Some of you are probably thinking this headline here is just a symptom of me being full of myself.
But it’s not.
It’s actually a sort of pun on the fact that the person I interviewed is named Magic.
Is it worse to abuse the obvious pun than it is to be full of myself? I suppose that’s the kind of semantic detail you as the audience should decide. I won’t dwell on it too long because I have a point to get to.
That point being my Gladeo piece on audio engineers is live right now! I just found out about it this morning during our bi-weekly meeting and got right on putting this together. As soon as I finished helping paint the girl’s room. But you can just look at yesterday’s post if you want more details on that.
My conversation with Magic was probably one of the coolest interviews I’ve had the opportunity to conduct. He’s a great guy with a storied history and plenty of things to say about finding work you enjoy doing that really spoke to me at a personal level even more than just my professional judgement of what makes good quotes. I spent plenty of time going into that when I first did the interview a few weeks back.
Unlike a daily news cycle, these kinds of longer-form database profiles and such don’t have a super quick turnaround, so I’ve been waiting to see everything get through the editing process for a while. In the meantime I’ve been working on some other pieces, but this is the one I’ve been really excited about.
I updated my Gladeo work listing in that tab over on the right, but if you want you can jump through this link here to check out the overall profile on being an Audio Engineer I put together. Through there is another point of access to the Spotlight I wrote about Magic specifically.
When I first started to work on this piece I mentioned an interest in posting the full interview transcript. After all, he said so much wonderful stuff that it was difficult to have o distill it down for proper publication. So I figured hey, I’ve got a personal blog. Why not put the full text here?
If you’re interested in reading the full (somewhat) unabridged hour-long talk I had with Magic, go ahead and click the read more button / scroll down. But if you’re not, I’d still appreciate it if you could check out the published piece over on the Gladeo website.
Thanks a billion everyone, looking forward to getting more out there soon!
What would you consider your job to be at this point in your career?
Right now I am a music producer, a mixer. The audio engineer that’s a mixer is a type of engineer that actually does a part of the process called mixing, which is taking all the elements that have been recorded and putting them into their final configuration.
While focusing on that, it has been important as well for me career-wise to have a post-production engineer’s career going on, which is a Union career.
What would you say the job entails on a daily basis?
Working with an artist is the key element in being a music producer, in that it is ultimately about getting a performance out of the artist which is what they’ve always wanted to have in their life. To get that performance that, whether it is flawless or absolutely authentically real… Giving that artist the inspiration or push to have a career that is basically all about being bigger than life.
It has a lot of similarities to being an actor, where you know it’s possible to not act, overact or that perfect amount of bigger than life that is so authentic that you relate to it. That is what a music producer is creating.
He is the liaison between the artist and the world, and pretty much can be the collaborator with the artist for music, for lyric, for staging, for different areas that unfold within their career. You would be in charge of that.
In the studio, which is the majority of the time that I work with artists, it’s making sure that the performance that you get from the different musicians in working on an album or the artists themselves are up to recording standards. So they are perfect from the sense of production. Being in-sync, in-tune and arranged correctly.
Within each one of those baskets, it varies from genre to genre. What a reggae artists might have as far as instrumentation, in a feel, in a pocket or understanding of the music might be different from producing a heavy metal band. Consequently, the same thing between Country and R&B. I’ve been very lucky to be able to have a wide-range of artists to work with and be able to produce music.
Right now the projects I have are varied and quite engaging because they’re of different sorts. But they have the same thing in common where they have that desire to get their record, their voice, their writing in front of the public and to get that all on tape. Of course these days we don’t use tape, it’s all digital, but some studios like mine still use tape for recording certain instruments that you can only get taped compression for. But that’s a different story.
In answer to your question, on a daily basis you’re producing an artist or the musicians that are part of the instrumentation. So maybe a question might be in this part of an audio engineer’s career, what would be the typical difference between one type of day and another type of day. In the music industry, you would be working with musicians and singers, all of the different components that go into an album.
But in the post-production side, which is the other side of being an audio engineer, the same equivalent would be working on the film scoring stage where you are recording orchestras whose scores will be used in films. Being a film scoring engineer, achieving your inspiration to be part of music would have that in common with being a music producer. In fact, music producers who get involved with film have that music industry part of that, which is a whole other labor of love, and is also tied to the commercial business.
When you’re doing commercials, there’s that whole aspect of it, another type of engineer. Then there’s a gaming engineer, which is creating and mixing music for games, which is very popular these days.
Probably the best paying and best bang-for-your-buck is the post-production audio. Because it can be union, the rate-per-hour is larger and there are 401K’s and pensions and things that young people or those who aspire to be creatives with music will sometimes leave behind. That aspect of needing to plan for the future, needing to buy a house someday, needing to have these things go on.
In order to be successful in this career, you also have to be business savvy. You need to plan for your retirement. These things are easier accomplished in post-production film audio.
Because I’m also a performer myself, and I grew up through music with rock bands, through all of that I kept the performing thing going, the post-production thing going, the music producing going at the same time. Those basic three careers going. So I was getting my creation ya yas out by producing and recording music in the studio at the same time, and I was getting my fill of a union 10-and-a-half hour day doing post-production audio at the same time.
I was very lucky to be blessed with a long-term association with a film studio that allowed me to take time off for months at a time to go do a record in Europe or South America, to get out to do other things, to be able to tour with the groups that I sang with. It really helps when you have a symbiotic relationship with the things in your life.
But you will find that when you like what you do, it first makes a difference inside you as a being. You become a happier person and hopefully better acclimated to your surroundings because you’re a happy camper. There are those spiritualists that would say this happy camper-ism is what opens the door to more good and wonderful things happening.
So I say this because I mentioned I had three careers going, and one of them was more accommodating to let me go out and do things than the other careers. I think that’s because when you’re a creative and you relish creativity, you like getting in there and creating the parts, seeing the textures, mixing the records, focusing on all the little nuances of everything, when you get into that you come away as a happier person.
I recently designed a studio for the Los Angeles Music and Art School. In that studio, because they teach music with just about every instrument from drums to viola, from bassoon to trumpet to xylophone to pianos and youth orchestras, one of the other aspects of recording is when you get to hear back what you’re doing, it’s the real litmus test of what you’re doing. You actually get to be the critic rather than…
Say you’re a cello player, Jason. You’re playing and it sounds good to you. They’re all smiling, everyone’s clapping and everybody’s thrilled, it’s a great evening. But you really don’t know how you sounded until you play it back. That’s what made perfect sense for the school, is because with all the different music disciplines they’re teaching, having a recording studio on-site allows them to record and hear back and judge their performances.
I dare say I do the same thing when I go out to sing. I rehearse by recording myself and then listening to it to say ‘well I need to correct here, I need to fix this.’ So that aspect of reasons why a satisfying career as a recording engineer might transcend or be good is because knowing how an artist plays, or knowing how to record is a benefit.
So we have different careers you can get into. The easiest and maybe the career that stares each creative person in the face is being able to purchase, for $2-300, software that can record in decent quality. It also takes the computer set-up and the monitors and quite a bit you can pour into it as you get more refined, but for the basic person who wants to get their feet wet in learning how to engineer or produce somebody, it is how to lead someone through a recording session, how to inspire somebody with your words or a talk-back, how to add nothing but a positive experience in the recording studio.
That is how to be a producer, as I teach it.
In my studio here, I have the essence of over 35 years working in studios, pieces of gear I like. Either I’ve got it in a digital form or as outboard equipment in my studio. So it’s different from a home project studio, this is actually a full-blown recording studio booked every day.
But as you can see, it’s part of my home. Which means that last night, I had to get a mix out for another client that had to be submitted for a television spit, but I could do it in my pajamas.
As you can tell, I can talk up a storm.
Is there any advice you can think to give for people who aren’t going to a specialized school but want to get into this side of the music industry? Any clubs to join or organizations to follow?
You should first search out the type of opportunity that you want. Then if you want to get close to the music business and learn engineering, go to studios and offer to be a gopher or a runner. That is something that all studios need and don’t want to pay much for. It’s an excellent way to become chums with engineers and other people in your situation that have done well.
The other thing I would do simultaneously is seek out the different schools that teach audio engineering, even just to look at their curriculums and see what’s interesting there, then asking about it from engineers like myself, people at the LA Music and Arts School, the Musician’s Institute, there’s a number of places they can go.
Have you noticed that there are any common interests or hobbies amongst people who become audio engineers that stretch back to when they were younger?
Audio engineering starts off as kind of a hobby, anyway. As far as engineering peers, for those who I came up with… It is an experience that has changed over the years. I started in 1979 with Aretha Franklin, my first audio engineering job. Throughout the 80s and 90s, the roll that the different types of music played, for instance I worked in the R&B field with the Commodores, the Michael Jacksons, but at the same time heavy rock with people like Steve Ryan or Latin music…
There are lots of different areas, and they all have their thing. Over the years you learned that a kick drum for one genre would be different from a kick drum in another genre. But for people you would talk to at this point, it’s about the different recent types of innovation for sound that have come with the advent of rap, independent rap and melodic rap, pop to all the different kinds of trance or reggae trends, different kinds of mood rap. They all have their genre-specific things to them.
Those things are what start as a hobby. For instance, you’re familiar with that rap that has that ridiculously low sub-bottom kick drum. It’s all you hear. Well, there is an artistry to knowing how to create that, how to make that happen and how to make it happen on a commercial level that’s taken up and used in the industry.
So that’s the kind of thing that engineers get into. For some it’s vocals, for others it’s film scoring or orchestra work. Again, a kind of hobby but it comes in departments.
Where did you start in the music industry, and how did you end up getting to a place where you worked with people like Aretha Franklin?
Well, I was lucky to have a stage door mom. At four years old she started me on the violin. I actually got good enough to perform in a competition at the Hollywood Bowl at six years old.
Between the time I was six and eight I went to normal school, but then I was talent scouted by a child singing group called the Mitchell Singing Boys. Within five years with them, I had toured all three continents, had stayed every weekend there, had sung for almost every denomination of religious philosophy imaginable.
Being in the Mitchell Singing Boys accomplished two things. One, it made me an incredible sight singer, a really great musician, showman and all the things that went on there. But also, all the different philosophical denominations that we sang for. The leader of the group was a theologian and would explain to us what everybody believed.
Kind of a side-notion to this musical career thing is my spirituality, and that’s what I bring as a producer even these days. When I left there, I knew a great deal about philosophy, a great deal about the different religious beliefs and I knew I had places I needed to search.
Coming out of there, about 13 or 14, I went through high school as a music arranger. Joined groups from when I was 15 all the way through until 21. I got an electronics degree, continued to perform in clubs.
My electronics degree got me hired putting in a console at Aretha Franklin’s music producer’s house, H.P. Barnum. We had installed the console and I was playing some gigs, so I was approached to go synthesize her string section. I went out on tour with Aretha, and upon returning I was hired as an assistant engineer. That was in ’75.
That’s where that career started. Kept singing all the way through, and from there I went to other places like MGM, Sony, Technicolor, Paramount, Sound Deluxe. So many different places throughout the years. Mixed for artists from Streisand to David Lee Roth to Eric Clapton, Phil Collins.
I really liked traveling, so I got to do five albums in Venezuela, three albums in Spain, three albums in Bulgaria, lots of places. Paris, Zurich. All over the place have I gone to to mix for artists. It has been very exciting that the career offers that, but it’s all part of this unfolding story. I just crammed about 35 years into a few statements.
I’ve retired now from the film industry, so I’m not doing that anymore.
Do you think having that early immersion into stardom helped as you grew up and met other big stars? Do you get starstruck easily or is your experience different?
A more insightful question than you might think. I understood philosophically that for people who are stars already, what they like is humility around them. For myself, having been a star and still fronting Treason, it kept me from being phony starstruck. I think it kept me to understand what the artist is. For example, being a singer helps me to teach singing. Kind of the same way, being a star child gave me an insight into what people needed or how to treat them a certain way.
Have you met anyone who you would say is a hero of yours, someone you really looked up to in the industry?
Lots of people I would consider heroes. Freddie Mercury, Eric Clapton, so many, too many to try to give out names.
For me, it isn’t so much the personality or the star status that was reached. You admire people for different things: Their musicality, their showmanship or composure, their ability to produce or mix. There are people who should be more famous than they are who do things like mix film music that are great, great talents. They are heroes.
So it’s not so much who is my hero as an artist and who is my hero as an engineer. There are many different aspects, and I think at this point in my life it’s good to look back.
Are there any encounters or moments from your career that you would say were turning points in your understanding of yourself or the work you wanted to do?
Interesting question. I think mixing my first album was a turning point for looking at myself as an honest broker in the industry. To really see what I had to offer, how I measured up.
And to be clear, that’s your own personal album right?
Yeah my own album. I have about six of them now.
That first album, after having been in the business for a lot of years, was actually a culmination of my skills for the group Treason. I wrote and produced the tracks with the guys, but I also recorded and mixed it. That was somewhat formative in the sense of being confidence-bolstering. Showing me that it’s not only doable, but it’s doable for everyone.
You mentioned you have an electronics degree. Is there a required education level for someone going into an audio engineering career? Or is it just something that’s helpful.
You should always have a bachelor degree. If you are going to go into the arts, it should be a bachelor degree related to what you’re hoping to get into.
I remember being 10 years old and doing my first overdub from two-track cassette to two-track cassette back and forth. You start to form things you really love, things you really like to do that become a part of your being.
As far as getting a degree, I would simply search out some audio software, getting the first explanations of it, and once you understand something about it search out an engineer to learn the fundamentals. Could be me, could be anyone.
I have students who I teach aside from that school, because there aren’t enough places to get audio engineering instruction.
How important do you feel it is to give back and teach those who are coming up?
I think that it’s a subject that is approached many times the wrong way. When I first got into the union film organizations, where I was doing dailies in the morning — dailies are what they shoot on the production set so the next day before they start shooting the director can see what they did yesterday and hear it.
Back from the 30s, the heyday of the film studio, there were many more people hired than necessary. You would have 16 people sitting around reading a newspaper and two people doing dailies because the other ones didn’t have to come in. But because they were part of a collective bargaining contract, they were there making a buck.
From that era came a philosophy of ‘don’t teach anybody how to take your job.’ That became very prevalent in the 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, so on. When I got there, because a lot of people were just film studio people, they come to it from a different area than just music. Having that interaction with film ideas is different from just coming from a love of music. They would not teach.
I got there and I immediately started teaching people because that’s what I feel is important. You do need to teach if somebody wants to know, not just teach for the sake of teaching.
Some people believe that being of service is their whole reason for living. Other people believe that living is performing the service you are here to do, because you are God’s being and going through your life having fun is what you decided to do. Whether you do that or go through life living a life of servitude, that’s your choice to make. But being of service to just do it, I don’t think it’s as satisfying as when the universe presents you with someone who could use a service and you saying I’ll bend something to make it happen for you.
You mentioned going to be a gopher or a runner for a studio as a good way to get one’s foot in the door. But obviously you had a slightly different path into the industry than what’s normal. In general, what kind of sacrifices does one have to make to get into this career?
Yes it is a lot of time spent. Yes, you should put away probably a year’s worth of finances because it could take that long or more depending on your people skills. Sometimes, for instance, I could have somebody over to my studio, and in that day they could learn an enormous amount about microphones, the workings of software, tape versus digital, all of these ideas.
Going to be a gopher for three months in a busy studio, the amount of knowledge you could amass is amazing. It might be all you need to go on and own your own studio to do what you desire to do.
Just being a musician is a very, very taxing cost of time that you need to put in. Just to play a piano, play the drums, play a guitar. You need to stay at it almost all the time. This is very much the same thing, you need to get your foot in the door, you need to make friends, you need to offer services for free at first until you meet that person — and you will — who will take you under his wing to a certain extent.
We were all made to fly on our own, so you don’t need to be taken under anyone’s wing. But you could be the entrepreneur. If you’re in college and you already know audio engineering is the career for you, you could be set up for as soon as you get out or during if you intern during breaks. That might coincide with the musicality you’re studying, or the broadcasting. You could be ready to come out of there recording yourself or other people, it really is available for everybody.
It’s amazing to me why more people aren’t taking advantage of it.
You mentioned one of the trends in this industries ties into whatever music is popular at the time. At the same time, what’s the trend with the technology of the business and doing things like condensing it all into one home as opposed to a studio? Is that relatively new?
It is relatively new, but when I say relatively I mean within the last 10 years that you can put together your own software and have a studio of your own. It’s not genre specific, you can do it for any genre you wish to pursue. Different aspects of it are many layered thick, and I offer this as inspiration for people who want to know about acoustics, ambiance, compression or digital delay, all the equalization of wave forms that take place. There are many different standards.
Some of it is just automation based on software, but some of it is hard-bodied. A lot of the stuff is now digital in nature through plug-ins. They approach the actual actions of the original hardware we used to get these things. With the incredible power we have with today’s computer systems, I could put 40 of these into any given song rather than one doing a few different things. You have the ability to do a lot.
What sort of skills should someone have if they want to be a music producer, audio engineer, etc. What’s important to succeed?
Number one is probably attention to detail. Being very detail-oriented. Two, tenacity. The ability to stay on top of something until you find a result for it. It helps, number three, to have some musicality. As a producer, having a foundation in what you want to produce. For myself, as a pianist, a violinist, I play guitar. It made me a really good string-and-horn arranger. You’re designing each part of the puzzle that goes into every song.
That speaks to having attention to detail and tenacity. Like having a foundation in music, it helps if you’re going to talk to somebody in another language that you speak their language.
There are some producers where all they know is reality and authenticity, which are components a producer does need. Because to make you a great artist, I need to tell you that the way you did this is just so, or not enough, or we need to do this. In every decision, the producer is making a call as to what is good enough.
Sometimes, a producer who doesn’t have all of these qualities — I mean hopefully they would have attention to detail you would think but who knows, you could pay somebody to do that for you. But sometimes if they don’t have the musicality, all they’ve got is ‘Alright you’re doing something wacky and I can see it taking off all over the internet. Let’s do something with this.’ Then that fast they’ve taken somebody to stardom and they’re a producer, they’ve produced.
Again, it’s another many-faceted thing people look to do. It might not have any bearing on the film post-production person or the live sound musician. We haven’t even talked about that, that’s a whole other ball of wax.
We’ve talked about how there are many facets within the audio engineering sphere of careers. But are there other careers that are similar which people can pivot into if, say, something doesn’t work out or if they want to try something new?
Well, right in the studio you could go into music editing, which is a kind of sister career for things going into motion pictures. You could branch off and be the performer yourself, pick up a guitar and sit down in a coffeehouse. You could branch off of being an audio engineer into being a piano tuner, being anything in the industry that supports a musician. Anything from stage manager to roadie/tech. Being an agent.
There is audio soundscaping, audio design for different games and commercials. That’s a few, but you can let your mind go wild.
Live sound mixing would be one to get into. Of course, it’s a double-edged sword. In the studio, even if this room is adjusted for 5.1 sound, most records are stereo right now.
[Magic plays music over some speakers]
This is an artist I’m producing right now, it’s a stereo recording. I can tell it’s going to be world-class anywhere it plays because I have this set up. In a live gig, it’s unpredictable.
It has become really satisfying for me, on a personal note, that my son has become an excellent Jazz musician. Not only does he play sax — Barry, alto and tenor — but also he’s a great drummer too. Took a position as a drummer for the L.A. Drum Corp.
[Music fades out]
Can’t you just see working here all night long? Even when they send me to other places, other countries, generally they try to cram a lot of work in together like three record sets. But I’ll mix for 16 hours, have them take me back to my hotel for eight to sleep, then back for 16 and it just rotates around the clock. I’ll do that until I get done.
But as far as fun things to do, can you think of anything more fun than working on the particular aspect of the procession or the base or the other aspects? It’s almost crazy to tell you. When you’re mixing and putting sounds together, it’s all about different things.
This is from Ghana, Africa. It’s called an Udu. I can stereo it underneath as well so it has that bounce to it.
Remember when I talked about acoustics and all those different things? The way you mix changes depending on the venue you’re mixing for. You mix for two-stereo systems, but also for headphones because much of the world listens to music through headphones today.
So I want you to listen to this thing through headphones.
What would you say are the most rewarding aspects of your career?
Well there’s four careers now worth of rewards. So I would say that in terms of singing, rewarding was singing in front of excited rock crowds and doing a very serious show.
From an engineering standpoint, it’s when you hear from an artist after you master their album. That’s the stage after you mix. When they get it back and go ‘oh my god, I had no idea I could sound like this.’ That’s truly transformative, it’s sublime.
Having your credit up in lights, when you’re working for studios and knowing more than the next person. That’s for a film studio career. For instance, I became a bit of a specialist in different kinds of time code and conversions. People record in one format but want to use it in another format, and success in those areas was very, very rewarding.
Lastly, the teaching thing now, it’s very rewarding. People come away with an excitement to continue to learn more and have more at their fingertips.
Part of the career is also having time to spend with your family. So having a child, having a home, these things together — which a lot of people coming to this town don’t have together. They’re waiters or waitresses working from a studio apartment and they can’t do the things they want to do because they’re still trying to be a runner, still trying to find that break.
If nothing else, I’m an example of somebody that has been able to make good doing it. Because i know a lot of rock and rollers who were very big during their heyday and now are just trying to pay the bills, so they’re going on tour for next to nothing during their retirement years.
I think people when they’re young, and I know I didn’t think of it too much, but I did make some strong moves.
So I know you have some records up on your walls. I was wondering how many of those you have.
I think I have 16.
Do any of them stand out in particular?
Well I’m fond of all of them. They’re all like their own jewels. Just up on the wall there you can see the Broadway album from Streisand. You can see Eric Claptons, you can see one out of Venezuela. They’re more of a pop thing than Eric Clapton is, but that’s what I mean by they’re all precious and perfect.
They’re the manifestation, and I’ll say this to a lot of people I produce. What you do is so important that it will survive you. What you do, especially when you do it with me, it will survive you. Your children’s children will look back on what you did. So you can’t take anything lightly. I tell my students you can’t be one of those engineers that’s watching the clock. An artist wants to know how she’s doing and you give them the ‘yeah, yeah, yeah it’s great, good we’re done.’ It’s an amazing disservice engineers do to people when they do that.
Of course I know they have time constraints and whatnot, so the universe takes care of itself.
It’s great teaching your son showmanship and producer dynamics. That’s really satisfying for me.
My sport growing up was fencing. My son wanted to try it and he loved it and got like 20 medals as a fencer before he gave that up to get into the music things he’s doing in school now. He’s been continually giving me a father’s pride, because he’s done the things I was interested in doing and he’s done them well. Of course he reads better than I ever could.
There are two of them for the Skyscraper album. Clapton, Streisand. The bottom three, the one on the left was done in Caracas, the middle was done in Spain and the one on the right was done in Miami.
Going to extreme places to do extreme things. One of which was going to Bulgaria. Because I don’t speak any Bulgarian, that was really weird. I had two assistants and they had leased the state television station. It had this beautiful neve console in it and I was very excited.
On the middle section of the master panel, I started with white grease pencil, writing out the translation of the words I needed so I could tell them how to re-patch things.
Going to places where you don’t know anyone and they’re suspect of you because you’re some producer from Hollywood coming to their land to do something they’re apparently not able to do. You do have to be a bit of an adventurer to go and do these things. You have to be able to get on a plane and just go.
Do you have any other pieces of advice you might want to give to someone who’s interested in coming into the industry? Maybe something you’d tell yourself in the past?
Start saying to yourself and to everyone around you what it is you want to do. Make up the story first. See it in your mind, then wait with anticipation for the universe to send you the opportunity.
That is the way, fortunately or unfortunately, to get into anything. But very few people realize that that is it because they will, at the same time as professing ‘oh I want a beautiful house, I want it,’ in the back of their head they’re saying ‘right do you realize that’s $10,000 in property tax a year?’ or ‘do I even deserve it?’
All these ideas you’re constantly going come here, come here, go away, go away. The universe has no direction to take you. The universe loves a made up mind.
You have to stand at the edge of a cliff, look at reality and what it is that you have the gumption to pursue. You can say I want to be the best six-gun shooter in the west, but unless you’re willing to get up everyday and put in four hours a day shooting a six-gun, it’s not going to happen.
You have to be tenacious, you have to say what it is you want reality to be. ‘I am an architect because I love architecture.’ Giving it a story, and then believing it and anticipating it, the universe will present you with what you want. It is for you, not against you. It’s not here to punish you or judge you, it doesn’t care. It just responds.
That’s what I would get across to anybody. But I already told you, if they have all that together, go visit the studio. There are tons of them, they’re everywhere. Everyone and their brother-in-law thinks they’re an engineer. You can send them to me.