An Interview with Lenise Bent at the NAB Show 2014

The annual National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) Show is the largest B2B media company conference.

We showcased our professional audio products and also provided some key learning channels at NAB 2014. Join us now for a review of our “Ask Me Anything” sessions, where the live NAB audience and those following on Twitter asked experts questions about sound engineering.  First up, Lenise Bent.

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Lenise Bent is an audio mixer, producer and engineer for music and film. She’s an industry veteran with experience in everything from studio work to teaching. Bent has long since made a name for herself in the historically male-dominated field of  audio engineering with credits on such classic records as Steely Dan’s Aja, Supertramp’s Breakfast in America, Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk and Blondie’s Autoamerican. She’s also a post-production audio professional specializing in shooting and editing Foley for films and animated series, including work on RoboCop and Extreme Ghostbusters. She is a guest lecturer, educator, and audio restoration and repair specialist. Here are the highlights from her AMA with Audio-Technica.

Question: Tell us some interesting behind-the-scenes stories about how you got involved with Aja and Steely Dan.

Lenise Bent: …I found out Steely Dan was coming in, and I really wanted that record. I said, “Please, is there any way you can get me all the records I don’t already have?” I learned the records. I studied them. I found out where they were recorded, who played on them, who engineered them. I had a feeling that this record was going to carry me for the rest of my life, and it really has. That preparation really paid off.

Fortunately, my mentor was their engineer. The late, immortal Roger Nichols, who is immortal on another plane now. He taught me the most incredible recording techniques that, to this day, I still use. Little things, like using the shortest mic cable, all the little things; those are the things that make up a Steely Dan record. Donald always said, I don’t want it perfect, I just want it right. Because you can make anything perfect now, but making it right is the big difference.

Q: So you did audio for animation as well? What were the challenges?

LB: I was sent all over the world to oversee the foreign versions of the dialogue and music so the animated movies would have continuity throughout the world. One of the challenges with basically doing foreign, was making sure that the voiceover matched the mouth movements. One of my biggest, most interesting challenges was working in Istanbul on Shrek 2. We were doing the lead vocal and there were supposed to be these background singers. In Turkey, in Muslim countries, they have 12 tones for every note. So these people couldn’t sing together. I had to do several passes.

The other fun part of that was the star talent they brought in to sing that part was an opera singer. She was very straight. It was a Muslim country. So she sang “I’m Holding Out for a Hero” in Turkish, and it just doesn’t have the vibe. I said, “Remember when you were thirteen, did you ever sing along with a hairbrush to your favorite song? You know, did you want to be a rock star?” And she said, “Yeah, I did!” And I said, “Now’s your chance!” I kind of cheered her on, and this woman just had this epiphany, and she let it go. And she was fabulous! That was fun. She blew the lid off the Turkish version of Shrek.

Q: In terms of Foley, how do you creatively decide — because you’re in the studio and you’re making noises — how do you make those creative decisions?

LB: It really is being able to work with a team, being a team player, and being able to take direction and interpret it correctly. That’s for film or music. The producer or director will typically speak in emotional words. This is a very “sad” scene or a “sad” song – could we put a little more “smile” into that? You want to show respect to the voiceover or the musician. You can’t say “just do it like this.” It really is their interpretation, and that’s the talent for a voiceover actor or a musician. So that’s key, being respectful, but also you just get a feeling when you know it’s right.

Q: What was it like working with Fleetwood Mac?

LB: You just didn’t know what was gonna happen. I would have to be there at noon and maybe 3:30, 4:00, 7:00 at night, they’d wander in, or not. Certain members showed up a lot. Other members, not so much. It was hard to see the continuity. You could tell there was a lot of turmoil going on at the time. I had to help get the drums right for Mick. Mick is 6’6″, and I’m not. So I’d have to hit that kick drum like Mick before he came in to get the sound right.

Q: Any advice for women starting in this industry?

LB: It’s absolutely appropriate for women to do this. When I started out, everybody tried to tell me women don’t do this. There’s no reason why women can’t do this. I think there are a lot of women out there who don’t realize that you can have a lot of fun, if you’re a technical person, if you’re wired that way, if you take things apart and put them back together, if you have that sensibility, you can do it! And you’re embraced. We can all do this.

There are a few things engineers can take away from our AMA with Lenise Bent. First, if you really want to work with a particular artist, take the time to learn as much as possible about their previous work. This can go a long way toward convincing the producer that you’d be a valuable asset on the project. Second, sometimes it falls to the engineer to break a performer out of an inhibiting mold, but you may also have to work around strong personalities from time to time. Lastly, anyone can do this job if they have the right skills and mind-set – go for it! Thanks, Lenise!

What was your biggest takeaway from Lenise Bent’s AMA? Let us know in the comments section and stay tuned for more NAB 2014 AMA highlights!

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