Wednesday, March 8, 2017

31 Women in Audio: Piper Payne

Mix Messiah Productions presents: 31 Women in Audio, a series celebrating Women's History Month.

Day 8: Piper Payne

Today, we are featuring Piper Payne, a mastering engineer in Oakland, CA, where she works on albums for independent artists and major labels. Formerly a mastering engineer with Coast Mastering in Berkeley, CA, Piper is now co-owner of her own mastering facility. She is the President of the SF Chapter of the Recording Academy and serves on the P&E Wing Steering Committee and the P&E Wing Advisory Council. She is also on the committee of the AES SF Chapter and is an active member of Women's Audio Mission. Piper is an audio professor and guest lectures often about mastering and recording.

Leslie Gaston-Bird: What childhood experiences do you think led to your love for the field of audio?
Piper Payne: When I was in 1st grade I really wanted to play drums, but my dad wouldn’t let me learn drums until I learned how to play the piano (my parents are super structured). So I took piano lessons on the computer, and at the same time was learning how to build my own computer and program it with Red Hat Linux when I was 6 or 7. I’ve been into computers, robotics and things like that since forever.

But the point is I’ve had a disciplined way of learning for a long, long time. When I was in 2nd grade I took drums, then fast forward… I thought I wanted to be a veterinarian for a while but I changed my mind when I figured out I might have to put an animal down. So I looked at percussion as a career. Then I decided I didn’t want that to be a burden to me financially. So I started a degree in Electrical Engineering.That’s how I got into audio, that’s how I got to put those things together.

When I was taking drum lessons I did not know it was weird for a girl to be a drummer. When my grandpa taught me carpentry, I didn’t know that was weird. And I didn’t know it was weird for a little girl to build a computer. I didn’t have any specific experiences that made me become an audio engineer as a woman. I just did what I did, followed things that I loved and eventually ended up in audio.

LG: What was one of your earliest recording experiences?
PP: I was convinced my house was haunted so I would bug my house with little recorders to catch the ghost. (At that time those “Ghost Hunters” shows weren’t out). I had one of those mini cassette recorders. Do you remember the toys that were little microphones with a little spring in it and sounded like a spring reverb? I was fascinated by that.

The first actual real recording I did was a Rolling Stones cover, “Bitch,” when I had access to the studios at University of Michigan. That was the first, big, 40-track recording I made. It was terrible. I haven’t listened to it since. I made that on the API Vision in the first studios at University of Michigan (around 2005-2006).

LG: What is your group dynamic like?
PP: I do work with a group. I am my own boss in terms of like my schedule, flexibility, kinds of projects I will deny (which is extremely rare). But I have a fantastic team of really capable and wonderful people who make sure what I do is as efficient and fair to my clients as possible. At this point I don’t think I could run this kind of operation by myself: Jonny handles all the business sales and is my agent for my mastering career; Audrey, a graduate of Women’s Audio Mission, handles my clients and my schedule; and my audio apprentice is Dee. They are the reason work gets done at my facility. In terms of the projects themselves, that’s reliant on group work and cooperation. If everyone in the chain does their job perfectly, the job is an A+. By the time it gets to me, if the project is compromised, I have to use my tools to fix things instead of maintaining the integrity of the project or for making it better. So that’s kind of group work.

LG: What do you dislike about the conversation regarding women in audio? What would you prefer to talk about?
PP: I would prefer the conversation be about the kind of work I’m doing as an engineer rather than as a female engineer. It bugs me when the first questions is “what famous records have you worked on?” I would prefer if people would ask me about my career and what it takes to be successful rather than the gear I have. There’s this weird expectation that I don’t know enough about gear. People say “What mastering DAW do you use” or something to try to trip me up … that doesn’t happen as much now but that does happen for a lot of young women.

I LOVE talking about challenging projects. If I ask Leslie Ann Jones about a challenge she had and overcome, I can learn about how to deal with that if it comes up for me. I love talking about sound, about presentation of records, and about the way records make people feel. I love physical or somatic reactions (when your body does something without your brain knowing) to music. I love talking about other awesome women in audio.

LG: Who are your role models, real or fictional?
PP. Hillary Clinton. Susan B Anthony. My mother.

LG: What upcoming projects would you like to mention?
PP: Upcoming projects: I just finished mastering the digital and vinyl release for Madame Ghandi’s new records. She is one of the amazing women leading the Future is Female movement. I just finished Geographer releases (Animal Shapes). I have a whole bunch coming in: a really cool a cappella record right now by Lisa Forkish, and a soundtrack for a documentary called “The Nine”, - a ripping doc about the plight of down-and-out people in the central valley of California. And I just finished the digital and vinyl soundtrack of the video game “Headlander”.

-Leslie Gaston-Bird
Owner, Mix Messiah Productions, LLC