Next Generation Spotlight: Jasmine Mills

Audio Media International, in association with Genelec, is delighted to present our latest Next Generation Spotlight. Today, freelance audio engineer Jasmine Mills discusses the biggest challenges facing up and coming audio professionals and ambitions for the future…

What is your name and what do you do?
My name is Jasmine Mills. I do freelance audio engineer work, recording and mixing musicians. Sometimes I’ll edit or master someone’s project. I work with both the musicians and/or the producer.

I also am open to taking live sound gigs when the opportunities occasionally pop up. Usually, that’s through colleagues and other audio engineering friends. For live gigs, I like setting up and tearing down (wrapping cables) the equipment over mixing the musicians or anything. In live sound, it’s all happening and then the moment is gone. Which also means that live mixing engineers are pretty badass since they have to use super reflexes without any opportunities to do it again. On the flip side, it means one can’t stop and fine tune things. I love being picky and fine tuning everything, so that’s why I prefer studio work. Although, with the pace technology is being innovated everyday, who knows.

What inspired you to get into studio work?
I actually didn’t know that until my first year of college. I went into the Sound Recording Technology programme at my college because I knew I wanted to do something in my life with music and science, because music was and is a big part of myself and expression. I didn’t want to do anything that would deprive me of that. But I also knew there was no way I’d make it in a career as a musician alone. I was classically trained on the violin and self-aware enough to know that I was nowhere near the level required to get into any prestigious music school. Plus, it would be very difficult to make money. I didn’t want to let my love of science and technology go to waste. Plus I love investigating the workings and reasoning behind everyday things that we usually don’t give a passing thought about.

I was introduced to studio work once I started shadowing the upperclassmen during my freshmen year of college. In that program, the first year is spent more focusing on music and academic classes, with only one weekly class being Sound Recording centered. And even that class is more of a general intro class that other majors take. So, not wanting to miss out during freshmen year, I joined the student run live sound organization, Sound Services. I learned many basic concepts and skills during the weekly meetings, tech talks, and participating in the gigs. That was as close as I could get to doing studio work at the time. And it did prep me for working under stress and time constraints for the next year.

Once classes started with in the actual recording studio, however, I became attached to being in the studio as much as I could. While our department did have a monetary system (sessions cost money, forgetting to do things during desk managing (studio managing) shifts would incur penalties, desk managing shifts would earn money, recording and editing concerts and recitals would earn money, and failing to fill out a pre production form would incur a penalty), the executive student body officers would have office hours on weekdays. These office hours in the studios didn’t cost anything. Taking full advantage of that, I would sign out office hours or just show up and see if the studio was vacant that day. It helped that the sophomore studio had just gotten a card access lock out in, so I wouldn’t need to get the officer to lock the door even after their shift was done, and thereafter I would remain in the studio usually for another two or four hours. During this time, I’d practice signal flow, read the manuals to figure out the ins and outs of the recorder, the console, the outboard gear. I’d practice stuff we did in class and try to apply or duplicate it to varying degrees of success. I loved figuring out the studio like this.

These discoveries and practices made during my down time in the studio made the sessions with musicians and mixing sessions so much easier. Because I didn’t have to focus so much on the technical problems that would pop up and having to troubleshoot them, I could shift my energy towards the music and capturing the best performances.  And I figured out during this that I wanted to continue to pursue something involved with the studio in my career.

Tell us about your route into the industry?
My professors always told me to seek internships. Especially during the breaks between and during semesters. My general goal was trying to get into an area that would give me the opportunity, in the very far future, to participate in some engineering capacity on recording one of those large orchestral film scores. This didn’t really become as clear to me until later.

My first exploration was in Boston, MA. This is only because one of the studios there asked to meet me. So, on recommendation of my professors, I made several other meetings with different studios. My trip was interesting. Boston was great. But each of the studios basically told me the same thing: you should probably go to Los Angeles. Still, the Boston studios trip was good in getting a glimpse into the current state of the music industry and the post audio industry.

So after having email correspondences with the people I could manage to get in touch with (Alan Meyerson, Leslie-Ann Jones, Steve Durkee), I started looking into Los Angeles studios. I literally typed in “Los Angeles recording studio tape machine” into google. I loved working with tape. Fortunately, Kathleen Wirt at 4th Street Studios was one of the few people that answered. We had a great email and phone conversation. I found it awesome that she was a part of (actually on the board) for Women In Music’s LA Chapter. So, during May of 2018, I braved the journey across the US. I stayed at an AirBnB and interned at 4th Street Recording.

During the internship, I made many great and important network connections and friendships. I felt that if I went back to Fredonia, NY (home town…er village), I would lose some of the progress and opportunities that would pop up in my absence. Also, the chances of me returning to LA would decrease as I stayed in Fredonia longer. So, I made the decision to stay in LA. Granted, I found a way to complete my degree. One of the deans at the college (SUNY Fredonia) was gracious enough to give me credits retroactively from the internship I did. I then did one audio project and submitted a paper on audio dynamic compressor circuits. Then I got my Bachelor’s Degree of Science in Music.

Since then, I’ve managed to solidify my support group of fellow audio engineers. Networking was one of my huge objectives whenever I went to events. When I met Lenise Bent during my internship, she introduced me to Soundgirls. I assisted Lenise in an analog tape workshop at 4th Street soon after. This led me to meeting other Soundgirls that I regularly work with and talk to. Thanks to social media, namely the Soundgirls Facebook page, I’ve made more contacts, some of whom I’ve ended up working with.

Tell us about some of the key projects you’ve worked on over the past 12 months?
I am being mentored by Eva Reistad on film scoring. Well, as much as I can, given the pandemic and everything. She’s helped Alan Meyerson on a lot of his projects. And she’s a kickass Soundgirls engineer in her own right, both bands and film scoring. She has begun showing me the basic setups of her mixing sessions. I got the opportunity to do some tasks in helping setup some Pro Tools sessions for a small project she was working on.

Recently, I worked with a producer who brought in someone who sang a Christmas song that his grandfather wrote. It was very catchy.

What is your approach to work in the studio?
When in the engineering role, I am there to make sure the artist’s and producer’s end result is  faithful to what the artist and producer want since the music is a part of them that they’ve put out there and it’s important that care is taken in being given that trust as an engineer. I do this by making sure the technical aspects are all optimal when we hit record. Setting up the mics, using my knowledge of the studio we’re working in, and prior experience in sessions allows me to give them recommendations for them to meet their music and production goals.

If I’m engineering and also required to do some producing and coach the musician, I usually go for an encouraging approach. The musician is in a studio that they most likely haven’t stepped foot in before. I like recording clients in the 4th Street Recording Studio, because the atmosphere is so intimate. This really helps them open up and get the raw performance out of them. Simultaneously, I keep an eye on the time and make sure, if we do get stuck on any particular phrase or part of the song, that we either take a break and hydrate or put said part on the “visit this later.”

Who/what have been some of your biggest influences in your career to date?
There are so many that I consider my influences. So this is tough. I’ll give six.

Dave Fridmann has been a huge influence in my fundamentals of recording and mixing approaches. He was my teacher at SUNY Fredonia and continues to answer questions I have today. He always encouraged us to ask questions and was usually unimpressed when none of us had anything to ask him. At which point, he’d ask us to do some sort of task, like route this signal chain with these devices, and none of us would know how to do it at the time. Then he’d make us do it and then we’d have a billion questions to ask him. Although my year didn’t particularly have many instances of not having any questions for him. Our Q&A in class could go on for hours.

Lenise Bent is someone I love to go to with questions as well. She works in the area of recording that I am currently in, and has been in the industry for decades. Just google her. I find her inspiring as a fellow Soundgirl. She was one of the few females in the recording industry back when it was rare for females to be in producing roles, let alone engineering. She gives great advise and I love geeking out over analog tape and vintage gear with her.

Eva Reistad currently does work in the area of audio and music that I want to do someday. It’s very encouraging to see that there are badass females in the film scoring in the industry, even if the numbers are very small. Leslie-Ann Jones and Eva I look at as women who will be in the history books as blazing the path for women like me in the film scoring section of audio engineering.

Ainjel Emme is a Soundgirl that I met at Lenise’s analog tape workshop. Then at a Tech Breakfast. She is someone who knows the current music industry very well, being on both the talent and production side of the recording. A kickass producer, engineer, and a Melodyne master, I look up to her due to her years of experience. She’s a great mentor and very encouraging. She recently got into the P&E Wing of the Recording Academy.

Jett Galindo is another Soundgirl I like to look up to. She’s a great mastering engineer at The Bakery mastering studios, and is very active in the Entertainment Industry Professional Mentoring Alliance (EIPMA). She inspires me to mentor other aspiring audio engineers. Granted, I’m relatively young in my career, but it still good to give back.

Kathleen Wirt owns 4th Street Recording Studios. She’s run it since it’s creation with her then-partner, before she took over as the sole studio owner. She acts as owner and manager. I view her as the shining example as someone who has kept a smaller studio operating through all the vast changes and develops in the music industry’s technology and practices.

Other names to put here: Sejo Navajas, Pete Barker, and Dr. Bernd Gottinger.

What have been some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced in the industry?
Nowadays, it’s about getting a job like many industries. Since the innovations of home recording combined with the economy getting worse for the lower economic class, and you get many aspiring and developing musicians that just record and mix from the comfort of their own homes, getting rid of the need for recording engineers and producers in the studios. Now there’s a big influx of it all being done remotely. The pandemic certainly didn’t help the situation. But the already surging home recording availability did allow home producers and musicians to easily adapt.

I will do remote jobs on my personal setup. But there’s something about working in a studio with the musician that gives it an emotional component that I find so enriching.

I have been in a few sessions where the client and lead engineer were making explicit comments that were inappropriate. Some weren’t directed at me. Some of it was in the forms of very inappropriate questions about my personal life that you don’t ask people in a professional setting. All of it was basically verbal sexual harassment. I did ask them to stop. And eventually I just went and sat in another room and told them to just get me when I was needed.

I’ve had to be firm against people of the “older guard” that casually let slip terms of endearment that are no longer appropriate in a professional setting. It would’ve been fine “back in the day” but I had to set the boundary line, despite the discomfort it brought up.

It doesn’t help that the society and the music industry has been conditioned through the years so that women speaking up for themselves is seen as an inconvenience, ‘killing the vibe’ of the session, or written off as them being emotional, irrational, or whatever form of gaslighting is used in the scenario. Nowadays, there are many female empowerment groups and we’re all doing all we can. It’s great to have other people to lean on that can relate to the experiences you undergo as a women in the industry. It’s another thing when it’s put to the test while in a session. The situation is improving, but there are still people that will not take me seriously, not give me a job despite being qualified, and/or disregard my feelings when saying and doing stuff that is clearly making me feel uncomfortable.

What projects do you have coming up?
For now, the situation is pretty open. There’s no projects coming up. I’ve been networking still like crazy. I run the weekly Soundgirls zoom meetings on Wednesday afternoons. It allows me to meet many great fellow Soundgirls, talk shop, and vent. I’m still participating in the monthly zoom calls with EIPMA (one of the people representing Soundgirls) and AES LA (I’m on the executive board.

I do, however, have two sessions coming up this week. It’s been great getting to do work in the studio again.