The "Artist Spotlight" and "The Director's Chair" are continuing interview series highlighting entertainment professionals,
working actors, singers, stage managers, producers, directors, designers and others in the arts and entertainment industry.
Commanders of the control room, Sound Engineers help transform musical moments into timeless masterpieces by facilitating the production of sound through mixing.
Meet Shalev Alon—One of the Best!
May 1st, 2021 — By Chris Daniels
The audio recording industry is a client driven sector, therefore working patterns can vary greatly depending on the size and type of project and profile of the client. The career field can encompass everything from basic recording sessions setup to mix engineering to producing or even writing the music for a project. A successful sound technician needs to be a detailed problem solver, creative, and an excellent communicator. Studio engineers/producers tend to have distinct personalities, interests and skill sets. At the top end of the profession, sought after producers and engineers can find themselves working with the world's A-list recording artists and studios, commanding a high wage for their services, with people choosing to work with them to achieve a specific vibe or sound.
One such sought-after engineer is visiting with us on this segment of Artist Spotlight. His name is Shalev Alon. Shalev is an Israeli Award Winning mixing engineer based in Hollywood. He started his career as a guitarist, producing music for artists in various genres. Upon moving to Los Angeles, Shalev gained experience working at numerous world class studios such as Remote Control Productions, Disney, 20th Century Fox, Warner Bros, Netflix and more.
The Lego Ninjago Movie
Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem
Puppy!: A Hotel Transylvania
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul
Shalev sums up his job succinctly, and answers a few more questions for us in a one-on-one interview session below:
"There are many hats worn in an audio career. By far the most enjoyable aspect is mixing. A mixing engineer is free to focus entirely on the creative and technical process of balancing the multiple instrument groups in an entertaining, and sonically pleasing way. This freedom often makes mixing, the most creative and unrestrained aspect of the music production process.
These days, I am privileged to be working on the new music for the new Star Wars Land. Galaxy Edge project will feature amazing new songs that will play in the famous 'Cantina' from the Star Wars Series.
I always say to my clients that mixing is the step in the process where you need to improve the sound - not fix the sound. My job is to make the music a three dimension track where I emphasize the width, heighth and depth of it.
I believe that one of my big advantages is that I started as a musician myself, which helps me to mix the track in a couple of different perspectives: as an engineer, as a musician, and as an audience. Mixing is like painting the music in different shades and giving each instrument its own place in the track to create harmony between them."
Shalev, before we delve into your present projects, tell us a little about your early life, how you got started in music, and how you got your big break as composer, sound and mixing engineer for some of the biggest studios in Hollywood?
“My way started when i was 10 years old, learning guitar. At the age of 16 I was in a high school band called "X Effect," I started to write music for the band and it made me fall in love with music and composition. Most of my guitar study was classical performance. After my high school I joined the IDF in the K-9 unit and in my spare time, I wanted to maintain my practice in English. I also wanted to have more control in music production so I started to learn how to work with an audio software. I started to write and mix music that I experienced with.
After my service in the Army, I studied production and mixing further with a local teacher in Israel that made all of the live sound for the biggest theater in Israel. I’ve known since I was 18 that i wanted to work in the biggest studios in the world and I knew that I should go to LA. I found out about the school Musician Institute in Hollywood and there learned so much from the amazing teachers.
One of my professors heard some of my orchestral mixing and told me that he can help me get an interview at a studio called Remote Control Production, which was owned by the composer, Hans Zimmer. I was very excited for that opportunity and after my interview, I got accepted to a 5 weeks internship. During the internship I met a lot of other amazing talents, big composers and engineers.
After finishing my 5 weeks as an intern, they decided to keep me working for the composer Henry Jackman, while he worked on the project “Captain America - Civil War.” After my time at RCP I wanted to get familiar with more prospects and I decided to work in a number of Hip-Hop and Pop studios. I worked at studios such as Windmark Recordings, 17 Hertz, Larrabee Studios and Justice Studios. There, I had the experience to see Zara Larsson, Chris Brown, Busta Rhymes, Rihanna and more. Two years later, I met the engineer Brad Haehnel, and became his first assistant. I have worked with him on films such as The Lego Ninjago Movie, A Diary of A Wimpy Kid, A Minion Short, Hotel Transylvania Short, Amature and others.
We recorded orchestras in the biggest studios in LA, like 20th Fox Century and Warner Brothers. After my lengthy time with Brad Haehnel, I had the opportunity to work for a project at Walt Disney Imagineering as the mixer for one of the Marvel Avengers Infinity War Live show in Disneyland. That was the first time I've worked with Marvel and had the first experience of seeing how one of the biggest productions in the world created their projects, and worked very closely with the composer, John Debney and his team.
I brought all of my experience and knowledge to the table of exactly what Disney required for their new upcoming project and started to work on their exciting “Galaxy’s Edge,” from the new Star Wars Land in Disneyland. And, I’m proud to say, I performed the mix, recording, and editing for the music for their unique album which was created specifically for Star Wars Land by their many Grammy and Emmy-winning producers and composers.”
As an award winning music and sound mixer, your TV and film credits run almost a full decade. On the short list is a new film called “Furioza” and a documentary called “Indomitable.” Some of the more popular animation films you’ve worked on are “Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem 3D,” “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul,” and “The Lego Ninjago Movie.” Do you enjoy these kinds of projects best or working with individual bands and musicians.
“At the end of the day I remember that it will never matter what is the size of the project and who are the producers and composers I work with on the project. What I try to do best is to mix the music so it will always reflect the audience exactly like the talent wanted it to be. The only difference is that in big projects the team is much bigger so the experience is less intimate since there are a lot of people to consider in the mixing process.”
Post production, production for film, live sound, acoustics…there’s obviously a lot of audio fundamentals you need to learn in order to do the kind of job you do. For a young person fresh out of high school, does that person break into the business faster through a university like Full Sail, or is it better to do the OJT route as an intern?
“I believe in every education you decide to go with, you should always remember that there is no better education than practical learning, going into studios and learn from people who have years of practice in the industry. Any opportunity that you will have to step into the studio, whether it’s interning, assisting or just participating in a session will be the best way to learn your profession.”
What types of audio equipment are you adept in? Do you work primarily on large format consoles or are you usually in the box?
“I work in various studios, so hardware gear is something I always work with, like compressors, EQ, preamps, reverbs and such. Most of the use of big consoles these days are for orchestra recordings, since there is a big use of mics to capture the 24-81 players. Like all of the big engineers I’ve worked with, I mix some of the piece in the box and then go to the hardware gear and process the important groups of instruments. The sound of real hardware is the one thing that can never be changed, there is no plugin that can match the sound of real electricity and warmth that a real piece of hardware can bring.”
Does your work require you to travel a lot?
“I do travel a lot. I have a studio in Israel where I am from originally to work better with my clients from Europe. In some of the projects I’ve worked on, I’ve traveled inside the US for the recording part of it. These days, however, it’s a lot easier to work remotely. Technology is in such a different level, I have the ability to share a video from my studio and send a connection of all the audio that is coming out of my computer. I like to have all the equipment that will make my client feel like he is in the studio with me.”
Some mixers only work one project at a time and there is a danger to overwork a mix. In your perspective, is it better for the creative process to work with multiple songs at the same time or only one or two at a time?
“Most of the time there are multiple projects going on with different deadlines so it allows me to decide my time accordingly. As far for the creative and productive part of it, on every project I work for a couple of hours with a 10 min break every hour. And I always try to finish and send the project a day after I have actually finished it to make sure my ears are fresh.”
Once upon a time, audio recordings were all done to magnetic analogue tape. Now the new standard is DAW-based digital recording because it affords better speed, flexibility and recallability. But there’s a lot of established engineers who are still nostalgic for tape, believing the sound is far superior. The problem is that it can sometimes be a nightmare to work with. And employing tape in the beginning when you’re going to just dump it in ProTools sort of defeats the purpose. What is your opinion of the two methods?
“I have worked with engineers who still own a tape machine and they barley use it due to the budget and time of the client. Most of the producers, artists and composers have a deadline and don’t receive a budget for a tape recording. There are some few bands and artists that still use tape, but either they are an established artist with the time and budget to spend or they are an indie artist that has no deadline and can take the time to do this. In most of the work these days, everything goes through the DAW.”
Are there any UAD or Waves plug-ins, sound toys or techniques that you regularly use?
“For the most part, I have a few companies that I use most of the time, especially these past couple of months. I regularly use Brainworx, Soundtoys, Kush Audio and Nugen plug-ins. My reverbs tend to go from Seventh-Heaven, DVR-250 and Lexicon.”
Do you normally air your opinion on a track during a session, or let the client decide the best solution to their vision?
“Depends on the client I work with. If it’s a client that I have a close relationship with, they will sometimes ask my opinion. Sometimes I have clients who just send me their pieces before the mixing phase and ask me to share my thoughts if the sound choice seems right and if the structure of the piece is relevant to the genre.
I had an amazing experience with Mark Mothersbaugh when we did the Lego movie.
The chief engineer that I have worked for had an emergency and he needed to go for an errand, so I jumped in on his sit and recorded the players. It was my first time working with Mark and his team, so I was very nervous about doing my job right. Suddenly Mark asked me what I thought of the piece and the take of the player. I know how important it is to say the right words for such a big client, but I was amazed by his attitude and how open he is to talking about his music. He made me feel very comfortable to share my thoughts.”
Some mixing engineers have a musical identity, or perhaps a better choice of words would be a “signature sound.” Would you consider your work as having a signature sound or more an amplification of your end client at the time?
“I adapt each sound to each specific client. I try to learn what the influences of my client is and actually learn their taste. I also try to establish the sound with my client and lean on the fact that he will trust my opinion and consider my input. My whole objective is to create a unique sound for my client!”
How much of your job is about mixing and how much is about arranging, when you may need to go into more of a producer role?
“As a freelancer, the main thing is to actually bring the work and maintain a good relationship with your co-workers in the industry. Depending upon the size of the project, I will occasionally bring an assistant to help me with things like the sessions arrangement, the timeline of the session and deadlines so I can focus mainly on mixing.”
And finally, what is one other thing that you do really well that most people do not know about?
“I think not a lot of people know that I like to play on a number of instruments like piano, flute, ukulele, guitar and drums. I started my way in music as a musician, and this is where my love to the audio field came from. It always gives me a happy feeling when I practice on a piece.”
Thank you Shalev Alon! You can find out more about this remarkable audio engineer below on social media and IMDB here: