Audeze speaks to engineer and producer Brandon Peralta
December 09, 2022
Audeze speaks to engineer and producer Brandon Peralta
Brandon Peralta is an audio engineer, producer/mixer from Brooklyn, NY. Brandon has worked as an engineer on records with artists such as Flatbush Zombies, rap collective Beast Coast, Bigflo & Oli (whose double platinum album “La vie de rêve” won Best Urban Album of the Year in 2019 at the Victoires de la Musique in France), Haleek Maul, Spencer., Oneohtrix Point Never, Kimbra, Battles, and many more. Brandon is currently an engineer at Republic Records Studios NYC, as well as a freelance producer, mixer, and Dolby Atmos mixer.
"LCD-X's are now the only headphones I trust with ensuring that my mix translates from headphones to speakers, and vice-versa." - Brandon Peralta
Here's our talk with Brandon:
Can you pick out any highlights from your work that you're particularly proud of?
I am particularly proud of my recent work with Son Lux on their film score for the film "Everything Everywhere All At Once", directed by The Daniels. I assisted Ryan Lott with a number of different tasks throughout the production stages of the score with things such as vocal comping, session organizing, and even some orchestral mixing. Although I only assisted in a small capacity, to witness our work on the big screen as the backdrop for such a moving film was an extremely rewarding experience.
My most recent Atmos Mix was also a very special release for me. I had the privilege of doing the Dolby Atmos mix for the acoustic version of James Bay's recent single "One Life". It was both a challenging and rewarding mix to work on, and to have my first mix-pass receive approval was a great feeling for a format as complex as Dolby Atmos. It was also released the day before my close friend's wedding, and they were so moved by the song they decided to make it their wedding song. Watching them together dancing to the music I had worked on reminded me of why I got into music in the first place: its power to bring us closer together.
How would you define your main role on most of the projects you work on these days?
I spend most of my time mixing these days, but with the lines between roles in music becoming more and more blurred, I find myself doing just a little bit of everything. I produce, mix, record, master, play instruments, and orchestrate. I spend most of my time producing and mixing, but I love to help out wherever it serves the artist. I see myself as a problem solver for sure.
How did you get started in music?
I started playing music in elementary school in Brooklyn. I was lucky enough to live in a district where band programs were a priority, and I decided not to waste the opportunity. My middle school music instructor (Grammy-nominated music educator Anthony J. Mazzochi) noticed my interest and dedication towards music and took me on as one of his private students. I spent the next nine years practicing the trombone in an attempt to become a member of the New York Philharmonic. I attended Edward R Murrow High School in Brooklyn, another school known for its music program and where artists like Joey Bada$$, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Pete Steele of Type O Negative, and others all graduated from.
About half-way through my time at the Aaron Copland School of Music in Queens, I noticed that although everyone at the conservatory was passionate, none of us seemed very satisfied. It was around this time that my older brother who was DJ-ing around NYC showed me electronic music. I was immediately blown away. I saw the DJ as the conductor, and the dance floor as the orchestra. It all clicked. Once I experienced the immediate joy modern music could bring to not only myself, but the people around me: I knew I had to be a part of it. I dropped out of school that year, picked up a $100 laptop from Best Buy, and found a crack for Ableton. I went from writing string quartets on staff paper, to making club records on my laptop.
I soon decided to go to school for Audio Engineering. YouTube could only teach me so much, and I thought if I became a better engineer, I could enhance my productions. I attended SAE in Chelsea, Manhattan. The school happened to be in the same building as Red Bull Studios. One of my professors, Jerry Dzerens, had been asked if anyone at the school might be a good fit for an internship at the studio. He recommended me for the position and I began working there at night while attending classes in the morning. I worked at Red Bull Studios as an Intern, Assistant Engineer, and finally Engineer, from early 2017 until their closure in 2020.
What kind of music did you listen to while growing up and how has that progressed?
As a child, my mother would play 90's club music and freestyle while we cleaned the house on the weekend. I began my adolescent life listening to nothing but classical music - Chopin, Stravinsky, Brahms, Tchaikovsky while studying to be a classical musician. My older brothers discovered Napster and Limewire and would show me the latest in rap music, while at my middle school I became obsessed with pop-punk. My friends in high school were all into heavy rock, djent, and metal music and we would attend DIY shows in Bushwick. Later in high school I went through a huge folk phase and started wearing beanies and skinny jeans. By college I was making house beats in Ableton and trying to play shows in New York as a DJ.
I think being exposed to such different ends of the musical spectrum has made me realize that different genres aren't as different as they may seem. For example, "L'amour Toujours" by Gigi D'Agostino is a classic dance record. No one mentions the fact that it uses the main melody from Sibelius’ Symphony No 2, Movt. IV as its vocal line - same key and everything. My time in high school with the Djent and Heavy Metal scene influences my rap productions today - both genres often use half-time tempo changes during the bridges and outros or complete beat switches. I think that's why both rock and rap shows often have mosh pits. I think it's why the musicians I played with in jazz bands in high school are now some of the most famous producers and artists in hip hop. We all have a shared language, and the boundaries in dialect are more blurred than we may think.
Can you name any factors that influenced the course of your musical life? Heroes, role models, moments, interactions, etc?
My time working at Red Bull Studios is some of the most special and influential for me. Working with engineers of such high caliber, and having the opportunity to learn from them is why I am a working engineer today. Their unparalleled attention to detail and the appreciation for the discipline of being an engineer is something not many get to witness. I also appreciate the fact that the entire staff took the time to educate the assistants and each other. There were no closed doors, no secret techniques, and no competition. We all wanted to share, collaborate, and help each other grow not only as engineers, but as people.
It inspired the way I view my role in the studio. I always aim to surround myself with people that are constantly pushing themselves forward, because it inspires me to push myself. I make sure to share my knowledge with everyone in the studio, and to remain receptive to the insights of others when they offer their own guidance. Chris Tabron, Evan Sutton, Mark Bengtson, Nate Odden, Peter Geiser, Atafeh Karimi, and Augusto Sanchez. They will forever be my role models, and I thank them all dearly for their confidence and continued guidance throughout my career.
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?
Early in my career, my most common source of frustration stemmed from receiving less-than-desirable files for mixing or production. I would find myself thinking “If only they had recorded this better I could get a ‘better’ mix... if only they could find the right stems...” and other things of that nature. My frustration came from me trying to take the artist's music and mold it into what I think a “proper mix” should sound like. It was like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. Along the way I could get it to fit, but there were pieces on the floor, and it always seemed like the fit wasn’t as snug as it should have been.
I have since learned to tailor my methods, and adjust how I approach each mix accordingly. I keep constant and open lines of communication with the artist and try to find a sound for the project as a whole so I can weave a common thread throughout. Maybe all of the other songs were recorded perfectly and there’s one song that the vocals were recorded as an iPhone memo - but they really love the performance. Instead of mangling the vocal file with crazy EQ, gating, and other nonsense, I stop and think: "How can I change the mix so this one song captures the original intent they’re trying to preserve, but the song and message still stays connected to the rest of the record." This has led me to not only more rewarding experiences as a mixer and producer, but has also left my clients more creatively fulfilled. In this way, I’m able to preserve that thing they’re trying to hold on to so dearly, and tie it in with the rest of their vision.
Is there any gear you find yourself turning to most when working on a project? What are some of your favorite tools/instruments recently?
My most valuable piece of gear is my TC Electronics Clarity M hardware meter. I keep it on my desk right in my face to keep me honest while I’m mixing. I've managed to keep my gear collection rather small and abstract, so I only turn to my outboard if I'm looking for a specific special effect, like my old SPX-1000, and Alesis Microenhancer (which sounds surprisingly good on a stereo master). But I do have some go-to plugins that seem to make it to all of my mixes. On my mix-buss, I find myself reaching for the Plugin Alliance Vertigo VSC-2, Softube Drawmer S73 (in moderation), Brainworx Digital_V3, and the Brainworx True Peak Limiter. Sometimes I will also throw on the Brainworx Shadow Hills Class A, but really just for the adjustable transformers and non-linearities if I feel the mix needs that.
Do you have any words of wisdom for people who might aspire toward a similar path for their own careers?
If there is a C room at a studio (smallest studio in the building, only has a Scarlett 2i2, and the left speaker kinda rattles when you drive it too hard): become the master of the C room. Heck, become the master of the coffee machine if that’s where you have to start. Be the person who read the fancy coffee machine manual and learned how to make a nice latte for the producer. Be the person who figured out it was just a loose screw on the speaker stand that was causing the rattle. Be the person who can make a great-sounding recording of a string quartet using just the two inputs on the 2i2 (yes, it can be done).
From experience, I know that if you can be trusted to handle the smaller and less-desirable jobs at a studio with poise and grace, you will be sooner trusted with the work that everybody else is gunning for.
How long have you been working with headphones, and how do you typically use them in your workflow?
This is going to sound like I’m being paid to say this, but I promise I’m not. I wasn’t actually a huge fan of mixing over headphones until I got my pair of LCD-1’s in 2020. Until then, I had always been fortunate enough to work in great sounding rooms so I had no need to rely on headphones and mainly used them for reference. The pandemic had just started in March 2020, all of the studios I was working out of were shut down, and I needed to finish a ton of work from home (where I was still setting up my home studio). A producer friend of mine, Epic B, tagged me in an Instagram contest for a free pair of LCD-1’s. I normally never partake in those, but I had some free time to kill with everyone being stuck at home. I tagged Epic back as a friendly gesture, and 30 seconds later the draw closes and I’m selected as the winner!
It could not have been more perfect timing. I burned the headphones in as soon as I got them so I could get right to work, and I was able to finish all of my work during the course of lockdown. They also came in handy when things started opening back up. I was moving around a lot in NYC, as many artists were looking to record and produce their records from home. I needed a solid reference point that I could trust no matter where I brought them, and the LCD-1’s executed perfectly. I would say that I’m now mixing about 75% starting on headphones, and then referencing on speakers and in the car.
Headphones also play a large role in my career in Atmos. I would estimate that about 95% of consumers, if not more, are listening to immersive audio in headphones. The market hasn’t really opened up yet for consumer immersive audio playback other than headphones. So I am constantly bouncing back and forth between the Atmos room at Republic Studios, my Airpod Pros, Airpod Max's, and Audezes to ensure total translation across platforms and mediums.
How have your Audeze headphones affected your work?
The LCD-X's have been a huge upgrade from the LCD-1's... I'm often mixing from my home studio, and the LCD-X's are now the only headphones I trust with ensuring that my mix translates from headphones to speakers, and vice-versa. The biggest change that I have felt is with my Dolby Atmos mixes. The LCD-X's lend themselves extremely well to the format. When I place my objects around the room, I really feel a sense of where they will translate to in an actual Atmos studio.
The imaging is fantastic, the clarity is supreme, and they are surprisingly fun to work on compared to other open-backed headphones I have used in the past. In conjunction with room emulating plugins, I have an accurate studio everywhere I go. I have actually been able to start most mixes in headphones and move them straight into a room without the shock that often comes with playing a headphone mix over speakers. I just think "Wow, that's exactly how I imagined it would sound!"
Can you tell us what you've been working on with them recently?
The most recent project I used the LCD-X's on would be the Atmos mixes for the debut LP "(self-titled)" by Marcus Mumford. It is one of the most powerful yet delicate journeys in music, and I knew I could trust the LCD-X's to get the job done. Much of the record was started on these headphones for broad-strokes placements and panning before moving them to the Atmos room at Republic Studios NYC. This helped me get an intimate feel for the record and plot my movements carefully from song to song before making the final and more intricate changes on the desk.
Do you have any additional comments or stories you want to share?
Presonus always leaves a recipe at the end of their manuals, so if you’re still reading I guess I’ll do the same. Brandon’s Scallop Frisee Salad: Ingredients needed: ● 12-16 Fresh Scallops ● 1 clove garlic (finely diced) ● 1 tbsp salted butter (room temperature) ● 1⁄2 lemon ● 1⁄4 tsp roughly-chopped capers ● 1 bunch of Frisee ● Salt ● Pepper To Prepare: 1. Lightly pat the scallops dry on both sides with paper towel. 2. Salt and pepper both sides. 3. Coat the bottom of a non-stick pan with a thin layer of olive oil and heat to medium-high heat. 4. Once the oil is just beginning to shimmer, place the scallops around the edge of the pan clockwise from largest to smallest. You should hear sizzling, but the oil shouldn’t be boiling hot and spattering out of the pan. 5. Sear on medium-high until the bottoms are evenly browned. 6. Once all of the scallops are evenly browned on one side, flip them in the same order they were placed in the pan. 7. Sear the second side and halfway through the browning, lower the heat to medium-low. 8. Quickly place your butter, chopped garlic, capers and a light squeeze of lemon juice into the center of the pan. 9. Once melted, move all of the scallops to one side of the pan and baste in the garlic butter and capers. 10. Place 3-5 scallops on a bed of your frisee. 11. Drizzle a splash of the cooking oil and a light squeeze of the lemon over the dish and enjoy!