How To Survive Studio Culture as a Young Recording Engineer with Pablo Morales

Tonemillers, we did it! Your Tonemamas went outside to meet with today’s 9th floor guest Pablo Morales, a recording/ mixing engineer at Flux Studios (NYC). When we met Morales at a socially distant coffee spot in Brooklyn, we instantly remembered that outside is kind of inconvenient actually. Did you guys know that trains are really loud on the outside? Or that clouds sometimes release water randomly on the outside? Right, we also forgot. As we sat there having our conversation interrupted at regular fifteen intervals by the roaring screeching of the trains (really, MTA, now you decide a regular schedule works?!) today’s 9th floor guest met us only with good-natured warmth and charm.

Pablo Morales is working full-time at the legendary Flux Studio owned by Grammy-nominated Fab DuPont. This studio is no stranger to legends: Jennifer Lopez, Andre 3000, Chance the Rapper and Frank Ocean are some greats who have casually strolled through its halls.
“Can you talk trash about any famous people?” your Tonemamas blurted out wasting no time with their classic composed professionalism.
As Morales opens his mouth to answer, the anti-gossip Gods strike us with another perfectly scheduled train and we miss all that comes out except catching only the last remnants as the stupid train finally passes: “….the nicest people I’ve encountered are the ones who are the most famous.” Not today, Tonemamas.

Flux Studios (East Village)

Morales is a 24-year old Colombian-now-NYC-based artist, musician and recording/mixing engineer. As a wee child he started on the drums, formed a band with his brother, fell out of a tree, sustained an injury that rendered him unable to play the drums reorienting him to a career in recorded music. After being accepted at three major studios to intern, Morales chose Flux Studios as it “felt like home”.  Now having swapped getting coffee/ taking out trash and other intern tasks for high-level responsibility like leading sessions with artists of extraordinary calibre (including The Strokes, Jon Batiste, and Michelle Willis), Morales gives us the golden list:

How To Survive Studio Culture as a Young Recording Engineer:

1. In the beginning, establish yourself through observation

Morales is adamant, this is the stuff they don’t teach you at music school. You learn through assimilating into the background.
“Be there without being there, you know?” Morales explains. “You’re not supposed to be the main guy in the gig, you have to figure out, ‘where do I belong in this place right now?’”

2. Observe and respect the social dynamics of the studio

You thought you could just waltz in and show off all your fancy technical skills? Not so fast, young one.
“You have to be aware of your surroundings and learn to read the room,” Morales informs us, “Because sometimes the best thing you can do is shut the fuck up and get out.”
Conclusion: harness those social antennas and become fluent in the art of unspoken cues.

Morales at Flux STudios

3. Be prepared to have your youth used against you

While youth may be a commodity in the music industry for artists, it certainly plays a less positive role in the engineering/ technical sphere.
“When you’re this young, people look down at you,” Morales tells us. “People assume that when you’re this young, you don’t know what you’re doing.”
“Have you had experiences where that has directly impacted you?” we ask.
Morales nods his head leading us into our next point:

4. Don’t take things personally – learn to subtract your ego from the equation

Morales shares an anecdote of meeting an artist at the elevator at Flux Studios who, upon learning that the fresh-faced Morales would be leading the session, was visibly disappointed.
“I didn’t take it personally, because it wasn’t about me,” Morales remembers of the situation. “It’s really hard to sometimes subtract yourself and your ego from the process, but when you do things can just flow.”
Morales recalls brushing off the comments and instead assuming professional mode, leading the mentioned artist into a fully prepared studio space and saying, “when you’re ready, I’m ready.”
After a couple of hours of observing Morales’ evident competence, the artist’s entire attitude changed.
Morales concludes: “As long as you can do your job, no one fucking cares.” Preach, amen.

5. Start with an internship to learn humility

Morales recalls his own internship and its purpose in “snapping him back to reality.” Coming in with big visions of clinking glasses with Jay Z himself while consulting with Beyoncé on a track, Morales was instead relegated to taking out the trash, cleaning bathrooms and being on coffee duty. The lesson?
“I’m at the lowest part of the food chain and there’s a reason for that – I need to pay my dues,” he says proudly. The pride in his voice shows the lesson paid off – a man motivated by the possibility of only going upwards can consider himself successfully schooled in the basics of humility.

6. Be ready to be on call

This was news to your Tonemamas. Turns out being a recording/ mixing engineer at a major studio is not that much different from being a doctor (apart from the whole “saving lives” thing). You are on call pretty much 24/7.
“Sometimes you’re out with your friends and you get a call like, ‘Hey, there’s a big artist coming tonight, can you be there?’ And if you’ve had a couple of drinks you’re like, should I say yes or no?”
“Well, what should you say?” your Tonemamas ask definitely never having been drunk on the job never ever before.
Morales gives us a big confident smile and utters a resounding: “YES.”
Conclusion: Always say yes.

7. Prepare to work grueling shifts

This one also seems pretty doctor-like (yes, yes again apart from the whole saving lives thing, calm down).
“I did 36-hour shifts – I’d go to the studio at 9AM and leave at 5PM the next day.” Damn.
“But…but when do you sleep?” we ask concerned and putting the ‘mama’ in Tonemama.
Again, we get a confident smile back: “You don’t.”

8. Prepare to not have many breaks during the working day/night

“People sometimes forget that engineers are human too,” Morales says with a lot more understanding in his voice than he should (they’re people, guys! What’s wrong with you?!). 
“Not because they’re bad people, they just forget. They take a break to eat and you’re editing and comping vocals and then they’re done eating and you’re like, okay I’m going to take my break and they’re like, no I’ve got a great idea, let’s go!”
Let the man eat, for pity’s sake.

9. Studio life and social life will merge into one

“Flux became my home and the people there my family.” Well, that one sounds kind of nice.

10.  Make friends with constant pressure

“You have to get comfortable but not too comfortable…it’s difficult not to feel burnt or even broken sometimes, but you just have to fucking pick yourself up.”
That’s some go-getter energy – couldn’t we all use a Morales in our lives when we’ve collapsed on the floor after doing one push-up in a work-out session? 

11.  Be comfortable knowing that they know that you don’t know

Read the sentence again, it’s a bit of a wordy one. But so true!
“They know that you don’t know shit,” Morales grins. “You just have to be there and learn through fucking up.”

12.  Lastly, and most importantly: care about the music first. Care about everything else next.

“Even though I’m a recording engineer, I’m first and foremost a musician and an artist.” Can we get a hallelujah!
“I do this to capture a performance and emotion,” Morales continues. “I don’t just do this so I can press a button, anyone can press a button.”

There you have it….

Tonemillers – if any of you are budding recording/ mixing engineers – take this list of precious advice offered generously to us by a man who has walked the walk to be able to talk the talk and write it all over your face because these are music industry gemstones (fine if you’re going to be a baby about it, write it on a piece of paper then #soboring). 

We finish the interview by asking Morales why anyone should think of hiring him as a recording/ mixing engineer (although from the wealth of knowledge he’s just shared, it seems pretty obvious).
“I’ve become pretty good at subtracting myself from the equation. Plus I’ve learned from the best and the philosophy behind why they do what they do, so people will get a combination of that.”
He pauses for a bit to reflect more and then his face breaks out in another cheeky grin.
“Plus, I’m dope, so hire me,” he finishes off cheerfully.
His dope-ness, we can indeed attest for.

Morales at Flux Studios

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