“When mixing, don’t think … Feel | Pendant le mix, ne penses pas, ressens | ミックスの最中は聴くより身体で感じる”
Insights from a J-Pop, K-Pop, R&B, Hip-Hop, and Soundtrack French engineer Gregory Germain in the Japanese music industry, and how vital Amphion is to his workflow
Tokyo, Japan – French recording and mixing engineer, Gregory Germain, born and raised in Paris, but now based in Tokyo, joined the Japanese music industry in 2007, working at various name-studios, and recently established his own operation Sonic Synergies Engineering LLC. Involved in the production of numerous recordings and international co-writing sessions, he is fluent in Japanese, English, and French giving him a global reach, as he travels to connect with top rated sound engineers and artists.
Tell us what made you enter the music industry, where you studied, challenges you faced, and what brought you to live and work in Japan?
My interest in the music industry came from listening to records. Fascinated by sound and curious about how recordings were made, I spent a lot of time reading CDs booklets, credits, and listening to radio shows on music production. I collected CDs and alternative/special-remixes of the same albums from the UK or Europe, and spent a lot of my “kid time” in Paris record stores digging up different versions of the same recording. It was a live-jazz show in Paris when I saw a Live FOH engineer working behind the desk, and it just clicked with me – I wanted to be a sound engineer ! I enrolled at SAE Institute in Paris and was blessed with teachers who fed my engineering passion. I got bitten by the Japanese entertainment bug early in my childhood – Manga, Anime, and Games. I soon discovered that Japan was one of the biggest music markets in the world. So instead of going to London or New York, as most people did, I headed to Tokyo – arriving in 2004 – and spent a year learning the language and in my spare time, absorbing Japanese language and culture like a geek – 24/7. In 2005, I entered Tokyo School of Music, and two years later secured an internship – my first step into the industry. It was hard … learning tech-jargon, operating studio gear, and learning the complex culture/etiquette very specific to Japan.
Which engineers or studios influenced you the most ? Who would you say are some of your key mentors in this industry?
Actually, I have many, but the biggest influences are Michael Brauer, Manny Marroquin, and Mark Spike Stent. I love mixers who have a strong emotional vibe with a deep sound and huge low end. In Japan, I would say “the” most influential engineer on me is Shojiro Watanabe – who I assisted early in my career. He’s the greatest engineer in the business. If I stepped out of the control room for a short time, on my return the sound from the desk felt like final CD even though we were tracking from scratch and the band was just rehearsing. He taught me a systematic approach which I use today – that works no matter the studio. You work faster and more efficiently.
Share with us some of the studios you have worked at, and some of the notable artists/bands you have recorded; and any notable awards or album-sales these artists may have achieved …
I started my career in a small Pro Tools studio called “Em Point” in central Tokyo, now owned by the massive Avex Corporation, then moved to Studio Greenbird – where most of my audio-engineering knowledge was grounded. I had the chance to assist many engineers from Japan and the USA, working with many genres and many kinds of instruments. The studio schedule had a different genre almost every day – from classical to reggae. From there, the next stop in my career was to the production company called Digz in 2011, and their private studio “DCH” where I was in-house/chief engineer for 10 years. As well as standard recording and mixing I also took part in countless writing sessions between Japan and foreign countries and spent a lot of time tuning the room. 10 years spent in the same studio also taught me how to run a studio and hustling to fill the studio with sessions. Then in 2021, I branched out and became independent, locating to Studio MSR who outsource my engineering services.
As for bands and artists, one of the biggest records I have worked on so far was Japanese band Mrs Green Apple’s album “Attitude” – recording/mixing title track “Cheers”. The album was a chart-topper in Japan and a great success abroad; recorded Japanese singer Juju’s “I” title track which was Gold Disc certified (RIAJ). Recently, I mixed Mrs. Green Apple’s lead vocalist Motoki Ohmori’s solo project “French” – almost a million YouTube views in 3 weeks alone. I understand that outside Japan many of these names are not known, but in the world’s 2nd-biggest music market and biggest physical-sales market, they’re huge, and I’ve been fortunate to work with these and so many more: AAAMYY, Mizuki Ohira, Ken Kamikita, Kamiyado, CHARA, Passepied, Dean Fujioka, Red Velvet, BOA, Yoshika, aimi …
Tell us about your new studio business Sonic Synergies Engineering; your studio “concept”; its location; your gear setup; your workflow; and the type of services you will offer …
Studio MSR is a beautiful, multi-storey studio located in an historic, inner Tokyo suburb – Yoyogi Hachiman. Access is a breeze, and this area is like a studio hub, so I can switch to different studios easily depending on the gig. My mixing style is based on a hybrid setup of analogue and digital. I start in-the-box with plugins and sum my tracks to analogue gear (EQs, Compressors, Summing boxes). My interest in hybrid mixing setups came pretty early at Studio Greenbird. We were in an era of shifting between engineers who mixed entirely on the console and engineers who mixed in Pro Tools. But a few of them were blending both, doing summing or hardware inserts, and I preferred the sound of it. I knew how both sounded and so I have the best of both worlds. Basically, I use plugins for fixing things; dynamically controlling frequencies; and creating crazy effects that you can’t do in analogue domain.
The outboards are a colour, a tone. I see every one of them as a different colour. I can go through a tube compressor or to a transistor-based summing mixer, as when you hit the analogue circuit in a certain way there are some tones you just can’t get with plugins. It makes the mix sound more unique or random, and it also pushes you to keep control of your headroom. As there is no analogue desk at MSR Studio, the DAs from the MTRX goes directly to the analogue gear with very short cables and sounds more open and wider than before. The DA’s from the MTRX made by DAD also play a huge role in that. It’s a whole different level from the HD I/O. Also, the room-layout makes it easier to use with the Two 18 and I have less desk reflection. Two18s are hooked up to a subwoofer, as I do a lot of low-end focused songs so it’s absolutely necessary. The control room is quite large and forces you to address more low-end issues than in a small/tight room where low frequencies travel faster and trick you into believing there’re enough lows.
As for “Sonic Synergies Engineering LLC”, founded in late 2020 … I’ve basically compiled all the things I was doing before becoming independent. It’s a long process analysing the market forces inside/outside the industry to keep our engineer-legacy surviving in these challenging times. As a result, I’ve created 3 brands: “Fader Crafters” is an international team of sound engineers, we provide top to bottom support to high-demanding professional clients in music and post – from studio booking → recording → mixing → online-mastering. A one-stop-shop – or they can choose a component of it. One of our team of mastering engineers is 2020 Grammy-winner Alex Psaroudakis, based in New York; another engineer, Benjamin Savignoni. in Paris; and a third in Tokyo. The strength of Fader Crafters is that we curate the whole audio production process depending on the music. So, after listening to the demo or the client’s request, I know how we’ll record it, mix it, and master it. Then there is “Tokyo BLU Nation” which is a sub-brand of Fader Crafters. Dedicated to independent artists, we offer to mix and master only but we add to that playlist-pitching and media submission support. It’s a kind of kick-starter program for new talented artists who do Black music in Tokyo. As there is no label or production involved, everyone is independent. The goal is to connect the artist to the audio production team, to music curators and finally, listeners.
What insights/guidance can you give engineers who wish to work in this country ? How hard is it for foreign engineers to break into Japan ? What angles/skills do they “need” ?
With the internet it’s easier for foreign engineers to work with Japanese artists, but if you don’t speak the language find someone who can translate or represent you as Japanese business is full of small nuances and it can be kind of tricky to communicate clearly. If there is a native English speaker in their team then it’s ok, but likely most of the time it’s not the case. The mixing style is also a bit different compared to abroad as here the vocal and the lyrics are extremely important, so a “big vocal” is paramount even when there’s a huge backing track with it.
You have had experience with almost all the Amphion gear. Share with us your experiences; “how” you’ve used them and what are the particular merits of our models …
I’ve worked through the whole amp and monitor lineup except the One15. I started with the One18 at my previous studio and it really changed the whole way I mix and listen to music. I’d never before heard a speaker with so much detail in the low mid-range. I rediscovered so many recordings as before that I was using the NS10s as nearfield – and they totally lack low/mid. So, when I became independent, I wanted to step-up ! So the Two18s are my main speakers, and they sound absolutely fantastic. I’ve called them a “music mirror” because they just tell you what’s really happening during mixing or tracking. It’s not a fancy-sounding speaker but they don’t sound clinical. They help reveal the beauty behind every mix; they tell me when the mix is “done” and when I can present it to the artist. It helps to mix faster than any other speakers. In my case, I can have some really challenging last-minute projects so it’s very important to just jump in the room and immediately know what’s going on.
I prefer to use the One18 for tracking because they’re smaller and fit in most studios when I need to relocate – especially ones with analogue desks. The One12s are used in my home-setup to prepare mixes, to do some edits… I also do a lot of post-production work and as you don’t have to be in a big studio to do that (and nowadays clients don’t come to the studio anyway for post), I mix at home. And the One12s are perfect because the medium of post Is usually the web or smartphones, so it doesn’t have to be super-setup as with the Two18s. But at the same time, regardless of their size, the One12s tell you everything. It’s really amazing how Amphion managed to keep the same character across the whole line up. It’s very rare for a speaker manufacturer, as some brands have very different sounding speakers depending on the size and model.
Connect with, and listen to more of Gregory Germain at work here:
Fader Crafter Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/fadercrafters/
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