Audeze catches up with producer and mix engineer Erik Brauer

April 08, 2023

Erik Brauer is a producer and mixing engineer from NYC. He has spent the last few years learning his father, Michael Brauer’s approach to mixing when covid hit and the studio relocated to their home. Erik is now in Los Angeles where he works for Dweezil Zappa as his assistant engineer.

Erik Brauer in the studio in his Audeze MM-500 headphones

"The Audeze MM-500's have become essential in my workflow to provide a mix that will translate in any space."  - Erik Brauer
Here's our chat with Erik:
Can you pick out any highlights from your work that you're particularly proud of?

Right now I’m working on an album with this band from Syracuse called All Poets and Heroes. The songs that we’ve done so far have turned out great and it's been fun to work on, they’re all good guys. I’m also proud of two tracks that I’ve done with my friends from NYC, the band is called CPS and we released two singles at the beginning of the year that turned out great.

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

In most cases when I’m working with an artist my role is some variation of producer, engineer, and mixer.

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

My sophomore year of high school is when I got my first computer that could run Logic. That’s when I started, like everyone else, to start recording indie songs in my bedroom. It was also perfect timing because my mom had just moved to an apartment that had a basement. Nobody has a basement in Manhattan and it’s pretty amazing we were able to find this spot. My dad gave me a pair of EMC 22ps which were the only microphones that he had ever bought, and they had been used by him on numerous RNB records as the snare top and bottom mics when he used to record. They were my first microphones and I still use them often. When I was younger I fell in love with a lot of alternative bands. Groups like the Kooks, Strokes, Grizzly Bear, and Grouplove, became my favorites quickly. One of the first engineers I became really drawn towards was Chris Taylor who was the bass player in Grizzly Bear but also produced and recorded all of their albums. He also did records for Twin Shadow, Dirty Projectors, and Morning Benders. The color and clarity of his recordings got me so hooked on audio. I’ve recently been really drawn to the British post-punk scene that’s blown up in the states. BCNR, Black Midi, Squid, and Shame are all my favorites right now. Dan Carey is a producer and engineer who’s worked with three out of four of the bands I just mentioned. His recording style of having everyone in the same room with the console, and getting things done as quickly as possible is something that stands out in the songs. A fresh idea only stays fresh for so long, and getting the idea on tape quickly will often end up with the best result.

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

Those two producers that I mentioned in the previous questions are definitely two of the heavy hitters when I think about what I would like my production to sound like in the end. One other person I can think of who really taught me a lot about the basics of recording production is David Kahne who has been best friends with my dad for the last thirty years. I still go to his studio in the lower east side whenever I’m in NYC and he’ll bring up numerous new terms about composition that I had never heard before. One of the most important things he has taught me is about distinguishing composition, arrangement, performance, and orchestration. A good producer will be thinking about these four aspects and how they go hand in hand and elevate each other. For example, another thing that David will say is that once you start recording, that is when a track really gets smaller. In order to get over this fact, it is best to keep the orchestration simple, playing lines that are meant to be heard and not just buried. Every part should have a necessary place, which becomes the performance of the song. A perfect example of this is a record he did with the Strokes called First Impressions of Earth. These songs are in no way muddled with production, the songwriting sounds like it was thought through but is ultimately a jam. In particular, the song Juicebox is a great example of how a chorus can have so much impact with the melody being brought out harmoniously with the guitar chords. This is super simple stuff to understand and think about but it can sometimes be the most difficult thing to do when writing a song.

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?

Back in May 2022, I was working on this track for a band, and I had tracked the group the month before and now I was sitting down to put it all together and add production. I remembered when I was doing pre-pro for the track, I was thinking about what direction the song could go. Originally I was thinking of a Kings of Leon direction but when mentioning my ideas, they didn’t seem to wanna go for that at all. When we went into the studio I still wasn't quite sure what way I would take the track but I knew that we had to record. We got the main instruments, guitars, bass, drums, and vocals; it was sounding alright but pretty colorless. The band seemed to be somewhat happy but hesitant about the final product based on what they were hearing. I knew they liked my band which is an indie group with catchy hooks and drum machines. So that's where I took the song, I got rid of the real drums we tracked for the first ¾ of the track and put my programmed sounds in as well as added delays and distortion that I hadn’t considered at all using for the group. When I was getting close to finished with the production, I sent them two versions, one with real drums and basic production and the other with the added indie pop elements. To my surprise, they fell in love with the indie pop version and said that’s always been a direction they wanted to go and nobody's taken it there. It made me very happy to hear and I wouldn’t have approached it any differently, you should always satisfy what you as a listener wants first.

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 was able to find an omnichord for cheap on this app called Offerup last winter. The omnichord is an instrument that works by pressing a button that represents a chord, and then running your fingers up this piece of plastic called a strum plate which arpeggiates the chord. I love the fact that this was basically a cheap toy that was made to play along to church hymns; and the fact that 15 years ago it would have cost ten dollars at goodwill. But it had a huge cult following with artists like Ed Droste and David Bowie using it and making many people fall in love with those chords. I’ve found that it's another tool that can be so useful in making a chorus shimmer.

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

I would say one of the most important things is to never talk badly about someone else’s work. You have to assume that whatever you may say that’s negative will eventually reach the person you're mentioning, and it will likely be worse than you had meant it to come across.

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

I’ve been working with headphones since I first got Logic and started making music. My first pair were just normal relatively cheap headphones, I used them all the time but they weren’t telling me what I needed to know. My very first memory of Audeze was probably four years ago when my dad got a package in the mail and it turned out to be one of the first models they made that had wooden rims. Listening to them then and there really openend up my eyes, I remember putting on Weird Fishes off of (Radiohead's) In Rainbows and truly hearing the orchestration that Jonny Greenwood and Nigel Goodrich had intended. I’ve been using headphones most recently for mixing.

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

In the last few months since I’ve been on the west coast, I’ve been on cans one hundred percent of the time. In the regular/best-case scenario, I will use headphones as another source to check mixes to make sure that what I am playing on my speakers will translate. The Audeze MM-500's have become essential in my workflow to provide a mix that will translate in any space.

I’ve recently done a short film score with them that will be released later in the year. The other main advantage to these headphones is their use with Atmos, which is something I’ve been diving into pretty recently. 

Erik Brauer's Audeze MM-500 headphones