Manon Grandjean is an award-winning studio engineer and mixer originally from France, who has made London her home. She’s worked with an extremely diverse selection of artists like UK rappers Stormzy (Gang Signs & Prayer) and Kano (Made in the Manor), indie band London Grammar (If You Wait) and singer-songwriter Birdy (Beautiful Lies).
Shure spoke with Grandjean about getting the vibe in the studio just right, the importance of doing your homework and how to stay mentally focused during extra long sessions.
Grandjean was named “Breakthrough Engineer of the Year” by the UK Music Producers Guild in 2017. She is up for another MPG award this year, and we wish her the best of luck! (Full disclosure: Shure is a MPG awards sponsor.)
Bells Driver: Why did you choose to come to London from France?
I applied for internships in studios in London when I finished my studies. I wanted to go abroad either to England or America because it is where all the music I listen to is made. I got an internship in London, and it went well, so I decided to stay and find work here. The rest is history.
BD: How useful did you find your engineering studies?
I studied audio engineering at University in Brittany in France. It was a three-year course, where I studied a lot of theory, acoustics physics, etc. But we also had a lot of practical work, which definitely helped when I started being a runner. I think a university course is useful to have as it allows you to understand a bit quicker perhaps what is happening in a session technically (signal path, microphones, etc.), but you learn how to be an engineer or a producer only with experience.
BD: You’ve worked in several London studios – what gives one a great vibe?
I was very lucky to have worked in great studios in London. I think vibe is so important, the artist or the band have to feel comfortable and inspired. In all the studios I have worked in, all the studio staff, from the runner to the studio manager would always go out of their way to make the artist or the band happy, from a technical point of view and everything else around it. Great gear is a big selling point for a studio, but great staff who know the gear inside out and care about the session and the people is what makes a studio great.
BD: Do you have a studio survival kit you take to every session?
I don’t personally have a kit, as the studios I worked in always had everything that you would need. But if I had my own studio, I would stock up on teas, coffee, biscuits, snacks and maybe some of the food and drinks that I know the artist I am working with likes. Obviously comfy clothes, as you are running around quite a bit. Also, I think it is important before a session to do your homework, know about the artist, prepare your session with the assistant, engineer or producer, make sure the studio you are working in has the equipment you need.
BD: Being in the studio can mean long hours. How do you stay mentally focused?
Coffee! It can be long hours and I don’t have any technique or secret to stay focused, unfortunately. You have to think that everyone is working hard to make something great, so usually that is enough to get you through the night if needed. Sometimes you don’t have a choice if you are on a tight budget or a deadline, but trying to keep the hours sensible is key. It is easy to get sucked into what you are doing and lose track of time, but being overworked and tired is counterproductive most of the time and you can lose focus and perspective a lot quicker, that sounds really obvious but harder to do than we think.
BD: Microphone technique – is there something you use in almost every session?
I have learned different mic techniques at university and by working in different studios and with different people. Everyone has their own little tricks, so you pick some of them up along the way and put your spin on it. I always try to vary things a little in a session, because I don’t think that you can apply the same things over and over again – there is always a slight difference. To me, it is always trial and error. Nothing is set in stone, so I am constantly learning.
BD: What exactly are you doing as a mix engineer?
The role of a mix engineer is quite varied. It can go from taking very raw recordings and applying a stylistic direction, to getting really advanced mixes and simply adding their perspective. Nowadays engineers and producers are mixing the song as it progresses and everyone is used to the production mix, so the mix engineer can’t stray away too much sonically, but improve what is already there. Some mixers also add samples to reinforce sounds. They can even add some production elements if it is okay with the artist and the producer, they can also have a say in the arrangement sometimes, like muting parts. It is quite a technical and creative role at the same time, as well as engineering.
BD: How do you see your career developing?
Ultimately I would like to produce records, continue to engineer and mix and one day have my own studio!
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