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AES139 Student Recording Competition Winner Interview: Keifer Wiley

Keifer Wiley received the Bronze prize for his Category 2 Submission at the AES139 Student Recording Competition. We were lucky enough to interview him afterwards. 
Keifer's winning submission 'Neon' is available for download on
his website

Hi Keifer, thanks a lot for meeting with us! 

Not a problem, my pleasure. 

So, tell us a little bit about yourself. Where are you from? Where and what do you study? 

I am an audio engineer singer/songwriter and composer. I currently work as an audio engineer for The Cleveland Institute of Music. At Case Western Reserve University, I study a foundation of classical recording and acoustic production techniques with Bruce Egre, Alan Bise, and Jack Renner.

I have recently completed work on a new EP “Give Me a Reason”. My YouTube Channel has amassed thousands of views and features original music videos and covers. Two of my original songs “Dream of You Tonight” and “Not as I Have Been” were featured on Dee Perry’s radio show “Around Noon” on 90.3 NPR after winning the Great Lake Theater Festival’s Bardstock songwriting competition.

I have had the honor of working with Megan Zurkey, The Kneisel Hall Chamber Music Festival, The Contemporary Youth Orchestra, Roots of American Music, The Chagrin Falls Academy for The Performing Arts, Stagecrafters Teen Theater Academy. As a musician I have performed in a variety of venues around the eastern united states including; The House of Blues, Peabody’s, The Grog Shop, Negative Space Studios, Menorah Park, and The Evening Muse and more on a variety of recording, live sound, composition, and performance projects.

I have composed, arranged, engineered and performed original scores for several theatrical productions including Peter Brook and Jean-Claude Carriere’s “Conference of the Birds”, and Ben Claus’s “May Day”.

What initiated your passion for audio? When did it start?

My passion for audio engineering began out of necessity. In 2013 I was ready to move forward on recording my first studio album. I was inspired by independent artists on sites like YouTube, BandCamp, and ReverbNation to attempt recording my first album myself. As you can imagine the learning curve was pretty steep. I ended up recording several smaller projects before I was confident enough to begin work on a 10 track album. I learned a lot by trial and error and through my exploration of audio recording technology and microphone placement I realized that I had a real passion for audio engineering, which lead me to pursue a degree in audio recording from Case Western Reserve.

Ah, so you're a musician too. What instruments do you play and in what musical context?

I started with woodwinds in elementary school and eventually picked up guitar from a friend when I was 12. From the moment I learned my first chord on guitar I was pretty much hooked. As my interests in music grew I branched to a variety of other instruments; piano, drums, and various wind instruments. It was around this time that I began writing my own songs and today I would describe my primary musical pursuits as singer/songwriter and indie rock bands.

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? 

“Neon” was record as part of the album, “Give me a Reason”. The song is arranged for two vocalists, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, bass guitar, and drums. In order to fully capture the dynamic and spontaneous quality of a natural live performance, the entire session was tracked live in one take through a Pro Tools multi-track session with limited overdubs. Tracking for “Neon” took place over one four-hour session on site in a large historic church, Harknes Chapel.

What was your most significant/funny/inspiring experience as an audio engineer?

I would say the most significant realization that I have made so far as an audio engineer is that while gear and plugins are extremely helpful and admittedly fun to collect and experiment with, there is no substitute for proper mic placement and selection. In fact, having a mired of plugins and outboard gear can have the effect of paralysis due to far too many options. One of the greatest strengths of my first album is that I was forced to make all my recording decisions with one microphone, limited plugins, and no outboard gear. Due to this limitation I was never tempted to “fix” things in the mix and or throw more microphones up. I had to get things as right as I could with the gear I had. This minimal approach is also helpful to engineers who are starting off with a small budget (as I am); you don’t need thousands of dollars’ worth of gear to create decent recordings.

Accidents happen: What was your biggest mistake in a production and what did you do to redeem the situation?

I once went into a live session which required five independent headphone mixes, I had never needed this many headphone mixes before and I had not used this feature of my Roland interface before. I quickly learned that setting up a good headphone feed can be complicated and the internal and external routing can create quite a headache if you aren’t quite sure what your doing. I ended up going about 30 minutes over on my setup time and noticeably frustrating everyone involved as I fumbled for the proper configuration. At this point there was nothing I could do to get that time back, but once I got myself organized all I could do is give the most efficient session I could from that point on. Luckily the band was able to stay a little late to makeup the lost time.

What’s your advice for engineers who are just starting out?

Referring to the story above, never go into a session with any questions about your gear, procedure, or routing. Those are all things that need to be worked on outside of the stress of a session. With any new gear of new technique, you will run into snags and I can say from experience there is nothing more stressful than being watched by a band sitting in the live room ready to record, while you struggle with some technical issue. Just like a musician spends hours in a practice room before taking the stage in front of the public we must also hone our craft outside of session. When the artist is in the room we are performing and have to be as on top of our game as they are.

Tech talk: What are your favourite pieces of equipment (microphones, outboard, plugins), and why?

The most important piece of my signal flow are my microphones. I really like a pair of Schoeps CMC6 with the MK21 sub-cardioid capsules. When placed in ORTF a pair of CMC6 MK21’s can be used to mic a whole orchestra by themselves. I love to place these as my room mics for acoustic guitars and strings when I want clear imaging and betting frequency response than cardioids alone can accomplish. People might cringe a little at this next one, but I heavily rely on Pro Tools’ stock plugins for eq and compression; they have a unique color and are very streamlined and intuitive. For reverb I’m a huge fan of Altiverb, I haven’t found a plugin that rivals its sound quality, intuitive interface, and versatile control features.

What/who made you join the AES? 

I joined AES after hearing about the experiences of my peers who had participated in one of the New York conventions. After a little bit of research, I discovered that the benefits of AES for students and professionals alike extend far beyond the Convention floor. Since joining AES I have had the opportunity to meet with the heads of recording at several of the studios, and festivals that I had admired in my time as a student of audio recording. It was an invaluable experience to hear about their careers and their advice on the industry and career development.

Tell us about your favourite experiences at the 139th AES Convention in New York!

I would have to say my favorite experience of AES139 was the student mixers and the recording feedback that we received from each other and many of the audio professionals that we admired. It was truly inspiring to hear and see what my peers have been working on. There was so much talent there and so many of the students were making opportunities for themselves that I had never even considered possible; it most certainly set a fire under me to work harder and gave me some of the tools I need to work a bit smarter.

What is your favourite frequency?


What do you do when you’re not in the studio or doing anything music related?

 I’m really into outdoor adventuring - camping, hiking, and climbing. I also like literature and movies.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

If the last 4 years of my life are any indication, my life in 10 years will be nothing like what I could imagine now. The opportunities I have gained and lost always take me in new and interesting directions. I’m sure that songwriting, composition and audio production will always be a part of my path, I have no Idea where that will lead me. Right now I’m focusing on honing my craft and improving myself so I’ll be ready when the next opportunity presents itself.

Could you provide us with some closing comments?

I am incredibly grateful for the opportunities AES and the student delegation have provided to my peers and I. I would also like to express my gratitude to Brandie Lane, Richard King, and Sean McLaughlin for taking the time out of their schedules to impart their feedback, advice, and improvement ideas to me. It was truly an honor to present my art to a group of such distinguished judges.

Thanks very much, Keifer, and good luck with the rest of your already quite impressive career! 

Check out Keifer's work on his official website, YouTube channel, and SoundCloud page

Posted: Monday, January 18, 2016

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