Brian: On DC Music Rocks we're shining a spotlight on the great songs and incredible people behind the DC region's local music scene. And my man Sean Russell is a multi platinum engineer who has worked with Damien Marley, Bruno Mars, India Arie, Kicks, Odessa and many others and works out of cue recording studios in Falls Church, Virginia.
I first came across Sean when I was attending a Battle of the Bands competition in Hanna, Indiana. I was at a Jammin Java ...
Sean: Jammin Java.
Brian: And they announced and it was like you know Sean I want to get you on the show, man. I want to get know you a little bit more and so now I'm honored that we get to do that now, thanks for meeting me, man.
Sean: Sorry it took so long to set this up, this is fantastic.
Brian: No, they don't know that, no worries. It was just last week, don't worry about it man! (laughs)
Sean: I just wanted to give you some props man because you're doin' an amazing job of like highlighting local artist and like putting them on the show and you're extremely organized about it and I appreciate that, man, that's very cool, thank you.
Brian: Well, thanks, man, I ...
Brian: I'm blushing over here. But we gotta stop talking about me because this is about you, man, so let's get back to you. So talk about ... Now you're a recording engineer ... What does that mean, really?
Sean: That means I try to facilitate the things that artists have in their heads and record them in such a way that hopefully makes everyone look good. That's kind of the idea.
Brian: So does that mean, now ... Recording engineer technically means that you are the guy responsible for setting up the mics ...
Sean: This is true.
Brian: And doing the recording ...
Sean: This is true.
Brian: And adjusting the levels and editing things?
Sean: And editing things, yeah. In some cases, editing more things than others, sure, sure.
Brian: Depending on how it goes. Yup
Brian: Now, recording engineer doesn't necessarily mean mixing and all of the electronic computer stuff as much.
Sean: This is right. I do a fair amount of mixing but on an average day I will typically dress a studio for a producer so that different musicians coming in, be they session players or, you know, the regular type of human musician players that come in and be comfortable so they all have music stand lamps, they all have headphones hopefully that work, they all have a decent headphone box setup ... I'm picking microphones for sources so if you're an overly bright singer I'm not gonna use an overly bright microphone, that sort of thing.
Brian: I see.
Sean: I'll work with the producer, with what kind of microphones that they want because you know these different microphones we use pick up sounds in different ways and I try to make sure that everyone can hear everything and, I have a, you know, decent collection of witty one-liners that I try to throw at artists regularly to keep them on their toes.
Brian: (laughs) Like what? I want an example, come on.
Sean: There are some FCC regulations that are [inaudible 00:02:35].
Brian: Oh, they're curse words! Oh! [crosstalk 00:02:38]
Sean: Most of the time, you know, it's something like, "That was good, there was more good than bad in that," you know? Things like that
Sean: "Try not to suck as much on this one," you know what I mean? Things like that.
Brian: Right, I got you. Positive reinforcement from Shawn. (laughs)
Sean: Positive reinforcement. You gotta push the artist sometimes.
Brian: How did you get into this? Is this always been your plan?
Sean: Yeah it's funny, my uncle was a huge influence. My uncle Steve Creech ... I remember doing a demo tape at like 10, 11 years old when he had to like put a drum set together quickly with a couple of microphones but he recorded the talk back so when he pushed talk back, the talk to my headphones, pout it all on cassette tape it was just ... You know me just banging on a bunch of drums and him at the end, "Oh, that was pretty good, Shawn, let's try it again," and I kept that cassette for a thousand years, man, I gotta find that thing, it's somewhere in my house. But that kind of had the bug and then, you know, in high school, you know, you're in the band and you gotta get the demo, right? How else are you gonna get the gigs?
Brian: Of course. Yeah, true.
Sean: And I was always the guy in the band that was tryin' to record us and, you know, tryin' to task [inaudible 00:03:38] a studio 424 MK2, you know what I'm talking about, you guys ...
Brian: If they don't know what you're talking about, what does that mean?
Sean: Everyone knows the 4-track tape recorder ...
Brian: Ah, yes, oh!
Sean: Yes, still have mine and ...
Brian: Straight up tape recorder ...
Sean: Yeah, man, yeah just a little 4-track and tryin' to figure out how to get to vocal louder, you know what I mean?
Sean: I went down to the beach, moved out of this area here ... I was playing drums in a band called Porkchop and ... The Groovalistic Porkchop and I was down in Myrtle Beach doing that for a few years and that band kind of went south so I sort of went to school for a year down in Florida ... And back in 2002 I got a piece of paper saying I should know how signal flow goes and then I came back to this area
Brian: Wait, wait, translate that ... That means you got a degree?
Sean: I got a degree ...
Sean: I got a degree at the ...
Brian: Degree in what?
Sean: I mean, a degree in audio engineering is not really, you know, like a degree in broadcasting or something like that ...
Sean: It's ... You know, it's a Bachelor's. I got hit with ... It doesn't really matter, you know, when the guy's making your record you're not going to be like, "Hey, do you have papers to do this or just like, man that snare drum sounds great!"
Brian: Right. He's gonna listen to what you've done before and then if likes what you did you're hired.
Sean: Yeah! I don't think a school really matters as much maybe in this field but I did pay a lot of money for that and thank goodness I paid it all off and I came back to this are and one way or another sort of found my way working out of different studios in the area. Now right now all of my gear pretty much lives at cue recording but there's some other fantastic rooms in the area that I'll visit, like Blue Room Studios in Herndon and Bias Recording in Springfield, Dave Mallon's got a great new spot in Anondale, so being a freelance is great I can kind of move around, but I mean, a lot of my microphones and microphone pre amps and fancy compressors and things you know ... the things with the knobs. All the stuff with the knobs you see in the photos, a lot of those live at cue recording at Red Room, so, cuerecording.com
Brian: There we go, cue recording. Now what about you outside of all this recording and stuff ... Hobbies? What is life like for you outside of all that?
Sean: Sure, well you know we're coming up on hockey season. I'm not a big sports guy but the Washington Capitals are sort of my thing. My wonderful, beautiful girlfriend, Patty the angle, she's very understanding about that but I enjoy some gardening and botany in general and she and I kick it a lot ... That's a lot of the off times with her going to different events. We were just at the Vegan Soulfest this last week ... We have VegFest coming up in DC this Saturday, it's gonna be fantastic, you know ...
Sean: All of the best ...
Brian: So you're a vegetarian guy, too?
Sean: I'm a vegan actually, yeah, plant-based and it's a fantastic thing ... I thought it would be ... It's really great, you know, it's not just for the animals although, veganism is specifically a liberation for the animals but it's also for my health and the environment, man, it's incredible, especially with all the global warming and everything in the news. It's never been easier to make those changes. There's so many dairy-free options, it's incredible so I highly recommend that everybody, you know, check it out. Check out What the Health the documentary. There's a couple different great documentaries on Netflix right now, Cowspiracy ... I highly recommend you guys go to Youtube and check out Earthlings ... Yeah.
Brian: Yeah, my man, and if you're looking at dieting I just stumbled across The Obesity Code, which is a book that I've been ... that's been tremendously helpful for me at least to understand the dieting thing, too. Along with those I definitely watch the ones on Netflix, there's a lot of good stuff out there on diet, make those choices.
Sean: Definitely. Yeah, no, veganism is just an ethical position against the exploitation of animals, you know? And there's no other lifestyle you can live right now that's more beneficial for, like, not only the planet, obviously the planet and yourself but, also just animals, man, it's great.
Brian: Now, go back to the music and the recording in your life. Now, you talked about drums, you talked about podcasting and you talked about, there's been a lot of difference ... So what came first? What order did they happen in?
Sean: I guess it was, you know, playing drums and then trying to record those drums so that ...
Brian: Got it.
Sean: And then eventually ...
Brian: How old were you when you started playing?
Sean: I guess I was like nine or ten, yeah, and I had a friend drop off some drums and he, I guess, was a left-handed drummer. He left them set up left-handed and so I started toolin' around and I'm gonna confide in you right now here, I'm also ... I'm a left-handed drummer, like authentic.
Brian: Whoa! Like for real?
Sean: [crosstalk 00:07:55] hand or nothing, yeah
Brian: Whoa, so that means you got the high hat on the other side of the [crosstalk 00:07:58]? Straight up flipped, wow!
Sean: Yeah, it's like a mirror, yeah.
Brian: I'm impressed.
Sean: I got lots of people poking at me on Instagram about it, so it's ...
Brian: (laughs) I love it, a lefty. So there was drums ...
Sean: There was drums, yes.
Brian: And then you tried to record the drums and that's where the recording came in.
Sean: Well, you know one of my first memories, you know, growing up as a kid, I don't know if you remember, I'm sure some people out there ... Someone in their car is gonna remember this ... It was a Fisher-Price tan sort of ... It had a handle, it was a tape cassette that you could record. It was probably like ten inches wide, it was probably like you know this little hand held jobby and I would hold it up to the radio and I would try to record off of it and then I would try to record off that in the Speak & Spell or somethin', I was tryin' to get things happening so it's ... I've always been kind of tinkering with it. Not that I have an electrical degree or anything like that but I've always been trying to tinker with microphones and I still have some of these mics from when I was 17, 18 these EV microphones and things like that but ...
I guess from there playing in different bands until, you know ... Porkchop and then moving to Myrtle Beach and then moving out to Asheville for a little while and, yeah ...
Brian: So then after that, that's when the podcast happened once you were working in the studio?
Sean: Yeah, I'd been back here for a while and Justin Trawick approached me about doing a podcast and kind of convinced me somehow ...
Brian: And what's it for those folks that want to check it out? What's it called?
Sean: "TheCircusLife.com", the Circus Life podcast ...
Sean: ... We focus on local artists based in the area and touring national artists of course but we always try to have musicians on to play music for us ...
Sean: Oftentimes I make them perform in front of just like one microphone, like one ribbon mic in the room kind of thing, very 1955...
Brian: That's cool. Shawn, my favorite question that I always want to ask is, if you could offer one piece of advice, what would it be?
Sean: If I could offer one piece of advice just to anyone?
Brian: However you want to answer.
Sean: Okay, that's a big question. So, if I could offer one piece of advice, let's see, that's a great one. I would have to say it would be listen. So I'm a recording engineer, part of my job is just to listen, and none of us do it enough, I don't do it enough. But I guess it would be just to listen.
Brian: Got it. Listen, and meaning listen for what? Listen to what's happening? Listen for details? What are you ... Say a little more.
Sean: If you're listening, you're not talking and hopefully you're taking in as opposed to putting out and hopefully that's something that I've been trying to do for the last half of my life and getting a little better each day, maybe, [crosstalk 00:10:20] but it makes it a little easier to communicate when you're listening ...
Brian: I love it. You got two ears and one mouth and you should use them proportionally.
Sean: I love that, that's great.
Brian: There it is. Alright, and now, and for those folks that want to find out more about you, where do they go?
Sean: You could find me on Instagram just at @Seanrussell and the Facebook page Sean Russell Engineering. My website right now is kind of in disrepair but TheCircusLife.com works just fine.
Brian: That's right, check out the podcast.