Leslie Gaston-Bird On Her Dolby Atmos & Inclusive Training Goals

Former Governor-at-Large for the Audio Engineering Society, member of the Recording Academy, the Association of Motion Picture Sound and Motion Picture Sound Editors, former tenured Associate Professor and owner of Mix Messiah Productions – there’s not much that re-recording mixer and sound editor Leslie Gaston-Bird hasn’t done. Headliner catches up with the multi-talented audio engineer to talk about what inspired her to write the book Women in Audio, and what she looks for in studio monitors.

How did you start Mix Messiah Productions (specialising in 5.1 surround mixing)?

LGB: I was sitting in a television production class in college, and someone thought I said ‘mix messiah’, and we had a laugh. And I thought to myself, ‘yeeeeeah, mix messiah!’

The first things that I was doing were little projects, then I got into notation and scoring until I made my Limited Liability Company in 2014. Then I started freelancing with some clients who were at the first post house where I worked.

What changes have you seen in technology over the years that have affected the way you work?

LGB: I left working in radio in 2002 so I could get my master's degree, and that's when I started working at Post Modern restoring audio for classic film titles.

Sony was re-releasing them on DVD and they wanted them to sound clean. We wanted to get the tape hiss down, but back then we were using the Cedar Cambridge system – this big tank of a thing!

This was not a plugin, it was a four-rack space tank with three cards: one for de-noise, one for de-crackle and one for de-click – painstaking!

Now I have the Dolby Atmos Production Suite on my computer, and my goal is to join the Dolby Atmos certification process and start delivering courses to women and underrepresented groups who want to get into technology.

My goal is to join the Dolby Atmos certification process and start delivering courses to women and underrepresented groups.

What inspired you to write the book Women In Audio?

LGB: When I worked at NPR, 50% of our staff were women. We had 40 techs, and 20 were women, and 20 were people of colour. When I moved to Colorado, I was the only woman I knew doing audio at the time, and the only person of colour. So I'm like, ‘okay, there seems to be a dearth of representation here.

What is going on?’ And that question, ‘what is going on?’ has been answered in various ways over the years: why aren't there more women, right?

I came across this feminist album called Virgo Rising that came out in the ‘70s, and I emailed the engineer for that album, and her name was Joan Lowe.

She sent me an email detailing how they recorded this all-woman performed, produced, released and engineered album, and then it occurred to me that this is not a research paper, this is a living history document.

This is history that would have vanished, and it put a fire under me, so I started finding other stories. I think I was really naive to think that I was just going to write a book on ‘women in audio’ – it's not that basic or simple.

You used Genelec monitors at NPR and at the University of Colorado; why are you planning on investing in them for your own studio?

LGB: I'm a Genelec fan! My first encounter with Genelec was at NPR when we moved to Massachusetts Avenue in Washington D.C. and we had a couple studios with Genelecs installed.

The first time I heard them, Noah Adams’ voice was playing over the loudspeakers, and I could swear he was in the room – it was like he was there! And I had a trained ear as an audio engineer.

I wanted to know, ‘what the hell are those speakers?’ And they were the Genelecs, so I was in love with them from the first time I heard them.

At the University of Colorado Denver (UCD) we had the 1031As, and we did work for Dolby doing a critical listening paper which was a comparison of three multi channel codecs, and we used the 1031As in that listening test.

Now I attend the University of Surrey, and they have a 22.2 system that's all Genelecs and they used the GLM kit to calibrate them. So my goal for my studio is to get a 7.1.4 system with GLM calibration.

When I go to audition the Genelecs that I'm going to buy – the 8340As, the 8330As and the 7370A subwoofer – the two pieces of critical material that I will use are Donald Fagen’s album Morph the Cat and an album called The Flat Earth by Thomas Dolby.

The reason I use The Flat Earth is because there's this really high bit that’s almost like a digital artefact that I can hear right as the CD starts, and I can't hear it on every system that I play it on.

So I’m looking for a system that can reproduce that really high frequency. On Morph the Cat, the way the instruments come together on the album is just freakin’ tight! When I solo between the different channels on that album, you can hear Donald Fagen's voice, you can hear his breath, and it's also got this kick-ass bass and drum thing going on there.

Visually, speakers can be pretty, or they can be ugly, but what do they sound like? So that would be my method: bring some critical material, listen, and see what grabs me!

More from Leslie Gaston-Bird: "I'm glad I'm not the one saying the industry is racist. Look at the industries who are saying it."