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Audeze interviews audio engineer and producer Ghian Wright

Los Angeles-based Ghian Wright has been an engineer, producer, and mixer for over 20 years and has had the opportunity to work with a plethora of legendary artists, including Foo Fighters, Paul McCartney, Oasis, NIN, Janet Jackson, as well as several Oscar-winning films, such as Walk the Line, Across the Universe, and Bladerunner 2049. After 15 years at the world-famous Village Studios, Ghian is now lead mixer and engineer for Sleeping Giant, a rapidly-growing powerhouse specializing in creating magic moments for high-end film and TV projects, as well as producing commercial artists.
 
"These Audezes have allowed me to travel to different rooms and trust what I am hearing... and they are inspiring and fun to work on. I often forget I even have them on!" -Ghian Wright
Here's our chat with Ghian:
Can you pick out any highlights from your work that you're particularly proud of?

Hmmm…. I'm almost never satisfied after the fact, always have that “could have done that better now” feeling, but then again, sometimes I go back to something from years ago and say “damn, that's pretty good”, so…
A few moments that stand out maybe:

I saved a track for Janet’s record Damita Jo. The “band” and Janet were all just jamming spontaneously with some MPCs, and keys and a guitar, and I kinda snuck in. There was no rig set up in that room to record, but I found some weird Tascam digital console that was plugged in, and figured it out and plugged some of the gear in. At some point, they all had a magic moment and kinda “found” the song at this one particular loop and were super-excited, but then resigned to the fact that they couldn't remember it after the fact. They just couldn't get back to exactly the same feel. But then I said “you mean this part right here?” And I played back the part where they all got excited, and they were like “YES! You recorded that?!” And that became a really cool song on there. The whole song is that one section looped. So, kids, ALWAYS RECORD!

Not big on “pride” really, but another time when I was still pretty young, I recorded drums for Jim Keltner (Rolling Stones, John Lennon, Robbie Robertson), who is an absolute legend, and super-cool guy. He comes in to hear a playback, and kinda hesitates and says, “You know G, I hate to say it…….. but this sounds really great”. So he kind of gave me a little head-fake there. But him approving was a big deal.

And of course, hangin' out and helping mix two Foo Fighters songs. Dave Grohl is my main drumming influence since I was a teenager, and it's always a relief to find out your “heroes” are actually great dudes or dudettes.

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

A little bit of everything really. Definitely recording and mixing, and if it's not me doing it personally, I oversee the quality. Mixing these days oftentimes entails some extra production and programming. If I hear something in a track, I’ll add it…. additional drums, background vocals, synth part, a guitar lick. Whatever I think makes it better, but only if I “hear” it… never good to force something just because. Sometimes it doesn’t work, but it usually does. It helps greatly that our whole team is on the same page, and have discussed the direction for a particular track or project.

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

I started out like a lot of kids in the mid-90s, recording bands I was in with my friends on a Tascam 4-track cassette machine, and just experimenting and having fun with it. I was really into 60’s music as a kid, which might be a bit odd, but it's still the best decade overall for music. A lot of Oldies, then I got really into the Beatles, and of course the grunge scene and a lot of Southern California punk stuff like Lagwagon, NoFX, etc. I used to hate modern pop and thought it was too sell-outy and fake, but now I've learned to really enjoy and appreciate a properly-done pop song, especially those with actual, meaningful lyrics. Whatever the style, as long as it's great. There are great songs in every genre.

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

Really, just being fortunate to work with some of the best musicians and producers. Learning how they get the end results, learning how many ways there are to get there, and how to read a room or different kinds of people, especially creative people, as they can often be very eccentric. And of course, good ol’ trial and error. Mistakes are crucial to improving, embrace them, just don’t make the same ones twice.  

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?

People can occasionally be disrespectful, and it's almost always just the way they are. I am always trying to remind myself to not take it personally and to not be too proud… kind of step outside myself and laugh a little bit. Energy can shift in the studio very quickly, so always try to keep things balanced and light whenever possible. People will follow that energy and the session and music will benefit. Also, first impressions are very important to setting a tone that will last an entire project or song. If you’re a very serious person, find another occupation.

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 kind of always shifting based on the style or project, but some tried and trues would be an 1176, the SM7 (especially the original model), Coles 4038s, STA-level comps, really into API EQs and Preamps lately, and quality monitors that vibe with you. Everyone has different ears for monitors. Lately I am really digging ATCs, Eve, and these little discontinued Focals. And the Audeze allow me to mix on 'phones for the first time really. You still have to work with the monitors, but it's no longer an unpleasant shock when I take the headphones off after an hour to see how it translates. It's like “zooming in” on your mix. They’re great, and fun to work on.

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

Learn as many skills as you can. Don’t limit yourself to just one role.

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

I have been using them a lot more recently. Especially with so many more remote sessions now, top-notch headphones are more critical. During a mix, I pop the headphones on near the end to fine tune and listen for any things I might have missed. Usually that's some really high or really low stuff, and clicks and pops. And also, with really good headphones, it's just fun, so it might spark a few last-minute ideas as well.

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

These Audeze LCD-Xs have allowed me to travel to different rooms and trust what I am hearing. Before, we had some decent headphones, but I could never mix critically on them, it was more for isolation purposes. For Blade Runner: Black Lotus, we would move between our main studio to our Dolby Atmos room, and a few times to a few other rooms. Your typical headphones are usually kinda closed-in feeling and have weird boosts or hype in different frequency ranges, so you can’t really trust what the sound is actually doing. Or if you do find a pair that are flat and accurate, they are usually kind of boring. But with the LCD-Xs, I can trust them and they are inspiring and fun to work on. I often forget I even have them on!

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

I love my LCD-Xs, but... there's room for a new love in my life with the LCD-5s.

Here's a video interview we did with Ghian about his recent work with Alcon Sleeping Giant: