Five years ago there wasn’t a single awards event that highlighted solely those in the audio engineering field. Herb Trawick and Dave Pensado, famed Grammy-winning mix engineer and Trawick's partner in all things audio, made it their mission to change that. Now the Pensado Awards stands as the marquee annual event that honors many of the hidden heroes of audio engineering with a live audience that numbers in the high hundreds. It’s something of a spinoff from Pensado’s popular YouTube mix engineering show “Pensado’s Place.” Past awards shows have featured Randy Jackson, Neil Young and even well wishes from Sir Paul McCartney.
Putting together an awards show on this scale requires months of hard labor to get right. “It’s super rewarding and super brutal,” Trawick says of the process. “The fascinating part is that I have to be so left-brained, right-brained about it. It’s one thing getting it financed and there’s a creative aspect to it. The blessing of it is that people seem to like it and they let us know that it feels important to the community. We’re always trying to hit that bar, which sometimes requires more creativity than money.”
The show now being in its fourth year, Trawick has learned several key lessons about how to optimize time and resources. “Using shorthand is pretty critical,” he admits. “When we first started this, our weekly meetings were ninety minutes. Now they’re quicker. Bringing in new elements is something that I’m careful about. I’ve also learned some of the touch points that make for a show that is satisfactory to the audience but that also represent our mission statement: to celebrate those who aren’t necessarily celebrated in a way that they feel honored. Part of the Pensado ethos is that we’re not machines. We’re humans. We make sure to recognize the humane as well as the technical talent side.
“Once you start this, it’s a rolling thing,” Trawick adds. “You can’t stop it. Once you commit, you’re there and you just have to get through it.”
Both Trawick and Pensado strive to keep the show fresh, interesting and dynamic. They accomplish this in a variety of ways. “We hear what people enjoy and may come up with a different take on it,” Trawick explains. “We determine year by year if we honor something musical. Last year we did the guitar. That went over well. This year we may do the drum. And we like to pair presenters in unexpected ways. This year we’ll have executives from YouTube and Facebook who’ll present together.”
For the past two years, the show has taken place at the legendary Sony Pictures Studios where countless classic pictures including Mutiny on the Bounty and The Wizard of Oz were filmed. This year it will move to the historic Fonda Theatre in the heart of Hollywood. “We choose the venue in part by vibe,” Trawick observes. “You’re always vying for time so the date that you want may not be available. What we’ve seen over the past two years is that we had this huge, sprawling event at this super-cool space that was very expensive. There were compromises we were starting to make that we didn’t want to have to repeat this year. One of the things we can do to keep the show fresh is to change venues.”
Producing any show, of course, comes bundled with a number of challenges. Accordingly, the Pensado Awards has several of its own. Trawick highlights a mere few. “Nominations, creating moments that you think people will enjoy and marrying them in a way that makes sense and keeps people entertained. There’s an impresario side to putting on these kinds of things."
Planning for the show typically begins well in advance of the targeted date. “Eight months out, I start to gather things in my head,” Trawick explains. “Who did the hot records of the year, here’s what guests are doing on ‘Pensado’s Place,’ a big audio event I saw at NAMM. I’m gathering intel, for all intents and purposes. Six months out, I start to figure out a framework; what feels natural. That’s also when I’m financing the show, which ultimately tells me where to go. At four months out, that’s where the actual hard work starts: nominating pro committees, who’s doing what on what teams and then I try to bring the baby home. It’s gotten easier over the years because the teams are so great. Financing is the hard part.”
Past Pensado honoree, veteran mix engineer and two-time Grammy winner Ed Cherney, shares his views on the event. “The Pensado Awards are extremely important,” he asserts. “Dave and Herb find, identify and shine a light on the folks that are really making shit happen.”
“I am a big fan and ultimate supporter of ‘Pensado’s Place’ and now the Pensado Awards,” adds Ross Hogarth, powerhouse producer as well as recording and mix engineer who’s been recognized at past Pensado Awards. “Dave and Herb acknowledge music makers behind the scenes who for years have only been known to close peers or not at all. The awards show is a great night to party, have fun and honor the hard-working music-making space.”
Beyond time, ample stacks of cash are required to put on the show. This year’s premium sponsor is the Inglewood-based hip-hop collective 1500 or Nothin’, a body that’s been instrumental in the careers of countless artists. Recent collaborations include those with Jay-Z, Rihanna and Bruno Mars. "1500 or Nothin’s passion for music, education and giving back is exactly like ‘Pensado’s Place,’” CEO Rance Dopson says. “We get down the same way. Big things are in store and we're thrilled to be the premium sponsor of this year’s Pensado Awards.”
The 2017 Pensado Awards will be held Sunday evening, Dec. 3, at The Fonda Theatre. Presenters will include fabled mix engineer Chris Lord-Alge, musician Samantha Maloney of Hole and Mötley Crüe fame and Marcos "Kosine" Palacios, who's one-half of Chicago-based production duo Da Internz. For more information, see pensadoawards.com.