Alumni Interview with Pablo Munguia
What are the major achievements of your career?
To this point, my major achievement has been to collaborate with some of my idols, musicians, producers and engineers in the field of music production. I have been very fortunate to meet and work with some of the biggest recording artists of our times, such as Carole King, Barbra Streisand, Sting, Stevie Nicks, Boz Scaggs, The Isley Brothers, The Temptations, Destiny's Child, Ricky Martin, Mariah Carey, and Celine Dion. Initially, I assisted other engineers, but eventually I have been able to engineer some of these projects myself, as in the case of Alicia Keys, Mary J. Blige, Usher, LL Cool J, 'N Sync and Britney Spears. In the process I have worked closely with some of the best studio musicians, as well as some of the best-known engineers and legendary producers, including Quincy Jones, David Foster, Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, Glen Ballard, Tom Scott, Danny Korcthmar, David Paich, Sheryl Crow, and Humberto Gatica. In addition, my position has allowed me to creatively collaborate also with some of the most talented Latin American artists, with whom I've been able to establish close relationships.
What made you decide to pursue music production and engineering as a career?
I have been in bands since early high school. I started to write songs early on, and at first I just remembered them all in my head. Since I didn't know how to write or read music, as I wrote more songs, it became important to be able to record them, primarily so I wouldn't forget them. So very early on, I became quite interested in how to record songs effectively. I pursued music as a hobby for the next ten years, while I pursued what I considered to be a 'serious' career. At that point, the coincidence of two painful personal losses caused me to reconsider my priorities. I decided that I did not want to go through life merely doing what I was good at to make a living. I decided that life is too precious and short. I left the security that my previous career guaranteed to look for a way to make a living doing what I love, creating and recording songs. Since education had laid the foundation for my previous career, I concluded that the most efficient way to become a music creator was to find a school where I could learn how to produce and record music. I went into a library, and asked for a reference book that listed accredited colleges and schools that offered a program in music production and engineering. At the top of the very short list was Berklee. The rest was not necessarily easy, but at least that part of the path was clear.
What is a normal day like in your line of work (assuming there is such a thing as a normal day)?
That's the best part. There is no such thing as a normal day as a freelance engineer/producer; it all depends on which hat I am wearing that day. For example, one day I might be working side by side with a great engineer, and the next I am the engineer. Some days I get to write music, collaborating with artists I am working with. Some days I simply get to assist other producers and engineers, learning as much as I can from the experience. When I am working in the studios the days are long, and the hours can be grueling, especially when a session goes on for several weeks. Days generally start around noon, but once they start there's no telling when they will end. There's no such thing as a short day. In some cases, days will start very early, at seven or eight in the morning, but again there's no rule that says that early days end early. In most cases, my days last no less than twelve hours.
What is your favorite part of the job?
The best part of my job is the music. I have been fortunate that I've enjoyed almost every project that I've worked on. Maybe it's because I like most types of music, maybe it's because I've been lucky to work with great musicians and artists, or maybe it's because I am easily pleased. I am not saying that I don't distinguish between the average sessions and the great ones. On the contrary, I adjust my attitude depending on the session; music is music after all, and there's always something good in it. Even in the worst situations, there's always something to learn. In any event, almost every day I am working on what I love, which is making music.
What are some of the personal rewards that have come with your job or career?
The biggest personal reward to me is the fact that I have accomplished what I set out to do, which is to find a way to get paid to do what I love. If the people that hire me realized how much I like what I do, I'd be in trouble; because then they'd know that I'd do this for free. However, the fact that I can pay the rent, live in a nice place and afford a decent living makes me feel like the proverbial king, having my cake and eating it too. Whatever else I accomplish from this point on is merely icing on the cake.
What do you think are the requisites for someone entering this field?
I think that anyone entering this field really has to love music, and more specifically, the process of making music. This is a very demanding field, and for a long time, in the beginning, it is a pretty thankless job. It is very difficult to stand out in this highly competitive field, so it requires the person be patient, perseverant, and enthusiastic, even in the face of grim circumstances. The person needs to profit from the learning of the process, the painfully incremental improvement of their skills, and not be discouraged. In this field very few achieve great wealth or fame, so the person truly has to be able to find sufficient reward in the process and enjoyment of the product: the music.
What is the most challenging aspect of your job and/or career?
Personally, the most challenging part of my job is not necessarily related to music, but it is a part of almost any field of human endeavor. First and foremost are human relationships. It is true that artists and musicians have particularly delicate and volatile personalities. Added to this, we are in a field where the issues are intangibles, rarely absolutes that can be relied upon to settle differences of opinion. This explosive combination makes my job difficult, but rarely boring. In the recording environment, everyone is trying to accomplish the very difficult task of creating. For this reason the environment has to be as low key and unpretentious as possible, in order for the artists, but also everyone involved, to feel uninhibited to be creative. For this reason, establishing and nurturing positive relationships is perhaps the most fragile yet indispensable balance to preserve.
What are some of the skills that you are called upon to use daily in your work?
There are a variety of skills that I employ on a daily basis. The list would definitely include musical skills, both a general familiarity with musical concepts, but more importantly a deeper understanding of the issues the composer or artist is dealing with as they try to realize their musical piece. Sometimes reading skills are important, other times the ability to hear pitch or rhythm. Sometimes, being able to execute an operation to a recording with a musical sense, since trying to describe these things to a non-musician can be very frustrating. A second category of skills would include technical proficiency with the equipment used in the recording process. Sometimes, an understanding of acoustic, or digital theory can come in handy in trouble shooting a problem.
How did your education at Berklee prepare you for what you are doing today?
My Berklee education has been invaluable in several ways. By providing a program that both emphasized musical development and practical and up-to-date technical knowledge, the preparation has helped me to distinguish myself from others who have one or the other set of skills. The Berklee MP&E program is also unique because it is the only one I know of that actually teaches the art of music production. Granted, it is impossible to give a person all the skills that make an accomplished producer, but at the very least one leaves Berklee knowing where to look for those skills. Beyond the classroom, Berklee offers a most valuable gift: it's students and faculty. The relationships and networks formed with other fellow musicians are priceless. In my case, when I moved to L.A. I was broke, and had no job. I was able to do it thanks to the kind help of a Berklee friend who let me crash on his living room for the first two weeks, while I looked for a place to live and a place to work.
What are the current trends in the field of music production and engineering that will most likely shape your future and the future of this industry?
The most important trend I have observed is the movement away from analog recording to digital, hard disk-based recording, and with it the proliferation of low cost alternatives to the traditional music recording studio. The development of computers and digital technology now makes it possible to setup a truly state-of-the-art professional studio environment at a fraction of the cost of a commercial recording studio installation. This means that anyone with a big enough piggy bank can purchase the tools to record a professional sounding album without ever stepping out of their garage. Of course, there are limitations, but these are ever more easily overcome as the power of the technology increases with a concomitant decrease in cost. As a result, engineers with decades of experience are quickly becoming dinosaurs, as the equipment and techniques that they have mastered become obsolete. The tools for making music too are changing, MIDI instruments and sequencers have matured, and now most musicians in the recording industry are also required to become proficient in these new technologies, if they wish to remain competitive. In response to these changes, for someone like me, who was trained in big recording studios using analog recording machines, the key word is adaptation, FAST adaptation. Although the particular technologies are changing, and every day a new development has the potential for changing the whole recording process, at the end of the day the final result and focus remains the same: the new tools ultimately have to allow musicians and producers to do the same things they have always been doing. Here is where a Berklee education is crucial. Only by understanding what the point of view of the musician is, what he is trying to achieve, can one adapt quickly the new tools and techniques to do what the music requires. On the other hand, although the quickly evolving field of music production can be perilous to those who don't keep up with the changes, it is also rich in opportunities for those who do. I decided to go to Berklee, because I felt I needed to learn the process of recording music quickly. Although I have always recognized the value of experience in the real world, at the time I realized that time was of the essence, since I had already spent eight years following another career. I saw Berklee as a way to get a jump-start on the learning curve. Now, I realize that the education has been more valuable than that. By allowing me to adapt quickly in this rapidly changing field, it has now given me the opportunity to gain recognition and respect, much faster than it could have ever happened otherwise.