Mark Naron is a seasoned audio engineer with nearly 20 years of experience in the music industry, including live audio, artist and PR management and studio work, among other things. Naron currently owns Fastback Studios in North Seattle, whose recent credits include the latest release from rock band Fall From Grace, as well as metal guitarist Jeff Loomis (whose album Plains of Oblivion recently debuted at Number 2 on the Billboard Heatseekers chart. On top of all this, Naron is a mentor who spends time and energy training up new talent in professional audio.
Mark Naron was good enough to answer a few questions for MIMO about his career, his students and his current activities.
MIMO: How did you learn the skills to become a producer/engineer?
MN: Basically, self taught. I started helping out doing live sound at church when I was 18, then that turned into performing and doing live sound. I had a knack for directing the band and hearing the dynamics of the song. When you play and engineer live sound 3 to 4 times a week, you start understand how music should be heard, I’m more of an engineer than a producer. When artists want my input, I’m still an engineer–just with two cents to give.
MIMO: What part of the music business do you enjoy the most? What part annoys you the most?
MN: The part of the music business I enjoy most is seeing folks get excited about their projects. In the studio, it’s the engineer and the band, andwhen the band allows the engineer to add his “two cents” to the project, the project becomes better because a different set of ears / ideas is added to what the band is trying to accomplish or has not heard during practice. With that said, I believe you should give your thoughts when asked and never say, “This is how we should do it”.
What annoys me the most is “rock-starism.” The studio is a production house, not a stage, so please keep the act for your fans. It’s our job to make your music sound better so people will buy it.
MIMO: You have mentored a number of people over the years. Do you keep in touch with any of them? What are your students doing now?
MN: Yes, we have taught about 70-ish students over the past 3 years, after opening our door to an audio course. I have kept in touch with a handful, and hired a few. Basically, after the audio course I always encourage our students to keep coming back to continue to work on their skills and use us as a springboard to their success. I believe in passing the torch to the next audio engineer in line.
What are my students are doing now? I have found that there are three types of students. There’s the student who takes our course and says, “This is what my career is going to be” and uses our facility to continue to build their portfolio. Then there’s the one who says, “Thanks for the course, I’m going to take what I have learned and apply it to my band in live performance or home studio.” Then I have students who say, “Thanks for the course, this is not the career path for me, I am not a people person and don’t have the patience to listen to ‘Tom 1′ and ‘Tom 2′ tones over and over during a mix.”
MIMO: What interesting projects do you currently have on the burner?
MN: The ones that I can mention at this time are, Jeff Loomis, (Metal). 7 Horns 7 Eyes (Metal), Reggie Watts (comedy), Jon Auer (of The Posies), Fall From Grace (Rock), Christian Wargo (of Fleet Foxes), and a few TV documentary and movie voice-overs. All of these have become national releases through production house. Since we are a commercial studio, we record, mix and master a verity of projects. In any given month, we will be working on 6 to 8 different genres of music.
MIMO: What advice would you give someone who wants to become a producer or engineer?
MN: My advice is to do something every day. Spend 10,000 hours learning, promoting or recording your craft. Pay a studio day rate and go talk or record with an engineer. Learn from somebody who does it for a living. Promote yourself; that’s how you will become known. Record, record, record. Learn how to make mistakes so you can hear what is wrong and be better on the next take.
First, you become an engineer; you learn about microphones, outboard gear, room acoustics, instruments, signal chain, and you ask yourself if you are a people person in the process. If people start asking for your opinion, that does not make you a producer. A producer is first a musician, then an engineer, a people person, and a library of album and musical knowledge. Then maybe somebody will pay for your leadership and production skills for an album.