Defining “fabulous” is not always a question of “what” as it is a question of “whom”. I am referring to music producer music Fabrice DuPont owner of Flux Studio. Fab for short. It’s amazing that people around the globe know him as Fabulous Fab. One of the top names in the international music industry, those that don’t know Fab are aware of his clients. On this day, he is packing to go to the Grammies.
Flux Studio is an anomaly in the music industry. Many recording studios are closing with the advent of the computer and the DYI band craze. Everyone is posting music on YouTube and the quantity (not necessarily quality) of music has exploded. While many recording studios are leaving New York for cheaper areas, Flux Studios is thriving and doing very well. Just North of Houston Street in the East Village, it is a recording studio that never seems to sleep. Like many musicians, recording starts at all hours of the day and goes well into the evening as the creativity hits the artist. It is not uncommon to see this recording studio run 24 hours. Nor is it uncommon to see it listed as a recipient of multiple Grammy nominations. The studio has garners at least two nominations consistently for the past five years. In factoring the International Grammy Awards located throughout the world, the studio stands apart also for the depth of variety that comes out of the suites. Today, Fab has received notice he received a Grammy in France for an album that he mixed and produced early last year. Next week, he will travel to South America to mix an album. January has him booked in South Africa for three weeks. When he is not mixing for artists around the globe, bands fly from everywhere in to book with him. He is usually booked up six months in advance.
The World in Flux
Flux Studio is a very eclectic place. It takes up a floor on an L-shaped building. The place has a vibe very similar to a visual artist’s workspace. It is not corporate as it is creative. One can feel the creative synergy walking in the door. If you’re walking through the East Village, you would probably walk right by it. That is by design. Nestled between a methadone clinic and a pizza-by-the-slice dive, the entrance is very unassuming, covered with graffiti, and almost invisible even if you’re looking for it. It’s in an area that is very easy to catch a cab, get transportation to and from the airport, or find a meal at 4:00 AM. Artists fly in specifically to get into the recording space as it is the right mix of business, creativity and focusing energy. People get inspired and get to work. It’s a music artist’s playground. It is a secluded oasis in the middle of Manhattan so recording artists such as J-Lo, Shakira or Queen Latifah can walk in and out and not be inundated with fans waiting outside. It is a hidden gem under the noses of the paparazzi. Amazingly high tech, there are a plethora of microphones, pianos, instruments, and just about any piece of recording or mixing equipment a person could need/use/want when putting together an album. The studio has state of the art of equipment that in many instances isn’t on the market. Some of the pieces of the equipment are in beta-testing with sound engineering companies looking for feedback. Fab is meticulous, demanding, and intensely vocal about what works and what doesn’t. Executives in the industry ask him to help troubleshoot and beta test their equipment before releasing it to the world.
“The studio is really about making amazing quality work. Everything we do here is so that the artist can craft the most perfect album. It’s not about mixing a record in your garage, a bedroom, and then mixing it in GarageBand. While there is a place for that and you can do some pretty good stuff, this is about people who take their music very seriously and want to be in the top 1 to 2% of what is being listened to.”
Music is art
How do we gauge music quality, impact, and value? As makers of music, it is important to understand what makes the listeners in the world tick. Music and the ranking of music performances are different for the average listener versus?the performer, composer, band member, or mixer. The average person could care less about music production, mixing or mastering a recording. The average person cares more about who the singer is, whether they are hot or not, perhaps what the singer is saying in their music. But on a deeper level (often very nuanced), they really are most importantly concerned about how the music makes them feel when they listen to it. Does it make them happy, cry with emotion, laugh, experience anger, or anxiety? Does the music make them feel zen or want to dance? Does it make them feel anything at all? Does it move them in some way? That is the art of music. That’s the challenge of the music artist, mixer and composer.
Fab is very blunt and honest when talking about his beginnings.
“It’s a very particular situation. I learned by myself… failing. Making records that didn’t sound like the way I heard them in my head. There is nothing more frustrating than knowing exactly what you want it to sound like and it doesn’t — which is very difficult to get to. I don’t know many people who are naturally born with the instinct of what a drum set should sound like through a bunch of microphones and speakers. Right there, creating that notion in your head is the start of a journey. Once you have that notion, you have to achieve the technical knowledge to achieve that notion in reality. Those are two different things. It doesn’t come naturally. Your mother did not give you that gene. What is giving you that gene is listening to music and being relentless in your search. When you’re alone at home and you don’t have a soundboard. It’s hard. Referencing is the best way. You have to listen, experiment, and be open to try new things. You don’t run on tried and true. You have to develop your intuition and experience.”
Fab paraphrases something like this:
“Here’s what I tell people. I’m going to give you a seminar. I am going to give you two hours to learn the guitar. In those two hours, I am going to give you all the knowledge I have in my head. Two hours and I will show you everything I know and tomorrow you’re going to play the guitar.”
Everyone laughs at that notion but that is what is the expectation and that how many artists in the music industry are. People don’t see the parallel of playing the bass, the drums or singing and mixing, sound engineering and producing. It’s the same thing. In his book Blink, Malcolm Gladwell says it takes 10,000 hours before someone can master something. It’s the same thing for a musician — it takes 10,000 hours. It’s also the same thing for the person mixing, producing, and mastering the sound that one hopes people will love.
“It takes time to learn, listen, and come up with solutions to making a good sound… besides learning what a good sound is. For me, I no longer run off my knowledge base, I run off my intuition. I remember how so many people feel as I remember how I felt. I also know exactly how that person in the basement feels who is working with one microphone, a converter and bare-bones equipment feels. Because I have been there, I remember it well. I remember how depressing it can be AND how the depressing factor makes you feel how the sound is worst than it really is. It’s one of the reasons we started PureMix.”
A Pure Mix
PureMix is an online learning environment. It has been the passion of Fab for over five years. In that time, PureMix has made a name for itself. It is the go-to site for clear and insightful tutorials to assist people who don’t have access to the traditional ways or tools about learning how to mix a recording. PureMix is not like Lynda.com. It doesn’t teach software as it teaches theory. It teaches one to use their instincts. One doesn’t learn how a particular software package is used as one learns how to pass onto others the experience of the sound that is whirling around in the artist’s head. It teaches how to convey the experience of the music. People sit in on mixing sessions with mentors of the recording industry and watch them work. Mixing is an art — not a science. One has to train one’s ears on how to listen but also how to create the perfect end-product regardless of the genre.
The mentors on the teaching team are not only impressive but to someone perhaps wanting to get into the music industry, they can be as intimidating as hell. When I asked Fab how he managed to get these people involved, the answer was a little funny but also quite sincere.
“We don’t like to listen to crap… but we also want to pass on to others how to make music great. Everyone involved wants to share our knowledge as what we have found, in explaining it to other people what we do, we actually enjoy it more through the process of sharing.”
The opportunity to learn from these people is amazing. This group of people has basically contributed to everything on the airwave or over the internet. To convey this, you will need to forgive me as I name drop the bands these folks have worked with—this is just a few by the way. Here are just a few of the mentors on the team includes:
Fab Dupont — Queen Latifah, Jennifer Lopez, Les Nubians, Bon Jovi and Marc Anthony,
Andrew Scheps — Beyonce, Lana Del Rey, Red Hot Chili Peppers, U2, Michael Jackson, Green Day, Johnny Cash, The Rolling Stones, Justin Timberlake and Jay-Z,
Mick Guzauski — Prince, Michael Jackson, Earth Wind & Fire, Kenny G, Eric Clapton, Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears
John Paterno — Robbie Williams, The Steve Gadd Band, Soraya, Robben Ford, Eros Ramazzotti, The Thrills, Tim McGraw and Bonnie Raitt
Ben Lindel — 50 Cent, Soulja Boy, Wale, Kelly Rowland, Chromeo, MGMT, Rufus Wainright, Edie Brickell, Joey MacIntyre, Ryan Leslie and Lloyd Banks
Ryan West — Eminem, Kanye West, Usher, Rihanna, Jay Z, Dr. Dre and Kid Cudi
Just about every music genre is covered. The team pulls together about two dozen Grammy wins amongst themselves… thus someone really interesting in getting to that top 1 or 2% has an opportunity that many would drool over plus puts them a good head and shoulders above the fray.
The group helps teach individuals about how they work but also how they think. They give guidance, show what to listen for, and also how to find one’s own sound using their techniques. It is more than just a virtual classroom. It is a community of engineers and producers from around the globe that discuss real-life recording situations in a private forum. To ensure everyone is listening to the same thing, all the audio for the PureMix site is calibrated at -18dBFs average across the board. Videos are encoding so that audio ALWAYS has priority over video and the sound quality never suffers in low bandwidth situations. It is a thoughtful approach to explain the technical methods but more importantly, it focuses on the reasoning and honing of skills that are not intuitive. One learns the craft of sound not just making things louder. While the roster of credentials may be intimidating, the content delivery is not. The content is delivered in a way that is actually quite fun and at times quite amusing and laughable. Some of the courses offer deep analysis of music and theory but usually done in a way that offers clarity without confusion. Currently, over 45,000 engineers from around the world are plugged into PureMix. PureMix has now gone into phase two. The website launched a new redesign at the beginning of the year. The amazing volume of content is broken down into four categories: mixing, producing, recording and mastering.
Staying Grounded in the Beat
So while he still is flying off to the Grammy’s and struggling to figure out what to wear (or at least — that would be MY problem), Fab still has some family chores. Somewhere between packing for the Grammy’s, mixing, booking/reviewing contracts, and listening to tracks, Fab picks up his daughter from school. She is seven and has lived her life constantly surrounded by musicians. It has been a rather unusual playground but one that offers exposure to many things that most children would never get exposed to. “Daddy, who is Shakira?” So one day she asks another rather thought-provoking question: “What’s your favorite song?” It’s an interesting question that only a child can ask but takes on new meaning when one is in the business of making music.