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Producer · Engineer · FOH
Sylvia Massy

Sylvia Massy

Producer, Engineer, Artist, Author, Tutor
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Sylvia Massy

Sylvia Massy is a true studio icon, having produced and engineered an incredible list of artists including Tool, Johnny Cash, Prince, Tom Petty and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. As a respected artist, author and lecturer, there is very little Sylvia doesn't know about recording and, after testing several mics for a recent project, there was one clear winner…

Tool, Johnny Cash, Prince, Tom Petty, Red Hot Chili Peppers, System of a Down, Beastie Boys, Slayer, The Black Crowes
Sylvia uses these Aston mics:
Origin
Spirit
Starlight
Stealth
Opera meets engineering

"I grew up in a household with a mother who was an opera singer and a father who was a mechanical engineer who would make his own home stereos. There was technology and music in the house all the time, so it was a natural thing for me to want to be involved in the technical side.

I was always in school bands and played the flute and I was in marching bands, and then in university I was in reggae bands as the singer. I then discovered how much I really loved being the front person for the band. But I also got my first opportunity to be in a studio and realized that the stuff I loved about reggae was the dub mixing, and it was something that the engineer did and not necessarily the musician. That opened my eyes as to how the equipment in the studio could be used as an instrument.

I first got really interested in broadcast radio and was an on-air personality first for college radio and then commercial radio and used the equipment in the production room to make radio commercials. That's where I learned how to use the recorders, microphones and everything else. After a while in radio, it became obvious that it is more about the commercials than it is the music, so I took the first opportunity I could to start working at a music recording studio, so that's how I got into it."

Suddenly I'm a producer

The funny thing is that early on I never really had the intention of 'hey I want to be a music producer'. I didn't even know what it was but it just turned out I was the one who knew how to use the equipment. The artist would come in and work with me and they needed help so I would give them advice and give them my opinions and suddenly I was a producer!

There are three types of producer in my opinion: the engineering producer, there's the music/musician producer and the producer who is a fan. So Rick Rubin is the fan type and Pharrell Williams is the musician type and, while I am from an engineering background, I also have a little bit of all of those areas. I am a big fan of music, I love all types of music and there is great music in all genres.

I've always been a very curious person and always looking at new ways of doing things and I also get bored easily, so [don't like] the idea of going by the book on any particular technique. I'd like to start there but then definitely try and find what else you can do.

Setting the bar

I divide gear into two categories: the 'fancy gear' and the 'not-so-fancy gear'. Typically I'll use the not-so-fancy gear to record the main rhythm parts, the drums or the core foundational parts because I can depend on a certain case full of microphones to get the results I want. The fancy microphones might be for special vocals or special effects or if I'm going for extreme clarity on a part. I also like to have some unusual items in my toolkit to get certain effects. They are usually not that expensive but I reach for them when I'm looking for a particular sound.

I'll usually use a set of dynamics, some basic microphones: 57s and 421s. If I can I like to use a Neve 1073 mic pre-amp or an equivalent, and then with that stuff I am guaranteed to have a great sound on most things. It's the most simple of set-ups. I also have a Neve 8038 console in my studio in Ashland, Oregon and it's fabulous – so great. Everything in it is just automatically good. I'm just spoiled with it and I still think it's the best.

The great thing is that I'm so used to working on the Neve that when I go to another studio and am not getting that equivalent sound, then I have to work harder for it and to reach the level I get from the Neve – I know where the bar is.

Travelling light

I mostly track direct to digital but if there is an opportunity to track drums on 16-track, 2-inch then I'll go for it. I work on a place in Dresden, in an old castle, and they have a beautiful old Studer A80. However using tape takes extra time so it depends on the budget too, as you have to put in at least one, or even two days to work with the tape, but it is a wonderful sound.

My first experience of Aston was with the Starlights that I used on a session for overheads and was really excited with the results. The biggest surprise was with the Origin and the Spirit though. My 'fancy mics' might be a Telefunken U47 or an 87 or any of those Neumann large diaphragm, hi-end mics. I'd use them for vocals, but I do a lot of traveling and I'm not going to carry one of those with me. What happened was I found that the Aston Spirit was so good as a vocal mic that that now is my fancy mic for vocals. The great thing is that I can pack it in a suitcase, stick it in a sock and it travels with me anywhere. I don't have to worry about it being damaged as it is so sturdy. It is a great overall microphone for everything, but the biggest surprise was that I could leave behind my fancy mics and just lean on the Aston.

England v Germany

Another big surprise was the Origin – it is a great all-round mic and as sturdy as ever. I've been using that on acoustic guitar, on electric slide and on guitar cabs and pretty much everything. I also use it as an overall drum mic, like a mono room, and it's just fantastic.

This summer I worked with God Damn with a lot of Astons on acoustic and electric guitar and vocals. I used the Spirit with the band Black Swift recording at Dresden. With the singer Sally Grayson, we did a blind test with a dozen microphones to choose the best one. This included Neumanns like a CVM-563, and some AKGs – we had every beautiful German and Austrian mic out there and we had the Aston Spirit and the Spirit won. So we did all the lead vocals on Sally's voice with the Spirit and I have now come to know it as a sure-fire tool for great recording. That is my experience with Aston so far. I'm a true believer and excited about what this company is doing.

Out-takes

Q. If you weren’t working in music what would you be doing?
A. I would be a fine artist. I might even still do that!

Q. What would your fantasy mic be?
A. I would do something like the Shure Unidyne 55, the old Elvis mic, but with a new body and a condenser element.

Q. What are the 4 words you’d chose to describe Aston, or your experience with the brand?
A. Solid, dependable, full-frequency and beautiful.”

Q. What is the first song that made you cry?

A. Pink Floyd's Wish You Were Here.

 

Aston Credits

God Damn

Life Of Agony

Ha The Unclear

Lucy Luvs Fur

Hydraform

Black Swift

Tito Fuentes

Thin Lilly

The Carolyn Sills Band

Shirley Holmes

Veio

Mutant-Thoughts

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