Chad Wahlbrink is an audio engineer based in Cincinnati, Ohio. We spoke with him about working outside mainstream music, designing sound for video and why online collaboration is such a crucial part of his process.
I describe myself as an audio encourager
I started out as a songwriter but got into recording other artists when I was 17. It was more fulfilling for me to help other people do their thing better and I have been doing it for eight years now. I work with a lot of independent artists— more indie folk and electronic music than major label or pop stuff. It doesn’t leave me much time for songwriting right now, but I’m okay with that.
I like to listen to mixes in different environments
Hearing the music outside of the studio is important. I often take mixes into my car or on bike rides. I usually make sure I hear them through the iPhone speaker too because that’s how so many people listen to music now. It’s good to know how the music translates onto different systems.
Cincinnati is not a major music market
Most of my clients are based in a larger music hub: Nashville, Los Angeles, London. Typically, I work remotely, mixing from my house. It means that online collaboration tools are a huge thing for me. The artists will send me the digital music files and we go back-and-forth on the mixes and masters via the internet.
Finding timecodes requires the artist to be meticulous
I used to use Google Docs to collect the feedback on a mix from the artist. Listening to a QuickTime file or iTunes then having to switch to the doc and write down the timecode where they want to make changes wasn’t very convenient for them. A lot of times they wouldn’t even note the timecode and just use a lyric as a reference so I then have to go and figure out which part they mean.
Another engineer introduced me to Hightail
I was working on a record with Seattle-based engineer, Trevor Richardson. He and I had gone to school together. He said that he was using a collaboration service where you can leave comments right on the waveform. I thought that sounded amazing, so he showed me Hightail. Now I’ve been using it for the last four months.
Hightail takes a step out of the process
The artists can now click exactly where they want to make a note as they’re listening to the track. They are able to fly through the songs and makes getting their feedback a lot faster. The comments are usually a lot clearer and because it automatically adds the timecode, it’s easier to find the edits I need to do. That’s the major the benefit for me.
I also do sound design for videos
I’ve just done my first short film project where I was mixing all the audio elements and helping with the sound design. The director was in LA but he was able to use video commenting on Hightail to make very detailed notes. As well as marking the second on the timeline, he was also able to highlight specific elements in the frame. This is really important for sound design as you need to match the foley to a particular onscreen character or item.
I’m excited to see where Hightail is going
Most of the projects I’ve done recently have happened on Hightail. It’s efficient, very user friendly and easy for me to navigate. The flexibility is incredible. I’ve really enjoyed using it and can only imagine that it’s going to get better.