Audeze catches up with engineer, producer and professor Erin Tonkon

October 16, 2023

Erin Tonkon is a New York based producer, engineer, mixer and professor. She's worked with Tony Visconti, David Bowie, Richard Hell, Sad13, and a host of others to make their records the best they can be.

Erin Tonkon in the studio with her Audeze LCD-MX4 headphones
"Audeze headphones have completely transformed my workflow for the better."  - Erin Tonkon
Here's our chat with Erin:
Can you pick out any highlights from your work that you're particularly proud of?

I peaked early– working with David Bowie on Blackstar alongside Tony Visconti can probably never be beat. But I have a highlight in every project I work on. Some recents include remixing Richard Hell’s Destiny Street with Nick Zinner and engineering Grace Ives’ album Janky Star.

How would you define your main role on most of the projects you work on these days?

I equally bounce around between producing, engineering, and mixing and I like it that way!

How did you get started in music? What kind of music did you listen to while growing up and how has that progressed?

My AIM screen name growing up was NSYNCN1FAN01 until I started listening to The Strokes and The Velvet Underground, at which point all of my boy band and Britney Spears posters came down and were promptly replaced with a lot of posters of people smoking cigarettes and giving the finger. Bowie, Iggy Pop, Blondie, that whole gang, along with Velvet Underground & The Strokes.

I played piano and guitar as a kid but really fell in love when I went to a high school that had a little recording studio. I instantly knew that was where I belonged. A series of internships at record labels and radio stations followed until I finally found someone who would let me in the studio.

Can you name any factors that influenced the course of your musical life? Heroes, role models, moments, interactions, etc?

Music was always the center of my life. The way I dressed and the people I hung out with always centered around the music I was into. As a teenager I was pretty depressed and felt pretty lost. I ended up going to a school in San Diego that had a little recording studio. My teacher there, Nick Angelo, was the first person to start to teach me how to record and really support my musical interests and give me some solid guidance. At the first studio I ever worked at, Signature Sound Studios (also in San Diego), an engineer named Deborah Reeves taught me with a lot of patience and kindness that was crucial during my earliest days. I was also really lucky to see some female representation that early in my career. I eventually studied at The Clive Davis Institute at NYU I had professors like Bob Power and Jim Anderson who are masters of the craft and taught me an enormous amount. And then of course, my mentor, Tony Visconti who toughened me up, taught me most of what I know, trusted me and gave me an incredible amount of insight. Visconti and Bowie both really took me under their wing in the studio over the three years I worked with the two of them together, and I don’t think anyone could imagine a greater producer/artist duo to learn from.

Can you briefly describe a moment of frustration from your past work, and what you may have done to overcome the obstacles? Would you approach it differently now?

I can think of a million technical obstacles–but we’ve all dealt with those. This business is full of ups and downs–everyone has great years and not so great years but I don’t think we as producers and engineers talk to each other enough about them. There were times I felt so burnt out and down that I thought I might quit, but talking to other producers and engineers always helped me gain perspective. I still have ups and downs, but I don’t wait so long to talk to others about them anymore.

Is there any gear you find yourself turning to most when working on a project? What are some of your favorite tools/instruments recently?

I’m not pandering, I don’t know what I would’ve done these past few years without my Audeze LCD-2C’s. Other than that, a few years ago I got into the Pearl DT40 Microphone which I still think is one of my favorite microphones I’ve used. I work out of a lot of different studios so I’m always trying new tools in new environments, but (and sorry to be so basic) an LA-2A or at least a solid clone is pretty non-negotioable for me. I’ve also been loving Eventide’s Split EQ and Abberant’s Sketch Cassette.

Do you have any words of wisdom for people who might aspire toward a similar path for their own careers?

Find a scene that interests you. Become immersed in it and work with the people that inspire you.

How long have you been working with headphones, and how do you typically use them in your workflow?

Tony had a pair of Audeze headphones in his studio that we would use to reference, but I finally got my own pair in 2017. Initially, I used them mainly to calibrate my ears in new environments–it’s always important to have headphones you trust especially when you work at a lot of different places like I do. But during COVID when I was stuck at home, my headphones became my main monitoring source while mixing and I really got used to them. I’m all about accessibility and quite frankly not everyone has the luxury of being in a properly tuned room all the time. I love the freedom it gives me to work in different spaces. I don’t think I’d trust any other headphones like I do my Audeze. Good, accurate, familiar headphones will always beat an improperly tuned room or unfamiliar monitors in an unfamiliar space in my book. There are a few things you have to consider when in headphones (interaural crosstalk, etc.) but I love my mixes on my Audeze and always bring them to the studio to reference production work.

How have your Audeze headphones affected your work? Can you tell us what you've been working on with them recently?

Audeze headphones have completely transformed my workflow for the better. I am now totally comfortable and confident doing the bulk of mixing in my Audeze's when a studio isn't available. In fact--I have come to prefer mixing in headphones as I'm able to focus on detail and feel more close and focused on my mixes. I've come to really like the Reveal plug-in as well for quick checking of my mixes. I work out of a lot of different studios and love this flexibility, but I wouldn't be able to do this if I didn't have my Audeze's to trust completely for referencing in any studio environment.

Anything I've worked on since 2018, I've used my Audeze's in one way or another. I mixed an entire album from Lauren Early entirely on my Audeze's. All my engineering and production work for Grace Ives' Janky Star was referenced on my Audeze's as well. I also produced an upcoming new song for Sloppy Jane and a new album for Gustaf as well as mixing for Cafuné.

I don't go anywhere without them. Our ears are our most important piece of gear as engineers and at this point my Audeze's are just an extension of my own ears.