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Issue #209

Weekly Newsletter

by Liya Swift

Student Successes

Recording Connection grad April Edwards produces
Chart-Climbing Rapper from Kentucky!

audio engineering Lexington KY

Recording Connection grad April Edwards

  Recording Connection graduate April Edwards is a pro at making things happen. Today, April is the Lead Engineer and Studio Manager of NitroSonic Music in Lexington, Kentucky, the studio where she once trained as an apprentice/extern (more about her journey). And, she’s even signed her first artist to the Nitrosonic label, meaning she’s a triple threat, capable of engineering, producing, and now, signing a select number of artists to the label.   Last month’s release of the Pistol EP hit the Top 100 on iTunes’ rap album charts, where it appeared sandwiched between Drake and Cardi B EPs. And, in Hazard and the greater Lexington area, Pistol whose real name is Eric Combs, is getting coverage in news and media, and his tracks are on the radio.   April is getting the satisfaction that comes with seeing the EP she recorded, produced, mixed, and mastered take off. Thanks to the EP’s success and the sensation it’s stirring, April says Pistol, whose real name is Eric Combs, has already got a number of opportunities in the works:   “I’ve been told a very big distributor might be interested in a deal but that’s not formerly offered yet…He’s been in regular rotation in Hazard and other counties top 40 stations. Since the release he’s gotten a dozen interviews and he’s booked 6 shows including 2 county fairs and the Black and Gold Festival where he might be opening for someone big…He just dropped a music video today and it’s gotten 2k views in 3 hours.”   So how’d it all come to be?   Pistol first walked into Nitrosonic, back in October of 2017. April admits she had her misconceptions, at first, but those were soon obliterated:   “He’s pale, he’s got bright red hair…His accent was like, so super thick, his twang. I said, ‘There’s no way this kid can rap.’ I was like, ‘Let’s take it for a test run.’ So he gets in the booth and the first time around, he just killed it, straight all the way through. It was unbelievable.”  

April Edwards and artist Pistol

Working with Pistol ultimately led her to offer him the chance to release on the Nitrosonic label, she says, because “he’s driven, he’s talented, he can perform, he’s not somebody you would expect” all characteristics April feels she can get behind and bolster as an audio professional who’s committed to being an asset to the industry for years to come.   And, even though Kentucky is generally a country and bluegrass state, his music seems to resonate with many Kentuckians:   “He’s a rapper, but he’s a county boy, and he’s still got that element that he’s never going to get rid of. People can relate, especially around here. But he’s just a good old country boy and a normal person.”   April says the experience of doing the Pistol EP has enabled her to do some interesting things, especially on the “We Will Conquer” track:   “There’s a delay on there, which kind of pans with the vocals and his ad libs. So I panned his ad libs left and right, you’ll hear a delay go to the left, go to the right, and center. So there’s a lot of movement which is something I like in my mixes.”   Definitely not a stranger to hard work, April says there’s definitely a benefit to pouring so much of her time and energy into a project–rapid growth:   “If you listen to “Lie to Me” and “Drowning,” I did his vocals differently… there were months in between where I was just experimenting and getting better. I’m not crazy about my master for “Drowning” honestly, because the track was too hot when I got it. I didn’t produce the music, but I did all the engineering and mixed and mastered and whatnot. So I’ve learned a lot.”   Less than two years ago, April was looking for a way to make and release her own songs as an artist which is what brought her to Recording Connection in the first place. Today, she’s an engineer/producer who understands what other artists need and who’s using her insight to help them get their music made and sent out into the world.   “I got into it so I could do my own stuff. That was my purpose, and then over time it changed because I started working with other artists and I realized that being an artist wasn’t my passion, it was the engineering side. I wouldn’t have found that if I hadn’t actively gone out and looked for  a school and a studio to be in and took that step. Then realizing that I loved it this much, that was just a bonus.”   Pistol EP For now, showing up for the artists and tirelessly focusing on making great sounding music is April’s path and purpose. Even though it has its challenges, it’s work she knows she was meant to do:   “I push people, I push artists, especially ones like Eric Combs that I see and know are going to go somewhere…If I have to spend a month on mixing something because I just can’t get the vocals right, I’ll do it. I don’t let that stuff go out there half-done…I just like being involved in the creative process and seeing their faces when they hear the final masters, and being like, ‘Yeah, I know. It’s all good. I did that. I made you sound great.”  
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Mentor News

Mark Christensen of Engine Room Audio on
What it Takes to be a Mastering Engineer


Recording Connection mentor Mark Christensen

When it comes to learning from top music industry pros, Mark Christensen might be called the pinnacle example. He’s got decades of experience in the music industry, on both sides of the aisle—both as a signed artist who opened for Radiohead, and as a highly accomplished engineer and mastering wizard. In 1996, Mark established Engine Room Audio in New York City. Today, Engine Room is one of the most renowned recording and mastering studios in the world, servicing such clients as Trey Songz, 50 Cent, Kylie Minogue, The Killers, A$AP Rocky, The Ting Tings, Sia and a host of others.   We recently caught up with Mark to talk with him about the mastering process and garner some deeper insights into the inner workings of the craft. As always, the dedicated mentor was extremely giving of his time and knowledge.   Mark, could you please explain to us in your own words, exactly what a mastering engineer does? Aside from having to have great mastering ears, what does the job entail?   Mastering engineers are kind of like a quality control step where you’re making sure that the records that are being released are radio ready in the sense of being competitively loud and present, and also making sure that the frequency distributions are what they should be in order to be competitive next to the other stuff that’s out in the marketplace…   We’re also serving the function of helping the labels to organize all of the tracks and the final product. A lot of times modern albums are being mixed by four or five different people. There’s a lot that goes into organizing all of that, you know, dealing with the various mixers, making sure that you have all of the correct versions of every song. A lot of major label records will sometimes have between 5 and 10 versions of each song: there will be clean tracks, TV tracks, instrumentals, acapellas, sometimes with different features, sometimes in different languages…   On a big, major label project, not only are there many different files and many different versions of all the songs, but there can sometimes be many different versions of each version because even the main release version might have some different formatting issues depending on the release channel that’s going through. So it’s a lot of administrative, organizational stuff.   And it’s the mastering houses’ job to manage the files and be able to find them too, correct?   The labels look to us to hang onto all this stuff in a very highly organized fashion. We’ve definitely had situations where major artists will be on stage at some festival and be texting us that they need certain files in five minutes because they want to add it to their set or something, and we have to be prepared to dig those files out of the archive and send them through our server so that, you know, 50 Cent can perform that particular song on that particular day. So yeah, there’s an awful lot of file management and just general kind of, you know, crazy attention to detail… And then, obviously, the mastering engineer has to have of golden ears and be able to tell if the record sounds right and to be able to fix problems.   You’ve mentioned that the demands of the work makes it imperative for you to have a good assistant who can help you keep track of the many moving pieces. Could you tell us more about that?   I find that I can’t really do my job unless I have a really good assistant, just because there is so much that goes on….One of my very first Recording Connection students years ago was a guy named Nacor Zuluaga…He was my mastering assistant for a number of years. He and I worked on a bunch of records. I think he probably got four or five gold records (Trey Songz, Club Dogo, Fedez, learn more).   So what kind of “ears” do you need for mastering? What other qualities you need to have?     It is true that mastering engineers kind of listen differently than your normal mix engineer. I’m really lucky because the Engine Room has an A-list, top of the line mastering room, but we also have an A-list, top of the line mix room with an SSL and everything. I’ve gotten pretty good at being able to listen kind of with both sets of ears. As a mastering engineer you’re definitely focused on kind of a different set of priorities. And it’s hard to really explain it, but in some ways you’re kind of listening to energy distributions, you know? You’re listening to what’s going on with certain frequency ranges and how those frequency ranges are presenting themselves based on the particular piece of music and based on the way that it’s mixed and, sometimes, also based on what the label wants from it.   Do you master tracks differently for different genres? Do trends in specific genres influence how you master songs within those genres?   If you’ve got a specific market that you’re trying to sell to, your records have to sound a certain way in order to fit into that genre. And it’s the mastering engineer’s responsibility to understand what those genres are and how that plays out in the real world…You have to already know your stuff in order to do it, because the labels are trusting you to have a real feel for what the market is doing sonically. A big part of my job is to make sure that their product is stacking up correctly on the radio next to all the other songs that are part of that same genre. Of course, the label’s ultimate goal is to sell records. So they want to make sure that their product is speaking to the right people in order for them to be excited about listening to it and buying it.   What’s your recommendation for someone who wants to work in mastering? Is it best to start out as an audio engineer first, prior to becoming a mastering engineer?   I think you do have to have a pretty solid audio engineering background to be a good mastering engineer. To be a good mastering engineer you have to know how to be a good tracking engineer. To be a good mastering engineer you have to know how to be a good mix engineer, just because you have to know how records are made and you have to understand how to communicate with the people who are doing those jobs. You also have to understand how the job that they did is going to result in the ultimate product to be able to effectively play your part as the mastering engineer, as the final stage of bringing that record to its ultimate destination.  
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Apprentices in Action

A Day in the Life of Our Students

RC grad Alexa Cooper with A$AP Rocky's FOH Manager and DJ

RC grad Alexa Cooper with A$AP Rocky’s FOH Manager and DJ

She’s toured with A$AP Rocky (see video), worked events for Beyoncé and Jay-Z, and operated lights for Skrillex at Burning Man. Now, Recording Connection graduate Alexa Cooper has relocated to Vancouver, British Columbia where she’s landed the post of production manager for Promosa Management which does production for a majority of the music festivals across Canada and in much of the northern US. Learn more about Alexa’s journey.   But that’s not all! Alexa’s got a new album in the works which is “intended to inspire a sense of freedom, joy, expansion” she says, “I desire to create a space where people can feel ok with being who they truly are and step into the highest version of themselves. Whether that’s through feeling an emotion that needs to be felt, letting loose and dancing, getting down with the not so pretty nitty gritty of life, or through appreciating the moment… I want to move people.”         Since he started his externship with mentor Patrick Wimp at Digital Hydra, life is moving quickly for Film Connection student Derrick Turnage (Chicago, IL):   “These past few weeks have been really busy and awesome. I had a chance to go to WGN studio and help shoot a promo video with my mentor. I also met the entire cast of WGN news as well as the director and producers that treated us like family. I met another great Director/DP who accepted me to shadow him and is hilarious with his jokes and personality. Lastly, I met some grips, gaffers, and saw firsthand what a 1st AC does, all while also working on my own project out of town… I am truly happy right now!”       At Mix Master Pro Studios in (Burke, VI) Recording Connection student Destiny Williams is enjoying the time she’s spending sitting in on her mentor Rob Sanchez’ recording sessions where she’s connecting with fellow artists and geeking out on the gear:   “Rob and I had a late night session from 11 ‘til about 3am. Had the pleasure of meeting a dope DJ named Will Stylez and a super talented rapper named Benz…   We mixed in Pro Tools HDX which was amazing. Virtually, it allows you to rack up on multiple plugins and processors without using any CPU. Good riddance latency issues! We used FabFilter EQ for virtually every EQ’ing process…We got to play with compression, of course, using the UAD LA – 2A. A beautiful beast it is. Very clean but also adds in some shimmer to enhance harmonics just a bit more than other 2A’s that I’ve previously used.”       
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