Audeze talks with mixing and mastering engineer Ryan Schwabe

September 02, 2023

Ryan Schwabe is a platinum certified mastering engineer and Grammy nominated mixing engineer located in West Philadelphia.  Ryan was also an associate teaching professor of recording arts and music production at Drexel University’s Music Industry Program, and is owner of the audio technology company Schwabe Digital

 Ryan Schwabe in the studio with his Audeze LCD-5 headphones

"I now start my masters on my LCD-5s and then check them on the speakers I have been using for the past 5 years.  They have given me a sense of freedom and willingness to work outside of the studio."  - Ryan Schwabe
Here's our chat with Ryan:
Can you pick out any highlights from your work that you're particularly proud of?

Fridayy — Lost In Melody (ep) mastering
BAYNK — Go With You (single) How Does it Feel? (single) mixing
Cafune — TEK IT (single) mastering
Baauer — Planets Mad (LP) mixing

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

By quantity alone my role is most often a mastering engineer, but I selectively mix 1-2 LPs a year as well.  I love mixing records and want to mix more than I do now, but my role as a professor at Drexel limited my ability to take on larger mixing projects. I am a mastering engineer first and a mixing engineer second.  

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

When I was a kid my grandmother had an old turntable laying around in her house and I always messed with it when I went over there.  One day she asked if I wanted it and I said yes.  I started collecting old records at the goodwill and reading the liner notes.  I think Lou Rawls - Unmistakably Lou was the first record I bought at the Goodwill in Buffalo, NY.  I remember my mom coming in and asking why I was listening to that old music.  That record led to buying and listening to many others.  Then, that turntable and record collection led me to samplers, drums machines, DJ’ing and eventually to production and engineering in Philadelphia.  That Unmistakably Lou record will always be special to me because it was an omen to my future here in Philadelphia.  It turns out that album was recorded In Philadelphia at Sigma Sound Studios.  Later in life when I moved to Philly I was fortunate to become friends with Joe Tarsia and many of the Sigma Sound producers and engineers.  That record was the first thing that pointed me towards Philadelphia.  

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

A lot of my path in music was autodidactic.  I never had a mentor to pull me upwards, I always floated up with my peers around me.  It was along path, but I wouldn’t do it any other way.  Mostly, I admired the people I got to work with early in my career.  RJD2, Noah Breakfast and Joe Reinhart — they were all just people in Philly to me.  But they were all friends and people I admired. Collaborating with those artists/producers pushed my musical life in directions I could not predict.  Those people led me to Baauer, Ellie Goulding, Beach Bunny, Cafune and many more.  Early on in Philadelphia I was a studio designer and manager for Drexel University’s Music Industry Program.  That job allowed me to build recording studios for students and meet the future leaders in the industry.  Those small connections and friendships turned into lifelong collaborations.  

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 try not to allow things to frustrate me.  It is a luxury to be able to work in music and I try to keep that in mind at all times.  Earlier in my career I would let everything bother me and it made my work worse.  I would frustrate myself with small engineering details, or when an artist I previously worked with moved on to work with another engineer, or when managers had unrealistic deadlines, or endless revisions to projects or simply finding a decent work-life balance.  All of those things can be frustrating, but they don’t have to be.  Eventually, I realized that life would be much better if I embraced all of that as a perfectly normal part of working within the arts.  Artists have to constantly reinvent themselves and they may move on to work with others.  Art is subject and there are no right answers.  Some songs are finished on v1 and others take much more work.  Obviously, it is not easy work and the hours can be long, but if you are fortunate to work on records you love, then long hours can feel short.  If you can say no to projects and carve out time for life it will make the projects you say yes to that much better.  Success is not about doing everything, it is about doing the work you want to do.

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

Yes, and I built it. Schwabe Digital, Gold Clip!  
A process in my mastering work is this unique form of compression on Lavry Gold converters that does not use attack and release times, its instantaneous like compression from tape.  I developed a unique plugin that incorporates that concept and a few other unique ideas.  I used it all over the new Pussy Riot LP that I mixed.  It sounds fun, aggressive and makes sounds stand up taller and sound more expensive. Check it out! 

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

A lot of young producers and engineers try to jump their careers forward too quickly.  My advice is slow down.  Make great art with your friends, make great art with people in your community that you think are doing interesting work.  So many try to jump forward in their career and work with big artist A or B, but my career was always about working with the people around me and watching all of us come up.  

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

I never trusted working on headphones until I got a pair of Audeze.  In the past I always used headphones to check for pops, clicks and random unwanted noises, but rarely used them for critical listening.  That all changed when I got my Audeze headphones.  Now I am able to do critical listening in the studio and on the road without feeling like I am missing any of the finer details in the balance and dynamics of the music.  Using Audeze has opened up my work and allowed me to move freely around and still work with confidence.  

How have your Audeze headphones affected your work?

I now start my masters on my LCD-5s and then check them on the speakers I have been using for the past 5 years.  They have given me a sense of freedom and willingness to work outside of the studio.  I am amazed at my ability to get the same or maybe even better results starting with the headphones alone... They are like a microscope into the music.  

Can you tell us what you've been working on with them recently?

Recently I finished mastering the new Fridayy song called More of Your Love for Def Jam.  It sounds excellent.  Prior to that, I finished a new GhostLuvMe single featuring Lil Uzi Vert called Fact and an LP for a Philly artist named Suzanne Sheer (The Blue Hour).

Ryan Schwabe's Audeze LCD-5 headphones in his studio