respect that people of color—and people of different faiths, abilities, ages, socioeconomic statuses, educational backgrounds, gender identities, and sexual orientation—deserve.
Alexandria Perryman – Audio Engineer for the Astronauts
Alexandria Perryman is a live broadcast engineer and Emmy winner working at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, where one of her jobs is to run audio for the astronauts on the International Space Station. Every “Mission” is different for her. One day she might be working a spacewalk, making sure the astronauts have a clear connection to mission control the next she might be mixing audio for a video that’s going up on the NASA YouTube channel.
Lately, she’s been working to provide Skype links between astronauts and students. The effort is part of NASA’s “Year of Education on Station” – a program where ISS crew members and teacher Ricky Arnold Skypes in via satellite and performs real-time experiments for kids in classrooms around the country.
Alexandria discovered audio when she was in her high school’s marching band and was put in charge of the on-field sound mixer. This is where she started to fall in love with the idea of live audio mixing. She always had a passion for music and sound and as she got older she became intrigued by how music and sound are created. She remembers seeing Blue Man Group perform when she was in elementary school and being in awe with how they used everyday items to create music. Alexandria would enroll at Full Sail University and study audio engineering and graduate in 2015 with an Associates Degree of Science.
She got her start in audio volunteering at her church, mixing their online broadcast and working part-time as an AV Tech. Early on she learned how important troubleshooting quickly is and learned how to work in fast-paced and high-stress situations. She says “I made many mistakes in those early gigs but I was in an environment where if I could troubleshoot my mistakes quickly then it was not harmful to my career.”
She has been at NASA working as an Audio Engineer and Chief Engineer and Producer of Podcast for the last 2 ½ years. Alexandria says there is no typical day at NASA.
“The workday starts for me an hour before my first show which sometimes could be at 3 am. Then there is the podcast that I produce weekly and studio shoots. It is common for me to go day by day.” Staying focused and organized is difficult Alexandria says “I may have a live event then an hour later I am recording a podcast, two different mindsets. Staying focused on the task I am doing at that time is super important.”
Some of Alexandria’s job duties are coordinating Skype signals in space and she is proud that during her time at NASA her team has never lost a Skype signal in space. Mission Planning and Operations works with her team to find optimal windows between satellites and schedule sessions accordingly.
Alexandria also works on archiving and preserving audio for the historical record and the U.S. National Archives. The crew of the ISS rotates every six months and NASA will use this audio for training new crew members and for reference on repeat problems. Alexandria with other engineers monitors the day to day operation recordings and are often the first line of communication between station and NASA. She often works with the astronauts before missions, she is the one mic-ing them up for interviews and trains them on using the audio equipment.
In addition to all of her official duties, Alexandria also serves as the producer of NASA’s official podcastHouston We Have a Podcast. The podcast talks with and interviews astronauts, scientists, and engineers working on furthering space exploration.
Alexandria says she loves that her job allows her to be part of something bigger than herself, but is not a fan of how politics come into play with what she does as a creative. She is awaiting NASA’s return to the moon and hopes to be able to mix the audio. Her long term goals are to mix audio for the Grammys.
On Challenging Projects
One challenge that sticks out the most was the Space X Demo-1 mission. It was challenging because it was the first time we ever merged our NASA shows with SpaceX. Learning how to coordinate a show between multiple locations and have it flow easily was definitely difficult. The audio setup was new and extremely complicated but as a team, we managed to put out great shows for that mission. It’s also the same mission I won my first Emmy for.
For me looking back the biggest failure, I had happened in college. I had become lazy with class and my grades quickly fell, to the point that I was put on academic probation. That was a big wake up call for me, because if I had failed another class I would have failed out of college. In the next couple of months, I kicked it in gear and studied more, went to my instructors during office hours for extra help, and surrounded myself with positive people. I learned from that experience to never slack off and always do my best. Most importantly I learned that even when the odds are against me that I can overcome anything as long as I never stop trying.
What if any obstacles or barriers have you faced?
I have been fortunate to not have faced many obstacles or barriers in my career. The only thing that was an obstacle was having such an age gap between my coworkers and them being able to trust that I’m mentally capable of the job regardless of my age.
How have you dealt with them?
Earning trust takes time especially in this industry. I was able to do it by constantly giving them my best work and attitude and showing up in big situations.
Advice you have for other women and young women who wish to enter the field?
Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, that’s the only way you can really learn. Some of the biggest mistakes in my career offered me the most valuable lessons.
What is your favorite day off activity?
While I work in live television and not the music industry, I still love creating music in my free time as a way to express my emotions.
Must have skills?
Must be able and willing to be teachable at any level. Also for anything-audio understanding signal flow is key.
My favorite gear would have to be my Zoom F8N recorder, it’s perfect for in the fieldwork.
Hi SoundGirls! Back in January, I wrote about the recording process for a 16 song album I was working on at the time. Although I promised that my next blog would be about the mixing process, that took a pause because my last blog ended up being about my friend Tangela’s new podcast, “Women in Audio”. I was lucky enough to be her first guest, so for my March blog, I broke down some essential topics we talked about in the podcast, and provided links to it at the end. If you haven’t listened to the Women in Audio podcast yet- I suggest you do. She has multiple interviews streaming now, plus the conversations are fun and intriguing! You’ll definitely enjoy them.
With all that being said, we are circling back to the album I just wrapped and today’s blog will be about the mixing process, (YAY!).
You might’ve noticed the title for this month’s blog is called “Minimalist Mixing Techniques”, so you already know what I’m about to dive into…the art of NOT using 10,000 plug-ins on ONE song! Now, there is nothing wrong with that at all! If the song is calling for production, or if you want to just be creative with plug-ins…do it. There are certain artists or bands I work with that I like to get very creative with plug-ins, but in this instance- we didn’t go that route, and I wanted to talk about the steps I used to get the band their final product.
Here is the list of steps I would take from when I would first open up the session to when I sent them their first mix of the song:
Clean up your session
What I mean by “clean up your session” is- get rid of tracks you don’t need. Not using that DI track you captured? Hide and make inactive. If you have two tracks that could become 1 (ex. two mono overhead mic tracks)- create it as a stereo track. Make your starting base simple, so you can move through it seamlessly.
Set up your effects
Now that you’ve gotten rid of things you don’t need. Start adding in things you do need to create some depth in the mix. I would recommend only 2 (maybe 3) effects tracks since we are keeping this mix minimal. A reverb, delay, and a slap delay are pretty effective for any mix.
Start with the drums
The way I mix is I start with the drums soloed and then I move through the mix adding in each instrument at a time. For the drums, I would recommend bussing together the things that are the same (kick in/kick out, snare top/ snare bottom, etc), but don’t get too “bus” happy. One of the reasons I sometimes like to mix minimally is because it’s easy to have control over your mix when you don’t have too many things bussing into one another (aka phase issues, and your mix could get muddy if you lose control of the low end).
Eq is always incredibly important in any mixing process. I think it’s usually best to eq minimally, and if you’re capturing things well in the studio you shouldn’t have to do TOO much of it on the back end anyways. With this, I would recommend practicing using pro-tools stock eq so you can focus on using your ears instead of your eyes. You’ll question the eq moves you make more than you would vice versa (which results in minimalist eq techniques). That will also help you avoid phases that you may create yourself by eq-ing too much.
When mixing minimally, compression is key. You want to keep the dynamics of the song, but you don’t want things poking out of the mix when they shouldn’t be! I think the most prevalent two things to compress in a minimal mix are the snare and the bass. Obviously, compress the kick, guitars, vocals, as need be, but I’d say the snare and the bass you will want to focus on most. Since we are keeping it simple, keep a small ratio, set your attack/release (all dependent on the instrument), and slowly add in the threshold. Keep it on the lighter side though. Remember, we want those dynamics there!
I kind of went over this in the “drums” paragraph, but to go into more detail, I will say- bus together with the things that make sense and make the mixing process easier for you. The reason I would bus the kick in/kick out together is that I have more control over the total sound of the kick through eq AND compression. It would be the same thought process for two guitar mics on the same amp, and so on.
That’s the gist of mixing minimally. I hope this blog helps you go outside of your comfort zone, and trust your ears a bit more. That’s what mixing this way has done for me!
I hope everyone is staying safe, healthy, and creative out there! No matter what, never stop making music or doing what you love.
From the mountains of Brazil to the hills of Los Angeles, Fernanda Starling has come a long way in her career in audio.
Fernanda was raised in Belo Horizonte (or “beautiful horizon” in English), the capital city of Brazil’s Minas Gerais state. Surrounded by mountains, “Beagá”– as it is known to locals – is a cultural capital. It is particularly known for giving birth to the progressive-jazz-folk musician collective Clube da Esquina, who are regarded as the founders of one of the most important Brazilian musical movements. In the shadows of this popular music scene, a number of heavy metal bands were founded, including the legendary Sepultura.
Fernanda spent her teenage years going to a variety of concerts and eventually started learning how to play bass. In 2002, she formed her first original band with two other musicians. They recorded their demo with André Cabelo, a well-known local audio engineer and owner of Estúdio Engenho. This was her introduction to the world of professional audio. “For the following one-and-a-half to two years, I kept bumping into André at live concerts,” she recalls. “One of those nights, he mentioned that his studio was so busy that he was thinking about getting an intern. Even though I was already working as a journalist full-time, I didn’t think twice about taking the opportunity.”
She immediately immersed herself in the process of studio recording and editing for music. At the end of 2004, after several months of assisting on recordings and mixings, Fernanda was hired by Cabelo: “his studio became my audio school. It was a non-stop recording environment: we often did three sessions per day, generally with three different artists, of all genres”.
Her proven studio recording abilities also led her to receive a federal grant to work as the main Audio Engineer for the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG) School of Music. There, she was responsible for recording and mixing classical albums as a member of an all-women research group between 2007 and 2009. This particular recording project was noteworthy, as it catalogued, recorded, and published more than 250 classical songs written by Brazilian composers for the first time.
As an avid learner, Fernanda also chose to complete an intensive certificate course called “Fundamentals in Audio and Acoustics” at the Institute of Audio and Video in São Paulo.
In the Heart of the Music Industry
In 2010, Fernanda moved to Los Angeles to continue pursuing her education in music production. She completed a certificate in Independent Music Production at UCLA Extension in 2012 and then started an Optional Practical Training program right after graduation, which allowed her to pursue work in her field. Although some might think going back to school later in life would be difficult, Fernanda speaks highly of the experience: “I don’t regret going back to school full-time. It gave me the opportunity to immerse myself into a different culture and meet important industry professionals who still influence my life to this day.”
One of those key people is a music producer and audio engineer Peter Barker. Barker is the co-owner of Threshold Sound + Vision, where Fernanda interned. Under his guidance, she started working as a post-production sound editor and mixer assistant. By the end of 2016, Fernanda had worked alongside Barker on the 5.1 mixes for numerous DVD/Blu-ray projects, such as Dio’s “Finding the Sacred Heart – Live In Philly 1986”, Alan Jackson’s “Keepin’ It Country Tour!”, and Heart’s “Live at the Royal Albert Hall”.
Gradually, Fernanda found herself gravitating from studio recording to film and television audio, where there were more job opportunities. She invested in a full production sound kit and owns all the equipment that is needed to record professional audio on film sets. Since 2013, she has worked as a “one-man band”, providing field recording and mixing for independent short and feature films, commercials, TV shows, and documentaries.
Breaking into Live TV
On the Broadcast side, Fernanda stays busy as a Pro Tools Operator/Recordist for live and live-to-tape productions. Her credits include big shows such as Celebrity Family Feud, Grease Live!, MTV Video and Music Awards, The Christmas Story Live! and The Oscars. Typically, she works from remote TV units: “besides the audio broadcast truck, responsible for the mixing of the production elements, music and concert productions also require an additional truck – or even two, depending on the complexity – to handle the music mix of the live performances.”
Fernanda in the Mojave Desert recording sound for the tv series “Big Red: The Original Outlaw Race” (NBC Sports).
Since 2016, she has also worked with Music Mix Mobile West (M3W), an award-winning remote facility company that specializes in recording and mixing music for broadcast. M3W regularly handles audio for award shows and live music performances on television, such as The MTV Movie & TV Awards, the Grammy Legends Award, iHeartRadio Music Festival, iHeartRadio Jingle Ball and KROQ’s Almost Acoustic Christmas. Asked why she likes broadcast audio, Fernanda states: “the complexity and live element make it both a challenging and fascinating environment.These types of television productions typically encompass 160 inputs (and up to 192!) and feature numerous live performances with quick changeovers, so the multi-track recording plays a crucial role. What you hear on air is always a live mix, but the mix settings are prepared in advance.”
In the lead-up to the event, she records the soundchecks & rehearsals. Once the act leaves the stage, she plays back the captured audio so the music mixer can revisit the songs, fine-tune the mix and create snapshots for the live show. Alongside M3W’s co-owners, the renowned audio engineers’ Bob Wartinbee and Mark Linett, Fernanda has recorded countless A-list acts such as John Mayer, Kanye West, Taylor Swift, Beck, Lady Gaga, and Alicia Keys.
Her credits also include working as an assistant and audio engineer for the multi-Emmy Award-winning sound engineer/ playback mixer Pablo Munguia, who she met while studying at UCLA. She has worked alongside him in music playback mixing for The Grammy Awards, The American Music Awards, The Oscars, and The Emmy Awards, amongst others. For these award shows, Fernanda is responsible for building and testing the playback systems at the shop and then assisting Munguia on whatever he needs during the production.
A multi-talented engineer, Fernanda is grateful for all the opportunities she has had in the entertainment industry: “being able to stay true to my musical roots and working with legendary audio engineers is definitely one of the best parts of the job!”
You studied journalism at university. Do you wish you had had the opportunity to study audio engineering first?
Is audio engineering school really worth it? This is a common question and I have always wondered that myself. To be sincere with you, after I had finished high school and had to pick a career, I didn’t even know that audio was an option… The reality in Brazil is different from North America. I became more familiar with the audio world while working as a journalist.
Back when I started my post-secondary education, there were no universities offering a bachelor’s degree in audio. There are a few private audio schools in Brazil, most of them in São Paulo or Rio de Janeiro, but they just offered short-term certificate programs. Today, if I am correct, there is actually one university in Brazil offering a degree in audio engineering.
The way I’ve always tried to compensate for the lack of having an audio diploma is taking multiple short-term courses and classes to fill specific gaps in my knowledge as I advanced in my career.
It seems that the audio industry is much different in Brazil then what we experience in North America. Can you speak to the differences?
Like I mentioned above, there is little access to formal education in audio. Besides that, the limited access to professional high-end gear may be one of the biggest differences. Brazil’s tariff regime is ridiculous! Imported manufactured products are subject to a wide range of taxes at all stages of the chain. Because of that, the final price of an audiovisual product is two to three times more expensive than it would be in the US. Therefore, independent studios in Brazil are not as well equipped as the American ones. One of the first lessons I learned from my first studio mentor, André Cabelo, was that gear is not the most important thing in the business: neither for making a good mix or to build and keep your clientele. What counts most is mastering the craft, having a relationship of trust between artist and the engineer, and creating a welcoming environment.
Another difference is that federal government incentives play a big role in the Brazilian audiovisual and music production world, particularly in the independent scene. Maybe because of that and other cultural aspects, independent Brazilian artists get more of a chance to perceive music as more of an art then as a product?
Can you explain what you mean by these federal government incentives?
There are numerous kinds of tax relief, i.e. tax benefits and incentives at all levels of government (federal, state, and local) in Brazil. Some grants, for example, are based on fiscal incentives that allow for companies or individuals to invest a share of their income in cultural projects in exchange for a tax reduction. Those benefits not only help to promote and democratize the access to culture but also directly supports independent artists. When an artist receives a grant, they can dedicate themselves to their craft, record & promote their album without worrying about working multiple jobs to fund their musical career. Besides helping musicians directly, these policies also benefit studio owners, audio engineers, and other professionals involved in the Brazilian music industry.
I will say I was shocked when I arrived in the US in 2010. I was used to a non-stop recording environment back in Brazil and it seemed that here, very few independent artists had the budget or opportunity to go to the studio and record full albums.
What about the TV Broadcast and film Industries? What are the biggest differences between America & Brazil?
When we talk about TV programmers and filmmaking, it is almost unfair to compare the production capabilities of both countries. This is because of the difference in the size of their populations, and the difference in the ability to recover production costs domestically. It is often cheaper for Brazilian media companies to buy series & films from the US than to produce their own. In Brazil, the content produced outside the TV broadcasters, including film, is reduced and depends on government incentives.
Another difference is that broadcast TV is an extremely concentrated sector in Brazil, dominated by Rede Globo. They are one of the largest commercial television corporations outside of the United States and the largest producer of telenovelas (soap operas) in the world. Generally speaking, the US is famous for producing and exporting film, while Brazil is famous for producing and exporting telenovelas. It’s actually really impressive what the Brazilian TV industry has managed to create: there are three original soaps going out every evening, and each series lasts approximately 200 episodes.
Can you tell us more about your experiences as a musician?
The FuDogs at the “Venice Beach Music Festival
Although music is my passion, I also had to focus on my careers, which were first journalist and then audio engineer. The best bands I played in were the ska ones. I Brazil I had a 7-piece ska band called Os Inflamáveis (The Inflammables). We had tons of fun playing together in small venues and festivals. Before I left Brazil, we were playing every Sunday at a local pub. I used to say that playing ska is my therapy: the bass lines are interesting to play, and the music lifts you up! I also joined other bands while I lived in Béaga and played as a hired musician for an artist called Makely Ka, but Os Inflamáveis was by far my favorite experience.
When I moved to LA, I really missed playing in bands. One day, out of curiosity, I checked the musician section on Craigslist and I couldn’t believe my eyes! There was a post about an opening for a bass player in a local ska band and went to audition. I passed the audition and joined the Fu Dogs, we played together for five years at several special events in Santa Monica and Venice, as well as well-known venues like The Roxy. I also played briefly with an original power trio called Bombay Beach Revival, and with FEMZeppelin, a female Led Zeppelin cover band.
It seems that Belo Horizonte had a vivid independent music scene. Besides playing in bands, is there anything else you miss?
I would say that it’s quite easy to become a workaholic when you live in LA, especially when you love what you do. I definitely miss Beagá’s nightlife and the social life I used to have… There was always something to do! If I wasn’t going to my friends’ concert, I was bumping into them at cultural events or festivals or we were enjoying a good conversation at the bar. This popular local saying perfectly sums up life in my hometown: “se não tem mar, vamos pro bar” (we have no sea, let’s go the bar).
What is your favorite piece of gear?
I don’t have a particular one any recording device fascinates me for its capacity of capturing the uniqueness of a specific moment and then being able to play it back later!
I do use redundant Pro Tools Systems for broadcast recordings and Sound Device’s 633 mixer/recorder for my one-band-man field recording. At M3W’s studio truck, I oversee running a redundant Pro Tools MADI System (up to 196 inputs each) for audio recording (one as backup) and a satellite system for video playback locked to either of the recorders. I also like combining a flying pack of Pro Tools Madi and Sound Devices 970 when I have a gig that requires redundancy and a high track count below 64 inputs.
What advice would you give to young women looking to get into the audio field?
Try to learn from other people’s experiences. Surround yourself with those who know more than you. Read manuals. Be open to changes. Be professional. Understand the psychological aspect of working with artists… And remember that there is no right or wrong path, just keep working on your skills, take care of your emotional health, be worthy of trust, and be patient.
Creativity is the use of the imagination or original ideas, especially in the production of artistic work. Many of us can consider ourselves creative beings. Working in our field is a creative job compared to others. Being creative helps you become a better problem solver, develops confidence, and relieves stress.
During the past few weeks, many of us have been practicing social distancing and quarantined in our homes. During this time, it is very important for us to stay creative while working from home. Here are four tips you can exercise to help keep your creative juices flowing.
Work on a Passion Project
A passion project is a creative project of your choice that benefits yourself. Work on an album. Score music for a short film. Write a book. This is the perfect time to work on a project that brings you inner joy and happiness. I am currently working on creating an instrumental EP.
Find Inspiration Online
I am usually inspired when I leave my home. Exploring the city, working a gig, and hanging out with other creative people. Now, I am getting my daily dose of inspiration online. I find watching motivational videos, reading books, and creative positive affirmations inspire me. Seeing others’ creative work can help inspire your next creative project. On Social Media, follow accounts that inspire you and encourage you to be your best and authentic self.
Never Stop Learning
Continuing education is important. Never stop learning and being a student. There is always new gear and software to learn. This is the perfect time to research, read, and practice new skills you’ve been wanting to. Some companies are offering free online seminars as well as software discounts. Resources can be found here. I am currently learning Vectorworks Spotlight and Dante.
Many times, we can talk ourselves out of a creative project. Negative thoughts such as “It’s not going to be good enough.” Or “I don’t think I can do it.” We can turn these negative thoughts into positive thoughts and positive actions. Just start. Overthinking is not needed when working on a creative project. Free yourself from self-judgment and see where you go. Enjoy the process.
Creating is important to many of us. I hope these tips can help you on your creative journey during these hard times. I recommend reading the book The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield. We can all win our inner creative battles.