On May 5, four-time Grammy-winning producer and engineer Neal Pogue (Tyler, the Creator; Nicki Minaj; Outkast) got together with fellow Grammy-winner Dave Pensado and industry insider Herb Trawick at the Harman Professional Experience Center in Northridge, in Southern California. The three met up to tape an episode of the popular and slickly produced YouTube show Pensado’s Place.
The audio production and engineering gig has grown its 250,000-plus subscriber base steadily since 2011. The hosts–longtime audio amigos Pensado and Trawick–bring their unique insights and perspectives to each episode. Pensado has engineered for artists including Mariah Carey, Macy Gray and Rick Ross. A veteran of the music industry, Trawick has landed deals for various artists via his management outfit and has been the force behind the Pensado Awards. Past guests have included studio stars such as Young Guru and mix maestro Chris Lord-Alge.
As the three sat down to talk, Pensado asked the question that’s often posed to mix engineers. Which is, “How loud do you deliver your mixes to mastering?”
"I don't really look at it," Pogue explains. "I know some guys check their meters to see if they're too loud. But sometimes it's hard for me to focus on that and really be creative. There are some instances where I can be loud. I'm working on this Andy Shauf album right now and I find myself not that loud. If it’s not distorting, then you’re good."
Later Pogue referenced his signature phrase “See with your ears” when he observed that “People listen with their eyes now and that’s the problem.” It’s a simple yet astute observation that also serves as a reminder to fellow engineers: listeners neither know nor care what the levels are. They care about how a song sounds and how it makes them feel.
As the discussion turned to Tyler, the Creator’s 2019 Grammy-winning record, Igor, Pensado suggested that there was no one else who could have mixed it better than Pogue. “That was one of those records where Tyler and I spoke at length before we even started mixing,” Pogue recollects. “To me, it was [like] an abstract painting. If you go back and listen to it, his lyrics aren’t up in the mix. Sometimes they’re low. It depended on how we felt at that moment, because the lyrics weren’t important. It was more about the whole thing. Nowadays people ask for their vocals loud in front of the mix, but we didn’t want that.”
Expanding on Pogue’s thoughts about pre-production, Pensado underlined how important he believes it is. “That’s a good spot to let the customer know that you’re trustworthy,” he observes. “But boy, if you lose their trust, it’s game over.”
Trawick refers to Pogue affectionately as “The Soul Hippie,” largely because of his flexibility. “That comes from growing up on AM radio and listening to all types of music,” the producer asserts. “I absorb it all so it just comes naturally.” He also draws on his background as a drummer to shape his approach to a mix.
Interestingly, Pogue says that he sees songs in colors. This is known as synesthesia and is an ability shared by artists such as Tori Amos, Billie Eilish and Pharrell Williams, among others. “Hearing melody brings color to my mind,” he explains. “Then I feel the colors.”
Like any devout audiophile, Trawick delved into the gear used to mix Igor. “[I used] The JBL 708P,” Pogue says of the pro-class eight-inch monitor. “Those are my thing. It’s funny that they’re called ‘Ps’ because it’s like my last name. I also mixed off the 705s. I wasn’t a JBL fan years ago, but one day my friend Damien Curry [of Harman] brought me here and sat me in front of [the 708P]. I was blown away and I had to have them. Ever since then, I’ve mixed on JBLs. I love their accuracy. The bass response is amazing.”
That conversation soon evolved into one of plugins. Among Pogue’s favorites are Waves’ and UA’s SSL, Universal Audio’s Teletronix’s LA-2A leveler and the Waves Audio API EQs. He also made special mention of Avid’s D-Verb, a tool that Pensado also prizes highly.
The Harman Professional Experience Center is a 15,000-square-foot facility that allows the audio gear juggernaut to showcase its various brands—JBL Professional, AKG Acoustics and Crown International among them—to pros and influencers. It’s also a spiffy space to hold—and, indeed, record—various events.
One of the first things noticed upon entry is a massive 18’x10’ Samsung LED video display, or “wall,” as described by Harman, but even that feels like an understatement. It resembles a billboard-sized HD TV welded onto the side of a mountain. Try Star Wars on one of those. Harman also has Experience Centers in London, Singapore and China.
For more information:
pro.harman.com/lp /los-angeles-experience-center, pensadosplace.tv, nealhpogue.com