Audeze chats with record producer, audio engineer, and multi-instrumentalist Pascal Pahl

From Chicago to all across the United States to now overseas in Europe, Pascal Pahl is constantly expanding his boundaries as a multi-faceted artist: record producer, audio engineer, and multi-instrumentalist rooted in jazz harmony and improvisation. Pascal has worked with everything audio and music from producing highly-streamed pop tracks, mixing full big bands and orchestras amongst other genres in 5.1 surround, editing for film, and has even spent time as an instructor/consultant. Most importantly, he is a proud Polak and can eat chicken kotlet every day for the rest of his life and die happy.

 

"My Audeze LCD-Xs allow me to hear the nuance in my mixes, holding me accountable to producing a genuine-sounding mix. My LCD-1s do the same thing when I’m on the road." - Pascal Pahl
Here's our chat with Pascal:
Can you pick out any favorites from your work that you're particularly proud of?

The perfectionist inside me is always wanting to mix and edit and re-track even after the record has been released, but it still goes without saying that I'm proud of all of my work. After having worked with world-renowned artists and been recognized for award-winning mixes and performances, what I still value most is the first record I fully produced and engineered: Destiny Autumn's "Hueman" EP. That record was in the making for about a year and a half and it still feels so rewarding to see it let alone hear it on streaming platforms. A lot of heart and thought was put into that record and that definitely translated through my headphones, even on those sleepless nights on flights or posted up at a coffee shop. I strive to build from that experience in all aspects of releasing music in the industry today, but as long as I continue connecting on that level with my future artists, they'll all be my favorites and I'll have trouble picking out only one that I'm particularly proud of.

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

Simple answer? I'm primarily a mixing engineer these days; however, my desk is still full with producing songs and editing and what not. More complicated answer: I can't define my main role because I'm picking up something new every day; it's part of what I love about this field the most. One day I'll spontaneously be on location as a boom operator for a short, then the next day I'm back in my studio composing or producing music, and then I'll transition to mixing in surround sound and excitingly Dolby Atmos. My main role is keeping up with the next project(s) on my desk, ALWAYS learning something new, and only delivering something that the artists are happy with; other than that, I'm a friend that knows his way around music and gear.

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

I'm one of those "music started when I was born" peeps. I specifically grew up listening to my dad's drumming on his gold-selling record: "Lombard: Live". Every day would consist of another home video I made my mom record to show that I learned how to sing and play a new song on the drums. I was surrounded by music, listening to my mom's stories as a former DJ or hearing my sisters practice clarinet and percussion. Fortunately that didn't stop me from picking up trumpet and piano in elementary school. What really got me started in music was the audio gear I bought with the money I made as a paper boy. I remember picking up a Tascam DP-02 and then a Zoom HD16 so I can have more tracks. As soon as I had recording at my disposal, I've been making music ever since. Being in 4th grade elementary school, I didn't know audio interfaces were a thing; you can imagine how furious I was when I found out I could've recorded more than 16 tracks on a computer instead of a CD!...keeping up with the industry...it's a real thing.

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

I attribute my career and success to my many mentors, but an experience that shaped my years right out of college was with Becca Stevens. She introduced me to my long-time inspirations Michael League, Nic Hard, and the GroundUp Music family. My interactions with the GroundUp team left a lasting impression on me; I learned that not knowing the outcome of what a record will sound like is what being a producer is about. There are so many sounds to explore and paths to take and the spontaneity of improvising will always be part of my workflow. An instrumental moment for me when working at Atlantic Sound Studios was when I stepped up to be the head engineer on Kimberly Townsend's debut record "The History and the Heart of It". I saw the need for a tracking engineer and instead of having them cancel the studio booking, I convinced the team that I could handle tracking in a completely new studio within my first week of working for them. When the producer (Brian Donohoe from Progger) walked in he was confused when I said "actually, I'll be engineering the session". The rest is history: pun-intended. I've always thrown myself out there because the worst answer you'll get is "no."

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?

It's pretty infuriating to have muted the clips on a track and still hear audio, only to find out you forgot it was printed into the Melodyne plug-in. But actually, I remember a session of roughly 18-20 hours of straight tracking where the supporting artists would offer to finish producing the tracks right in front of me. I've run into that obstacle a good couple of times and I would not approach the situation any differently. It's not about me; the energy in the room needs to be kept light and accepting, even if someone's motive inhibits the forward motion of the process... but don't be a pushover!

Is there any gear you find yourself turning to most when working on a project?

Not necessarily. I have go-to plug-ins and typical templates that get me started, but every record is different and deserves its own treatment. Other than that, I enjoy walking into studios all over the world and working with what's in front of me. It's fun to achieve my sound using any gear at my disposal and frankly it keeps me on my toes, which is an environment in which I'm comfortable operating.

What are some of your favorite tools/instruments recently?

YouTube: I can learn anything whenever I want. And although it's not yet fair to artists, streaming platforms allow me to explore music and what is being created today. My favorite tools are things that bring instant inspiration and knowledge that I can apply to my work or even just enjoy it for what it is.

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

Just. Start. Do not wait on anything to kickstart your career; you have to build it yourself. You don't need the best piece of gear for your music to sound good or perform well. All you need is an idea, commit to it, and see it through. There is nothing to lose and the best part about it is that when you fail, you can actually learn from the experience for the next idea, but definitely do not wait for anything or anyone.

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

I had the same pair of headphones for 15 years (not Audeze)... I’m positive the drivers in them are absolutely fried! Traveling comes with having to work on the go and I haven't really figured out the sweet spot for my speakers on a plane just yet. For quite some time I've been only using headphones for both mixing and mastering. It's convenient and even if I do use speakers, I check my mixes on headphones because that's the medium most listeners use. It needs to sound great everywhere.
My Audeze LCD-Xs allow me to hear the nuance in my mixes, holding me accountable to producing a genuine-sounding mix. My LCD-1s do the same thing when I’m on the road.

Do you have any additional comments or stories you want to share?

Shoutout to Indiana University's Jacobs School of Music. If you want your college debt to actually be worth it, Bloomington, Indiana is the place to be! But seriously, I owe a lot to my professors and now colleagues and just the collaborative community over there. That and Mother Bears Pizza...and Baked...and Social Cantina or an AMF at Upstairs. Damn they have some good cheap food and drink out there.