Brian Frederick Advises Remaining Egoless and Listening with Your ‘Earballs’

Producer/engineer and Recording Connection mentor, Brian Frederick (Wiz Khalifa, Isabella Summers, DJ Quik) is the co-owner of Hybrid Recording Studios in Santa Ana, CA where he teaches the both the Ableton and Pro Tools programs. Having come up in the industry as an audio engineer, today Brian describes himself as a “dual threat,” a producer/engineer who can man either, or both positions, depending on what the client needs.

A commitment to putting one’s ego on the backburner is a core principle in Brian’s approach. In fact, ego-less-ness, for this audio innovator, is intrinsically tied to how well one listens and keys into what the song itself has to reveal:

So much of what we do is letting the ego go… Just shut your brain up and listen with your ear balls. Listen and then feel, what is it telling you? That’s what I try to give the students, a framework that they can approach any genre, really any gig, and say, “Okay, here’s my start, middle, and end. How can I approach this? How can I put an estimate on my time? And how do I take this emotional output of an artist and help them convey that without getting my ego all caught up in the mix?”

Back to when Brian was coming up in the industry, working at a prestigious recording studio in Los Angeles, he credits his success on his ability to adhere to the dictates of his role as engineer, without stepping out of bounds. Interestingly enough, it was Brian’s ability to not have to be “the man” that gave enabled him to garner insights straight from some of the greats:

I found myself in rooms with DJ Mustard, DJ Quik, and all these big producers. If I would have gone in with the approach of being, ‘I’m going to be the producer,’ I would never have been in those rooms. But because I was an engineer, I got to see behind the curtain how these guys worked in their approaches and then adapt that to the way I produce. And it increased my efficiency and my skillset as a producer exponentially to be in a room not with someone else thinking I was another producer competing or even just trying to steal their tricks, but instead was there to help support whatever it was that they were doing.”

And for those who believe just having stellar engineering chops is what will make artists and producers come back to time and again, Brian wants to disabuse you of that notion:

It’s expected that everybody that sits in that chair is going to make things sound amazing. That’s the expectation. If you don’t meet that, then you don’t deserve to be in the room in the first place. But what makes people special, what makes people want to bring [artists] around again and again, request you and come back to you, is the way you make them feel in the room. You don’t do that by putting yourself first. You do that by putting the client’s needs first… [Creating] the environment the client needs to be able to perform the way they need to perform, because it’s them emoting, it’s them giving their all of something that means everything to them, into this performance. And if they’re worried about how you’re judging their performance in the back of their head while they’re trying to perform, there’s no amount of lights that you can turn off, or candles you can light that are going to make them comfortable enough to keep wanting to perform in your presence, especially if they think that you want to do something different with it.”

Brian advises his students/externs not to stress out when it comes to honing their engineering chops and to give their ears the time it takes to become attuned to the work:

[When it comes to engineering] really across the board, everything is voltage and volume and amplitude related…It’s a very simple framework, and from there you can be creative with the process. But you need the process. I’ll be hammering that home for weeks and weeks and weeks, and then see them [his externs] on the third or fourth week of listening to a compressor and twisting the knobs and finally saying, ‘Why didn’t I hear that before?’ and getting genuinely excited by it, or like, ‘Oh, I hear the mud cleanup on the bass.’ And it’s just like, yeah, don’t let force what you think it should be. Just shut your brain up and listen for a little while and let it tell you what it’s being.

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