What I Learned from the Best Audio Engineers

What if I told you that in order to be a great engineer, all you have to do is use the tools in front of you. Would you believe me? The week of October 9th – 12th I attended the 137th Audio Engineering Society (AES) conference in Los Angeles. If you’ve never heard of AES, I urge you to check it out because it is a great source of knowledge. Visit the website: http://www.aes.org/. I have never been to an AES conference before and I decided to go All-Access to maximize my experience. In the 4 days I attended, I had the opportunity to sit in on some sessions by some heavy weights such Andrew Scheps (Jay-Z, Michael Jackson, Red Hot Chili Peppers), David Reitzas (Stevie Wonder, Toni Braxton, Kenny G) Manny Marroquin (Eminem, Common, 2pac) and Ken Scott (The Beatles, Elton John, David Bowie). Interestingly, 2 common denominators from the best audio engineers in the world kept resurfacing and I’d like to share them with you.




In attending the panels with these engineering greats, I listened in for clues as to what made their mixing so good. Yes, they did mention that they liked working with Neve, SSL or Trident consoles. They also mentioned they liked the sound of certain rooms and pairs of monitors. However, not once did they mention that they required a certain console, plugin, DAW, or monitor to achieve their great mixes. What they did say was that they had spent years honing their skills, worked under a mentor, and had a deep passion for music. Yes, they did work in major recording studios. However, they didn’t say that it was a defining factor in their greatness. Since buying a laptop, software, a pair of monitors and some acoustic retreatment doesn’t cost that much anymore, this led me to believe that once you have some basic equipment, what it really takes is, practice, and getting honest feedback. They say it takes 10,000 hours of practice to master something. To put things into perspective, if you practice 6-8 hours a day for 365 days, that’s about 4 or 5 years. Don’t worry so much about gear, work on your skills first and the results will come!




Being that we are both right and left brained, we need to find a balance. What I mean is that we tend to get caught up with technology and methods. Pro Tools vs. Logic Pro, EQ before compression vs. compression before EQ, Mac vs. PC or Waves vs. stock plugins. We are so eager to find what “works” and what is “right” that we go deaf to what the music is trying to tell us. This isn’t anything that technology will tell show you. This is something you have to discover how to do. I did hear some stories about happy accidents where an artist accidentally strummed their guitar in an awkward manner and while the engineer may not have liked it, the artist loved it. Perhaps the artist heard something in that weird strum that they felt contributed to the vibe of the song. Which means there are no right or wrong answers. Experiment and see what happens.

During the question and answer portion of the sessions, many audience members had highly technical questions. While the speaker did answer their technical questions, they would include something along the lines of “I felt it just sounded better that way”. They never mentioned anything like “the vocal sounded better because an SSL compressor with a ratio of 4:1 always sounds better after an EQ with a boost at 5kHz using Pro Tools HD through NS10 speakers”. One thing Andrew Scheps did mentioned is to know when NOT to touch a track. You don’t always have to add or remove anything to a track if it already sounds good. If it sits well in the song and the mix, leave it alone.  This reminds me of the first point which is not about the gear, it’s about listening and developing an ear for such things.




In the end I didn’t find any “special sauce”, technique, plugin, console, no hardware or software they claimed was the secret factor that made them great. And that’s true for other areas in life. You need to work with what you already have. You don’t need Nikes to be a better runner and you don’t need a $1,100 Montblanc pen to write a better story. Today, more than ever, we have resources easily accessible to us that can help us learn another language, build a computer, or start a business. You don’t need more stuff. What you do need is more inspiration, creativity, practice, rinse and repeat.


If you are looking for an engineer to record, mix, and/or master your music:

Call me directly at 323-543-5356

You can also email me: agruv@agruv.com

For samples of my work, visit my website: http://agruvstudios.com/