Afterglow, “Pro Audio’s premiere recording industry after party,” is an annual celebration for music industry insiders that takes place during the Audio Engineering Society’s (AES) international conference. This year marked the milestone tenth anniversary of the popular shindig, which has hosts exclusive demo sessions and performances for the world’s most prestigious producers, engineers, and mixers working today at renowned studio spaces in New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Its landmark decade was capped off, not only by taking place at New York’s legendary Sear Sound (where artists such as David Bowie, Lenny Kravitz, and Yoko Ono have recorded through the years), but by adding a new dimension to aural production as we know it. For the first time in music history, a live performance was recorded in quadraphonic sound!
Team Honeysuckle was proud to join producer Shevy Shovlin, director of the creative agency Headroom for Days and Afterglow’s organizer, as he prepared to break barriers with multi-instrumentalist Emily Wells and a slew of the biggest brands in professional audio. The notable sponsors included Vintage King, Barefoot Sound, Shinola Detroit, Eventide, The NAMM Show, G-Technology, AVN Systems, ATC Loudspeakers, United Recording, CyKiK, The Recording Connection, SonicScoop, GearSlutz, KMD Productions, Involve Audio, SoundGirls, Tangible Formats, and The Art of Recording a Big Band (more on that last one later).
Quadraphonic sound, as Shovlin explained, is a process that uses four channels in which speakers are positioned at the four corners of a room, reproducing signals that are independent of each other. This is more or less “surround sound,” and was pioneered in the 1970s but found too expensive to be successful at the time. It had only ever been used to reproduce existing audio tracks to vinyl records. But when Emily Wells took the stage at Sear Sound, her voice went directly from body to vinyl through the magic of a quadraphonic setup, creating a moment in time that audio engineers will be studying for generations to come.
Honeysuckle correspondent Frankie Beatrice sat down with Shovlin and Wells in the midst of their breakthrough event to talk musical influences, the love of the job, and much more.
FRANKIE BEATRICE: Shevy, what are the most important things people should know about Afterglow?
SHEVY SHOVLIN: We’ve been doing this event for 10 years, back and forth between the East Coast and West Coast. Mainly New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. We’ve done it in studios like Electric Lady Studios and Platinum. Last year we had Gotye. This year we have Emily Wells. She is a multi-instrumentalist who has a really cool lush sound. She sings, she plays violin and some synths and drum percussion. We are recording her live, direct to disc – so, direct to vinyl – and we are also recording that in Quadraphonic Sound. It’s surround onto disc. It’s the first time it’s ever been attempted to our knowledge. So we’re pretty excited about that!
You’ve had a really varied background in music and entertainment. How did you get to where you are now?
I grew up in Detroit and I’ve always been into music… I play music and I actually went to The Recording Institute of Detroit, the only [formal] schooling I’ve had. But I’ve always been into the tech side of things.
I [started out] playing in some bands with my friends, but I became the guy that would put together press-kits and help book shows or what have you… I got really into music publishing, and worked for some [outlets] in Detroit and New York. One day I was like, “I can do this!” And so I started publishing my own magazine. In doing so, I was doing a lot of the creative and the writing and layouts myself. So that started getting my actual “new media” chops together as far as being a graphic designer; I kind of had a knack for that. As the Digital Age came about, all of a sudden, we went from print to being much more online-focused. I started doing more graphic design and online publishing for other people. So for years I got into that and I was doing a lot of video content all around… a lot of stuff around music.
I was booking some shows, throwing a lot of parties, whatever the tech side of music and entertainment was, I did that for years. I moved out to Los Angeles and was creative director at a PR advertising agency there. It got me deeper into new media and technology and content creation. Then I took a position at a company called Vintage King and I was the director of marketing there for some years. That was directly related to recording. So I got really back into the recording industry, focusing on equipment and production. [Eventually] I left Vintage King to start my own agency, Headroom For Days. It’s a creative agency for the recording industry, meaning we create content in that arena. We do lots of videos, events, design work, PR etc. That’s what brought us to what we’re doing here today at Afterglow.
What are some of your biggest influences?
I am influenced by a lot of things. Good design, great music, people that are passionate about whatever they are. I love all genres of music. I like anything that is kind of out there in pushing the edges of any form of media, whether it be a great restaurant or band or a cool house or whatever it is. I draw inspiration from everywhere.
That’s amazing, having such a love of whatever pushes the boundaries of possibility.
Yeah! I think my icing, again, is content… In creating content, my goal is to always complete what I started. I [begin with] a goal for something and then I work backward from that. I don’t try to over-complicate things, but to simplify them, and if certain things don’t seem possible or get in the way to achieve my goal, I just avoid them and go directly to what my focus is. I don’t get tied up in the minutiae.
Out of everywhere you’ve worked in the past, which place has been the most memorable for you?
One of the things I’ve done that I’m proudest of is having directed and produced a couple of films, documentaries around music productions. A favorite is a film called The Art of Recording a Big Band, starring Al Schmitt [the most celebrated music engineer, producer, and mixer of all time – he’s won 22 Grammys and mixed over 150 gold and platinum albums for artists including Madonna, Michael Jackson, Paul McCartney, and more]. That project was filmed at Capitol Studios in Los Angeles. Everyone from Frank Sinatra, Patsy Cline, Elvis Presley to modern day artists like Ryan Adams have been in that studio. So for me to be and work at Capitol was always… That’s one of the places that just gave me chills whenever I was there.
What advice would you offer to people getting into the recording industry? Young entrepreneurs looking to get into the PR and tech sides like you did?
Well, you know, I really was into it. I spent a lot of time around recording studios and artists. But I also volunteered a lot of my time. So, if I saw some opportunity that an artist or studio or producer had… they had something they were working on; they needed help with PR, design work or some filming, I would do it. There’s a certain demeanor about being around a recording studio, with long sessions, long days. People they didn’t mind me – they didn’t kick me out of the studio.
I would say having a good demeanor is a big part of it. Putting in a lot of work… and also being open to wherever you may fit in. You might start out wanting to do one thing, but all of a sudden it opens the door for another, to go try something else. You don’t have to do just one thing. But whatever you do, you have to do it with all of your heart and soul and do your best.
People always asking me, “Shevy what exactly do you do?” After reading this article, you the reader are probably asking yourself, what exactly does he do? I think that’s just who I am. I do a lot of everything.
Emily, what inspired you to get into music and become the performer that you are?
EMILY WELLS: (Chuckles) Oh God… Music is the only language worth speaking. My parents, the music that I grew up with, seeing performances… So many [pieces] have culminated into this thing that I am now and I am sure that will keep changing.
Who or what influences your work?
It’s pretty wide-ranging. There are literary influences… This record is really influenced by [poets] John Berger, and Mary Ruefle. There will be samples from both of them reading in the performance this evening. Musically, you know, Leonard Cohen, Nina Simone, but also I love Chopin. I grew up playing Vivaldi. So there’s a lot of classical. Then I love dance music, and hip-hop and all that as well. That was a part of my teenage self. Also David Bowie… anyone who’s good.
Where do you want to take your music and your art from here?
To people’s ears! Yeah!
For more information about Afterglow and the full photo gallery from the tenth anniversary celebration, visit aesafterglow.org or follow on Instagram at @aesafterglow. For more about Sear Sound, visit searsound.com or follow on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.