Sylvia Massy: Vintage Microphones and Music Production
Sylvia Massy is a Grammy-award winning music producer, engineer and mixing connoisseur. During a recent guest lecture with Sylvia Massy we sat down to talk about all things vintage microphones, music production, sound engineering and more.
Sylvia regularly delivers guest lectures for our students, which include insightful talks, workshops and recording sessions that has kept our students eagerly on their toes. Find out about Sylvia’s thoughts on using potatoes and Babybel cheese for filters in our ‘Creative Studio Techniques with Sylvia Massy’ blog!
INTRODUCING SYLVIA MASSY
Throughout her career Sylvia has had the pleasure of collaborating on a range of projects and working with critically acclaimed artists. Some of her biggest clients include Taylor Hawkins, Tool, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Deftones, Aerosmith and many, many more. She is also known for owning the world’s largest vintage microphone collection.
We sat down with Sylvia ahead of her guest lecture and recording session in our studio, Angel Two. Dive in!
What’s your favourite vintage microphone and why?
I’m still learning, and I’ll probably be learning about them for the rest of my life, but there are a few in the collection that I love to use on recording sessions. One is the RCA KU3A microphone, which is a ribbon mic that was made in the early 50s in the United States. It is the most beautiful silky vocal microphone.
There are other mics that I love in the collection too that I’m not using as much, that are more decorative or more historical. One of them is called the Marconi Round Sykes microphone. It’s a big old round magnet with lots of wires. This was the very first dynamic microphone ever made and it was made at the Marconi LAB here in London. That was our first dynamic microphone. It was really hard to use because it was so heavy. It had to be put in a big sling, with amplifiers in another room that took up the whole space. The Marconi Round Sykes was popular for a few years before it was replaced with the Western electric 618 and then the Western electric 430.
how did you get into music production?
When I started doing music production and working on music, it was because of that feeling you get when you’re listening to music, where you lose the sense of disbelief. All of a sudden, you’re a part of the music. All I want is to achieve that, but it can only be achieved with certain songs, in a certain recording style, and a certain type of mix.
Every once in a while, we get one of those moments of suspending disbelief. That’s my goal – to lose myself in the music. It gives me the feeling of something rushing up my spine and that’s what we want. That’s why music is so special to us. It’s not like any other industry in the world.
how would you describe abbey road institute, london?
“I think Abbey Road Institute has the right program for students who want to have
careers in this industry and that’s most important to me.
It’s very helpful for people who want to know how to record their own music better.
Abbey Road Institute prepares students better than other schools for that.” Sylvia Massy
Whenever I visit, I have real conversations with these students. A lot are actively working in the industry. They’re students, but they’re doing everything that I do, you know? So, I find them to be really enlightening and have great ideas. In fact, in our last class, I played a demo and I asked the students in the room, ‘what would you do with this?’ Now we’re going to record the demo and I’m going to use all of their ideas… Just kidding, I have my own, but I appreciate these ideas. They’re good ideas!
DO YOU HAVE ANY ADVICE FOR OUR STUDENTS?
1. Be patient
No matter where you are in life. It may take two years before you start finding the right gigs. In my opinion, in order to get into this business, you need to go where the studios are or where the work is. Go to the places where there are a lot of musicians and you’ll be able to get the work.
2. Find Connections
It’s all about finding ways to make the connection, for people to get to know your name. Make sure to give out business cards or something similar. Your connections don’t always have to be through email or social media. It’s important to have one-on-one conversations with individual musicians to make an impression.
3. Stay Ready
Always be ready. Always show up. If you are wanting gigs, get your rig ready for that. Ask yourself, ‘what equipment do I need?’ Even if you need to take on another gig just to pay the bills, invest in what you want to do. I think it’s important to make some solid investments, especially with the basics.
4. Be a Good Hang
Lastly, and most important, be a good hang. That’s the number one thing. People don’t want you in their sessions if you’re not fun to hang out with. Lastly, make sure to have a good attitude and to always pay attention.
Thanks for your time Sylvia.
Curious to know more?
Looking to expand your own vintage microphone collection? Take a look at Airgig’s article The Musicians Guide to Vintage Microphones for inspiration.
Considering pursuing a career in music production? Find out more about our Advanced Diploma in Music Production and Sound Engineering.