Pulse has a renowned list of high profile experts, who regularly lecture on our courses. Many with interesting and varied careers, in this section of our newsletter we aim to delve into their background to get tips on how to succeed in the professional environment.
Phil Hayes: Guest Lecture Profile
Born in Wexford, the sunny south east. His talent was spotted early and was taken under the wing of lecturer and producer Martin Clancy who was then moulding a new act called Jack L. The following years he worked in both live and studio environments with top Irish acts such as The Walls, JJ72, The chalets, Gavin Friday, Paddy Casey. In 2006 Phil was asked to mix some songs for Oklahoma artist JD Thompson, the album being produced by legendary producer Lou Alder. 2009 included another number one record with BellX1 (Blue LIghts on the runway) mixing of albums by Gerry Fish, Delorentoes, One Day International and a first outing as producer with up and coming Dutch band I Kissed Charles. We at Pulse news are delighted he took time out of his busy producing schedule to give us tips and advice on what it is like to succeed in the Music Industry.
Q1. The interest in technology seems to be a big part of your DNA. Where did this influence come from? You must have driven your mother crazy taking her radio apart.
Yeah my poor mother, I used to take my cot apart and climb out underneath, I was always handy to have around for programming the video though. The technology comes from both sides, my dad was a lab technician, part time photographer and part time pilot. Uncles on my mams side were a radio officer and a harbour pilot for the merchant navy. One grandfather was a printer, the other a ships captain. I think I was destined to stare at a screen and twiddle knobs.
Q2. You started studying Physics and went on to do Sound Engineering what prompted the move?
I’m not sure Physics was ever totally for me, it was a bit of a “schools over so I suppose I better do something” kind of thing. When it came to studying sound engineering though It was very helpful as I had a good knowledge of Physics, maths and electronics. Sound engineering came sort of by accident, I saw an ad for it in the paper and thought I’d have a look round the college and studio, I was intrigued by what I saw and applied for the course. I don’t play an instrument but there was always music in the house, Opera and musicals from my mother and The Beetles and Bob Dylan from my older brother. You can’t beat a bit of Gilbert and Sullivan!
Q3. You have mixed sound for some of Ireland’s most well established bands from The Walls, Bellx1, Paddy Casey to name a few, was it hard to get your foot in the Music Industry Door initially?
I think it was a mixture of perseverance and luck. I just hung around a lot, made myself available for anything. Martin Clancy who was one of my college lectures asked if I’d be interested in working with an act he was developing. That was JackL. I ended up working with Martin, Jack and a few of Martins other acts for about 4 years. I just made various connections from there and through another lecturer in college. I guess I was lucky then in that I lived at home so was able to spend a year or so just working on stuff and not being too worried about having to make the rent, a real luxury. My first paid album recording gig made me £3.40 a day (my bus fare) and a ham and cheese sandwich, that’s true. More or less all the work I’ve gotten since then has been word of mouth or through current connections’. Irelands Music industry is very small, it paid to be versatile. Whilst I consider myself a studio engineer I thought I would give live sound a chance too. I’ve been lucky to be able to switch between disciplines, I think they complement each other really well and have learnt a lot from doing both. Live sound makes you fast, the studio allows you the chance to experiment and to be more precise”
Q4. You mixed an album for the legendary Lou Adler what was that experience like?
Lou was producing and album with an American artist that was being engineered by a good friend of mine John Hanley. John asked me to give him a hand with a few mixes, to try and bring the album to Ireland. Lou liked the mixes so I, John and JD, the artist, ended up finishing the album in Dublin. I initially just spoke to Lou on the phone, chatted about mixes and the general “vibe” he was after. It was all about the songs, all about the singer, the voice, quite old school. We did a couple of weeks “pre mixing” then Lou came over to Dublin for a week and we put the album to bed. I am often dubious about producers input but he just listened very carefully, made some telling suggestions and comments, he really added something a bit special to the album I think. An absolute gent as well and a pleasure to work with.
Q5. What exactly is the most important role of a sound engineer during live shows?
A sound engineer balances the level and tone of each microphone and audio signal created on the stage. Usually each microphone or signal would represent a specific instrument or facet of an instrument, e.g. vocals, bass drum, snare drum.
Q6. For a band like Bell X1, what’s the most important area of their live sound you want to come across during the performance?
My aim is always to translate the energy and performance of the band in a reasonably honest fashion. There is a fine balance between the ‘tricks & effects’ of live sound and achieving a level of honesty and transparency in the sound. The band are very aware of this and don’t want boxes of gadgets and gizmos to turn them into something they essentially are not. However, they do understand how the technology works and how it can work for them.
Q7. Is it different for every band?
Almost every band has a different approach to their live sound. Some want to recreate their album sonic exactly. With other bands who produce the records themselves or where someone into sound in a technical way, I’ve found that they tend to be more particular and specific about their live sound requirements. Then there are always the bands who just want you to make it loud, as loud as you can!
Q8. What are the challenges that come up during a live performance?
There are infinite possibilities with musicians’ instruments – literally anything can happen! The normal challenges are feedback issues, vocal levels (making sure the vocal can be clearly heard). The sound on stage can have a big effect on the audience sound, especially in small venues – sometimes compromises have to be made both by the sound engineer and the band. With BellX1, the specific challenge is that they are a very diverse, dynamic band. It can be tricky to keep consistency in the sound from song to song, whilst allowing each song to be different in its own way.
Q9. What has been the most challenging gig to date?
Funnily enough you would think the bigger gigs are nervier and difficult but for me that isn’t the case. I always look forward to them because you have a bigger team around you and you’re using better equipment. You get to concentrate on your job as you have great backing from PA techs and good crew around you. I guess the first time doing the point with Bell x1 was a big step and quite challenging. I did a theatre style gig a few years ago with Gavin Friday that was technically very challenging but was a very rewarding and enjoyable experience.
Q10. What are the major differences when it comes to studio vs. live sound?
There are more similarities than differences really – your working day is different but the basic tasks are the same. Studio and Live sound are essentially two very different lifestyles which use the same skills. There is often a fear of crossing over from one discipline to the other but I find they complement each other very well. In live sound you need to work faster and be prepared for any problems or challenges that may come along, whereas in studios you tend to have the luxury of time. Live sound is very “in the moment” during the performance but people forget that many hours of setup and work went into preparing for that moment. The performance itself may not compare to the studio experience, but often the preparation (sound-check) is less different than people think.
Q11. Some bands sound great in the studio and not so impressive live. How much of that is the band, and how much of it is the sound engineer?
Bands often make the choice to recreate the exact studio sound in a live situation. In this case I feel the engineer is very important – they need to understand what the band is trying to do and help them create that studio sound right from the start. Sometimes it’s simply not possible for bands to recreate the record sound in a live scenario, especially if there are things like 17 guitar overdubs and 20 backing vocals… Bands can go down the backing track route but it’s very difficult to do that and still retain a true feeling of performance dynamics and spontaneity. I saw Brian Wilson recreating Pet Sounds live – it was stunning but it took an 18 piece band of phenomenal musicians to get there. Not all bands have the opportunity or the resources to do that.
I often equate the engineer’s role to that of a goal keeper in a soccer team, or maybe a catcher in baseball. If the band has an ok engineer they will get by just fine – but if they have a really great engineer, it’s a massive edition to the team. On the other hand the best catcher in the world is no good if you can’t make any runs…
Q12. You now guest lecture for Pulse College how did you go from studio to classroom.
I went to college in a place called ATC. One of the lectures left in a hurry and the new lecturer looked at the attendance sheet and saw I was in a lot so asked to borrow my notes, which consisted of squiggles and random notes. I don’t think they were much use to him but it kept me connected to the college. About a year after leaving they asked if I would be interested in covering a few classes for someone on holidays and it went from there. I have popped in and out of lecturing ever since. It keeps me on my toes and makes me keep up to date with technology.
Q13. How did the collaboration with Pulse come about?
I met the guys in Pulse when mixing an album back in 1996 so I have known Tony and Naomi for a long time. We kept in touch and I was in and out of Pulse at various different times with bands or just to say hello. Initially I taught part of the electronics module. More recently Skippy, who I have known since he borrowed my notes at ATC, had taken over some lecturing duties in Pulse and asked me to do some guest lectures.
Q14. Which do you prefer Teaching or Studio Mixing?
I’d have to say studio work but I do enjoy teaching to, as I said it keeps me on my toes. The technology moves fast and in order to teach you really have to keep in touch with what’s happening. It’s great to get the perspective of 20 or 30 students as well, with fresh ideas and a new outlook. I tend to learn a bit from those classes which are great. They always show me up with their protools skills and knowledge of the newer equipment that’s available… makes me feels old!!
Q15. Any tips for aspiring producers and sound engineers among our readers?
If you press a button and something bad happens, the first thing to try is press the same button again.
Persevere, be versatile, and don’t be afraid of challenges. Enjoy the music…