INTERVIEW WITH RON PROBST – IHR STUDIOS (October 31, 2015)
Robin: Happy Halloween! Today I am interviewing Ron Probst (who, by the way, is my brother, which makes this an extra-special interview). Ron, hi! I’m excited to be speaking with you about something you love so much.
Robin: Ron is the owner/engineer/do-it-all guy for IHR Studios, his own recording studio. Tell me a little bit about how you started.
Ron: I am a self taught sound engineer. I interned for two years with a studio and a live sound company locally. In time, I started buying equipment for my own home studio. Up until the middle 1980’s the only way to learn audio engineering was on the job as an apprentice. Nowadays there are many four-year BS/BA Degrees in Audio Engineering. Although many audio engineers do usually have a four-year undergraduate degree, I personally do not have one.
Robin: Not having a degree hasn’t stopped you though. In many fields, especially artistic ones, it is not a degree that necessarily qualifies you, but an innate ability and a strong willingness to learn, hands-on.
Ron: That’s true. For example, in order to be an audio engineer, it is important to possess excellent hearing as well as first-rate ear training. A sound knowledge of music history is a must, and not necessarily something you would learn in school. Understanding style, structure, the changes over the years in both the manner of recording as well as the techniques is imperative. You must have the ability to work long hours and pay absolute attention to even the smallest details. It helps greatly to be a musician of sorts, preferably a musician that knows musical structure and notes. Not theory necessarily, but a grounded understanding of the basics.
Robin: You also need to be personable and a good communicator. As your sister, I may be biased, but I have noticed you possess both qualities. I think that is why musicians enjoy working with you so much. You relate to them and are able to get to the core of what they’re looking for out of your services and what is needed in order to produce the best sound based on the artist’s particular strengths.
Ron: Well, thanks. I have recorded a variety of music, and because of the wide-ranging styles I have had to adapt my approach. I have done both field recording and studio recording. Field recording is more challenging because of the lack of control of acoustics. Some projects become challenging because of talent level and some because of setting. Over the years, I’ve also had to become skilled at the ability to plan detailed events.
Robin: What is the most challenging project you have been involved in?
Ron: That is difficult to answer. Each project has its own particular challenges. However, I guess the most challenging from a recording standpoint was that of an Americana Group who performed in a two-hundred year old church that didn’t have electricity. We had to run our own in order to make the recording. The performance consisted not only of vocals, guitars, dobro, violin, an upright bass, and a one-hundred-year-old organ, but had a live audience of one hundred and fifteen people.
Robin: Wow. Daunting, but rewarding, I expect?
Ron: Very rewarding and I am truly grateful to have learned to work well under pressure.
Robin: Is there a particular project of which you are most proud?
Ron: Oh, I don’t think I can pick just one. I would say the projects I am most proud of are: Tony Lucca—Rendezvous With The Angels; Rebecca Grayson—Trouble The Water; Sally Jaye and Brian Wright—Old St. Paul’s Church; Ernie Halter—90’s Acoustic Throwback (Mastering); The Halstead Clan—both EP’s; Rick Cline—Must Be This Tall To Ride; and probably the various recordings I have done with a dear friend, Mike Harrington. Certain of these projects had many other involved parties who helped bring them to fruition, and I plan to tell more about these in detail during a future interview.
Robin: Fabulous plan. For now, though, how best would you describe yourself professionally and what you do?
Ron: I am a freelance sound/mastering engineer who works with artists locally or abroad.
Robin: How do you go about doing that?
Ron: I work many times from files sent over the Internet. I also record musicians at my house and at area studios. Due to time-constraints, most recording activities these days take place on the weekends or planned vacations (large project or scheduling conflicts). I charge by the hour or by the song, but I have also done projects solely for the enrichment of the art or as charity.
Robin: Walk me through a day of recording. I know it depends on the project, but give me a ‘for instance’.
Ron: First, I would set up the computer for the type of project I am undertaking. I use Pro Tools HD recording software and have the ability to record 16 tracks simultaneously. Within the program are many different types of “plug-ins” that simulate expensive pieces of equipment. I use these to help create the sound of the recordings during mixing or mastering. I use analog pre amps because they sound much better than digital. The tones are warmer.
If recording a group, I will set up all the microphones and pre amps, running microphone cables, securing them and setting up mic stands with microphones for each particular instrument. In addition, I run lines and lay out headphones, tap test microphones and check that the signal is coming through the headphones. From there when the group arrives I would get all the instruments set up and sound checked. Get the headphone mixes blended for each musician’s taste (what they want to hear in their headphones-priorities). Then title the song – set up tempo (click track) and blend that into headphones. Make sure everyone can hear the talkback (that’s me communicating with the artists in their headphones). And start recording! An average day of recording is ten to fourteen hours.
Robin: What about mastering?
Ron: If mastering, I only work inside the computer. Mastering is taking finished mixes and turning them up to commercial standards and contouring the sound of each song (matching for continuity in volume and texture). The average day for mastering is about eight hours.
Robin: If you had to do over, related to career or education, would you do anything different?
Ron: Everything I have done in life has brought me to here, and I am truly blessed. I suppose I might have pursued an education, for sure, even if it had been a Mass Communications Degree (at the time) or Audio Engineering (post 1983). I would have loved to work in film. I also love theater. Being part of a Broadway production team would be awesome!
Robin: Don’t count yourself out of that yet! It’s matter of putting yourself in the right place at the right time. What advice would you give to someone interested in pursuing a career path in audio engineering?
Ron: Learn as much about the field you are entering as you can and understand the earning potential. Be willing to live with the financial reward of that particular job, as the music industry has changed greatly with the advent of digital technology. Intellectual property has taken a huge financial hit. The movie and gaming industries are following closely on its heels. The double-edged sword of the Digital Age and the internet has yet to be sorted out. My advice would be to pick a facet of audio engineering that has a guaranteed income stream along with a fulfilling job environment. You might want to record music for the art of it or take a chance on something as drastic as reinventing the electro acoustic transducer. J
Robin: Sound advice from a sound engineer.
Ron: I want to finish up by saying I am very thankful for all of those who have helped me along the way, most particularly:
James Little, who I interned with for “live” sound and studio recording. We have become the best of friends and I will always be grateful for his mentoring.
Rick Cline, for volunteering to be my very first project. His jazz recording “Must Be This Tall To Ride” is still one of my most treasured recordings.
Marc McManeus, who helped me greatly with the live Americana Church project featuring Sally Jaye and Brian Wright at Old St Paul’s Church in Conover, North Carolina. Without Marc that project would have never been possible.
And of course I would like to thank my adorable wife Linda. Without her devotion, love and support, none of this would have ever been possible.
Robin: And don’t forget her chocolate chip cookies! They’ve opened the door to many an opportunity. Thanks, Ron, for letting me interview you!
To find out more about IHR Studios and Ron’s work, visit below: