Pro Score Mixer Casey Stone on his career highlights and Merging Technologies kit

As one of the industry’s foremost talents in the world of film and TV score recording and mixing, Casey Stone has put his signature touch to some of the biggest and most successful titles this century, including Frozen, The Hangover trilogy, Ant-Man, Don’t Look Up, WandaVision, Vice, The Nice Guys, X-Men: Apocalypse and many more. Here, he tells Headliner about his journey into the business and his approach to work in the studio…

How did your career in music and audio begin?

I started guitar lessons around age eight, and when I was 10, my mother, who was an amateur singer/ songwriter, went into a studio to record some demos. I went to some sessions and knew then I wanted to be recording and mixing music. 

I attended the University of Southern California (USC) and took a degree in music recording. As completion of that degree approached, I already was doing internships at studios with an emphasis on music for film and television. 

So, the beginning of my career was doing runner and assistant engineer work at a few smaller studios but at the same time also engineering projects for student film scores and a bit of small album work.

How did you establish yourself as a professional in your field?

Connections I made at USC certainly helped. One studio I worked at was called The Sound Chamber and was owned by the head of my department at USC, Richard McIlvery. I had done some assistant engineering there and one of the projects that came in was to record (and compose really) the score for Paul Thomas Anderson’s first feature movie Hard Eight (1996). 

Paul and composers Jon Brion and Michael Penn were there and the engineer was Brian Foraker. Besides a little mistake of not having the Studer 24-track resolved to house sync during the making of a DA88 sub-reel to send to Aimee Mann to record vocals elsewhere, I acquitted myself pretty well on that gig.

On the next film, just a year later, the same group wanted to return to Sound Chamber and do it again, but Brian Foraker had recently moved to Nashville and was not available. So, I got the gig! That was Boogie Nights and yes, it is mostly songs, but there is some score in there and I recorded and mixed that.

What were the biggest challenges you faced in taking up a career in audio professionally?

The freelance lifestyle is always tough but more-so at the start of a career. By which I mean, living in L.A and making very little money! I liked my freedom to turn down assisting gigs when I had an engineering gig come up, so that was a benefit. 

Some people get into very comfortable assisting gigs and stay there. I have my family to thank for that, firstly stretching the finances to send me to USC, and then to be supportive as I made my way up in the business.

You’ve worked on many high profile films. Are there any that stand out as being especially memorable?

Our first session recording the score for Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation at Abbey Road Studio 1 was amazing and challenging! We had a full orchestra set up from the night before but hadn’t got any sounds yet as the musicians weren’t there until the morning. Big movie, big expectations, control room full of VIPs, and composer Joe Kraemer walks up to the podium to conduct a piece that was a main theme for one of the characters. 

It was a very dynamic piece that started quietly and built to a fortissimo orchestral blast, and during this first take I’m subtly but frantically tweaking mic gains and finding reasonable percussion levels as the piece plays on. The enjoyable part was that Joe’s fabulous piece of music played down perfectly by the top-notch musicians in the best orchestra recording space in the world, and it sounded pretty great on the first take!

What are some of your essential audio tools when recording and mixing?

The most essential thing when recording is microphones! I tend to use a lot of the classics for orchestra: Neumann M50, U67, 87, 47fet, KM84. I love Schoeps and Sennheisers too. When recording an orchestra, the remote preamp racks from Neve you can connect remotely to the Neve 88R (either the ‘Air’ or ‘1073’ versions) are great and get a lot of use. Even the onboard 88R preamps sound great.

Our first session recording the score for Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation at Abbey Road Studio 1 was amazing and challenging!

As for mixing, my first love for surround score mixing was the SSL 9000J, then a fair amount on the Neve 88R, but quickly digital was preferred for several reasons, the most important being full, instant mix recall. That was Euphonix System 5. Some of my favourite mixing experiences were on that console. But now it’s pretty much all Pro Tools all the time for me.

Some of my go-to plugins are Fabfilter Pro-Q 3, which recently replaced Oxford EQ (which I still like very much). I use a lot of Waves (specifically the UM226) for 5.1 unwrapping, Kramer PIE compressor, L2 (multi-mono) for bus limiting, the J37 and Abbey Road Plates/ Chambers and Saturator. Cargo Cult’s Spanner is very useful for what I do. Reverbs are important: Altiverb, Valhalla (all of them), Avid’s ReVibe plus several others that get more occasional use.

How much has the art of recording and mixing film scores changed since you first started out?

Not that much! There was a major change when film sound went from ‘Dolby Surround’ to ‘Dolby Digital’ or to put it more generically, from a matrixed stereo master which was opened up into Left, Centre, Right, Surround (mono surround) when played back, versus actual discrete six channels of sound (LCR, Stereo Surrounds, Sub). It’s a deep subject, but I think score mixing techniques had to fundamentally change to make the most of that. Of course 70mm film prints could have discrete surround, but standard 35mm was stereo optical with various types of dressing put on it until digital happened. Since then we added a few options with surrounds, most commonly 7.1 which gives stereo side surrounds and stereo rear surrounds. We’re still in the early stages of the next biggest change in that vein, which is Dolby Atmos.

Part of your setup is based around gear from Merging Technologies. How does this help your workflow?

I recently changed my interface and monitoring controller. Previously I had a Prism Sound Orpheus which gave me enough channels to do 7.1 monitoring with great sound. I actually did not use a monitor controller: my speaker setup is bass managed through a Neumann KH810 subwoofer with a remote volume knob that controls all channels, so with a little EQ on my monitor bus in Pro Tools, I was pretty happy with that. But the new Merging gear has improved this in numerous ways.

Specifically I have a Hapi MkII and an Anubis. The Hapi has an eight-channel DAC card in it and the Anubis supports two mic/line inputs, four outputs plus headphones - none of which I’m currently using. You can think of the Anubis as a monitor processor and controller, though it really is an audio interface also. For anyone who only needs stereo monitoring, an Anubis by itself does all of this. The sound quality is even a bit better, especially in how solid the low-end sounds and feels. The Anubis now provides the monitor EQ and delays for my surrounds - it could also do bass management, but I haven’t tried that yet. I can also use the Anubis to switch between multiple inputs to monitor my 7.1 mix, my stereo mix, the demo mix, and my system audio for playing reference material.

These Merging pieces both feature networked audio (Ravenna), meaning, they are on their own gigabit ethernet network, and audio can be routed between them and my computer using a virtual audio driver that I select as the audio engine for Pro Tools - I can send up to 64 channels from Pro Tools into the network.

PHOTO CREDITS: Lead image by John Finklea, second image by Larry Mah