Time to read : 12 minutes
In today’s interview, I have the honor to talk with Alejandro Cabrera!
For those who don’t know who Alejandro is, he is an excellent sound engineer, composer and the person behind ‘Audio Brewers’, a company that will be talked about in this interview! Would you like to tell us a bit about yourself, how did you become a sound engineer?
Hi! So my career in sound started through Music – I was always in love with music and wanted to become a musician, I studied Jazz Composition and Arrangement but because I was always into computers, too, with a friend one day we decided to make a short film and I was in charge of the sound and soundtrack, those were my first steps into sound and later when I was well into it, I decided to study sound engineering so as to complete the circle!
What are the main requirements to become a good sound engineer?
I believe the most important requirement is to be able to listen, not only to the sound but also to the client your job is to try and translate your client’s vision into a reality and at the same time keep it within a threshold of what’s current, and that’s where the whole point of this deal is. The sound you mix has to be of your client’s taste but at the same time, it has to work!
You also mentioned that you have done many VST libraries in your career, tell me, what’s in your opinion the easiest instrument to sample?
There is to easy instrument to sample! Believe me – I have been involved in over 100 libraries and regardless of the instrument, there was always a massive challenge, be it in the instrument itself, in the instrument’s behavior, in the recording process, and even laying it down into a sample library. Some instruments are easy to play but within 2-3 hours they’ll lose color, some instruments are hard to play and that makes it challenging, some other instruments have a peculiar sound emission that you must nail… Regardless of the instrument, there’s never an ‘easy’ one!
In the prologue of our conversation, you had mentioned that you have worked at 8DIO, was there any challenges that were hard to master/to accomplish?
With every product I have ever made, I had always tried to push my own limits – this profession would not have a meaning if I would just apply my knowledge to mass produce. With that said, every library I have made has had something that has made it special and HARD to make, and this is in the end what shapes you. But always the biggest challenge has been to try and get the sound you NEED to get from the what an instrument/musician CAN give you, There’s no instrument that will always give you what you need in any note, there are many limitations, and in your mind you simply want every articulation in every note in every dynamic, but reality, and instrument can be limited, and you have to find a common ground and make it work,
Speaking of which, I wonder if you have met any famous fellow composers/audio engineers, and are you maybe in contact with them?
For sure I have had the opportunity to meet a lot of people, and with some of them I try to keep contact, with some others it’s a bit more difficult – everyone is so busy swimming through this industry, as it moves so fast!
Your company is called Audio Brewers, can you tell us why that name? It’s really a catchy name!
Thank you! I have always seen a sample library as something that looks so simple and basic, just like a cup of coffee, or a beer – but you see, to make a sample library you need months of planning, recording, editing, programming, testing and testing and testing…
And then everything is packed into a product that will perhaps be used in one 5-minute song, it will inadvertently be part of the fuel of your music, but it will go unnoticed! Just like a coffee starts a day, or a beer starts a night!
What are your biggest goal with Audio Brewers?
My biggest goal is to try and open a door to composers into a completely different concept when it comes to music. It’s been decades since we have been stuck in Stereo and Stereo-like practices… recording an instrument in a hall to simplify the sound in a stereo signal that might be blown back to surround is a process that losses so many qualities of the sound!
Hard-panning is so overused, and by creating sample libraries in Ambisonics, I am trying to offer composers an alternative to place their instruments in a multi-dimensional spectrum for real and without emulators, additionally, I’m trying to tell them “hey, you might not need surround-sound today, but if have one of our libraries, you are future-proof for when you do!”, as Ambisonics can adapt natively to any speaker-array configuration there is!
You released a piano library called ‘Pianoforte’ featuring a Fazioli piano! Big congratulations on that one!! Would you like to share with us some of the insights on the planning, recording, mixing?
It was a beautiful piano I found in a studio called ‘Artracks’ in Athens, Greece – A friend of mine happened to record there and when he mentioned they had a Fazioli I was like “welp, I gotta sample that!”, so I came in contact with the owner of the studio, and he was super excited about the idea to immortalize the instrument – so we went ahead and did it! It was such a nice project because when the studio is so much into a project, they will do anything in their power to help you make it happen, so I spent close to 30 hours sampling the piano – with my own fingers, as I had tried robots in the past and meh… the results are simply not the same!
At this point, when I sample a piano, I don’t work mathematically anymore saying “I need X velocities”, because I know in hour 1, a pianissimo and a fortissimo will never sound the same than in hour 30… so I simply sit down and feel it… each key has its own range, trust me…. And you simply go and pull the whole dynamic range just to make sure each key has been covered. But then this needs to be translated into the library… so you manually have to place each dynamic of each key in the right spot! It’s so time-consuming, but the results give you a ton of satisfaction.
Additionally, when it comes to Ambisonics, we are learning as we go – there is no reference to sampling in Ambisonics as we are the first company to completely do an instrument using this technique. So then it comes to mixing, we have to be monitoring the instrument with traditional Monitors, but at the same time with headphones + head tracker, and in a surrounding environment, and it all has to sound good! It’s so much more complex than a simple mix in stereo, as now we have to take into consideration that this specific instrument HAS to fit in any speaker array!
You also mentioned that you are a composer, too! Can you tell us something about that?
It’s been so long since I haven’t don’t any music as I dedicated myself to sound and sample libraries, but I can tell you that at a point, all I wanted to do was soundtracks for films, I did some and even went to festivals with them, but due to my career steering towards this, every year I did it less to the point where I only play with my own instruments! I do some of the demos for them and pretty much that is the extent of my current career as a Composer, haha.
Do you catch yourself playing with the instruments that you record, or do you just record them for ‘Audio Brewers’?
All the time! There are some instruments that have so much to give and are so much fun to play with, like out Signals ‘Blue’ as every key is coherent with the harmony of the key you are playing… sometimes I simply sit down and by pressing single keys I can create complex harmonies that completely work!
If I would ask you for the top 5 favorite songs that you always love to listen, which would they be? Any genre!
1st and foremost is ‘The March of the Black Queen’ by Queen – to me it is the greatest song ever made! Especially thinking on WHEN it was made… no computers, no synths…
I also love ‘A Day in the Life’ by the Beatles! ‘A Love Supreme’ by John Coltrane… THE WHOLE suite is simply a trip to heaven and back! ‘A Change of Seasons’ by Dream Theater is a breathtaking piece of music! ‘Pneuma’ by Tool – it is very recent but boy, this song is simply amazing!
Tell me something about the first thing that got you into music, like, when was the point of your life that got you “ok, I would love to do this till the rest of my life!”?
I can tell you the two precise moments that change my musical life with ease!
1st. I was a little kid in the 90s and went to see Paco de Lucia live, I had no idea how he was playing what he was playing, all I knew is I wanted to do the same. That’s when I decided I wanted to be a musician.
The second moment was when I had the chance to have a lesson by Ben Monder… I always thought I was going to learn about guitar, but this guy’s knowledge in harmony was so out of this world, that it made me reconsider being an interpreter as a career path.
If you could do a sound engineering session with 3 famous composers, who would they be and why them?
100% George Martin – to me he is the person who shaped The Beatles and most probably music as we know it today – he might be the most important Beatle
I’d love to record for Bela Bartok too, I am too sure he was so much ahead of his time!
I’d absolutely love to record for Bjork, too… every album she makes is like “oh my god! What did you do this time!” Absolutely love her compositions!
I would also like to ask you, what is the best advice you’ve been given?
A sound engineer is not a musician, a musician is not a sound engineer. If you keep those concepts in line, you will be alright!
If you could change anything about the industry, what would it be?
The pace and the sales… I think we’re living in a moment where some companies can afford to simply bring the whole music software industry down with ridiculous prices… this can hurt small companies that are trying to offer new things in the sphere, it’s very difficult! 🙂
What is your greatest accomplishment in your career?
To be able to create my own company with a concept that no one has done to date. Regardless of whatever happens now, we will always be the first and we have set a precedent to a new approach to music. The pandemic made me think about what I was doing and how I was doing it, and at a point, I decided that if I was not going to make something REALLY new, there was no point on continuing… this is when I decided to leave everything and lift Audio Brewers from scratch!
Is there an instrument that you always wanted to learn?
Trombone… I consider trombonists brains to be wired in a completely different way that other musicians… they think in harmonics! There have been books written about how music theory could change if we thought in harmonics, as the harmonic series create a (kinda) Mixolydian #11 scale and not a major scale… I think they are closer to the truth than all the rest of us mortals! haha
What do you think would be of you if you didn’t go through the sound engineering route?
Good question… I guess I haven’t had the time to think about that one… since I have memory I wanted to be related to music and sound… I would probably be doing something in computer science? Maybe audio software? Oh, wait!
So, before we wrap this up, is there something you would like to tell us? (any news regarding new VST in the making, advice, etc.?)
We’re working on so many new projects, we invite you to follow our brand either in social media or through our newsletter… as I said before, I try to make every product a massive challenge… This is an art form, and I guarantee that just like in any art form, each of the libraries I produce contains a piece of my soul!
Thank you so much Alejandro for having the time to talk with me and for this wonderful interview! For more info about Alejandro’s company and what does he do, please feel free to check out the links below!