In this 10th edition of The Compressed Interview, I had the opportunity to talk to Gary Stout. Gary has a wide experience in different fields, including the audio industry as a recording engineer, producer and sound designer. He has worked in several projects in a large number of countries such as the UK, Japan, United States, Uganda, amongst others. At the moment, he is working in education, but audio will always be his passion. You’ll learn more about some of these projects on the interview:
Threshold: Getting Started
J: How did you get started in audio? What was your first job and how did you get it?
G: My first job was working as a runner at Studio 55 in Los Angeles, on Melrose Avenue, it’s closed now, but it used to be owned by David Kershenbaum, a famous producer in LA. I was picking up burgers, cleaning up the toilets, doing whatever needed to be done in the studio. Eventually, I ended up in the control room one night, and you start marking up tape boxes, writing track sheets… there is a proper apprenticeship. I started cleaning the toilets as many people in LA do… and it was great. You learn how a studio works, you learn how to talk to people, you learn how to be sociable, how to get things done, how to be part of a team. I loved it, I was 18, and it was amazing. I got it through college, I went to the School of Music, I was in a recording program and it was an unpaid internship, I worked the first two months for free, and then they decided to start paying me.
Attack: Things to discuss
J: How did you know this was the industry that you wanted to work in?
G: From when I was a kid, I messed around with a 4-track back in the 80’s. When I was 7 years old, I used to cut the tape, put it back together. I’ve always loved audio, and I was in bands, I was programming with MIDI back in the ’85 when I was still in high school, I’ve always loved audio, I still do.
Release: Talking about the good stuff
J: What has been your favorite project to work on and why?
G: I’ve got two. The first one was working with a British band called Suede and that was their debut album, number one, winning the Mercury Prize. That was very glam. You were really in the bubble. It was proper MTV stuff… film crews outside the studio. They were good lads; they were really good fun. I worked with them as the producer was a really good friend of mine, and I worked with him years after that. That was the dream project for when you’re in school.
The second one is a film I worked on recently, an African film called A Kalabanda Ate My Homework. We got into the Cannes Film Festival, which is just amazing.
The two brothers, who are Ugandans, were rendering this on ten-year-old laptops; I did a surround sound design for them, which was a lot of fun. We built a studio in Uganda, we borrowed pieces of equipment…the 8-channel audio Focusrite, some M-Audio speakers, and we did surround sound design for this Ugandan short. That was great, I loved it. It was very visceral, on the ground, getting your hands dirty.
Those are two of my favorite projects.
J: What would you say is the most important thing when designing sound, recording music, or any other task you usually do?
G: One of the most important things when designing sound or doing any type of recordings is to use your ears. A lot of people overlook that and look at screens. Chances are that if you put a microphone in something and it sounds good… it is good. People can sometimes overanalyze that or over-process things. It’s all about using your ears. When it comes to sound design, it is to be natural, don’t force it, don’t go for the big wow sounds when it doesn’t need a big wow sound. Try to make it all blend in, it should be transparent. Like when I was watching The Crown… it sounds absolutely amazing. It’s so on point, so subtle, and so natural; it sounds like the royal family. It’s epic.
J: What are the biggest life lessons you have learned in both your personal life and professional career?
G: You’ve got to be flexible. Now, with the way the world is going and to survive in the industry… you’ve got to change, you’ve got to adapt, to learn new skills. You’ve got to take on jobs from different spots. I’ve managed 25 years in the industry, and it has been from being diverse. From having the ability to record a punk band, or to do a classical recording, or to do a jazz band, or even working on a film. You’ve got to be flexible.
From a personal point of view is being able to work with people, taking their viewpoint and understanding. Not everyone is going to have your same point of view on what sounds good and what doesn’t. It can be sometimes hard as a designer, because you have a very fixed idea of how something should sound, but that’s often not what the client wants. They might want something that’s not natural. But your job as a designer is to deliver their vision. That’s quite an important thing to get right and try to move your ego, which can be a struggle at times. A lot of sound designers and people in music have got big egos. That’s how you get there, but you have to pin down that when you’re working with clients.
I hope you liked the interview as much as I did! Gary’s work on different countries and industries has given him great experience on the projects he has worked in, as you can see, being diverse, as he mentioned on his life lessons, is the key.
If you want to learn more about Gary, visit his profile on LinkedIn or Twitter.
Don’t miss the next interview in a couple of weeks.