To continue the series of 2013 AES “Ask Me Anything” interviews, we transcribed our discussion with Joel Singer – engineer, mixer, co-founder and chief engineer of Music Mix Mobile (M3), a mobile audio business that records and broadcasts remotely for clients all over the world. In his role with M3, Singer handles all of the system designs and technical engineering, giving him a wide array of experience to share during our discussion. The audience in our booth asked him questions, as did the people watching the Livestream from Twitter. Fellow sound engineer Richard Chycki even added a question to the discussion.
Joel has engineered recordings and broadcasts for Justin Timberlake from Madison Square Garden for HBO, Barbra Streisand for Showtime, Shakira, Poison, John Mayer Trio, Madonna, Linkin Park Live in Texas and many more. Joel has received a Grammy® Award and a TEC Award for his work.
A-T: What would be your favorite live project that you’ve worked on?
JS: There are a whole bunch. Music is so wide open that you just love it all. I’m a big fan of rock and roll. I’m a big fan of progressive rock. I grew up listening to bands like Rush, Yes, Zeppelin, and all of these great bands, and I’ve been very fortunate to be able to now, and in later years, record and work with these bands.
And the latest couple of projects I just happen to have done with my buddy Rich. We did a couple of Rush DVDs, which were outstanding. It just thrilled me to no degree. I’ve done some work with Billy Joel recently and again growing up on Long Island the way I did listening to Billy and hearing the music like it was a jukebox, to be able to record and work with him was just outstanding. Again, I did a great Dream Theater recording down in Sao Paulo that my buddy Rich mixed again and man it was stellar. I had a really good time and I’m proud to be a part of those projects. To have my name associated with them means a lot.
A-T: For an audio student, what would be your top tip/advice?
JS: The biggest thing is that you just want someone to just sit there and keep their ears and eyes open and take as much in as they can and then, over the course of time, start to contribute. No one’s expecting anyone to come out of school and contribute immediately. It’s just that way in my world.
A-T: What was your first job in audio?
JS: I played in bands and like every other guy in the band, I went out and bought recording gear and then I started recording my bands. I was doing recordings on ½-inch 8 tracks and trying to become proficient at what I did. But the real professional-type stuff I did, I started mixing monitors at Westbury Music Fair out on Long Island. I got a call one day that said, “Hey, do you know how to mix monitors?” I said “Sure.” Never had done it before, but I said, “Okay, no problem.” I went in and mixed monitors for Frankie Valli and The Four Tops at that point and next thing you know, I was being called back because it was good, thank God, and I just started working that way. From there, I kept moving the craft forward, learning, keeping my eyes open and ears open and picking up what I could from whoever I could.
A-T: Do you have to just do one mix and say this is it or do you have to juggle and consider the different playback media it’s going to go through?
JS: That’s a great question. We provide one mix. We mix for one thing and that’s for it to sound the best it can sound coming out of the speakers in our truck. After that, there are so many codecs and things in the path and the way things get distributed that you can’t adapt for it all.
A-T: What is the biggest rookie mistake that you’ve seen made?
JS: It was great. We had a guy, and he wasn’t a part of our team, come into one of our trucks. We were in the middle of a record, he walked back into our tape room to talk to, it wasn’t me at the point, it was a tape op who was dealing with our Pro Tools system, and he casually leaned on the rack with the Pro Tools record that had the keyboard on it and he bumped the keyboard, which took the whole thing out of record. The guy had been working for the production company for maybe two days already and he was horrified, but we run a master and a safety record all the time, so the safety was still going and I just put the master back into record at that point. We still had the whole show intact, but the look on this guy’s face was like he did the worst thing in the world. It was pretty funny at that point.
A-T: Logic Pro or Pro Tools?
JS: Pro Tools. We do Logic, it has its place, but not in our recording world.
A-T: What do you do to quickly adapt to new technologies as they come out?
JS: Great question. I’ve always prided myself on being able to keep ahead of the curve. I am constantly looking through what’s happening in the industry. Things like AVB, we were looking at 5-6 years ago already and now that’s just something that’s starting to come to fruition. We stay adept. We don’t change that quickly. Things have to be proven before we’ll stick them into our world.
Thanks, Mr. Singer! We always leave the Ask Me Anything AES interviews enlightened, and Joel Singer’s input suggests that in the audio engineering field the important thing is to listen. After all, flawless live sound engineering is defined by what you’re not hearing, i.e. mistakes, feedback, lapses in sound, etc.