We are so excited for you all to meet Alex, our Grade 11, behind-the-scenes, sound-prodigy at Leipzig International School. In this interview, we’ll dive into Alex’s passion for music and audio-engineering, his role in mixing the sound for the recent Christmas concert, the challenges faced during the editing process, and his experiences working with musicians. From beginnings assisting with equipment setup to becoming the main student audio engineer, Alex shares insights into the practicalities, hurdles, and rewards of his journey in audio production at LIS.

Alex, how did your interest in audio begin and what do you enjoy about this field? 

My interest in audio began 6 years ago when I started to make music using technology. After developing my music production skills (right around the time I joined LIS), I got inspired to delve into the live-audio world. Music in itself is something that inspires me daily, however, having control over that music and in turn what thousands of people are hearing gives me a rush that I haven’t really been able to find in any other area. My musical background gives me another unique perspective to a production and this can be heard in my mixes too – My goal is always to shape an artist’s music in such a way that musicians and audience members alike have an amazing experience. What I look most forward to in a project, is learning about new concepts and solving complex problems, so believe it or not, most times I end up hoping that something goes wrong so that I can figure out a solution. I particularly enjoy working on projects that allow me to think outside the box, which is something that I get to do at LIS. At the moment I am doing many internships at production companies, as well as working at different companies to gain as much experience as is possible. Again, my teachers have been very helpful when it comes to finding opportunities for my work experience and preparing me for everything that comes with it.  

Alex controlling the sound for the back to school party live musical performances 2023

Do you think LIS has played a significant role in supporting you to develop your skill set? 

LIS has definitely played a significant role in developing my skill set, whether through finding me internships, job opportunities and advice for life after school all the way to the many opportunities that arise through the huge selection of events that happen throughout the school year, I couldn’t be in a better place. I very much believe that the events that we do at LIS are more challenging than most gigs that I will do in the future, and thanks to Mr. Foulkes, and the rest of the staff at LIS that trust and support me, I am able to learn more and more and develop my skill set with every single event.

“Music in itself is something that inspires me daily, however, having control over that music and in turn what thousands of people are hearing gives me a rush that I haven’t been able to find in any other area.”

Alex (second from right) and the band behind the scenes at the LIS 30th Anniversary Gala Dinner – November 2022)

What preparation was needed in the lead-up to the 2023 Christmas concert?

In preparation for the concert from an audio/production perspective, there were many things that needed to be done. Considering the fact that there was very little time for the turnaround of the project, I knew I was going to have to make my life easier from step one. What people might be surprised to know is that a large portion of the work that goes into a good final mix doesn’t necessarily have to happen at the actual mixing stage of the process. Besides having good equipment, instruments and musicians, microphone choice and placement play a large role too. Through perfecting those two things, which is something I was able to do before the mixing stage, I was able to save myself a lot of time when it came time to sit down at the computer and process the raw recordings. Sometimes it’s just a question of centimetres that makes the difference. And whilst no one will hear very small adjustments, when lots of these small details add up, they make such a drastic difference that the entire sound world can change in an instant. 

Alex editing in the LIS music room.

What happened during the editing of the project?

There are many studio production techniques that can be used to transform a recording into something that is ready to be uploaded. Identifying the problems in the mix and what techniques need to be used is a huge task in itself. After backing up the project onto multiple devices and organising everything, the next step was to simply listen – This is usually the most time-consuming task as it requires many (often boring) hours of listening to the same songs over and over again to find any mistakes, noises that shouldn’t be picked up as well as to identify what needs to be done to transform the recording. After the listening stage, the editing process began where every single vocal line was cut up as well as deleting tracks that were not used in certain songs.

I had already added and worked on all the audio effects (such as EQ, compression, reverb etc.) before the recording of Saturday’s performance. This is due to the fact that I recorded the whole week of rehearsals too and therefore, over that whole week, was able to add the effects in between rehearsals – This meant that I had less to do when it came to actually sitting down and editing the project after Saturday’s performance. However, I still needed to tweak these for the whole project and on a per-song basis by using automation where I automate parameters in the project as if I were to be mixing in real time. At this point, Mr. Foulkes joined, and we looked at specifically the balance between vocals, solos etc. to make sure everyone could be heard when they needed to. After even more tweaking of all these parameters, I went into the mastering stage of the process, which had to be cut very short as I ran out of time – This ended up being the part of the project I was least proud of. Finally, I sent the rendered tracks over to Cedric Rehm (the cinematographer) so he could fit them to the video.

What challenges did you encounter during the project?

Mixing the Christmas concert was a huge challenge. I think that the combination of all kinds of things plays into the fact that events at LIS are possibly the most challenging job for any engineer, such as the combination of musicians changing every song, very limited time to set up and soundcheck (as this usually happens on the same day) and having student-musicians as opposed to professionals. Circling back to the Christmas concert project, when working on a project this size, there’s usually a small team of engineers who might work for a couple of months to turn the raw recorded files into a live album or (in our case) a YouTube video. Unfortunately, those couple of months turned into three days for this project, so time was definitely my biggest challenge and enemy. Another huge challenge was the suspended choir mics for the secondary show and the front row choir mics for the primary show. Since there are very many loud instruments in the whole ensemble, it was very difficult to filter out the actual sounds of the choirs from all the ‘spill’ from the brass instruments and the drums. This is why, in some songs, the choir is too quiet and doesn’t fit very nicely with the rest of the ensemble. Unfortunately, there is only so much that can be done, and it came to a point where I had to tell myself that it wouldn’t get any better and that I should perfect the other parts of the mix in the hopes that it would distract from this issue.

How many LIS events have you worked on and in what capacity? 

I have worked on almost every single event that has required any type of sound reinforcement, as well as all studio recordings since the beginning of 2022. Of course in the beginning this just included carrying things to where they needed to be and shadowing the engineers that were hired in for the productions. After a while, when I gained Mr. Foulkes’ trust, I was allowed to take over some responsibilities, and eventually I started mixing concerts and events myself. At this point, if all goes well, we are planning on having me mix every single concert and event this year, including the Christmas and Summer concerts, occasionally with professionals looking after me for some extra assistance. 

We are so grateful for this interview and everything you bring to our events Alex. Looking forward to following your life after school and where your determination will take you!

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