Our CPO and co-founder Martins sat down with 6-times Grammy-awarded mixing engineer Richard Furch to discuss music, technology, mixing in stereo and Atmos. In his 20-year career Richard has worked with Prince, Frank Ocean, Jay-Z, Rick Ross, Snoop Dogg, The Game, The Weeknd to mention a few. Watch and read the full interview below.
Martins Popelis: How did you get into music, what brought you into it, and how did your career develop from there?
Richard Furch: I’m a jazz pianist basically by trade. I went to a couple of schools for audio engineering and music, namely SAE and Berkeley, and then ended up in New York, and finally here in LA. I’ve been doing mixing, and obviously engineering because that’s how everybody’s path starts for quite some time, a lot of R&B and hip-hop that you heard of, and keep going on the daily.
Martins Popelis: If you started as an instrument player, at what point, and why, and how did you turn out to be also an engineer?
Richard Furch: I was pretty good as a pianist, but I learned also that unless you’re Herbie Hancock, being a jazz pianist is quite one travel down the road. Along that line, I decided my side is on the other side of the glass. I want to be able to hang with The Cats. I want to be a Cat by helping them, by being the fifth Beatle, by being the person that makes them sound great, and that felt like it would be my calling after a while.
Martins Popelis: Do you remember what your first studio looked like? Did you build it yourself, or did you go work in other rooms, or was it a bedroom studio?
Richard Furch: The very first studio would have been like a MIDI room. I used to have the E-MU samplers, the E64s, and we were on cakewalk for sequencers at the time. That was in my bedroom in Berlin. Then many iterations of that in Boston and New York followed. My first studio where I was like, this is actually a real room, was probably here in LA. Now, we’re in this version. The Mix House is probably Version 4 or so. This is now a full-blown professional facility.
Martins Popelis: This is not only stereo. This is Atmos, right?
Richard Furch: It is Atmos. It has been always 5.1 as well before Atmos became a bigger part. It’s fully blown. There are five stereo systems here, a big system, a Phantom Focus System made by Carl Tatz, and then a couple of other smaller systems, and now added the Atmos experience.
Martins Popelis: In your career, what are some of the highlights, some of the artists, and cool projects that you’ve worked with that stand out in your memories?
Richard Furch: If I get asked like that, I have to start with the coolest, which I was Prince’s engineer for about a year. We did a couple of albums together. I also worked with Frank Ocean, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, currently Moonchild, Tobi Lou. Like I said, a bunch of great R&B, Usher, Chaka Khan, some hip-hop, Jay-Z, Outkast, that kind of stuff. It came from a start at the New York Studios, the big studios. Shout out to Sound On Sound.
That’s where it started for me to blossom.
There’s an unspoken rule in the music industry, basically. Success chooses you.
Once you have a hit in one style, more of that work appears. Even though you might have not set out to say, okay, I only want to make hip-hop and R&B artist records, that’s what happened. Now, we’re adding a little bit more of the Asian markets too. We have K-pop, and we also have a bunch of C-pop, which is Chinese records. I work with their A-list artists like JJ Lin, Jim, Tanya Chua, et cetera, et cetera. People from that world know these artists quite well. I’ve been fortunate with a very, very good range of artists and projects.
Martins Popelis: How did the first connection and your first project with the first big artist in your life come about? Do you remember that story?
Richard Furch: I do. It was designed, it was planned in the way that I came out of school at Berkeley. I went to New York. I got the job as the runner, and I made it through the ranks. At the time, basically, what happened was a bunch of people would book the studio and then conveniently forget that they need to hire an engineer. The assistant engineers in that studio would get first dips. They’re like, “Can you do it?” Of course, we were all great engineers, but we didn’t have the exposure yet.
I can honestly say I worked on The Blueprint album for Jay-Z because of that. I worked on Outkast because of that. People didn’t bring engineers. Now, they have me. I’m a lucky man. Moving on with that – and the same thing happened with Prince, basically. He came to visit another artist, Christina Milian. She said, “Prince might come by tonight.” I’m like, “Yeah, sure, of course.” Then he did, and we played the song we were working on. He said, “Who makes that?” I’m like, “I did.” He’s like, “Then I need your number.” Sometimes it’s just that easy, and sometimes obviously you have to go to a label, go to a manager. Can I make your record, please? Let’s do this, blah, blah, blah. It was very natural in these particular cases.
Martins Popelis: Any cool stories that come to mind from working with Prince? Anything you can share, funny or out of the ordinary?
Richard Furch: I would have to kill you, of course. One of the funnier moments that I thought was always cool was we were sitting in this room doing guitar overdubs on some of the stuff we were working on. There’s a TV in the background and VH1 was running. Accidentally, or I don’t know, the universe puts that there. They started playing the 20 best Prince videos countdown while we were recording guitars with this new record.
The funny part is we both noticed it and we’re like, “That’s weird.” Then we do the stuff, and all of a sudden, he’s like, “Stop.” Takes the remote and turns up the sound, and it’s a Windows Cry. He looks at it for a while. Then he tells me a little bit about how they did the mirror effect and the dancing that he’s done, and then he looks at it a little bit more. Then he just turns it back up and like, “Okay, so where were we?” They continue making the record. They were really beautiful moments like that in there. It’s fun.
Martins Popelis: Awesome. Let’s talk about sound. You’ve been working in a lot of rooms and had the opportunity to work with a lot of great talent. I mean, all the rooms sound different as far as I’ve seen them. How does it work for you? How important is it for you? Can you work in any room? Do you prefer to work in rooms that have accurate sound? How does it feed into your process?
Richard Furch: At the beginning of my career, especially when I was a freelance engineer – let’s forget about mixing for a while. You start as an engineer, and you start leaving the nest of your recording studio, which was Sound On Sound at the time. You start going around. You try to give yourself a leg up. In my case, that was bringing these speakers around, the Pro X, the U100s.
Martins Popelis: Oh, you still have them?
Richard Furch: I still have them, the two pairs, because I think they’re fantastic speakers, and brought them around to every session. The interesting part is that really fast, you realize, even though you’re bringing your own speakers, none of that sounds the same. It’s like your best chance, but still, the low end is fully different. Just the way they fit together with whatever studio you’re in is not the same at all. Again, it’s your best chance.
Over time, I realized, okay, so I can’t really, really rely on that. Mostly, I relied on headphones like DT 770s, et cetera, just to double-check stuff. Over time, the only real answer was to build my own room. In this room, in this version of the Mix House, I’ve been here for 12 years now. Now, I know this room inside and out. Every record that comes out here doesn’t need to be car checked.
Actually, I am against the car checking in the way. When you go around studios, it is really helpful if you know your car. Of course, listen there because again, that’s your best chance to compare it. Really, it’s only a crutch for the fact that you are not comfortable in that room. Once you’re actually comfortable in a room, having a car check is not all that important. I say this half laughingly, but also really true is if you really think that the car check tells you the truth, then just mix in your car, and now we can. Take your laptop and feed it into the car.
If you really believe that’s the answer, why even spend time in the studio? It sounds funny, but actually, I think that way. At this time, after all this time in this room and the way I know this room translates, I don’t car check. I just know it turns out right and it’s actually one of my most important parts of the instrument. The studio becomes the instrument, and I don’t really want to work anywhere else for mixing purposes. Now, if you need to record somewhere else, I’ll travel to all the great rooms in town. That’s fun, but for the final, I’ll end up here mostly.
Martins Popelis: Isn’t it then also true that you just have now enough experience in general and enough knowledge of your room or you just probably know how it’s going to sound in the car? In the early day when you were just beginning, would you also say that as advice for somebody who’s just starting out, not to do car checks, just get to the point where you know your room and you trust it?
Richard Furch: No. If you know you have a room that is compromised, it’s very, very hard to learn that, almost like perfect pitch. You can’t really learn it. What you do is you constantly work around it. If you know you have a compromised room, a car check might be a great thing for you. Once you get close to a room that you actually trust, a car check is not really that valuable anymore. Actually, I did that for a while and it never told me anything. I say, okay, that’s what I just heard, so I guess I’m good. It almost became a waste of time at that time.
Martins Popelis: That makes sense. When you didn’t have this room, then you were working in the other rooms and you were learning that they all sound different. How did you deal with that?
Richard Furch: Cry into my pillow. No, it’s hard.
I want to say that translation is the hardest thing to understand. The fact that you could work on something for eight hours, and then you go into another environment, it sounds totally different. That is heartbreaking.
That’s the exact right word. I’m like, you put your sweat and tears and all your decisions into it, and then it’s just not that? That is hard. That is something that I had tried to avoid by dialing in this room.
Especially at the beginning of your career when you’re trying to figure out, is it me? Is it because I’m not good, or is it because I don’t hear it enough? That’s a very confusing situation to be in. Then to strive for translation, is impossible because none of your systems sound good. It’s just hard. It’s exhausting. There are these memes where people cry in their car seats because they just made the worst mix that they actually spend a lot of time on. Those people are not bad. They are good people, good musicians, good whatever. If you have a compromise listings environment, it’s exhausting. That’s what it is.
Martins Popelis: I can understand that. Let’s talk about sonar works in your room. You have this great room. You’re used to it. Now, you’ve had some experience with our latest multi-channel version of the software. How would you describe your experience so far? Do you see even what benefit it brings to you?
Richard Furch: When you guys introduced me to the multichannel version, I just had been mixing in Atmos for about a year or so. Like everybody, we’re making up our ways. There are some ideas that came down from Dolby, some that came from Apple, some from other engineers, and everybody is trying to make the best room, and some swear by their speakers, some don’t.
In my very specific situation, I had to combine a new Atmos system with a very, very dialed-in stereo system that I already had. I knew I couldn’t start over. I also knew I couldn’t really use the same speakers, partly because it would be insanely expensive, but that’s one thing. Partly also because my speakers are so tuned and so dialed-in that even if I have bought this –
Martins Popelis: You’re super used to them, right?
Richard Furch: Exactly. They translate fantastically. Whatever I send out to mastering comes back untouched. I really trust these speakers. Even if I had bought the same speakers, because they are so tuned and there are a couple of extra subwoofers on them, even those other speakers wouldn’t be the same. They would look the same, cool. You would be pretty close, but it wouldn’t just be the right answer.
I decided, okay, to get my feet wet – I already had a 5.1 system with extra JBL speakers. These are the 308s for that matter. I think Chuck Ainlay uses the same ones in Nashville. Maybe that’s how it came up, but I don’t actually recall. I decided, let me just buy more of those, so basically add to the 5.1 system with more speakers of the same kind. At least we’re moving forward towards them and we’re not starting over.
We get pretty close. We did a bunch of stuff with time aligning, measuring and recording clicks, shifting speakers, and putting little delays in. It worked pretty well for that matter. What you told me, we now have a multichannel version of the Sonarworks SoundID Reference plugin, which I knew from headphone tests that I tried that was so far before that. It’s like, now, that’s interesting. Now maybe there’s a way to actually get closer with less work, with more precision, and possibly automatic, because you have all the microphone measurements going on. I was like, “Let’s try that.”
What was really interesting was – we were shooting for something that I already know what it should sound like because I’m happy with the stereo side. I didn’t really want to change that, nor did I think it should be, but I was really interested in getting the surround speakers and the height speakers, of course, to be in that same kind of world, to arrive at – the sound would arrive at the exact time, at the same time, at the listening precision. It would be very similar in overall frequency response. The whole system would go from pretty close to like this is the kind of static image of this alignment that we’re looking for. That’s exactly what the software did.
Martins Popelis: Do you want to tell a little more about how you set it up for the speakers that you already knew?
Richard Furch: Basically, when we first experimented with our setup here, and when you guys came in to align the system, we were successful in finding the right measurements for all these speakers. It really quite quickly did the thing that we’re looking for, which is we’re tightening up the fades between the whole thing and the EQs, etc. That’s good. Actually, what it did – at the same time, we’re looking for a target curve that was unfamiliar to me. I was like, “I understand what is technically happening, and I like it. I like the tightness of it all”. This was after a couple of good nights’ sleep. I’m trying to figure out what the move here is. I was like, “I need the target curve to be familiar to my left and right alignment because I trust it so much.”
Now, if you had a room where your left and right was questionable, you could use obviously the software to make the most awesome alignment you could ever have. I already had that. Basically, in my particular system, I was like, we need to clone these speakers 11 times or something. After a little bit of experimentation, that’s what I did. I chose a target curve that was familiar to me and was compatible with my left and right alignment already. All of a sudden, everything came into focus, so to speak. The good things left and right, stayed the way they were. Actually, they got a little better, because now you got a little bit more of a correlation between left and right. Then the other speakers joined the pack and became focused very much without overlapping frequencies or masking. Everything became a little cleaner, tighter, and more accurate. The overall tuning was what I knew so well from this studio.
Martins Popelis: Awesome. You sound like a happy user.
Richard Furch: This is super awesome because you explained to me what you were trying to do, I figured out what I needed to do, and we met in the middle. It is definitely an improvement on that side.
Martins Popelis: Let’s talk about Atmos a little bit. You say you mixing it already for a little over a year, I guess?
Richard Furch: Yeah, I would say about that.
Martins Popelis: How did you first get into it? How do you feel about it? Where do you think it’s going?
Richard Furch: That’s good. How did I get into it? Actually, it was by accident, because at the very beginning a friend of mine said, “You need to have an Atmos room.” I’m like, “Okay, let’s do it.” Then the price tag was 60 grand, and then please open your ceilings, which is all – sorry, they’re all covered with fabric, etc. I’m like, no, thank you.
Not doing that. Then over time, after I realized that everybody was trying to make their way, I was like, there are other ways. First, you have to have two machines. You have the render on a different computer, etc. It was a huge hardware requirement that I was like, apart from the money, which I – the money I could spend. It also basically meant dismantling the room that I have and changing it, and I didn’t like that idea very much.
Over time, Dolby loosened their restrictions and basically said hey, you can actually do this on one computer, and hey, you can actually use any speakers you want. Sure, there’s better and worse, but you can. It’s like, okay, so now we can explore it. Then all of a sudden, a couple of projects came in. They’re like, “Can you do the Atmos thing?” I’m like, “No. Crap.” All of a sudden, you felt like there was an actual need. That’s when I was like, okay, let’s get this happening.
I did it in about – I set it up in about six weeks, I would say. It took a little while to get started. I was like, “Why are they doing this?” Even though I am very, very familiar with the 5.1 surround system that I had, it’s quite a dimension, literally, in height, whatever. It’s quite different to handle.
I would say the whole transition was from I can’t do Atmos to like, okay, we got this – it was about six weeks to two months. Then just like every new technology, it’s a huge learning curve of what are we going to do creatively.
Why are we doing this? What are we trying to achieve? It was very clear that at least as of last year, everybody really wanted the stereo mix, just bigger, just more round, more kind of like, okay, it should be Atmos, but please don’t change it too much.
If you follow my masterclasses, what I do a lot about – how I describe my mixing style is I take your rough mix, which sounds like this, and I do this. I explode it and make it wider and bigger and hopefully clearer and more impactful, all the good things that you’re trying to do in mixing. Then I realized to myself, that’s exactly what Atmos is. Now we’re just doing it to the stereo mix and making it even bigger. All of a sudden, I felt, oh, there’s a purpose. This is the actual idea of what we’re trying to do. I’ve been doing that for a very, very long time. Just now we’re doing it on more and more speakers. All of a sudden, creatively, it was very, very exciting.
Martins Popelis: I just wanted to ask, have you noticed any new creative ideas or dimensions come up because of that ability to mix in space rather than this left-right?
Richard Furch: Yes, I would say maybe the number one difference or change or advantage is – part of stereo mixing is making sure that everything that’s in the record actually fits between the two speakers, which obviously requires a bunch of techniques and care for that matter. In an Atmos environment, the beautiful part is a part that’s really hard to fit into these two speakers. All of a sudden you go, “Okay, fine, we’ll just pull it out, pull half left backgrounds, maybe a guitar kick.” We heard a drum fill in an earlier song that just all of a sudden comes from a totally different place. All of a sudden, creatively speaking, we can solve tasks. We can solve them differently because there’s a bigger canvas.
Because most records have parts that are interacting, like questions, answers kind of things or layers together, if I can put these layers into a different 3D environment and just have more space for it all, that job becomes easier. Now, once that job becomes easy, it also means now we have space to add other things. What I like, for instance, in EDM, you come into the drop, and there might be something like a snare roll, more snare roll, and it ends up maybe let’s say in a cymbal in a little explosion, or hopefully a big explosion. Let’s make that a big explosion. What is a cool move is to have it come from the back and then go. The cymbal comes in the front maybe. Then the tail of that splashes over the whole field back into the back.
These are cool movements that you can do that add to the actual instrumentation that is already there. That’s how creativity can get a little bit more elevated there.
Martins Popelis: How do you feel about where Atmos is right now? Is it growing fast, growing slowly? Do you feel it’s here to stay?
Richard Furch: I think, first of all, the positive side, it’s growing. Actually, I’m starting to hear both of my work, but also, obviously, there are a lot of hit records out there. I’m starting to hear quality and ideas that actually goes far beyond, in a good way, to the stereo mix, where all of a sudden there are records where I’ll go back between stereo and Atmos. I’m like, “The Atmos is definitely better. I don’t know exactly why or what’s going on, but it’s actually better.”
Like the stereo better. I don’t know, maybe we’re just better at it because we’ve been doing it for 40 years. I don’t know.
Martins Popelis: That probably factors in, right?
Richard Furch: Yeah, it’s practicing. We’re all practicing. All the engineers I talk to, we’re all going like, “Have you heard this?” or, “How did you do that?” or, “I did this mix yesterday, and it did this really weird thing. Are you doing the same thing?” We’re trying to talk. We’re all learning and trying to make it better. On the positive side, that is beautiful. On the more complicated side, of course, most people don’t even have a stereo speaker anymore.
Martins Popelis: Studios are moving to 9.1.6 and people are moving to mono.
Richard Furch: Exactly, or we can record a 192 and everybody listens to mp3s. Those are funny things, but it’s true. I have 11 speakers here, or I don’t know, probably more with all of the stereo stuff. As a professional, that was not easy to set up. I was like, “What are we trying to do here?” I’m just going to tell you that a normal mortal person that is just a music fan has absolutely zero chance to set up an array like this and to really experience an actual Atmos mix in speakers, where I think it is the most powerful. When you sit a client down in the middle of the speakers – and these clients are like, “Why are we doing this?”. You just press play and they’re like, “Okay, I get it now. That’s cool.” On headphones, that experience is much more limited. It’s not bad or anything.
The new Harry Styles record, which I did not do, sounds great. I hear it. I’m like, “Wow.” I think that’s one where I like the Atmos mix better than the stereo mix. These things are subtle in a way where I think many music lovers don’t really know what they should be listening for. Some might even say, I don’t know, “Is there a difference?” Maybe.
The funny part is though when you look at Facebook or whatever, it’s not like all music lovers are saying, “Oh, Atmos, finally.” No, most people actually don’t even know that it really is happening. There is education needed. There is education needed as to what are we listening for.
Check out this stereo mix. Cool. Now check out this Atmos mix. Do you hear where the bells are higher there? I’m like, “That’s really cool.” Normal music fans might not notice that. Then comes the surround dimension of it all. That is very hard to hear. Even if I pan something to the back, and it comes clearly out of my back surround speakers, you cannot hear that on headphones. You hear the sound changing a little bit. There is a binaural component. That is true, but you can’t really say, hey, I heard that coming from the back. It doesn’t really work like that yet.
I know they’re working on it with the HRTF profiles, with the Sony 360s, but we’re still probably a generation of hardware, like specific headphones, away from that being really impactful. That doesn’t mean though that we should stop. It just means we should get better at it.
Martins Popelis: With seeing all the big-weight tech companies getting behind this – as you said, six months ago it wasn’t sounding maybe as good as it does now. Six months from now, it’s probably going to be even better.
Richard Furch: I really hope so. Obviously, I have high hopes for that. The interesting part is that the codecs that are being delivered on phones, etc, are slightly different from the Dolby codec that we have here. It’s a hard task to make that all translate again, but I think we’re moving in the right direction there.
Martins Popelis: Let’s hope we do. I’m totally looking forward to the moment when the consumers have access to all the brilliant Atmos mixes that are being created in rooms like these.
Richard Furch: I really hope so. There’s a beauty in listening to stuff in surround and always was, in 5.1, etc. Obviously, the beauty of Atmos is that it is scalable from a headphone system to a whatever, 11 point something system, while the other systems, 5.1, 7.1, etc, were pretty much fixed. You either have that kind of system at home or you didn’t. That’s it. Considering we have a format now that could live in all these places, I have high hopes that it will propagate better and that the music listener, the music fan at one point goes, “You know what? Music sounds better than it did in 2015.” I’m not knocking 2015, but our job is to make stuff better over time. That’s what I hope will happen.
Martins Popelis: What’s the best Atmos mix you have heard so far?
Richard Furch: That’s a very good question. Musically speaking, there’s some really great stuff on the Olivia Rodrigo albums, or album, because there’s only one – but on the songs. Then like I just said, the first one that actually really impressed me quality-wise was probably the Harry Styles record. There’s something, not just the creative part of what they did with it, but also the clarity, the fact that we somehow lost that little random ambient sound that we had maybe, like I said, six months ago. I think somehow they solved something there. It really translated really well. I was impressed. That one I actually heard first on the AirPods Pros, not the Maxes.
Martins Popelis: You heard it on the headphones.
Richard Furch: I have, yeah. It was beautiful. That was cool. The most amazing part was like, oh, here’s something great on the AirPod Pros. I’m like, oh, we’re making progress into the place where most people will hear it. That’s why it stuck out to me so, so much really, because that’s an important part. You don’t want to just have more creativity at the cost of some kind of technology part. If it’s more creative but sounds worse, then that’s weird. We can’t do both.
Martins Popelis: It’s an interesting question. You mentioned creativity. Coming back to the speaker and sound question, there is this debate, but when you talk to people and ask about how important is accurate sound in the context of creating music. Then one opinion that comes up often sometimes is that generally, it’s more about – it has to be more about the creativity. If the creativity is good, if it’s great, then the bad sound is not necessarily going to kill it. Then it’s blending into a story of hey, but this neutral reference sound or whatever you want to call it is not necessarily what you have to have. If you have a great musical idea, it’s just going to shine through. How do you feel about it? Is it true? Do you need accurate sound to be able to let the creativity shine through?
Richard Furch: It’s a complicated question. Of course, the creativity, whatever, is in the record. Musically, creatively speaking, is – it trumps everything, of course. That doesn’t mean that – my job is not to rewrite the song. My job is to make the song as powerful, as creative as I can with what’s there. Technically speaking, that’s part of my tool to get there. I am a person who can’t be ignored. Basically, if we’re finally at the end of a mix or end of something, and somebody has the creativity and it rules but sounds odd, of course, they win. My job is to try to get both there.
Martins Popelis: Makes sense.
Richard Furch: It’s the same as if somebody says a hit record might always be a hit record, even if it sounded a little bad. True, but that doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t try to make it sound the best I can. For that matter, to go circling back to what we started with, translation is the hardest thing to do. I actually would even say there is no such thing because you can’t control translation because there are millions of devices in the world that sound better or worse.
Like Bob Ludwig said at one point – he made some kind of inquiry into that. He figured out, more or less statistically – it was JBL he was working with. He said it’s not like all speakers are bass-heavy or all speakers are now high-end-heavy. Statistically speaking, they’re all pretty even, but a lot of them are wrong in very many ways. He says you should just try to make the best-sounding record, and the translation will mean it will sound bad on some and it will sound good on some. That’s the end where you can control it currently. At the same time, you know statistically speaking there are a lot of different systems. What I can actually do with moving a fader, moving an EQ, or moving a compressor cannot currently be influenced by translation, because it will be wrong on some devices. There is just nothing I can do about that. I try to let that idea of translation go. I just try to go like, what sounds good? I hope that the people enjoying it will luckily be in front of a device that sounds pretty good. That’s where hopefully you come in.
Martins Popelis: You certainly have a few ideas regarding that aspect of the world.
Richard Furch: I think it is important.
Martins Popelis: I would very much like Sonarworks to be the company that helps clean up that circle of confusion, because technically speaking, there is no more a need for us to live in a world where translation problem exists. We can solve it. Work needs to be done.
Richard Furch: I’m with you. I think it’s important. Even if you only take some of those devices off the market, if you basically change the curve of the whole thing, make it flatter – but there are still – on the outliers there are obviously some terrible systems. Then you still help the world. We’re trying. Like I said earlier, we’re trying with our little part in the world. On making records, you’re making software helping people make better records, make better music. This is all we can shoot for in our little place in the world, making a little better place for everybody and making a positive impact.
Martins Popelis: That’s a beautiful statement. We certainly I think are very much thinking along the same lines at Sonarworks. Hopefully, we will succeed.
Richard Furch: You will.
Martins Popelis: For somebody who is just starting in music, what would be your one, two, or three pieces of advice in terms of how they should think about their career to be successful or what they should or shouldn’t do? From your experience, what do you think is the key?
Richard Furch: A person that is trying to do what I’m doing or a producer or a musician? There are facets to it.
Martins Popelis: Let’s take an engineer.
Richard Furch: An engineer in 2022, somebody who just gets started, I think you have a lot of really exciting opportunities in the way that, for instance, most software that you need to do your job as I do is relatively cheap, certainly very cheap considering if you compare it to the time when I came up. The great news is you can literally – with a laptop, with the software that’s available, and with time, you literally have the same setup that I have. You can practice things that were hard to do at the time. You had to sneak into studios, and get studio time. You can actually practice at home. It’s all about connection.
How that connects with what I just said about you and your work, it’s – just try to be positive, like, how do I add to the community around me? How do I help a musician be a little bit more successful? How do I help another engineer who could be your competitor? Once you move that thing out of your mind and go – how about that could be your best friend, and maybe you could do this together. Hey, listen to my mix. Tell me how I can improve it. He tells me the same thing. I think that’s a better way to insert yourself into this music scene. You will come out not with every gig. You’re not going to be the most successful right away, whatever. You’re going to be the most loved and valuable part of this community. That will come back in spades.
That is a way to expand your brand, even though I don’t like that word – your work as a person in this field. That’s the way to do it. In a way, some parts are harder. There are not that many studio gigs around that you can learn from people or be – for instance, I was lucky. I walked in on a Jay-Z session, and all of a sudden, be part of one of the most successful hip-hop albums of all time. That’s lucky. It was the preparation meets opportunity. I was not lucky for the job, because I wanted a job. I worked really hard on getting a job. Getting that particular gig meant to be there. These kinds of things are important, and they’re a little harder right now because certainly, you’re not going to make all of that happen in your bedroom. Let’s put it like this. Jay-Z or let’s say Gunna is not going to walk into your bedroom tomorrow. That is pretty sure.
Martins Popelis: Nowadays I guess there are way more different ways for people how to connect and how to find each other. It’s definitely a different world, to some extent, but the principle still applies.
Be of value to other people, and they will see it. They will open doors to you because it feels good to help somebody.Richard Furch
It really does. Nobody really wants to not help you. Those are weird people who don’t want to help you. The people who do, they will in turn – you will help them. They will help you. All of a sudden you have this connection that will create something together. When the opportunity comes, especially in the case when there is more than one person, more than one engineer, for instance, guess who they’re going to call? They’re going to call you, not some dude who said, “I can’t help you with that. Good luck.” That is the most important part. Now more than ever. It’s harder to realize which one is good knowledge, I get that. It is there, and you can find it. There’s no excuse to not knowing stuff. You have time to experiment. What a beautiful time to get started. As long as you’re patient and realize that this won’t happen in two months, but it could happen, very, very likely in two years or five years, then that’s a decent outlook, I think. What more chance do you want?
Martins Popelis: Sounds very inspiring. Now you have mixed in Atmos for quite some time. Are there any Atmos-specific mixing tips that you have discovered that you think might help somebody who is just starting in Atmos?
Richard Furch: One of the interesting parts that you have to be very careful about is – I mentioned earlier we’re looking for a bigger, more expansive version of this stereo mix, at least in many cases. These might be delivered as stereo stems from the original mix. Now wouldn’t it be beautiful if you just align those stems and pan them into space and everything would be done? You just print and you’re good. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. Unfortunately, it’s not.
What you will figure out pretty quickly is even if you make no changes to the actual stems, the actual resulting Atmos mix will sound quite different than your original stereo mix. Basically, in order to do quality control, you have to figure out how far I have to change the stems in order for them to appear as if we were never there. It’s a very long process to figure out how to do that. I notice very often that the vocals, especially if they come in on a stereo stem, always seem to be a little softer in the Atmos mix if I just don’t do anything. I tend to boost them a little bit. I tent to put some more ambiance on it into the high channels. I might even put the dry part more into the height and also more into the center – a little bit of the center channel. Obviously, that adds a little bit of level to them officially, if they come out of different channels.
That kind of setup together makes them appear as if I had done nothing to them but realize that there is a difference. That is really hard to take a stereo stem of any kind, so let’s say drums, and just put it into an Atmos mix and for it to come out the same. Every single time you change a binaural setting, it changes where it appears in the Atmos system.
Also, even if you set the binaural setting to off, it is also not quite the same where it lands. Learning how that happens, learning that the important parts of the record, vocals, drums, space, they have to be in the same place where they were before so that you have then the opportunity to take, let’s say, guitars or choirs or paths and move them around a little bit more, that’s important. Always double-checking, okay, so let me print one, listen to it on the Apple headphones, etc, because that can be only listened to offline, not in real-time, unfortunately, that’s important – and just knowing that you might not be making changes. You might actually just compensate in order for it to arrive as if you had done nothing. That is the process. That is the learning curve. That’s why it’s a little bit more complicated than just a stereo mix.
Martins Popelis: Thank you. I’ve been enjoying this conversation on my part and hope you had fun as well.
Richard Furch: Yes, absolutely. Thank you so much for stopping by the mix house here in LA. I had a great time. This helps me. You are helping me make better records. That’s what it’s all about.
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You can learn more about Richard by visiting his website www.richardfurch.com
Richard Furch’s masterclasses are available on www.emixing.com