Audeze talks with producer and engineer Jack Vad

May 05, 2021

For the last 45 years, two time Grammy winner Jack Vad has produced & engineered various classical recordings for both audio and video release. Jack was also a Producer/Engineer for the San Francisco Symphony from 1988 through 2020.

Jack Vad and his puppy pose while wearing Audeze heapdhones

Here's our chat with Jack:

Can you pick out any favorites from your work that you're particularly proud of?

The listed live recordings of the San Francisco Symphony reflect the remarkable marriage of Michael Tilson Thomas’ interpretive vision and the mature, collaborative relationship with the orchestra. From a recording standpoint, these productions represent experiences that were ultimately very important to me personally.

San Francisco Symphony Media:
West Side Story
From The Diary Of Anne Frank & Meditations On Rilke
Copland Symphony No.3

The listed recordings from Music & Arts are projects that represent a complete contrast to the San Francisco Symphony choices - they are intimate, have no more than 4 musicians, were recorded at Skywalker Ranch, and ultimately involved longtime friends. For me, these were the recordings one might produce if you were crazy enough to do so on vacation!

Music & Arts:
Bach - Sonatas for Flute & Harpsichord
Couperin - Complete Concerts Royaux

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

My main role typically puts me in the producer’s chair. In classical music that means I’m responsible for crafting a sound, making certain all the musical materials have been captured adequately, and finally, putting it all together in post-production.

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

I had taken piano lessons when I was young and subsequently became seriously interested in classical music composition when I was 15; I became composer Bruce Broughton’s very first student! However, I did listen to just about anything even though my main interest revolved around 20th century classical composers. I’m still curious about all types of music and try to not be too self limiting as there’s a lot of talent out there populating many musical genres (though discovering some of that talent often requires a bit of digging!).

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

Studying with composer Bruce Broughton provided me with a window into musical understanding that I don’t believe I could have achieved with anyone else. Also, since he was doing a lot of dramatic TV scoring at the time, he would often bring me along to sessions to help supervise musical balances. It was working on those sessions at 15 years of age that provided me an introduction to both recording technology and session production.

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?

Many, many years ago, I was hired to produce and engineer some location sessions for a high profile classical music label that involved a small instrumental ensemble with vocal soloist. The venue was a wonderful church with great acoustics, some very accomplished instrumentalists, but a challenging singer. This particular vocalist was unable to maintain pitch and two hours into the session, after spending way too much time trying to achieve simple note matching, I decided to cancel the sessions without record company consultation; it seemed to me at the time that we would not be able to produce high enough quality material. Ultimately, I did explain my decision to the director of the label who, on the phone, seemed sympathetic. It turned out the label later hired someone else to complete the project and I believe I was never asked to work for that company again. So, in retrospect, would I have done anything differently? No!

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

reNOVAtor by Algorithmix is indispensable to me. I’ve often joked that, should this software become incompatible with my workflow, I’d just retire. Aside from its ability to de-noise large, multi-track projects, it also allows for both remarkable harmonic control and editing processes that are, I believe, still unique for large track count, high resolution projects. Additionally, there are plugins by FLUX, oeksound, and others that are in constant use too.

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

My initial approach to a recording project has always been driven by my perspective of the composition/literature; IOW, what is it I can do technically to better clarify a composer’s ideas. If someone aspires to this approach, then learning as much as one can about orchestration, composition, music history is going to be very helpful. The ultimate laddering of all musical priorities for me however, are composer/composition, interpretation, and execution. With a proper understanding of these elements, one can develop a sonic mandate that then guides the use of technology.

Most of my colleagues have traveled a similar path in terms of experiential growth in that we predominately started by working on small live projects such as chamber music, choral recordings, and solo recitals. These types of experiences are indispensable as you are forced to manage many different aspects of the technical production while also learning about mic placement, acoustics, creating efficient solutions, etc. However, the landscape is quite different now compared to 40+ years ago both in terms of opportunities and technology. When I was young, I was lugging around Studer tape machines & mixers for almost two decades which an MRI of my spine at L4/5 can easily prove. Now remote kits can be very compact, have endless software capabilities that we couldn’t even dream of in my youth, and arguably more reliable sonics. The flip side now though is that many of my youthful colleagues are having to provide some form of video services in addition to the audio - there’s always a lot to learn!

In the end, the most important way to cultivate the craft as I envision it is to not wait for the phone to ring. If it means working for free, work for free. But always experiment, ask musicians questions about what their experiences have been with good mic placement elsewhere, talk to colleagues, listen to your recordings with colleagues, and if you have the opportunity to do so, perhaps study at schools that can offer you an appropriate curriculum. And then, after all of that, keep listening. Listen to as many relevant recordings as you can stand and see what aspects make sense to you. Between the doing and the listening you’ll hopefully develop your own artistic priorities.

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

I’ve been working with headphones all my life!! In fact, the (then newly released) Koss Pro4AA was my very first professional headset as a youngster! At this point, headphones are always used during initial capture sessions, editing, and final mix verification.

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

My issue with headphones has been the same issue I have with microphones - high frequency resonances. Many condenser microphones in particular can have intentional high frequency lifts anywhere in the 6 -10k region which drives me crazy. Likewise, I have found many headphones to suffer from similar “enhancements’. For the most part, the Audeze headphones I use do not have this problem and, as a result, allow me to hear what I need to hear without distraction.
I’ve been using Audeze headphones for so long I couldn’t begin to list what I’ve used them on - let’s just say everything!