Interview: Eyal Levi is Getting Into Music Education in a Big Way
Eyal Levi has always been a work horse, juggling the duties of his own creative projects with being one of the most in-demand producers, engineers, and mixers in metal, first at his own studio in Atlanta, GA, and then, for the past three-plus years, as a partner at Audiohammer Studios in Sanford, FL (to say nothing of occasionally writing columns for MetalSucks). But as you may have noticed, he has somehow added even more to his workload in 2014, teaching a series of rightfully-popular online recording seminars for CreativeLive.
And as it turns out, Eyal is going to be furthering his activities in the realm of recording and music education in a big, big way.
MetalSucks recently had the opportunity to hop on the phone with Eyal in order discuss his insanely busy 2014, as well as all the cool stuff he has planned for the not-too-distant future (well… the cool stuff he could tell us about, anyway). Below, read our entire chat about his CreativeLive courses, his upcoming Unstoppable Recording Machine intensives, his ongoing work manning the boards for some of metal’s most revered acts, and more.
How’re you doing, man?
Good. How’re you doing?
I’m good. Are you in Sanford now?
I’m in Sanford for the next three hours. I’m flying to Seattle to go do CreativeLive imminently.
So that’s like the thirtieth CreativeLive session you’ve done this year? [laughs] I’m exaggerating, obviously, but you’ve been doing a lot of work with CreativeLive as of late.
Yeah, this is the sixth or seventh one I’ve done. It’s been exactly a year since I’ve started.
Oh, wow. So presumably those are going well and you’re enjoying doing them.
I think I have the highest selling music ones out there – which is pretty cool. That’s always a nice feeling, and I keep getting asked back, which is also a good feeling. I love it. I didn’t ever think I would enjoy doing something like that, because I hated giving guitar lessons when I was a kid. So I never thought that doing something educational would be exciting to me. But there is something about the platform that CreativeLive gives you, and something about the way that the message is delivered that really appeals to me. I love it.
Do you think it’s because the students aren’t there? [laughs]
[laughs] Well, we do have a few students there… usually four or five. But we’re talking to thousands of people – somewhere between five- and ten-thousand people at a time. It’s a pretty big deal. I think that might be part of what I enjoy about it — because it gets my adrenaline amped up, and it’s a lot like playing live, because you have a whole crew, there are eight cameras on you, and everything is on the clock. It’s a lot like putting on a live performance, except that it’s way longer than any live performances that I ever had to give in a band. And it’s just me [as opposed to an entire band], which is also kind of scary. I just like the reach of the whole thing and the intensity of the whole thing. It doesn’t seem like it’s intense just from watching it because the material is pretty chill, but it’s very intense to do one.
I would imagine that it takes a lot of preparation, just knowing that you have to fill that much time.
I think it does take a lot of preparation. Luckily, I’m not talking about stuff I’m learning for the first time; I’m talking about stuff I know already. But structuring content in a way that’s easy for people to assimilate is a challenge, because a lot of this stuff that we go over is not taught in schools, and it’s not part of regular recording education or music education. There isn’t really a precedent for how to explain this material. We’re talking about cutting edge things – stuff you maybe figured out last year about how to edit drums better or something like that, stuff that’s ahead of the curve, so there’s no previous method for how to properly explain it. There is a big challenge in how to structure this material that’s actually relatively technical and relatively complex in a way that a sixth grader would be able to understand it. It’s kind of hard.
I would imagine. Speaking of the reach, we should also quickly mention that people can still download your courses even after they’ve aired the first time. So, for example, if someone is reading this right now and are just learning about it, they can still go to CreativeLive and get all your courses.
Yeah, but they would have to pay for them. They’re free to watch live, but if they want to download them, they do have to buy them.
But it’s worth it if you’re just learning about the courses now for whatever reason.
Yeah, totally. And I think they’re good for anybody but the most advanced people. Obviously, if you’re some super advanced recording guy, there’s nothing to gain from watching.
Colin Richardson couldn’t learn anything from watching these? [laughs]
You know, it’s funny, Colin Richardson comments on my posts that I put up on social media sometimes just to get conversations going about recording. Sometimes he’ll jump in, and it’s always a surprise because I never think that someone like him is going to be reading it.
Yeah, I know that feeling. [laughs] Let me know when you get a letter from a lawyer.
I’m sure one of these days it’ll happen.
You have some big things planned with CreativeLive coming up, besides this thing that you’re flying today to do.
I have some big things with a member of CreativeLive coming up.
Yeah, a member of the MetalSucks community as well. So Sergeant D and I have a company called Unstoppable Killing Machine that we actually got going before CreativeLive happened. We call it a one stop shop for DIY producers and another way to put it is that we like to empower creative content creators. It basically combines music with tech — meaning technology, not tech metal. Music with tech and entrepreneurism and education. So far a few of the things that we’re doing is selling very high quality tones and drum samples and things like that. We’re also offering recording boot camps where I basically go around to different cities and rent out a studio for a few days and hire an artist — somebody that’s well known –and get some students in there and teach them how to record during a very intense, thirty hour course.
So that’s what you’re doing with [former Chimaira guitarist] Rob Arnold?
Yeah, Rob Arnold is my first guinea pig. [laughs] He’s my first artist at the boot camp. We’re going to Rob Arnold’s studio with a bunch of students, and we’re all going to record Rob, probably playing an old Chimaira tune or something. I’m going to record him and show the students how to do it, and then they’re going to have to do it themselves.
That’s really cool actually.
Yeah, right? They’re going to have to do it in front of the class, and they’re going to have to deal with the nerves of having to record someone like Rob with someone like me standing over their shoulder – which is a good thing. “How to Operate Under Pressure” is pretty much the name of the game in music. So that’s going to help. And they’ll really learn what it means to be good and what the standard is. A lot of people don’t have any frame of reference for what “pro” actually means or what “good” actually means. How would they know? No one has ever shown them. So I think that this’ll help burst some bubbles, but also give people something to strive for.
And then the second course will be with Keith Merrow in Portland, the third one is with [Trivium’s] Matt Heafy in Orlando, and I’ve got some really great people lined up for other ones throughout both the U.S. and the U.K.
Just out of curiosity, do all the students record the same song, or is it a different song for each student?
It’s the same song. We’re going to take it in sections. The student isn’t going to sit there and record the whole song… I don’t have three weeks for each of these courses [laughs]. So say, for example, we’re doing a part with heavy chugs or something –I’ll show them recording methods for getting that type of sound. I’ll do it myself by way of demonstration, and then bring the students up and let them try. We may not get through one entire song – it will be whatever we can get done in thirty hours.
Are those courses also going to be live streamed or anything like that?
Nope! You’ve gotta be there. If you want to do the internet thing, watch CreativeLive. If you want to do this in person, come to a boot camp.
Got it. Just to backtrack a bit… whose tones are you selling?
Our first tone pack is by John Browne from Monuments. They’re the tones that he actually made on the first two Monuments records. They’re his. He made them in England on his own. And we’re selling those along with a few bonus ones we made together at my place. So there’s like twenty-something tones in all. I think that there’s something pretty cool about the fact that if people actually want to know what that tone is on that record that sounds so bad ass, well there it is, good luck. Knock yourself out.
Obviously that’s not all there is to it, though. There’s a lot more to recording than just having his tone.
Yeah. Having John’s tone will not give you John’s hands [laughs].
Actually, I really hope that selling these tones helps dispel the myth that if you get a preset or tone from somebody, you’re suddenly going to sound that good. It’s funny, some people think that it’s kind of weird to sell this stuff, but I don’t see why. Getting a good tone and a great mix and all that stuff is a combination of so many different factors. If you give somebody a guitar tone, you’re not giving them everything at all. They still need to play something through that tone, and they still need to mix it right, and they still need to write music that’s going to sound good with it, and everything else has to work with it as well. There are just too many factors to be able to say that the tone is the be all and end all.
That makes sense. So how are you balancing all of these new educational endeavors with Audiohammer?
Well, unfortunately, I have to leave Audiohammer because of it. There’s just no way to do both. I’ve been trying to balance my responsibilities at Audiohammer with everything I’ve been trying to do with Unstoppable Killing Machine, and there’s just no way. It’s just impossible. I absolutely love Audiohammer and love the dudes there [producers/mixers Jason Suecof and Mark Lewis] and think that they’re brilliant and the best in metal, but in order for me to be able to really focus on what I need to do, I can’t really stick here.
Plus, I’m relocating to Seattle because that’s where my partner in this is and that’s where I want to live anyways. And Audiohammer is not in Seattle. It’s actually really far from Seattle. It’s probably as far away as you could get and still remain in the U.S.
But I’m still going to keep my drum room at Audiohammer. Business will continue there as usual. It’s not like anyone is going to be out of a place to record or anything like that. I just have to focus on my own thing. For me to be able to do that, I can’t be committed to two other people whose careers are in hyperdrive as well. You can’t do that and do a good job. You can do anything you want in life — but you can’t do everything. There are only so many hours in the day.
So you’ve been recording for, what, fifteen years? More?
Since ’99 or 2000. I took a short break though when Dååth got signed.
And how long have you been at Audiohammer? Four years?
Since 2011, so three-and-a-half years. But Jason and Mark and I were all friends back before I even worked with them. I came here in 2008 with Dååth and recorded with them. I trusted them with my own creative endeavors… and I still would. I still think that nobody can touch Jason’s musical brain and nobody can touch Mark’s ear. I’ve always sent bands to them, and I still would. It’s just a time-management issue that will prevent me from working here myself.
That’s cool. So when is the big move?
Some time in the next six months. There are a lot of details because there are a lot of projects in Florida that I’m on until at least to the end of February. There are some really good albums that I’m involved with, so obviously I have to be here for those. I’m not going to leave anybody high and dry. So I’m figuring out the move. But I already have a location picked out for living and setting up my new studio. It’s just a matter of when gear will begin to populate that studio. So some time in the next six months, but no later than February.
So that’s it? If bands haven’t hired you before that date, they blew it?
Well, it’s not like I’m done recording.
Oh, okay! But you’ll certainly be recording less it sounds like.
Well, yeah, because I think I spread myself a little too thin for a little while by doing too much work for too many people. Of course I’ll still be recording, I love it. Will I be recording as much? No, because I’ve got all these other things that I’m just as excited about, if not more so. And that’s just what I’ve told you about…
Oh? What else do you have going on?
No, I can’t talk about that stuff yet.
Oh. That’s disappointing. [laughs]
Well, I can’t talk about them yet because they’re still in the really early stages of development, or are in stages of development where someone will shoot me in the head if I talked about it. But they’re really cool, though. Just trust me on that.