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RSR053 – Matt Boudreau – Working Class Audio Podcast

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RSR007 - David Glenn - The Mix Academy

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RSR053 - Matt Boudreau - Working Class Audio

My guest today is Matt Boudreau, a producer, recording, mixing, and mastering engineer from San Francisco. Matt is also the host of a fantastic podcast that you should be listening to called, Working Class Audio where he interviews many top studio professionals.

His 34 year career path started out in New Mexico before moving to San Francisco in the 80s as a drummer in the bands The Sextants and Seven Day Diary, where he was first introduced to making records with great producer/engineers like Larry Hirsch, Joe Chicarelli and Gil Norton sparking his interest in recording.

In 1994 Matt began his journey to the "other side of the glass" when it came time to trade in his drum sticks for faders. And since then he has worked with a great number of artists in the studio including: Steve Earl, Brett Dennen, Matchbox 20, Shawn Colvin, the BoDeans, The Shins, Death Cab for Cutie, Tori Amos, Florence + The Machine, World Party, Thomas Dolby, The Jayhawks, Ziggy Marley, The Samples, Joan Osborne, Civil Wars, Sarah Bareilles, and George Thorogood to name just some of the credits. Wow!

And on his podcast Working Class Audio you can find all sorts of great episodes with stellar guests like: Dave Fridmann, Niko Bolas, Al Schmitt, Brian McTear, Jim Scott, Larry Crane, F Reid Shippen, Eric Valentine, Kim Rosen, Warren Huart, Joe Barresi, Michael Beinhorn, Sylvia Massey, and Vance Powell. And those are just some of the past guests.

Though we’ve only just met, I am psyched to have my “brother from another podcast” on the show today.

Working Class Audio

Working Class Audio

“Sometimes as a player you graduate to these plateaus. You don’t consciously try to do it, but one day you can do something that you couldn’t previously do. And you have this realization, you think oh okay I've been playing all these years and something feels different.”

Matt Boudreau

The Sextants

The major band that I was in that meant a lot of me was The Sextants. It was a band that was formed out of the ashes of punk band out of Southern New Mexico called Manson Family Christmas. When MFC broke up The Sextants formed, we all moved to San Francisco. We were like Mamas and the Papas meets X with a heavy pop influence and that’s where I met Larry Hirsch. The reason I left the band ultimately is because we had a manager who was a weird guy. Terry Ellis was the president of the label that we were on which was Imago Records. He called us out to Connecticut where he sat us down to lunch and said basically you either need to fire your manager otherwise we are going to drop you because this guy is just not good for you. My bandmates didn’t see it that way and I was in disagreement with my roommates on that so ultimately we were dropped. In spite of everything I’ve learned over the years I still am on the same page as Terry Ellis for that one. Even though we broke up, we still continue to make music with each other to this day.

"Life if short. Take advantage of the time you’ve got, get in the studio, get stuff done, enjoy yourself.” -@Matt_Boudreau

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How do you Capture a Great Performance in the Studio?

I think when you’re mentally present and you’re not distracted by the outside forces of money or personal strife or relationship strife. When you have control over the outside things that are very important, I think it allows you to relax in the studio and pay close attention to what’s in front of you rather than being like, oh god as soon as I get done with this session I have to go and make a credit card payment so they don’t ding my credit report. It’s small weird details like that I think that can play people and they don’t really think about it too much because it’s just a part of their day to day life. Something on the outside, some external force that is creeping into your mind as you're doing the session, I think it manifests itself through you and can affect the people in your session because you behave in a particular way. When you remove those things or have those things in check, you can be relaxed, you can be yourself, and you can get out of your own way and let things happen naturally. When that happens, I think that people get the best of you ,and you help bring out the best in others and it just becomes a reciprocal thing where everybody kind of builds up a teamwork kind of fashion that allows us to make great records

Are there Typical Routines that Allow you to get in the Mindset?

On a day to day level long ago I learned to keep a calendar. I’m kind of a late bloomer and for some of these things I think details like that. Details like that didn’t creep up into my life until I realized I had to get my shit together, so keeping a calendar and knowing what’s going on in your life, keeping your finances in order so you don’t stress about that and those are the bigger picture things. On the small detail level before a session I always think through and have conversations with the artists and say okay what is it that you’re trying to achieve? I will go through the instrumentation on paper and layout a potential mic setup just so I am mentally in the space where I get all the technical done beforehand, then when I get into the studio I have a game plan so that we can just play.

“When I pursue things because I truly enjoy them, the money always comes later” -@Matt_Boudreau

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What makes a Great Mix?

The great mix is in the ear of the beholder I think because let's face it you play a mix that you think is great that you did for any other engineer, of course they are going to say, “Oh yeah, that’s cool.” Of course they aren’t going to say, “Yeah, I would have done it differently.” So if you take that element out of it and quit trying to mix for other engineers and you just mix for emotion and for what the artists wants, I think that that’s a good start. Too many times, as many of us have done, I’ve focused on the wrong things. You think oh I’m going to do this because all the other engineers are going to like this, well that’s the wrong position to be mixing from.

Jam Session 

Q- What was holding you back at the start?
A -Access to equipment and then that changed because I started to work for a Pro Audio Sales company and I was able to borrow equipment over the weekends.

Q - What does recording look like to you today?
A -For me after going through various experiences over the years, my primary thing that I do now is mix and master out of a room in my house that if you saw it, you’d love it because of it’s oddball shape and sloping ceiling. But when I do track, I’m a freelancer. I will asses out the budget for my client and their aesthetic and what’s important to them and I’ll present them with a range of options

“You gotta keep your cool and see it from their perspective, you cannot make it about you” -@Matt_Boudreau

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Q- What was some of the best advice you got early on?
A - There’s technical advice and there’s career advice. I used to work out of this guy’s studio, and old friend Buddy Salmen in San Francisco. I used to bring bands there and record. I remember in my early days there Buddy stand by me and would making these hand gestures telling me about how I should make my mix super deep and super wide.

Q - Q- Share with us a recording tip, hack, or secret sauce.
I think for me concentrate on your monitoring set-up. I think that is key. I think that wherever you’re mixing, make sure your monitoring environment is dialed in. These guys I came across, the Sonar Works people, they make a room analyzing plugin combo that allows you to take a room and find out what the strengths and weakness are from an EQ perspective and it creates an inverse EQ curve that’s applied to the back end of your mix to take those anomalies out of your mix that you might be adding to your mix based on a funky room

The great mix is in the ear of the beholder I think” -@Matt_Boudreau

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Q -Share a favorite hardware tool for the studio
 I’m not a giant audio file person, but I do own a pono player. I was one of the early kickstarter people, I got a Willie Nelson signature pono player. I love bringing that in and make it so that depending on the type of music that we’re doing and the type of band I’m working with, I like it when they show up and I’ve set the mood with some music. Most of the time with rock records and americana records, you can’t go wrong with some old Stones, ya know? People come in and you’ve got that playing and you’ve got things set up and the lights are done the right way and you’ve got the room laid out, people walk in and go, “All right! Let’s go!” They get excited.

Q -Share a favorite software tool for the studio
One thing I really rely on in a session is Google Docs, the spreadsheet section. I’ll set up the session in a spreadsheet as far as instruments and what it's miced with, the outboard gear, all of those details and then I pull it up on my phone. So the google spreadsheet along with my phone at a session, especially when it’s just me doing all the setup becomes an indispensable tool.

“I now mix in Studio One from PreSonus which is to me one of the great rising DAW’s” - @Matt_Boudreau

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Q -Share with us a tip for the business side of the recording studio

A - I’m going to do the shameless thing and plug my own podcast. On my podcast that is a major thing that we talk about. On my show I’ve got a recommendations page and I like to point people to things like tools & books that I find helpful to build the bigger picture because recording is more than just some mics and DAW, all the gear, that’s one part of it. Those are the tools that we use but there’s a lot of other tools I think that help with the mind and the mindset, the outlook. I like to focus on the big picture of all of this stuff together and I think it all influences each different thing in the chain or the spoke on the wheel, whatever different analogy you want to use.

“Get your feet wet. Starting screwing stuff up and making mistakes because that’s how you learn” - @Matt_Boudreau

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Q- If you could go back and give yourself advice for when you were starting out, what’s the single most important thing you would tell yourself about becoming a rockstar of the recording studio?

A -  You know I didn’t come up through the stereotypical studio chain, I didn’t intern, I always tell people I helicoptered in from the top, but I think the things that took me many years to learn might have been condensed if I had to focus on being an intern or being an assistant and learning from a mentor. I think having a mentor of some type is really crucial. If we had time machines and i could go back, I would meet up with myself and say, “Look, you need a mentor and you need to be a gracious student.” I think that as a result of being a self taught engineer it’s just taken me longer than it has the average person.

Twitter - @Matt_Boudreau

Big Thanks to Tyler Cuidon & Merissa Marx for this week's episode!!