Noise Engineering‘s mission is to make engaging tools for sound and music production. Started as a hobby in 2014(ish), we cut our teeth making Eurorack synthesizer modules in new and unusual styles. We love exploring new sound spaces and interesting ideas in synthesis to help broaden the universe of musical tone. We strive to put as much immediate functionality into every product as we can: we want to make fun products that inspire creativity; products WE want to play with. With products spanning a growing range of platforms, we aim to meet you, the artist, wherever you are. On the road, in the studio, in hardware or software, anywhere in the world, we have tools for you.
Our core values are based on community. Music is a place for everyone. We believe that all people should be treated with acceptance and respect and we welcome everyone into our community. But synthesis can be difficult to wrap your brain around, and we believe that it’s our job to help lower the barrier to entry. We work hard to offer extensive outreach and education, but we know there is always room for more–there’s so much to learn! We created the SoundGirls Noise Engineering scholarship to help people dedicated to the SoundGirls mission follow their dreams.
Award: We are awarding two $500 scholarships to be used for audio education and continuing education.
APPLICATIONS For 2021
Noise Engineering is providing members of SoundGirls two $500 scholarships to be used for audio education and continuing education. Applications are now open
WHO IS ELIGIBLE?
Any member of SoundGirls that is attending or plans to attend educational programs in Professional Audio. There is no age requirement and includes college programs, trade schools, seminars, and workshops. Applications are open to all genders and non-conforming genders.
HOW TO APPLY
Write a 400-600 word essay on the topic: Why you love working or want to work in professional audio. Applications are now open- Apply Here
DEADLINE FOR SUBMISSION
The essay submission deadline is 12:00 midnight EDT July 30, 2021. The scholarships will be awarded in August 2021 and paid to scholarship winners. Scholarship winners will be required to send proof of enrollment in the educational program to SoundGirls or scholarship money must be returned.
SELECTION PROCESS & NOTIFICATION
The SoundGirls Board will review essays and will notify the winners via email.
The scholarship funds awarded can be used for educational programs related to professional audio. Scholarships are non-renewable. You will need to submit proof of enrollment in a program.
Any questions on the scholarship essay can be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Fei Yu – Award-Winning Music Producer, Music Supervisor & Editor, and Recording Engineer
Fei Yu is a Chinese award-winning music producer, music supervisor, music editor, and recording engineer. Fei’s ability to seek education ahead of trends has helped her become a one-of-a-kind (in the world!) music & film industry professional. Fei has worked with elite Western artists and composers (Andrea Bocelli, Hans Zimmer, Lorne Balfe, Matthew Margerson, Tyler Bates, Rupert Gregson-Williams) and popular Chinese artists (Lu Han, Li Yifeng).
Fei grew up playing piano and went to Beijing Film Academy to study composition and music recording. When she graduated in 2010, she was recruited by the China Film Group. “I was really lucky because 2010 was a big, big Chinese movie year. China Film Group is a national company, and so all of the big movies at the time that they invested in were doing the post-production in our company at that time. From that year, the Chinese box office started booming – double, triple numbers,” she says.
Fei says of the three years she worked there, “I met with so many directors, so that’s how I started to build relationships with them. They used to work with me as their music editor.” But, Fei noticed communication problems between the directors and composers she worked with. Sometimes the directors would ask for creative music changes after the composer was done working, which meant it all had to be done with music editing. Fei recalls, “The director would tell me, I want this music shorter. Or, I don’t like this music. Or, could you change it a little bit? Or sometimes they told me, could you put some of the song here rather than the background music? Then it turns out, the score is not linked really well with the background music. So I noticed there were so many problems during this time. Maybe the communication is not very good, or maybe some of the industry process is not going really well.”
She recognized if a filmmaker could choose background music first (licensed music), the composer could write music that fit. But, they weren’t used to dealing with music licenses. “Everybody started to become aware how important publishing is, and to clear the license for the copyright. There were still not professional music industry people in China doing this kind of thing, so that’s why I started to see myself as a music supervisor.”
During her years at China Film Group, Dolby launched Dolby Atmos, which Fei also saw as an opportunity. She says, “Nobody knew how to record music for Atmos at the time, so that’s why I quit my job and went to McGill University (for a Masters Degree in Sound Recording). I’m trying to see how to make my career path a little bit longer, and trying to be a little bit ahead of the time.”
While she was at McGill, she became friends with Western composers. “I started thinking about how some of my composer friends were really, really, really good. They’ve been composing for more than 20 years, so they have experience, and their rate is reasonable as well.” She started recommending Western composers for Chinese work, starting with video games. “Games are a little bit easier because a composer doesn’t need to understand the dialogue. It’s not like you have to write your music to fit the dialogue unless you’re writing for in-game animation. Writing for game music – it’s actually easier. You have more freedom. And also their budget is really good. You have the budget for recording a real orchestra, a big orchestra as well. So that’s how I started with a lot of game composers first.”
Fei’s film career was able to pick up even with her time away because she had built relationships with the filmmakers. “Some of the directors I worked with at China Film Group heard I just graduated. They knew me before, and they trusted me. They came back to me for their future movies. That’s how I built my career, as well,” Fei says.
A year after graduating from McGill, she was asked to work on a Disney film, Born in China. Fei was a natural fit because she was bilingual, had experience as a music editor, and knew the director. “They needed a Chinese expert to work on it, so they got a Chinese director. The Chinese director couldn’t communicate really well with the Disney system, so that’s why he brought me on board because I used to work with him in China Film Group.”
Fei later spent some time working in Los Angeles, where she continued pairing Western composers with Chinese filmmakers. She says of the time, “the really famous composers in China were piled up with work. At the same time, when I lived in LA, so many composers approached me and they had a really good attitude – they wanted to know more about Chinese culture, and they wanted to be involved with Chinese projects. That’s why I started thinking maybe it’s a good opportunity and started to collaborate with foreign composers.”
Fei started her company, Dream Studios, to bridge the gap between the two cultures. “Music is a universal language, so we want to use music to bridge the gap in-between. I’m having full control of the quality of the music, so I provide a really good service for the director. After one or two times trying this method, all of the directors felt comfortable. They don’t feel the language barrier because I’m speaking Chinese, and they also feel like the Western composers put in the effort. The Chinese composers were super busy, having 10 or 20 movies every year. That’s a lot. They’re working really hard and they just don’t have time,” she says.
Fei sees her ability to speak both languages as an advantage, as well as her music and audio background. “I’ve learned composition, sound editing, and all of these things that gave me more knowledge than my peers.”
There are challenges working with cultural differences. “I seldom do comedy with Western composers because I do notice they can’t understand why people are laughing here,” Fei says. “Or, sometimes suddenly, we’re having traditional Chinese music, and they don’t understand why people are laughing at that. Most of our movies are romantic movies or big action movies. The Chinese composers could understand more about the laughing points. With Western composers, there is a little bit of a language barrier, there’s a little bit of a culture difference. But especially for me, because I’m working with Western composers, we need to have a lot of communication with each other. I have to explain what a director really wants. So that’s why, for comedy, I will definitely put in more energy and more time to communicate with them.”
She says of her demeanor working with composers and filmmakers, “I’m never having a really bad attitude towards them. I’m always trying to be patient, trying to be nice, but also solving problems. I’m still trying to learn it because sometimes I’m really frustrated and sometimes you don’t get the respect that you should get. I’m still trying to keep calm, and I’m still trying to be nicer.”
One of the challenges of her job is when a composer or filmmaker is unhappy, and she is responsible for the communication between them. “We are under pressure for work because they have deadlines approaching, especially at the very end when they need to deal with the picture changing. Sometimes directors just say, just copy the temp music, just do exactly what the temp music is doing. So the director doesn’t give the composer enough space to have freedom for the creative side.” She says of working through these situations, “They have made me get stronger. I know next time if I am working with a new composer and they are having the same reaction, I know how to deal with a situation.”
For Fei, completing the job is important even in a difficult situation. She says of quitting, “Maybe I’m also destroying my personal relationship with a director, so that’s why I like to at least finish the project. Then next time, I will have my own choice if I still want to work with them or not.”
Fei has found pros and cons to being a woman in the industry. She believes some clients show better manners towards her because of her gender. As a con, Fei says, “In this industry, especially in China, there are so many who are more experienced than me. At the very beginning, they may hesitate or have some questions from what they see of me just as a female, but once we work together, we build trust.”
Tips on being a music editor
“First of all, if you want to be a music editor, you have to have a really good music collection with many different kinds of music. Whenever you watch movies or whatever, you have to know how to classify all of the music. Like, this is funny music, or this is romantic music, or this is quirky music. You need to be really organized, and listen to as much music as you can.
When you’re working with composers, you need to have a really positive and a good attitude and need to be super-efficient at everything.
As a music editor, you need to have a really good memory for the picture. You need to know where to put the music, you need to know where they change the music because you are helping to conform the music to picture changes. Also, you need to have a really good understanding of the music, so you could crossfade or do edits really well, like a composer.”
Maxime Brunet FOH Engineer, Tour Manager, & Road Warrior
Maxime Brunet is a freelance live sound engineer, primarily mixing FOH & tour management. She also works in music venues as both a FOH & monitor engineer. She has been working in live sound for ten years and touring for six. She has toured with a variety of artists over the years, including Wolf Parade, Chloe Lilac, Operators, TR/ST, Kilo Kish, Marika Hackman, & Dilly Dally.
Early Career – DIY Punk, Radio, & Trial By Fire
Growing up in Ottawa, Canada, Maxime played in DIY punk bands, promoted shows, & attended as many concerts as she could. She started her professional audio journey when interning at a community radio station in high school. After completing her internship, she was offered a position as the production coordinator: she recorded ads and station IDs, as well as helped volunteers edit interviews, and trained them on how to use the recording equipment and DAW. She developed an interest in mixing and began recording and mixing her own bands, in which she played bass & sang.
Maxime attended the University of Ottawa, where she studied political science. During her undergrad, she started shadowing live sound engineers around town. Eventually, she was hired at Café Dekcuf/Mavericks, a popular two-story venue. It was ‘trial by fire;’ she recounts learning something new every shift and really having to work on understanding how to fight feedback, properly run a soundcheck, and learning how to mix. Though she had already toured as a musician, she really wanted to try her hand at being a touring tech. She asked bands who said they liked working with her to take her on tour. In 2014, her hard work led her to tour North America & Europe with the noise metal band KENmode.
In late 2014 she moved to Toronto, where she got a job at The Mod Club, a 650 capacity local venue. This position was instrumental in helping her to hone her abilities. For the first time, she was working in a venue where there were 2 engineers on her shift – FOH & monitors. She found & worked with a community of inspiring audio techs in Toronto, who pushed each other to increase their skills, shared job postings, & looked out for each other. This was the first time she really felt like she was part of an audio community.
Perseverance & Breaking the ‘Grumpy Sound Guy’ Stereotype
❖ How did your early internships or jobs help build a foundation for where you are now?
I learned perseverance through mixing my first shows – my mixes certainly didn’t sound great at first, but I realized that if I didn’t keep working at increasing my skills I’d never get anywhere in this field. Audio is a long-term job, we’re all continuously learning new skills and improving.
❖ What did you learn while interning or on your early gigs?
Sometimes it’s not about being the most skilled, it’s about how you work and relate to the people you’re working with. I certainly wasn’t the most technically skilled mixer when I started working in venues, but I genuinely cared about the sound the artist wanted to achieve and tried to develop relationships with the musicians instead of just demanding they turn down their amp. I realized from working alongside one too many “grumpy sound guys” that I would get further if I was nice to the artists, promoters, & crowd.
❖ Did you have a mentor or someone that helped you?
I’ve had many mentors, and they’ve all been instrumental in helping me achieve success in this field. From Slo’ Tom at Zaphods teaching me the ropes, to Ben at Mavericks answering all my questions and helping me improve my mixing skills, to Keeks in Toronto pushing me into the professional touring world, I’ve had a lot of support and I am very grateful.
Current Career & Adapting to a Post-Covid World
❖ What is a typical day like for you on the job?
As a touring tech, waking up in a hotel, answering emails before we start our daily drive, loading into the venue, making sure hospitality has arrived, soundchecking, making sure the band is comfortable, making sure the show runs on time, mixing the show, settling the show, loading out, & getting everyone settled for the night in the hotel.
❖ How do you stay organized and focused?
I use apps like Mastertour to upload day sheets and Google Drive to keep documents remotely – it’s always important to have important documents (insurance, passports, etc) on a cloud. I upload as much information as I can before the tour starts; as a tour manager, it’s important to be organized and know what each day looks like ahead of time in order to plan drive times, etc.
❖ What do you like best about touring?
Mixing in a different city every night. I am a person who loves daily challenges, I don’t love routine (though there is a certain routine to load in and shows).
❖ What do you like least?
The long hours & being away from friends and family. I’ve made a lot of great friends touring, but it can be difficult to miss events that family and friends can attend (for example I am always working Friday nights, which is often when people who work 9-5 host parties).
❖ What is your favorite day off activity?
Exploring new cities, eating local food (particularly sweets!), having a good coffee, and catching up on some reading. I also love sending postcards.
❖ What are your long-term goals?
I’d like to get back into studio mixing. I recently purchased an audio interface again and a pair of studio monitors, I’d love to mix friend’s musical projects. When touring comes back, I’d also love to get back on the road – I miss it so much!
❖ What are your short-term goals?
Making it through 2020. This year has been quite a challenge, but I’m grateful to have a strong community of tech friends who checked in and supported each other through these tough times.
❖ What, if any, obstacles or barriers have you faced?
I, fortunately, haven’t faced too much sexism in the field, but I’ve definitely had to explain to club owners that I was qualified to mix or had bands tell the local crew to not make rude comments about me.
❖ How have you dealt with them?
I remind myself that sexism is, unfortunately, a part of modern society and try and brush it off as best as I can. I have a job to do, someone’s rude comment about me being a woman won’t stop me from having a great mix that night. As I was told by a musician: “we hire you because we know you’re great at your job”. I still think about this comment, and it reminds me there’s a reason I’m mixing on these tours – I am talented.
❖ How has your career been affected by Covid-19, & how have you adapted to the current situation?
As a live engineer, my work disappeared in March for the foreseeable future. As things are very uncertain for the music industry at the moment, I decided to return to school to increase my skills. I am currently a student at Concordia University in the Graduate Certificate in Communication Studies. I am planning on applying to Masters programs in 2021.
❖ Favorite gear?
Digico consoles, Telefunken & Sennheiser microphones. I’m fortunate enough to tour with talented artists: a good band will sound good on ”bad” PAs and lower-end mixing consoles, but it’s nice to have good tools on hand. I always travel with my own vocal mics (my personal favorite is the Telefunken M80); it’s a definite advantage to use a mic with a tighter pickup pattern on loud stages to really make your vocals pop in the mix.
❖ Must have skills in the industry?
Problem-solving and the ability to multitask.
❖ Advice you have for other womxn who wish to enter the field?
Be determined, persevere through those first few rough gigs and keep looking for opportunities. No one is instantly great at their job, we have all had bad gigs. Live audio isn’t the kind of field where jobs will just appear on a website, you need to constantly network and look for the next gig. It will be harder to be taken seriously as a woman and you will face barriers, but I do think that artists and management are starting to understand the value of hiring women.
11 Ways to Get the Best Performance from your Singer in the Studio
I’ve read a lot of articles entitled something like “tricks for recording stellar vocals” or something along those lines, as I’m sure you have as well. I stopped reading them a while ago because they were all saying the same thing; what preamps to use, the best vocal mic, mic placement, acoustic space treatment, mic technique, etc. rather than addressing what I think is the most important element: getting the best emotional, confident and believable performance out of your vocalists! As important as the equipment and recording techniques are, what good does it do if the singer has not given their best performance? I know you already knew that. But what you might not know is that you, as the engineer and/or producer, can absolutely make or break the emotion/mental state of the singer in your studio.
Here’s the thing. Most singers are incredibly nervous or at the very least, a bit anxious when they come to record vocals. They usually have inner demons waiting to hammer them with all the worst words of self-doubt a demon can muster just as soon as they open their mouths. Your singers will love working with you if you can put them at ease in every way possible. What it comes down to is you need to wear other hats besides just “engineer” and “producer”. You must also be a therapist, life coach, cheerleader, BFF, and psychic.
Now, you can complain all day long that singers need to be professional and just deal with the stress and blah blah blah. But have you not figured out that the vocals are the most important part of the song? It doesn’t matter if you have the best drum sounds on the planet or the coolest guitar solo ever created. If the vocal falls flat, the song will not connect with people.
Do you want your singer (whether they are Kelly Clarkson good or not) to give the best vocal performance of their life in your recording session? Do you??? Yes. I know you do! So shift your mindset from being the dude/dudette at the console to being the singer’s advocate. Here is my list of the top eleven things you must do to get the best vocal performance from your singer ever.
Provide a low-stress, comfortable environment
Do what you can to make the temperature comfortable (for us home studio owners, this can be difficult but do your best with space heaters, fans, windows open between takes, etc.) This also means making sure they know ahead of time if you are going to have any visitors or observers. And if possible, keep your schedule open enough to where they don’t feel rushed in or out.
Start with one run through the entire song as a “warm-up”. Record that first take, but tell them it’s just a warm-up. Because it is. But it’s also a take. I’m surprised at how often I go back to that warm-up take to use a word or a phrase at comping time because it was the best take.
Let them hear themselves back after the warm-up take (whether it sounded good or bad) with some compression and EQ and a bit of sweetening so that they sound legit. I’m not sure how or why this happens, but when they hear themselves played back the first time, it gives them the confidence they need to sing better once you start doing real “takes”. Especially if they sang that first take timidly, they’ll hear themselves singing all wimpy and tell themselves, “Wait. I totally got this.”
Be willing to adjust the input gain, but do it carefully. Some singers are very dynamic and will about blow the roof off on their loudest notes and be whisper-soft during the quiet spots. Others will be more even. You can figure this out very quickly during the warm-up take. As you decide what sections to record (see #6), if you need to adjust gain for the different sections, then coordinate it so you will only need to adjust the gain once; maybe twice so as to not have level change issues.
Don’t do takes just for the sake of getting takes. I’ve had vocal files sent to me recorded at another studio where I had 8…9…10 takes of the entire song. And guess what? They all sounded pretty much the same. Sometimes it does take a singer a few takes to get into their groove, and that’s fine. But if you are working with a pretty seasoned singer, after the warm-up take, you might only need 3 or 4 to make sure you can comp the best vocal take ever. Going through the entire song and having them do 10 to 12 takes will make them pretty tired. The takes will diminish in quality and won’t be useable anyway. Here’s the other thing – singers burn out after a couple of hours! Four, five, or six-hour vocal sessions (for one song especially) will give you diminishing returns.
Record the song in sections. Ninety-nine percent of the time, this is the best way to go when recording a vocalist. When they are singing the warm-up take, make note of sections that seem harder for them, places where they have to take a catch breath in the middle of a phrase, parts that might be too high or too low. Most singers have a harder time singing low when their voice is more warmed up so have them start with the low sections. Cheerleader hat comes on for the hard parts. Get really good at punching in and punching out so that they can get a great take on difficult notes that might need a focused breath right before or a vocal “marker” (more on that later). If there is a section that is especially hard or taxing on them vocally, only get a few good takes, then move on, go back again later if needed.
Take a break if they seem tired (either you can see fatigue or you can hear fatigue). Chit chat, offer them water, start asking questions about them so you can get to know them better. Get their mind off of it for a bit.
For crying out loud, don’t get mad at them when they are not meeting your expectations! Need I say more? Really. Yelling at them, showing frustration with passive-aggressive comments, mocking them, or whatever will most definitely not help the session go any better.
Emotionally engage with the song they are recording. It seems like a no-brainer but one thing I hear from vocalists who love to record with me is that most engineers “just hit record and check out”. If the singer is struggling with getting the emotion to come across or they can’t decide between two different deliveries, they could use your opinion! They may even ask for it and if all they get is a shrug from you, they take that as a sign that they are completely on their own. Listen to the lyrics. Discuss hidden meanings or motivations behind the song with the singer. If they wrote it, have them tell you the story behind the song. If they are creating a music video, have them tell you the visual concept and let that help drive the vocal decisions. Help them explore ways to sing this song in a way that will “make” people listen.
Let them do “vocal markers” if needed. The first word of a verse can sometimes be the hardest to hit perfectly. A little trick for singers is to sing the note while the pre-roll is playing to keep the note in their voice. Then at the last second, they take their breath and begin singing the phrase. You’ll obviously need to edit out the placeholder note later if it was recorded. This can also be a great help when they are singing harmonies as sometimes the melody is so stuck in their mind, coming in on a harmony note accurately can be tricky.
Have a good idea of where you will want doubles and multiple stacks of vocals before the recording starts. You might get more than your 3 or 4 good takes in spots where you will want a fuller stacked sound, like in the chorus. It’s easier to get a few extra takes when you are first tracking that section than later when you are recording backing vocals. Sometimes you may not know what you’ll need until after the singer is gone. Once you have your lead vocal comped, use other good takes as doubles and stacks when inspiration strikes. You’d be surprised at how many times I decide quite far into the production process, long after the singer is gone that a double of that one phrase would bring the right emphasis to it. I use 2 of the other good takes (maybe even from the warm-up take) and add them to the final lead comped vocal – pan one hard left and the other hard right and there you have it.
***A word about auto-tune – The use of some type of tuning plug-in has become the industry standard, whether you like it or not. The problem is that the music we hear on our streaming playlists is littered with singers that sing un-humanly-possibly pitch-perfect. For your mix to stand scrutiny next to Selena Gomez and Shawn Mendez mixes, auto-tune must be used. It is not just about perfecting pitch within an inch of it’s life but it is a processing effect that listeners, without realizing it, expect to hear on polished productions. Expecting a singer to sing as perfectly as the pop music coming from major labels is like expecting a model to walk into a photoshoot “photoshop perfect”. “Why do you have blemishes and scars? I don’t see those on any of the models in the Victoria Secret catalog.”
Not all productions call for the tightest auto-tune you can get, however. This is where you as the producer of the vocals must know the genre you are working in and stay true to that genre. I think of it on a scale of 1 to 10. Adele, as far as I can tell uses no to very little auto-tune (because she’s pretty pitchy haha). Similarly, some genres such as indie rock or alt-rock (think of Brandon Flowers from The Killers or Dan Reynolds from Imagine Dragons) require the singer to have some natural imperfections to keep the raw, emotional element of the song. You’d better believe their backing vocals are pitched, however. So if you’ve got a more soulful singer in a genre that is more forgiving of that effect, then keep the pitching loose and natural. If you are aiming for a hit song on the charts, you must learn how to massage auto-tune to where the singer still sounds “natural” (meaning, not robotic like T-Pain) but has no pitch imperfections.
There you have it! I hope you can all become the singer’s favorite recording engineer by being their advocate in the studio. You’ll both benefit when the end product is something you can both be proud of!
Parenting in Audio
I remember when I sat down in the director’s office of the work-study I was doing. The director happened to be a woman. I was 26, with no prospects for kids anytime soon, but knew I wanted a family eventually. Yet, I had no idea how I was going to get there since I was always working. So I asked her flat out, how do you have a family, or a relationship, or anything in this business. And her answer was that it was hard. I don’t think I fully understood what that meant, and now, on the eve of 40 with 2 kids, I guess I’ll do you a favor and give you more details so you can make your own decisions.
First, I’m going to preface this by saying having kids isn’t for everyone, and that is 100% OK. But, if you were thinking about it, and thought you had to leave this crazy business because of it, here are some things to consider.
One of the most important things to think about is the myth that you have to have kids young. In NYC it’s normal to start having kids between 35-40. That whole thing about your eggs getting old isn’t exactly true like they make you think it is. I had my first at 36 and just had my second at 39. So you have plenty of time to establish yourself in your career, do all the things you want to do and then you can think about kids. There’s zero reason to rush.
Pregnancy in Audio
I used to do a lot of live sound, and I was loading in a show – carrying a heavy monitor across the stage – and I thought, this won’t be an option at 9 months pregnant (I wasn’t pregnant at the time). And it’s true, there are a lot of things you won’t be able to do, but there are so many things you can. If your body is used to doing things, then you can continue to do them when you’re pregnant. This is why someone like Serena Williams can win the Australian Open at 8 weeks pregnant. You just shouldn’t start a new routine when you get pregnant.
In your first trimester, you will be very very tired – you may hate life because of nausea. Your second, you kind of get into a groove. And your third, you may be tired again – and just all-around giant and over the pregnancy part of this journey. You probably shouldn’t be lifting things, but people are willing to help you move the bass amp that is bigger than you.
During my first pregnancy, I had a full-time job in radio but was also sound designing a musical for a performing arts high school in NYC. This fell during my first trimester, where I had terrible nausea and was exhausted. Know when to ask for help. I ended up bringing on a second engineer and passed off half of the tech days to them because I couldn’t manage the number of hours.
Having the baby
The first couple of months are kind of a blur. And there might be a ton of baby-wearing. If you’re lucky enough to have a job with maternity leave, take all of it. I always feel that because of the nature of our work, you rarely get a break, so do take the time to be with the baby. If you’re in a state that has some kind of state-paid leave, look into the rules and how to apply.
I had my second in the middle of recording an album for an artist. We plowed through tracking and editing during pregnancy which was already a challenge. Raced to the finish line to get her first track mixed before giving birth, and then ended up finalizing the mix about 2 weeks after my daughter was born. Probably not the ideal scenario since I was still healing, but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do. The most important thing to consider here is that this artist was 100% OK with this because she wanted to work with me. She could have picked up and left to work with someone else while I had my maternity leave, but she didn’t.
But I also had to be realistic here, and I knew when to ask for help. I hired an assistant to help me get through some of the editing because now with two kids, I had to learn that I wasn’t always able to keep up with the pace and how many hours I could work.
Studio culture is probably one of the hardest things when it comes to finding balance. I was working at a studio that had an artist come in and they were hotboxing in the control room. I was at the tail end of breastfeeding my first, and I didn’t know anything about the effects of marijuana on milk. But I was new. Was that a battle I wanted to fight? At the time, no. My son had just turned one, and I was only going to go ‘til one. So I stopped cold turkey because I didn’t have the energy to read about the effects and because I didn’t have the energy to speak up about it. And that was hard – because I felt like I never had a moment of closure. But, I remember at the time thinking, had my kid been smaller, and I wasn’t ready to stop – what would I have done? Or what if I was pregnant? Is studio culture ready to change to accommodate that? Maybe, maybe not.
I think it’s important for us to support women no matter what their decision or outlook on motherhood is. I hate going to conferences and this question gets ignored as if it’s not a valid point – you don’t have to have kids, but for the people who do, it’s important for us to speak up and let people see it is possible. I’ve since met and seen many moms working in audio that make me wish I’d met them sooner – maybe I would’ve made different decisions. My kids are small, so I’m still figuring things out.
The conversation I had during my work-study was spot on. It is hard. But it’s also super rewarding. I love to hear my toddler ask to hear an artist’s song again, or just randomly start singing it. I’m wearing my second right now as I attempt to write this. Happy Mother’s Day to all you Audio moms out there. Keep doing what you’re doing.
Not Everything Needs To Be Perfect
We are only four ( going on five ) months into the year, and even though Covid-19 still exists, I find myself stressed once again despite it. I want to be the one to shine a positive light whenever my stress tries to overtake me but I’ll be real here: being constantly positive isn’t easy. Yes! Yes! I can already hear someone call out that I’m a real Sherlock, nevertheless, it’s the truth. I’ve been beat-making constantly in-the-box for the last couple of weeks and sending my various hooks and verses to those that had requested them without having a moment to just stop and air out for a bit. I knew that if I wanted to avoid becoming a music zombie, I would have to step back though I hesitated a lot. I was pumping out melodies based on references emailed over to me, then I was meticulously nit-picking every little thing I could, followed by spending hours with the EQ because it just didn’t sit right.
What was I doing so wrong? Why didn’t the sounds in my head line up to what I heard from my speakers? I think, looking back at this, I clearly wasn’t on the verge of being a music zombie – I already was.
So for this month, I wanted to highlight some points and tricks to help you stay on track and avoid serious burnout.
Step One: Remember – You Are Unique
This might come as a shock to you, but surprise! You have been declared authentically yourself. That means you have thought processes, personal experiences, and a sound that can only be described as you sounding. Confused? Allow me to elaborate: if you are a cellist for argument’s sake, you might be able to fit into a classical musical genre with the way you learned to play. However, you have the dictation as to what your sound is. You can fit into any mold because you choose to. Your creative choices are born of the ability you have learned throughout lessons and experiences. This is true for the engineer, who may color rhythm sections in a session as blue and the record track as red out of either a practical or stylistic choice, and the singer may only sing songs composed in C major because they know that major key best fits their sound.
You’re not the next Rhianna, Prince, or 50 Cent. You’re you, and while these songs you love are references that can be good as inspiration and, well, references, you don’t need to mimic your favorite song or mix it identically the same. Embrace what you can bring to the table.
Step Two: Remember One Central Goal
If you find yourself stressed on where you want to start- or like me- find yourself debating if panning hard or slightly left will make the track better – take this advice: focus on one central goal! What is the impact you want to leave on the client, fans, and/or yourself? Do you want to finally pick up one song from the backlog and finish it? If so, work on that one track, and don’t go starting side projects! I guarantee the moment you do you’ll gain an “ I’ll come back to it“ mentality and WON’T come back to it. Take it by the day, something like this ( Yes! It’s time for a list within a list! ):
Day One:Writing lyrics or revising lyrics. Simply take the day to just put some words down. You don’t need to have the final product down yet – but what you will have is an idea of what you’re dealing with.
Day Two: Simple chord progression, a drum loop you like, maybe you play the piano and create something that’s just perfect. You don’t need to mold the sound of it to the lyrics – just feel the song out. Make sure you record whatever you come up with – it doesn’t need to be high-end – voice memos will do just fine.
Day Three: Time to see what’s been cooking the last two days! Place the beat in any DAW – it could even be Garageband on your phone, and bring up that beat you made. Now try mumbling total nonsense while keeping on the beat, it’s a little silly but it works! Any words pop out during mumblefest? You might have stumbled upon something you want to expand on. Experiment! Bring back in those lyrics from day one, and build it up from there. You have all the puzzle pieces. A beat, a vibe, and words. Also, don’t worry about editing – right now it’s all about the music.
There you have it. You made a goal, and instead of trying to cram it all into a couple of hours, you took it day by day- each day with fresh ears and new perspectives that only benefit the song you made. While this example might help artists heavy-handedly, it can be applied to sound designers, engineers, and FOH.
Step Three: Stop Doing
Opinion incoming! Alert! Here I go! If you love what you do, do NOT make it your job. A job is something you can like, hate, neutral, but it’s just a paycheck. A hobby is something you do as an enrichment activity, but what you love? With elbow grease – It’s a career. A lifelong commitment to your job and hobby getting hitched together. You meet like-minded people, explore depths of yourself you never knew existed! The moment you let the burnout get to you though? That’s a job, something just for a paycheck. Learning more becomes homework instead of an adventure. Make sure to do other things besides your career, you have the knack for this line of work sure! Yet you are so much more moving pieces. If you stop whatever you are doing and just take a moment to get some oxygen, read a book, watch a new show. You allow yourself the right to be and do more than one thing. It tells your fatigue that this is not a job’s obligation but a career desire.
You are not a robot, not everything needs to be perfect.
Creating Spacious Mixes with Panning
Panning in a musical context is the act of distributing the sound signal into a stereo or multi-channel sound field. Most DAW’s will have a Pan Knob that you can use to send the audio hard left, left, centre, right, hard right, and everything in between. The benefit of panning is that it can create space and width inside your mix and allow the listener to have a broader listening experience.
So how do you pan your mixes? Well here are a few top tips that will help create space and depth in your mixes.
Music that features a voice in it, no matter the genre, typically follows this panning method. The Vocals should be panned centre, as well as any kick or snare tracks (although if you don’t want that hard-hitting sound you can always pan the snare and kick just off centre). If you have a couple of harmony vocal tracks, you can pan them hard left and hard right so that they’re not competing with the main vocal. If you have a lot of different harmonies pan the strongest hard left and right and then pan the others in opposite directions with each other. For example, if you have two of the same harmony takes pan one 90° left and the other 90° right.
If you have a few instruments or sounds that are occupying the same frequency, a nice trick can be to pan them on opposite sides of each other. This will create space and alleviate some of the muddiness.
Another useful trick with panning is it can allow you to diversity the sound of your song structure. For example, you could keep your intro and verses very tight, and then when the chorus begins you can open up the sound by panning certain voices and instruments out. This will create a wider sound and ultimately make it feel like a bigger chorus.
Keep it Balanced
The most important thing to remember is to keep your mix balanced! Once you start diving into panning it can become quite easy to just start panning everything. This is not recommended. The best use of panning comes from using the technique just to open up your mix. You don’t want to be left with a track that sounds too loud and muddy in the right ear and brittle in the left.
Check Your Mix
Make sure you are checking your mix on a variety of different sources. From headphones, monitors, cellphone speakers, etc. This is important as listening on only one source can give you an altered listening experience and what sounds good on your mix headphones might not sound great on a pair of cheaper in-ears. So, make sure to check check check!
Overall panning is an incredible tool to open up the sound of your music. There is no right or wrong way to do it and my advice would be to just trust your ears.
The Importance of Field Recording
Throughout the past few years, I’ve been networking with people in the sound community. I’ve met and spoken with so many amazing people in the film, television, and video game industry who have been nothing less than helpful and hopeful. One tip that gets brought up the most is sound libraries. Any sound designer knows those sound libraries are very important to have. That includes the ones you’ve recorded and the ones you’ve bought. Of course, not buying all the sound libraries at once but little by little over time.
An important part of your journey as a sound designer is also learning to record sounds, yourself. You don’t even need the fanciest or most expensive equipment in the world to do it. I, myself, own a Zoom H1, Zoom H4n, and Zoom H6 with a Sennheiser MKH 416. Learning to work with what you have is also a valuable skill. Of course, you’re not going to have access to everything you want to record for a film. But, a good practice is recording things around your home. I try to go on a walk every day and carry a Zoom H1 in a fanny pack. You never know what interesting sound you’ll find out in the world of your neighborhood. Plus, the sunshine and air are great for your mental health and overall health. Stepping away from your computer is a nice reset from work, too. If you can record it at a higher sample rate, you have so much more freedom to work with the audio versus what you get in a library. But, be prepared to have enough hard drive space to hold all the sounds you want. This also can be helpful in learning how to clean up the audio. Not everything you record out in the field will be clean and this can be a helpful experience with that.
If you’re into ASMR videos on YouTube like myself, there are interesting sounds in just tapping a glass or candle holder. Watching other people record sounds is also helpful on your sonic journey. I didn’t know cactus needles can sound like rain falling! Watching others record different sounds can help give you ideas and maybe, that’s the sound you’ve been looking for on a project you’ve been working on. We had some storms and wind a month ago here in Sacramento so I opted to record some rain on my metal awning and some wind through my window for wind howls. Always be careful and make sure your equipment is safe as well. You wouldn’t want rain getting into it. For wind, a good windscreen or blimp are great options to capture wind better.
Field recording shouldn’t feel like a chore or job, either. You never know what kind of sounds are near you or right outside your house. Just the other day I recorded my weekly garbage pickup. The truck has some nice squeaky brakes as well. Always be aware of what’s around, always keep listening, and don’t be afraid to experiment. So go out there and explore your world sonically!
Jeri Palumbo – Sports and Entertainment Broadcast Mixer
Jeri Palumbo is a Broadcast Sports and Entertainment Mixer based in Los Angeles. Jeri has been working in audio for over 30 years, first as a trained musician and arranger before going into post-production and then moving into live broadcast. Working mainly within sports broadcasting, her clients include the NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, NASCAR, The Super Bowl, World Series, Stanley Cup, and The Oscars. Jeri is also part of the RF Coordination team each year for the Rose Bowl. She has worked with entertainment shows including The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Conan O’Brien, and American Idol. She has won a Telly Award for her mixing work on “Songs of the Mountains”, a live bluegrass show.
Jeri’s family background is made up of four generations of musicians and her grandmother and mother were both professional jazz musicians. Her great-grandfather was a musician and violin maker, and Jeri’s father was a folk guitar player. Jeri started piano at age three and by the time Jeri was in high school she was arranging and writing scores. Jeri attended The Juilliard School of Music majoring in composition and orchestration, landing her a contract as a musical director which led to her interest in sound engineering. She worked side by side with the sound engineer and was introduced to the Fairlight CMI, the first digital synthesizer and wave manipulator, she was fascinated by how the engineer was able to change pitch and EQ. This was a game-changer and inspired Jeri to learn more about engineering and the potential possibilities of sound manipulation with digital audio tools.
Jeri’s parents would warn her that a career in music was unpredictable and urged her to obtain skills needed for steady employment and the possibility of retirement. Jeri studied computer science and IT (for two semesters) and then landed a job working in IT/LAN platform trouble-shooting at First Union Bank. While Jeri loved working and learning the technical aspects of the job, she still craved the creativity music provided. She wanted to blend her technical skills with her creative skills and looked toward Post-Production.
Jeri enrolled at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, SC, and hit the streets knocking on doors of all the post-production houses in nearby Charlotte, NC. She offered to intern for free and most did not return her calls. One that did was Media-Comm where she interned for a semester and learned to use the video editor from AVID and AVID’S AUDIO VISION, their pre-cursor to ProTools. Eventually, Media-Comm hired Jeri where she focused on enhancing audio for TV shows. One show that broadcast out of Media-Comm was RaceDay, a live show that preceded NASCAR on Sundays. Eventually, RaceDay came knocking and asked Jeri to mix the show. While Jeri had never mixed a live show and she had her doubts, the director of the show said “Audio is Audio and you will be fine”. Jeri did her homework and was told by a former mixer that he would not touch it as it was live and found that several people had turned it down because of the live elements and fast pace. Jeri took the gig and pulled it off.
Sports Community Radar
RaceDay was a big, complicated national show, and Jeri ended up on the list of live sports mixers because of it. Within a week CBS Sports called and asked Jeri to work on the NCAA Final Four. Jeri caught the attention of CBS Sports, Fox Sports, and ESPN. All of this led to a career working across the country on high-profile sports events, primarily serving as an A1 working in the broadcast truck. She was also asked to A2 for a friend in need one day and eventually wore all the hats in broadcast audio; A1 mixer, A2, RF Tech and Comms. As an A1 mixer, Jeri is in charge of everything you hear in the final broadcast. Jeri has been particularly embedded in RF technology and coordination, which has numerous technical challenges, particularly with the shrinking RF UHF spectrum. She worked alongside major RF manufacturers and colleagues of RF gear and technology in the recent RF Spectrum auction and lobbying to save a portion of the RF Spectrum for production. One of Jeri’s close partnerships with regard to saving these RF changes was with the late, great Mark Brunner of Shure. Jeri’s in-depth tech articles on the RF spectrum and the impact of the changes have appeared in several trade magazines.
Her most recent stint in sports was as A1 mixer for eSports and Gaming. In an unusual and unprecedented move, (and to much debate from many of her colleagues), Jeri mixed a live broadcast in stereo while simultaneously mixing an embedded object-oriented surround to the HOUSE – with no FOH – from the same console (Calrec Artimis see article https://calrec.com/blog/craft-profile-jeri-palumbo/). What Jeri tried to convey, and what those on the outside didn’t know, was that the network launch for this major event was three weeks short of having their studio finished for audio. So she did what any professional would do, tried to make it work with what she had, from the broadcast truck.
It’s Not All Sports
Jeri with her mentor Les Paul
Jeri has also been involved in other fields of audio and has worked as an A1 on a bluegrass show called Songs of the Mountains. Songs of the Mountains was a live-to-tape bluegrass show broadcast on PBS. There were tough parameters on this show as the producers did not want to mic the traditional instruments. Instead, they wanted it to be organic and traditional, where the musicians would play around a central microphone and step forward for solos. The show was challenging with the various acoustical instruments and Jeri found herself riding EQ more than faders as the frequencies would often play against each other. They used an AKG C414 because of it’s adaptability in the ever-changing scenario of the different instruments used. Jeri is proud of the work she did using simple techniques and she was awarded a Telly Award for her work.
Recently Jeri has been instrumental in launching Arena Waves, a library of the highest quality music audio for Sports and Television content. Arena Waves kept Jeri extremely busy in 2020, while most live events were canceled due to COVID19, and was launched at the beginning of 2021.
Like so many in our industry, Jeri’s career path has been diverse. Her solid educational background in music and IT allowed Jeri to move into post-production and then into live broadcasts and engineering and again, back to music. In her own words with Arena Waves, “It’s a perfect meld of everything I know”.
Arena Waves is high-caliber music licensing library for sports, gaming, television and film. With seasoned composers and session musicians on board, (most have played on your favorites records), Arena Waves debuted at launch in the mid-three-quarters to high range when it comes to catalog volume (over 70k+ and adding 50-100 new cuts per week). Several things make this catalog unique, one being its ease of use while also having mobile platform flexibility. But more importantly, it’s worth noting the efficiency of the ready-made cut-downs for bumpers and highlights in the Producer’s Edge section. Cues are drop-in ready. Arena Waves also writes on-demand theme and cue requests and can provide quick turn arounds. With remarkably catchy themes from hard-driven rock, to dark and broody or moody, there is literally every style for every listener and media requirements and tastes. In fact, the catalog is so eclectic that, even though its intended purpose is sports, television and film, one can create personal playlists (register, it’s free) for their own listening pleasure. The music is that good and that diverse.
Arrive early, unload the truck, run cables, interconnect with the facility, set up audio, fax if working in the field. In the truck, patch my patch bays, SAPS, routers and fader layouts. Load and set up music cues.
How do you stay organized and focused?
The pressure of live keeps me focused. Also having a Plan A, Plan B, etc as backup options for live. For complex mixing (i.e. eSports or multiple routers of audio), I’m a big fan of populating my bottom layers to remain static while cloning to upper layers per need of each show.
What do you enjoy the most about your job?
It’s live, it’s exciting and when it goes well, it’s instant gratification.
What do you like least?
It’s live, it’s exciting and when it goes badly, you SWEAR there’s not enough money in it EVER!
The best part of being on the road?
I’m on the road although I’m not on a bus, I am on planes a lot. The best part is the road family, exploring new areas of the world and for certain eating local cuisine.
What do you like least?
The hours, the wear and tear on your body, lack of sleep.
What is your favorite day off activity?
Exploring local cultures
What are your long-term goals?
To try new things, push my personal limits and continue to follow current and new passions.
What if any obstacles or barriers have you faced?
For CERTAIN misogyny and sadly, only from certain productions and a small posse of peers. Also sadly, everyone else – not just me – has experienced the exact same treatment from the exact same people from the exact same productions. When a recent interviewer offline told me she encountered these issues WITH THE EXACT SAME PEOPLE 20 YEARS AGO on a sports event (this production travels), I challenge all the networks to wake up and investigate these “hand fuls” that are predictable, unprofessional and putting a black eye unfairly on the entire broadcast community (and is now into its second generation of newcomers being mistreated yet again, by the EXACT same people). I assure that the broadcast community is not what these few bad apples represent, but the network productions ignoring it won’t fix it.
How have you dealt with them?
I ask questions not only of them but of those around them. If they all “posse together”, then I move on to a team that is worthy…and good…and healthy. I don’t stay in places where I know it will be IMPOSSIBLE to change.
The advice you have for other women and young women who wish to enter the field?
1) you have to have thick skin. Sports and Rock n Roll comes with a lot of testosterone that often “react” in their environments of comfort (ie a football field before a game). These people are in “game mode” and are not there to think of anything else.
2) production mal-treatment vs real emotions. Please know the difference. It’s intense and gets crazy and not every minor thing said is a reason for “HR”. HOWEVER, abuse should never be tolerated. Just know the difference and if you don’t know, get educated before entering this environment, hence “thick skin”.
3) know when you are in a toxic team – those that withhold information, constantly throwing their fellow members under the bus, not owning up to errors, etc. Be aware that even though this exists to some extent everywhere, not EVERY production conducts itself this way and the good ones, with good leaders, will NOT tolerate this from their team.
4) move on when you know it’s not going to work out for you. Get out earlier and find your tribe sooner
5) hone your skills
6) when you’re wrong, admit it. If you don’t know something, admit it. When you DO know, help your teammates learn
Must have skills?
1) know your audio or tell those around you you are willing to learn what you don’t know
2) people skills
3) be kind and understanding to those around you
4) everybody has a bad day and everybody has a bad GIG…shake it off, learn from it, get up and do it again
OOOOOOoooooh….well, in-studio mixing, I’m a big fan of Eventide gear. I’m also a big fan of the AKG414 due to its wide range of patterns,m. I love Sennheiser wireless mics for field and lav needs. I love all Lectrosonics RF wireless IFB/In-ear products. Both Sennheiser and Lectrosonics wireless mics and IFB/IEMs are interchangeable to me in quality and robustness. Radioactive Audio Designs uses a nice VHF and lower bands for communications that steer clear of broadcast bands….and Clear Comm and Telex have some nice workarounds with their comms systems as well. Shure’s Wireless Workbench is great for some concert venues (although I haven’t really used this on large scale events). I like seeing Studers in the studio broadcast environment while I like seeing a Calrec on broadcast trucks or remotes.