Recording Connection mentor Danny Allen on Active Listening, Who He Mentors & More.
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Recording Connection mentor audio engineer Danny Allen (Eddie Money, Christopher Hopper, We Are Messengers, Derek Johnson – Jesus Culture) of War Drum Mixing, in Upstate New York, is big on sharing the knowledge he’s acquired during his years in the industry. He expects the students he trains as externs to be active listeners who are downright consumed by the need to do audio, rather than some desire to be a big shot.
So Danny, what made you want to be an audio engineer in the first place?
“I fell in love with music when I was about maybe five years old, when I first saw my grandfather, a big bluegrass musician. I mean, he can play almost anything. It’s incredible, and he used to play for hours and hours and hours, and I would just watch him. And he taught me to play the mandolin when I was six. And maybe six months or a year later I actually started performing on stages at bluegrass festivals. So my first genre that I got into was bluegrass. Which if you were to see me, I do not look like a bluegrass type of guy. But that was kind of where I got my start. From mandolin then I learned guitar and bass and piano, and then I started fiddling around with drums, and then just tried to get my hands on any instrument I could, and now I can dabble in just about anything with strings.
So that went on until I was about 16 or 17 or so. I went with a couple other musician friends down to Nashville, to a conference that had a lot of big name musicians and things like that, and there were workshops and that whole deal, and there was one class the whole week which was dedicated to audio engineering. I was like, you know, I’m eventually going to get into recording. I should at least see what the process is like. So I sat in on that class and it was the coolest thing I had ever seen. The whole process, from setting up to how the audio engineer interacted with the musicians, and how they went over the tapes, just capturing those magic moments. It just captivated me. I left that conference thinking, ‘Well, this is it. This is what I’ve got to do. I don’t even care about my own music anymore. I want to be part of other people’s music.’”
Besides the education you got at Full Sail, who were the pros to mentor you when you were first starting out? What did they teach you?
“I got a job at a recording studio in Upstate New York, called Sprig Music where I got to work with the amazing Peter Hopper. This guy is incredible. He had been in the recording industry for 46 or 47 years, or something like that, worked with some huge names. He’s the most humble guy you’d ever meet. He doesn’t like to talk about the big names that he works with, but every now and again he’ll tell a story and you’ll say, ‘Wait, who were you working with here?’ and he might say it…I learned so much from him in a really short period of time. So he was a really big one for me.
Another one would have to be the guy who really gave me a chance and taught me some of the basics when I was 16, 17 years old. His name is David Woodkirk. He’s such a great guy. He was always excited about everything. It didn’t matter if the band sucked. It didn’t matter if everything was falling apart. He was just so happy to be there and so happy to mix. Learning from him, I got to see that what we do, it’s fun, it’s awesome! It’s so cool to be part of this. Why would I not be happy?
If I had learned from somebody with a snobby attitude or somebody who thought they were a hot shot, then that’s what I would have gotten. I would have thought, ‘Oh, everything has to be perfect, and if it’s not, then it sucks…so I don’t want to be part of it. That’s just totally the opposite of how it should be.”
So why do you choose to mentor for Recording Connection?
“I’ve found over the years that I just love teaching in general, basically sharing what knowledge and tricks that I have with other people. And when you see it click with somebody and you see them either get it or get better at it because of something that you showed them, it’s a really thrilling feeling for me…I really enjoy seeing people grow, because I genuinely care about people, and when I see somebody who is as excited as I am about something, I want to see them succeed.”
So let’s say you have a student who you’re letting sit in and observe during one of your recording sessions with an artist. How should they handle themselves?
“Obviously, they should be paying attention. There are a few things that, if I see them, I’m going to question how involved or interested they really are, how much they really want this. If your cellphone is out, you’re not paying attention to the session. You should be listening, and when you’re listening and paying attention, you’re totally consumed by it…
During actual red light recording, you’re hyper-focused. Sometimes you’re listening so hard that you notice other sounds and can tell me when the time is right, ‘Oh, shoot, a semi-truck with a diesel engine just drove by while he was saying that line. We might have to go back and fix that.’ That’s one thing that I try to really push and kind of expect from students. And ask questions. If the artist is not there or if there’s not something directly going on, questions are awesome. But preferably write them down and ask them all at the end, because during the moment, during the session, it’s all about the artist.”
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