Nashville-based Nick Lobel and Jesse Brock (Student Recording Competition Category 3 Silver Award winners) talk shop, AES, and more.
· Tell us a little bit about yourself. Where are you from? Where and what do you study? What audio field are you in?
[JB]: My name is Jesse Brock. Technically I am from Huntsville, Alabama. However, since all of my memories are in Nashville, Tennessee I consider it my home. I study Audio Engineering in Nashville at Belmont University and tracking is my focus.
[NL]: I’m originally from Kalamazoo, MI. I moved to Nashville, TN in 2013 to study audio engineering at Belmont University. Lately, I’ve been focused on production and mixing, but I love learning about the whole spectrum of audio-related fields!
· What initiated your passion for audio? When did it start?
[JB]: Being a musician first I have always been looking for ways to enhance my musicianship. I was originally a music major. After a year in that program, I decided I needed to find other avenues to better myself as a musician. I selected Audio Engineering Technology (AET) as my declared major without much thought. Taking a musical approach to engineering has really helped me enjoy my path. It is through this practice that I have developed a love for engineering.
[NL]: I fell in love with music as a kid and starting taking guitar lessons at a young age, maybe 9 or 10. In middle school I played in my first band, a garage rock outfit called Skag Nasty! I quickly realized that I needed a way to record the riffs and melodies I was writing. I saved up and got a little Tascam 4-track cassette recorder. That was really the start of my recording experience, but it wasn’t until later that realized I could pursue audio full-time as a career.
· What instruments do you play and in what musical context?
[JB]: I am the lead vocalist, lead guitarist, and primary writer for the band Lines in the Sky. I was trained on piano and can play bass, marimba, some drums, and the kazoo. I primarily write progressive music with Lines in the Sky. It is centered around a contemporary structure but incorporates influence from many different genres.
[NL]: My main instrument is guitar, and I’ve played in a handful of bands through the years. I’d really love to learn piano and drums!
Above: Jesse's band Lines in the Sky
· Tell us about the production of your submission. What is the story behind it? What was it inspired by? How long did you work on it? Was it your first entry?
[JB]: The track used for the submission was called “New Season” and is a Christmas single for my band, Lines in the Sky. We were asked by our management team halfway through 2015 to put together something for Christmas. We put the song together over the next several months and recorded it at several various places. These included the Columbia A facility provided by Belmont University and my house! We had around five sessions total for this song over the course of two weeks. Nick mixed the song over the course of a week or so. This was my first entry to the contest and also my first time coming to an AES convention. It was quite the experience.
The song itself deals with complex feelings on the Christmas season in general. We wanted to make it aware to people how silly and self-serving things have become and challenge the listener to explore new meanings for Christmas. You can check out the video for the track here.
[NL]: I had a blast mixing this track! Jesse did a great job with the initial tracking and getting great performances. Bo Brock is one of my favorite drummers and his performance on this track is stellar! My goals for the mix were to simply enhance what was already there and create some interesting/exciting moments throughout.
· What was your most funny/inspiring/significant experience as an audio engineer?
[JB]: Funny: I once heard a student ask an A list engineer “What is a ‘diaphragm condenser’?” I wanted to facepalm.
Inspiring: Early on, I had an engineer tell me to focus more on the initial performance and to avoid more editing in the box. Instead of focusing on undo embrace redo. It is a simple tracking concept but sometimes just another take is all you need. This initial realization rocked my world.
Significant: Uhm...not sure!
[NL]: Funny: Recording my friend Stephanie’s “mouth-made” sound effects of a drone flyby and explosion for a recent sound for picture project.
Inspiring: The artists I work with constantly inspire me. Lines in the Sky is one of my favorite bands, so getting to mix one of their songs was a huge honor and privilege! If I can help capture the artist’s intended vibe and create a strong reaction that’s super inspiring to me!
Significant: Since moving to Nashville I’ve had so many amazing opportunities and experiences that it’s hard to say which is most significant. Some of the highlights have been interning at Station West and Toy Box Studios, participating in the Bonnaroo Hay Bale Studio, and learning from awesome mentors like Lij Shaw, Joe Baldridge, and all of the audio professors at Belmont.
· Accidents happen: What was your biggest mistake in a production and what did you do to redeem the situation?
[JB]: In class, I accidentally trashed a mix session for a project. I didn’t realize it until I got back to the house. I thought I was going to throw up. I booked another session and got the project in on time. I learned a valuable lesson that day about double-checking my allocation and backups.
[NL]: I’ll echo Jesse’s advice about backups. I once had a hard drive fail and take down a handful of client projects with it. I hadn’t backed up in a couple weeks a lot of data had amassed on the failed drive. In the end I had to bite the bullet and pay to have the data restored in a clean room facility. I got very serious about backups and data redundancy after that!
· What’s your advice for engineers who are just starting out?
[JB]: Considering I am still getting my feet wet with engineering I don’t have much to offer. However, I think it is valuable to be comfortable with your abilities and not get too big of a head trying to make yourself look qualified. It is important to meet opportunities head on but with an appropriate attitude. However, I see countless AET students come into the Belmont program who think they are the next big thing. In reality, it is all smoke. Professionals can see right through you and will remember it. It’s a pride thing. Never be afraid to ask a question. If it hurts your pride to ask then you have some serious personal issues that you have to sort out.
[NL]: I think communication is super important. Whether you’re working for a brand new artist or an A-list producer, communication is the key to building trust and lasting relationships. Clarify expectations and resolve misunderstandings early. You don’t want your clients to have any doubts or uncertainties about the process.
· Tech talk: What are your favourite pieces of equipment (microphones, outboard, plugins), and why?
[JB]: Plugin: C4 multiband compressor. The thing shreds and is super intuitive.
Microphone: SM7. Shreds.
Outboard: Man...that API 2500 is great. Super versatile compressor. It also shreds.
[NL]: Plugin: The Waves SSL 4000 Collection is awesome! I use the channel strip plugins on virtually every mix. The Sound Toys collection is incredible! FabFilter’s stuff is amazing as well.
Microphone: I love the AEA R88 on drum overheads and rooms
Outboard: UA 1176
· Can you name one or multiple of your favourite recordings or productions and tell us why you like them/what you like about them?
[JB]: I freaking love the sound of 10,000 days from Tool. I have no idea how they got those sounds. I haven’t done any research on that album but it blows my mind every time I listen to it.
Recently, I have been listening to The Weeknd’s new album, Beauty Behind the Madness. The production is incredible. In particular, there is a track called ‘Acquainted’ that has some incredible programming. Some great people worked on that record.
[NL]: Annuals – Count The Rings. They have these incredibly dense orchestrations and arrangements with complex layered rhythmic elements, but somehow everything fits together and has its own space. Everything about that record from the writing to the engineering and mixing is inspiring to me both technically and creatively.
Above: Nick Lobel with Belmont University audio professors Wesley Bulla Ph.D. (left) and Eric Tarr Ph.D. (right). Nick also presented some research on new methods to archive analog tape recordings at the AES139 Convention - more info here.
· What/who made you join the AES?
[JB]: Nick Lobel. Haha. But for real though, I wanted to come check out the situation. I have never been to AES and I figured this would be the year to try it out!
[NL]: In my second semester at Belmont I was elected to the AES leadership committee for our chapter. This was hugely beneficial both personally and professionally. It gave me a platform to network with top industry professionals and share my passion and interests with a larger audience!
· What do you like about the AES? How does it help you to become a better and more successful audio engineer?
[JB]: The academic seminars were probably the most enlightening. It’s refreshing to see some good SCIENCE going into the field of audio. I also enjoyed meeting some of the game audio people. I am very interested in this field of audio.
[NL]: AES is one of the best resources available for aspiring audio engineers. And given the large number of chapters throughout the world, it is really easy to get involved. Like any professional organization, you get out what you put in. Over the last two years, I’ve invested a lot of time in the Belmont AES Chapter and it has truly paid off both personally and professionally.
· Tell us about your favourite experiences at the 139th AES Convention in New York!
[JB]: It was super cool meeting so many people from across the globe!
It was a pleasure getting to meet Winifred Phillips! (Composer for ‘Little Big Planet’ game franchise)
[NL]: I enjoyed nerding out over the 3D audio and immersive sound lectures!
· What is your favourite frequency?
[JB]: 10k. It sounds nice! Especially on vocal parallel compression.
[NL]: Haha...I don’t know. Maybe 60 Hz!
· What do you do when you’re not in the studio or doing anything music related?
[JB]: I’m usually reading about Star Wars. Seriously...I am a HUGE nerd. You think you know about cannon? Come at me bro!
I really spend most of my time writing and learning about audio tricks. It is my passion and I couldn’t imagine my life without it. Other than that, I’m either hanging with the team or my girlfriend.
[NL]: I love to cook! I don’t have any formal training, but there are a few chefs and cooking blogs I follow. Learning recipes is like covering songs...once you’ve got it down you can add your own flavor and make it unique. Other than that, I love exploring Nashville with my beautiful girlfriend and hanging out with our two cats, Terry and Catsy Cline.
· Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
[JB]: I hope to be producing and writing with either a publishing deal or my own production group.
[NL]: Producing and mixing full-time.
· Could you provide us with some closing comments?
[JB]: My experience at AES was incredibly eye-opening and overall positive! I have never been in the same place as so many legendary professionals. Getting to see all the different areas of the field of audio really helped my broaden my scope of potential career directions. I hope to come back next year!
[NL]: It was a huge honor to participate in the recording competition and represent my school! The Convention program was incredible with so many awesome seminars and eye-opening lectures! Really hope to continue participating in AES and attending the conventions!
· We look forward to seeing you next year then! Thanks so much for your time, and all the best for your respective careers. Happy holidays!
Posted: Monday, December 28, 2015