This month, we’re turning the spotlight to our Audio Engineering graduate, Brian Wall. Brian is an audio engineer, producer and musician currently living and working in Los Angeles. We chat with Brian about his exclusive partnership with producer Ryan Lewis, his advice on how to cultivate successful collaborations and opportunities in the industry as well as his latest adventures in the land of audio.
SRA: You’ve been down in LA working with Ryan Lewis for the past year or so, how did you two first get connected?
BW: We met in Seattle in the spring of 2019. I had just rented a studio in the Georgetown neighborhood, moved my gear in and before I could set anything up the landlord asked if I also wanted to see the room next door, which was a bit larger. I went to see the place and found out it was Ryan Lewis who was moving out. He ended up showing me around, we talked about my intentions with the space, bonded over our similar musical interests, mutual friends and exchanged contact info.
Later that year, Ryan called me out to engineer a session for him at his private studio and it went really well. After that session we got together at my place to share music and talk about our 2020 goals. He told me about his record deal with Sony and invited me onboard to engineer and assist the production of the project with him. I immediately said yes and we were in LA a few weeks later meeting with writers and figuring out how to work together. Since we are both producers, it was important for us to know how to delegate tasks and have a file sharing system that inspires a smooth workflow, not slow it down. We developed a folder hierarchy and labelling system that made sense for us, and use it to this day!
We left LA in the winter of 2019 and headed out to his studio in Washington to start making music for Sony. The goal was to make a bunch of music to bring to the songwriters we had met in LA, but once the pandemic hit, we were a little unsure of what to do next. Our writing sessions were on hold, and we had a large handful of instrumentals and song starters that we didn’t know what to do with. This sparked our move to Los Angeles in the Summer of 2020.
SRA: Tell us more about the projects you and Ryan been working on together and how that’s been going.
BW: We have been busy since we first stepped foot in Los Angeles. Our first mission was to build a studio and establish a home base. Ryan found an old studio space in the Atwater Village neighborhood that was previously owned by the Beastie Boys. We began renting out half of the building and spent months building it out as a studio that would work for us. Once we established a place to work we started hosting Covid-safe writing and recording sessions, mostly over Zoom.
We have been working on music with two main “buckets” in mind. Ryan’s deal with Sony opens the door for him to start putting out songs featuring artists similar to what other producers have done in the past. He also has a publishing deal with Warner/Chappel that opens doors for him to work with writers and artists on music that would be coming out on their albums. So as we make songs, he starts to feel them out and determine whether or not it is best kept for his solo project, or best saved for another artist’s project.
Every day we are working on growing our community in Los Angeles. Ryan changed management and we’ve been meeting new writers weekly, and are continuously trying to spark joy for ourselves in the songwriting process. It’s fun meeting and working with new artists, writers, and other producers. I’m glad that we are here.
(Brian and Ryan’s Studio in Los Angeles)
SRA: What do you think is most important when collaborating with other artists? What makes a collaboration successful, and what things should one avoid?
BW: I love this question, and I always think of how important it is to communicate with your collaborators. Leave your ego at the door when you enter the studio and open your ears to the energy in the room. I was just talking to Ryan about this and we thought of a few bullet points for producers, engineers, and writers to think about before going into a writing or recording session.
- Build rapport with your collaborators ~ Get to know the person that you are working with before you start creating. This can be as simple as sitting for coffee and asking a few questions before you start getting creative. Everything’s better when you’ve had a chance to meet someone on a personal level before working together.
- Establish a judgement free zone when you enter the studio. You want to feel comfortable being creative and energized to share your ideas.
- Be prepared. If you’re going into a rap session, have beats. Pop session, have song starters, a chord progression, an idea. If you’re an engineer, have a session started and a microphone or microphones up before the artist arrives. Don’t always need a lot, but you need something.
- Open your ears to the nuggets of good ideas. (aka “Leave your ego at the door”) A powerful collaborator is capturing and taking note of the special moments and knows how to relate them to the artist. Tap into the curiosities of your environment.
- Don’t do a session that you don’t actually want to do. This might be the most important one. Nothing good ever comes from a session that you won’t enjoy being in. It is an act of self respect and respect for your collaborator to respectfully decline a project that you are not genuinely interested in.
SRA: What kinds of things do you find most effective in making new industry connections or creating opportunities?
BW: Put yourself out there in an authentic manner and be kind, open to anyone, and find ways to connect with the people you meet in a genuine way. I went to a lot of house shows, met with people over social media who shared similar interests, and remembered to stay in touch with them! Get a little bit out of your comfort zone and be open.
It is important to remember that you don’t have to connect over music with someone just because you both work in the same industry. It might feel like music is your whole life at times, but you’ve got a lot more to offer than just a good set of technical skills.
“You will mess up, and you should mess up.
It is all a part of the learning process”
You want to meet that A&R at that label you really like and you see them at an event but don’t know how to say hello? Just do it. Be genuine, be kind, and introduce yourself!
It has been helpful for me to remember that you aren’t just trying to get a “Rolodex” of phone numbers and emails. You are trying to *Connect* with people. Opportunities ignite from the spark of a good connection. So don’t try to connect with someone for the sake of making a connection. That never lasts because it’s disingenuous.
SRA: What else have you been up to in the industry since you graduated?
BW: I’ve been busy! I prioritized continuing my education via application and “environmental studies”. I hosted and went to a lot of house shows, worked at the Neptune Theatre (Seattle) as a stagehand for their big shows, tapping into the local industry as much as possible, without trying to be too zealous.
I continued my engineering at Orbit, first by freelancing and bringing in projects of my own, and then eventually coming on as a house engineer. That is when I really blossomed into the industry side of the local music community working with TM88, Willow Smith, Mya etc.
I’m producing a lot of instrumental music of my own and work with talented musicians that I have met to bring these compositions to life. I’ve taken on a few mixing and mastering gigs since graduation as well. I just mastered a Lofi hip-hop album titled “Noceur” for a PNW group called Ippi x R.O.B.
Ultimately, I have been jumping into environments that have given me a diverse education and allowed for me to embark on different forms of collaborations. I’ve since worked on indie projects, been a part of major label songwriting sessions, recorded with some incredible artists, and have been fortunate enough to learn more since moving to LA.
SRA: What advice would you have for anyone new looking to start their path in audio?
BW: I have a few pieces of advice!
- Fail fast and learn to grow from your failures. You will mess up, and you should mess up. It is all a part of the learning process. This is also not an excuse to be dumb ~ It is important to respect the space, the people, and the tools that you are working with.
- Keep making music… even when inspiration feels out of reach.
- Figure out what part of the industry really excites you and double down on it. If songwriting inspires you most, then be a songwriter. You might realize while working in one part of the industry that you are actually most inspired by another part. Figure out what you need to do to make THAT your job and set your path on that.
- Organize your files. I can’t stress this enough. Make a folder for your song and put everything related to that song in there. Make a sub folder for your sessions and all of your session copies, a sub folder for your stems, and a sub folder for your Bounces. Expand from there!
SRA: Anything else you’d like to share that inspires you?
BW: Music enlightens, and I couldn’t imagine living my life without contributing to the creation of it, but I also couldn’t imagine music without the culture behind it. I’m not inspired solely by the sounds I hear, but by the environments that I am in while I am listening. The clothes, the colour palettes, the designs, the scents ~ It all contributes. I’ll forever be inspired by the people I get to spend time with, the things we do, and the culture we get to experience and be a part of.
“Inspire others to inspire themselves” – Pontus Alv
Follow Brian on Instagram @Strictlymissionary and @Strictlysongs (for catalog releases – coming soon!)
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