Audio Producer Profile
Stuart Hallerman talks about the path to his success.
Audio Producer/Owner, Avast Recording
Over 20 years in the business
What made you want to become an audio producer?
As a teenager I liked listening to music, and at some point, I realized there was someone behind the scenes who was making those sounds happen. I didn't consider an audio production career because I didn't live in L.A. When I was at college, a friend encouraged me to look for a niche role in the music industry. He pointed out that it wasn't all superstars or losers. There were many people in the middle ground who made a decent living.
What journey did you take to make it happen?
I tried sound mixing. I collected gear, and then I started my own business. I moved to Seattle in 1990. The timing was good. The music scene in Seattle was poised to boom.
The deeper I committed my life, time and money to recording, the more live sound I was asked to do. As soon as I quit my job, all I had to do was music. I was invited on the road with Soundgarden, and for three years, I was on the road about half the time. I met a lot of people, made connections and got to see how record companies work by watching their experience. But my personal overriding interest was recording rather than live sound, and I finally found a building in Seattle to rent. I handed in my regrets and stayed home after that.
What's the best thing you get to do on the job?
I like working with people, and I love music and technology. There's an infinite number of music production possibilities. I have clients who I enjoy as friends, so that's great. As a gear-head, I enjoy all the tubes and knobs and lights and boxes too. Some bands I record don't go away 20 years later, and they become like family.
Is there any down side to the work?
The maintenance can be tough. I use a lot of vintage equipment, and finding parts and people who can deal with broken stuff gets harder all the time. There's a certain amount of bookkeeping that doesn't have much to do with what I care about in music. In any area of the arts, if you're independent, you have to deal with some of those issues.
What's a day in the studio like?
I arrive at the studio and take stock of where we are in the process of the record that we're making. I talk to the band and find out what they're ready to do and feel like doing. I work with the sounds in the music to make people happy with what they're hearing and make sure we're capturing it on tape the way everyone intends. I spend a few hours with tape rolling, making music. Hopefully, by the end of the day, we've made some progress.
Are musicians hard to deal with?
They're just real people; everyone can be hard to deal with. Part of recording is psychology, getting everyone fed and relaxed, getting their body chemistry adjusted, including my own. Every artist has a different motivation—why they wrote the song; why they're singing it; why they want to record it. You have to be aware of what the goal is and what's possible. Cajole the artist into giving his best performance. "Your voice sounded beautiful today, just sing it one more time." You have to know the artist's work enough to know that even if they did a good version, that there's an ideal version just around the corner. And to know when the artist is burned out, or you're chasing something you're not going to be able to reach.
What's the best tip you can give aspiring audio producers?
Listen to a lot of different kinds of music, and think about how it made it from the musician to the record. Talk to local studios, local bands, local producers and engineers, ask questions. Ask the band what it was like to be in the studio, ask if you can visit them in the studio next time. Be somewhat involved in the local music scene, because your initial clients are going to be your friends, people you just saw play.
Go buy home recording equipment. Even though the equipment is different, the process of recording is similar. Any experience you can get inside or outside the studio is good. Use your ears.Go to the library and read all the books on recording. Go online and look at forums and mailing lists. Do anything with bands, do live shows. It's a broad field. It's not just running a mixing board. It's how to run a business, how to clean carpets, whatever it takes to keep people happy.