So, tell us a little about yourself! How did you end up as an audio engineer?
My name's Paul. I own and work as a mixing engineer here at Audio Animals studios in London. I began working as an engineer at the age of 16. I quickly realised my passion for music wasn't in the writing aspect and was more focused around the sculpting and shaping audio into a mix. I would spend more time processing sounds in interesting ways, rather than producing music. From 16 to 24 I worked with different artists, started a company which I didn't make a huge success of because I felt I was too young to really set it up properly. I also didn't know a great deal about business. I struck the big time when I launched Audio Animals in 2012. 8 years on we are working with artists all over the world from Bollywood to Hollywood to local artist and A list superstars.
Part of studio life these days involves wearing many hats. We often end up learning skills like graphic design, coding, and business just to name a few. What are some of the hats you wear day to day?
I have had to learn a lot. I like to learn new skills. I can now code VSTs, do most business related tasks, video editing, build websites etc. Everything you see on the Audio Animals website was built by us. If we don't know how to do something we learn how to do it. With the internet at your fingertips these days there is no excuse not to learn something new.
I know for myself, and its probably the same for a lot of aspiring engineers, but did you know right out the gate you wanted to be a mixing engineer or did you struggle with possibly identifying with some other role in the studio at first?
At 14 I wanted to be a DJ. At 16 I realised I didn't like being on stage in front of people. Also at 16 wanted to be a producer - as this came hand in hand with being a DJ. By 17 I realised my passion was more in the manipulating and crafting of a sound rather than a piece of work. So, at that point I knew I wanted a more behind the scenes role in a studio making other people sound great.
You seem like a really big family guy. I know for myself, I struggled a lot with the work-life balance of studio life. Its so easy to end up spending days just doing music stuff, especially when you get into the maddening cycle of content production. Are you using any systems to kind of help with that?
Yeah I'm a big family guy. Love my little girl and wife more than I love my studios. Which is saying a lot. I don't struggle with a work life balance as I have rules that I stick to. My studios are not at home like many other engineers. So I leave my house and go to work. I then finish work and come home at a similar time each day. Then have home life. This way I get that work life balance. Once my daughter has gone to bed and my wife sits down to chill and watch TV, I get on my laptop to write articles, code VSTs or splice samples for sample packs. The key is leaving your house and going to work elsewhere.
So, Audio Animals as a brand has always been interesting to me - inspirational really. You guys offer mixing and mastering and from my understanding that's split between yourself and Nick respectively. Then, you guys started making tools in Kontakt, sample packs, and some really cool stuff. How did this all come about? Do both of you have a role in making these? Is there something you guys have made that you're most proud of? What was the most difficult product to make?
I am the mixing engineer and Nick is the mastering engineer. This works well as I am able to mix a song for someone then once I'm finished, take it through to Nick for mastering with fresh ears and a fresh perspective. The Kontakt coding is Nick's department. I record all the samples, mix them then splice them ready to be loaded in. Nick creates the build. We know our roles and we excel in different roles. I guess the product we are most proud of is the Kontakt cymbals and hi-hat library. It's sold thousands of copies and is known as the largest collection of downloadable cymbals online. The first build of Kontakt was difficult as it was like learning a new language. Now we know the language building in Kontakt is a breeze.
What is the one thing about mastering that you wish people understood? That is - beyond "making things loud," what other aspects of Nick's role are people not aware of?
I wish people would understand perceived loudness. Your song may visually look quieter and peak at a lower RMS than other songs, but when you listen and compare volumes of the track you perceive the song as louder.
So, I was looking at your site and I noticed you had done some work on some of the Marvel trailers. Can you tell us a little about that experience? How was that different from working with an artist?
We started out doing the mastering for the DVD release of The Amazing Spider-Man 2. From there we went on to the X-Men films and through to now mastering music that is in the Avenger End Game film. We don't actually know what film the music is for before working on it. We find out at a later date. So as far as the experience goes, we just enjoy working on the music at the time. Then to go to the cinema and hear it for the first time is amazing. You can not beat that experience. It is similar to working with artists. The music is different but the real only difference is one is called a producer and the other is called a composers. We have worked with plenty of artists that have then gone on to have their song placed in films or TV adverts.
I also saw that you did some work for Lil Wayne! How did that happen?
We were working with a female vocalist and he was featuring on the song with her. It was all kept very secret by the label but as soon as we heard the vocal we were sent to work with we knew exactly who it was.
Okay, hot button issue... I've seen a lot online about making sure your mix is peaking at -6 before sending it to mastering. Is there anything fishy about that?
As long as your mix does not peak at 0db causing clipping this is perfectly fine. What difference does it make for me to receive a mix at -6db or -0.1db? No difference at all because I can adjust that volume to -6db. In today's modern music industry these guidelines are not important. They are just guidelines so that you are well off peaking above 0db.
So, if you ask a mixing engineer what a good mix consists of, and you'll get the answer of balance and making sure its exciting or conveys whatever emotion you're trying to produce. Is there anything that technically makes a good mix from your perspective?
A good balanced mix that is mixed correctly with a full dynamic range. Nothing worse than mastering a mix that either peaks at 0db and limits the dynamic range, or a mix that has a limiter smashing the dynamics.
What are your thoughts on the streaming suggested LUFS of 14? I've seen the range of responses that some people stick to those and others do not care. Is there a particular number you aim for?
We have the knowledge and know-how to get the best results when it comes to these guidelines. I see so many producers that aren't mastering engineers just master their songs to -14 LUFS and thinking this is correct. There is so much information out there that is false and untrue, I really feel for people who aren't mastering engineers in the know. Because these people are putting out music that is well below par.
I've seen a lot about this mixing with pink noise business - where you basically try to get your overall frequencies to match that of a pink noise signal. What are your thoughts about that?
I have no thoughts on this. If this is what you want to do by all means experiment with it. It is not something I would personally ever do or recommend anyone to do.