Kevin interviews Engineer Slau Halatyn

I had the opportunity to interview a very fascinating recording engineer Slau Halatyn. He travels the world recording everything from Jazz to Orchestral Music.  He is also an insightful and witty podcaster.

Did I mention that Slau is also blind?  He’s one of a few that I know.  In this interview we talk about how he overcame that obstacle to be one in-demand recording engineer.


Comment below if you have questions for Slau:

Raw Transcript

Kevin: Hey guys, it’s Kevin with Mix Coach and today I’m talking to Slau Halatyn. Some of you might know him just by Slau. That is how I know him and this is the first time I have ever pronounced his name, obviously. I have to admit that I am just getting up to speed with what you are doing, Slau.

I heard your podcast, Sessions With Slau and I was so impressed with the one or two episodes that I heard. I loved your insight and your wit and immediately felt a kinship with you so I thought that I would give you a call and maybe try to get to know you a little bit better.

Slau: Sounds good.

Kevin: We’ve talked one other time on the phone and one other time via email so everyone, please welcome Slau to the interview.

Slau: Thank you so much, Kevin. It’s an honor to be here.

Kevin: Slau, how long have you been doing the podcast for? I feel like I am missing out because I have only heard one or two episodes.

Slau: I got involved in the podcasting world way back, toward the beginning around 2005. When I say that I got involved, I mean that I got involved in the community of podcasting. I got involved musically as a person who did some jingles for some podcasts. The big one was Adam Curry’s podcast, The Daily Source Code. He had a whole big network of podcasts.

Kevin: I’ll put up a link to it.

Slau: We are into this whole pod-safe music thing since because of licensing, you couldn’t play any commercial music that wasn’t licensed for podcasting. It was coming up on the Christmas singing and Adam Curry mentioned that there weren’t really any pod-safe Christmas songs.

I had co-written a song a while before that and I posted it onto the network. Adam listened to it and he loved it. He said, “This would be so great if we did a ‘We Are The World’ version of this.” I ended up recording and producing this song called “If Everyday Were Christmas” with people from nine different countries. There were probably 50 musicians and singers. That was my foray into the podcasting world.

I started contributing to something called the Project Studio Network. Of course, when these podcasts started coming about, I started looking around for things that were related to audio. Being an audio engineer, that is what I was hunting around for.

I came across Project Studio Network and got to know Big Al and Mike Boland, the hosts of that show. I started doing segments for them and at a certain point, they started to fade and weren’t putting out as many episodes. I thought to myself, “Let me spin this off and do a podcast of my own.”

I really enjoy podcasting. The thing is that it is very time-intensive, depending on what kind of format you want to do. Sometimes if you are doing a roundtable format or using two hosts, it can be easy. You can just sit down with a list of topics, record a discussion, edit out one or two things and then you’re done.

My approach was a little bit different. First, I was doing it myself. Secondly, I am a fan of NPR Radiolab production where you have dialogue or narration interspersed with samples, ambience and that kind of thing. I don’t necessarily mean that I am on that level.

To put out an episode the way I like to do…For example, there was an episode about the way I put together “If Everyday Were Christmas” that had excerpts, outtakes and things from the multi-track sessions. I go through and say, “This is the keyboard, this is the kick, these are the overheads and this is what I used here and here.” I hate to think how long an hour-long episode like that took me to put together. Days, probably.

It was days when I had time and didn’t have sessions. I did what I felt like doing but it is not a money-making venture for me. Some people choose to monetize their podcasts and that’s great. I choose not to, it’s not my business. I do enjoy it quite a bit and there was a long period of time that I didn’t put out any episodes. I was crazy busy and just didn’t have the time to do it.

I got back into it and recently I put out three episodes within the span of three weeks which is unheard of for me. I am getting back into it whenever I can.

Kevin: I love the quality. I was going to ask you a quick question about your podcast. Do you play the samples as you go or do you cut those in later?

Slau: I cut those in later. I suppose that I could get it to a point where I could trigger the samples but one never knows how long-winded I will become. It is not a matter of whether I will be long-winded but how long-winded I will be.

If I start talking about a woodwind section in a recording that I did, I might say two sentences about it or, “Do you know what I used this time? This time I used this mic or preamp on this particular instrument.” One never knows how long I am going to go for, so I always cut that stuff in afterwards.

Kevin: Another thing that I found that you do that I do as well is to record eastern-European orchestras. I have recorded in Prague several times and I got in way over my head but landed on my feet. You have been to Kiev, Ukraine several times to record the orchestra there. Can you tell me a little bit about that?

Slau: Yes, and that is really one of my favorite gigs. I was living in London for a couple of years back in the 1990’s. I got a call from the producer in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. A mutual friend who worked at a radio station there recommended me for this particular gig.

They were recording an orchestra for a Ukrainian dance ensemble called Shumka in Edmonton. They have been around for a long time and this past year they celebrated their 50th anniversary. It is a huge company and they also have a school.

They used to tour with orchestras and they used to do their recordings in Edmonton. I don’t know if they used the Edmonton symphony or something like that. It got prohibitively expensive for them to tour in such a manner and they decided that they were going to try touring with a digital recording of an orchestra.

What they decided to do is to go to the Ukraine to record an orchestra there. I am not sure if their first foray into this world was a particular Nutcracker Version that they were doing. What happened was that the recording engineer there recorded the orchestra as you normally would. It was just a two-track recording, a stereo recording that they then converted to a CD format.

They went on a tour with this and they weren’t happy with it. They were saying that the recording just didn’t sound good. Things were very muddy and undefined. It was kind of a wash. When they sent me the recording, I instantly realized what it was.

First of all, they were playing a recording that was already at a limited dynamic range, 96 DB at best. It was a recording that was filled with reverb. It was absolutely swimming in reverb. That is fine just for listening to in your car or living room but when you are bringing this into a 10,000-seat arena, you have suddenly got reverb of reverb.

I told them that first of all, you need to be recording in 24-bit. Secondly, it has to be as dry as possible so that the venues in which you are playing this stuff back are delivering the ambience that you are expecting to hear in a room that size. Here is the clincher. They were going to continue doing these recordings in the Ukraine and they were going to have to use the house engineer. He was going to have to be a part of it because the staff there did not speak English at all. What they needed as an engineer to oversee this and basically be a chief sound engineer for the project. That person also had to speak Ukrainian.

I am ethnically Ukrainian. I was born in the United States in New York City but my parents were both from the Ukraine so I learned Ukrainian when I was a kid and I still speak it fairly fluently.

I went over there for the first time in 1994 and I have been on every gig since. I love it. It’s one of my favorite things to do. You have 60-70 musicians, a large staff, maintenance and anything you need. Now we are recording in this place that is abbreviated DZZ for Deem Zvukozapis; you would translate it as “The House of Sound Recording”.

It’s gigantic. It’s larger than Abbey Road, it is on that level. It is a purpose-built orchestral recording studio. They have four huge, huge rooms and then two smaller rooms for smaller ensembles. It is fantastic. I love it, I really love it.

The first time I did it, I was flying by the seat of my pants. I had never recorded anything that big. I have done large ensembles but not an orchestra. Of course, I said that I could handle it.

Kevin: “I’ve got friends who could tell me what to do.” I don’t think you can really get ahead as far as being a producer or an engineer goes unless you are willing to risk the egg on your face of failing big. I think you rarely ever do fail completely but we always learn from it.

Slau: Yes, and it’s just a matter of following basic principles. You just translate and adapt a little bit. I was up on San Francisco at the AES show and I was out for dinner with Frank Filipetti. He as recorded many large projects such as the cast albums of Wicked and Book of Mormon. He is huge in that particular industry aside from other gigantic projects of course.

I said, “You’ve done orchestras. How did you get into that?” I know that he did pop projects and worked with people like James Taylor. He told me that he didn’t have any training but just started out by recording string or brass sections and then just built upon his previous knowledge.

That’s exactly how I got into it. I recorded smaller ensembles and then bigger and bigger ones. Then you just translate and apply what you know from smaller projects to bigger ones.

Kevin: There is something as far as European orchestras are concerned that it seems we are lacking, at least in Nashville. There is not a room like the one I recorded in in Prague. That was a gymnasium recording studio that was treated. You could put the Decca tree (the three microphones right over the conductor) and the outriggers out and you pretty much had your sound.

Slau: That’s right.

Kevin: Here, you have to mix things in because people want things in booths or there is no room big enough where it would sound good if things leaked into other microphones.

Moving away from the orchestral recording, I saw a picture of you online with the METAlliance. Could you explain what that is?

Slau: The METAlliance is a group of engineers including Al Schmitt, George Massenburg, Frank Filipetti, Ed Cherney, Elliot Scheiner, Chuck Ainley and Phil Ramone. They have a website, I think their main objective is education. They try to mentor engineers and promote excellence in audio.

They have done of a couple of what are called In-Session events. They did the first one out at Capitol in Los Angeles and another one at Avatar Studios a few weeks ago. It is basically a whole weekend of sessions with these guys. You have full access to them. You are part of the sessions. You are not officially assisting. You aren’t a hired person but it is essentially a weekend long master class with them.

I did that a couple of years ago at Avatar Studios which is right here in New York. It is probably one of the best things I have ever done. It is an incredible learning experience to be able to observe these guys while they are working and ask any question at any given point.

Reading interviews with these guys, you tend to have certain standard questions and standard responses like, “Well, it depends.” That’s the most popular answer. In this case, when you ask a question it is very specific to that thing. It’s not an “It depends” because these are the circumstances we are talking about. “What are you going to do now under these circumstances in this room with that drummer singing while he’s playing drums? How are you going to capture him.”

“Well, I’m going to use a Beyer M160.”

“Oh, really?”

“That’s what Phil Collins used when I recorded him.”


You get a whole different level of questions and answers. I would do it again in a heartbeat. I think there is another one going on in L.A. sometime this year. It’s a fantastic event.

Kevin: I’ll have to check into that.

When we first got acquainted a couple of weeks ago, I had mentioned that I was possibly going to meet Al Schmitt pretty soon. In an email back, you said, “Remind him that I at the METAlliance. Tell him that I am probably the blind recording engineer he knows.”

Slau: Yes, if he didn’t remember the name, he would know the guy with the white cane.

Kevin: That fascinated me. I have a Mix Coach member on my website who is blind and he has asked me questions on how someone in his situation could get work as a recording engineer. I had to say that in the back of my mind, I have been searching for someone who has blazed the path for him so I wanted to ask you some questions on that.

What are some of the challenges you have encountered in being a blind recording engineer?

Slau: When I first started out in the Middle Ages, we used to use tape and analog consoles. It was a different world. There were still challenges but I think that the big challenge these days is actually an advantage as well. The challenge is that everything is really moving in to the DAW world and a lot of software isn’t accessible. That’s a big problem.

There was a time when Pro Tools was really accessible on the Mac using a screen reader called As Spoken. That’s how I got into Pro Tools. At a certain point, I have to switch over from an analog to a digital studio. It was getting to the point where the equipment was breaking down and I was spending more money having a tech fix the stuff.

At that point, Pro Tools HD came out. It was just the right set of circumstances for me to jump over to the digital side of things. It was really accessible but there was a certain point where stuff changed from OS9 to OS10. Eventually when Digidesign at the time went over to OS10 and made their first version of Pro Tools in OS10, there was no screen reader. There was no new screen reader for OS10. Oh boy, this was a problem.

Eventually Apple built a screen reader right into OS10 which was fantastic. On the Windows’ side of things, people spent $1,200-$1,500 for a screen reader where Apple decided to built it right in. That was fantastic.

The problem was that when I went to launch Pro Tools, it was not accessible. All it saw was the menus and then that’s it. It said, “Scroll area, scroll area, scroll area” but nothing within that. That started a six-year journey for me with Digidesign/Avid because during that time, they changed over to Avid.

I flew out there a couple of times and kept in touch with folks at Avid at the various trade shows. I kept the dialogue and the discussion going and eventually, Pro Tools became accessible a couple of years ago. They did the work necessary on their end to identify the various controls. It was simple things such as buttons, checkboxes, lists, etc.

That was good but they didn’t go the full nine-yards. There was still work to be done but it was very slow-going. As you know, Avid has undergone enormous layoffs so it was hard to get the work to continue. Most recently, since I was going to be out there for the past AES, I had a meeting with them.

We decided to take a slightly different approach and that was the fact that in Pro Tools 10, there was a really big push for international language support. The head of [inaudible (audio break up) 0:22:26], the guy in charge of Pro Tools right now, Rich Holmes, said, “The way I look at it, accessing Pro Tools with the screen reader is not really that different than accessing it in a different language. It’s just an alternate means. Maybe we should go to Gary Greenfield, the CEO and get his blessing on this. Then it could become a part of our in-house testing and our natural UI design process.

I said that it was worth a try. If he said no, I think it probably would have been dead in the water and I don’t think they could have continued. Still, I wrote a letter to Gary Greenfield and so did Rich, I guess, and we got a response saying, “Go ahead and do it. It sounds like a good plan and you are doing the right thing.” That was an enormous victory for us in the sense of accessibility.

I think that one of the biggest challenges is the fact that we face technologies that are inaccessible out of the box. Sometimes you have to create workarounds. There was a time that if you were using some type of a digital recorder or even any recorder, a blind user wouldn’t necessarily know what the levels where.

When I started out, I had low vision and could go right up against the VU meter and get a sense of it. If a needle was hovering around zero, I would kind of see it there. I could see the peak LED going off.

Those who may be totally blind don’t have that option, that luxury. These days, I don’t. I have lost more vision over the years and at this point, that would not be feasible for me. At one point, for example, I had a guy build a little box for me that was about the size of a deck of cards.

It had an input and an output. It was basically an in-line level meter so that when the signal reached a certain level in terms of volts, the thing would vibrate just like a beeper or on a mobile phone. I sometimes did remote sessions where I was recording ensembles or choirs in cathedrals. I didn’t do that work that much but when I did, that was a lifesaver. As I was taking levels, I could get a sense of when I was reaching an area that was dangerous because that think would vibrate. Then I would know to back off those levels.

Cable numbering, my goodness. I can’t tell you how many thousands of connections I have through these patch bays and things like that. I went ahead and brailled them with little aluminum tags and Braille indications of channels 1-8 9-16 and so on. There are many things that one can do in terms of adapting to work in an environment where you are dealing with technology.

I have a whole slew of documents on my laptop that identify the layouts of pieces of equipment. When you jump behind the DBX-160, for example, there can be a lot of questions. “Wait a second. Is this the input or the output?” With XLRs, that is easy but sometimes you get a TRS jack and you don’t know what is what. You don’t know if it’s labeled from left to right, 1-8 or is it 8-1? Different manufactures use different standards and stuff.

Kevin: It’s overwhelming to think about how many things I take for granted in terms of just being able to read and look and knowing where things go. “This green cable is going here and you can see the path.” My hat goes off to you. To do the kind of work and the quality of work that you do with that as an obstacle that you have overcome is amazing.

Slau: Thank you very much. It does force me to be extra careful and really dot my “I”s and cross my “T”s. For me, it just works out to be an advantage in another sense. When I was in school for audio engineering, I recorded my classes. I couldn’t sit there and take notes quickly enough so I would listen back and take notes at my leisure. That was because I was blind.

Listening to those lectures twice and taking notes while I was doing it worked to my advantage. I aced my way through school. I got “A”s in every single subject except for one “B+” which was in sight-singing of all things, ironically. I got a 3.99 average and that drove me nuts. What could you do, who cares?

You have to do what you have to do. If it’s important, you figure out ways to make certain adaptations or develop alternate means of doing this. For blind audio professions or hobbyists, I always recommend that they go to for anything related to accessing Pro Tools as a blind user.

There are big communities here and there of people who are more focused on general audio, specifically Pro Tools or SONAR. There are pockets of people. A lot of people, of course, have a foot in this camp and a foot in that camp too and things like that.

Kevin: Is Pro Tools the most accessible DAW that you’re aware of?

Slau: Not yet, in the sense that that the issue of accessibility testing in-house is only just beginning. It is quite accessible but not fully. None of the MIDI stuff is really accessible. You could create a MIDI track, assign inputs and outputs to it, record enable it, record something and cut, copy, paste and scrub it.

For example, in the event list you can’t read down that list and say, “Here is that C4 that was not supposed to be there.” That is not accessible yet. I would say that we are going to see a huge improvement in the next release because the beta cycle is about to start and I am on that beta team.

Kevin: Okay, cool. I know that we need to wrap this up. I have kept you for too long and you look like you’re busy sitting in your studio.

Slau: My pleasure.

Kevin: As a side note, this is your studio. Is it a home studio or…?

Slau: No. We own the building and it’s an apartment building. We have a place on the top floor and this is on the ground floor in the back of the building. People always say, “Wow, New York. Jeez, it must be hard to soundproof.” Yes, it is. But one of the advantages that we have being toward the back of the building is that we have a pretty busy street at the front that doesn’t affect us back here.

I used to work out-of-home and dedicated a bedroom to it way back when I first started off doing the whole Portis studio route and stuff like that, but no more of that for me.

Kevin: I’m looking over my list of things I wanted to ask you.

Slau: Let’s talk gear, man!

Kevin: Okay. In one of the podcasts that I heard you on, you were talking about microphones.

Slau: I am such a mic-freak.

Kevin: Let’s backtrack just a little bit. This is something I like to do. I can never remember the name of the podcast or the video that I saw this on. It was like a Q&A orchestra. I give you a section and you give me a microphone that you like to use on it.

Slau: Oh, okay.

Kevin: Let’s do strings. What do you use on strings?

Slau: Typically, U89s or AKG460s, 480s. I like to use the U89s or U67s if they are available but you don’t normally find many of those. Perhaps Capitol has that many U67s. For my purposes, since I try to minimize the ambience on the orchestral stuff that I do,

I like to use all of the string mics in a figure eight pattern, essentially facing almost straight down or at a little bit of an angle toward the players. Then the brass that is blaring behind them is not really getting into those mics quite as much. That’s what I use most often, that’s my preference.

Kevin: Interesting, I had never thought of using a figure eight pattern.

Slau: It works really, really well.

Kevin: I thought you were going to say, “I don’t use omni, I use cardioid.”

Slau: Right. I don’t use omni unless you are doing Decca tree, of course. In the stuff I do normally, we are not doing that kind of recording. If you are using a figure eight for an orchestra, the room is the most important regardless of what mics you are using. Apart from the musicianship, etc., the room plays such a huge role in it.

The one that we are recording in now at DZZ is about 50 by 80 or 90. It is gigantic and a beautiful sounding room. You almost can’t go wrong with that.

Kevin: Let’s talk about brass. What do you use on brass?

Slau: Ribbons. I’ve tried using condensers on brass and it’s okay but to me, there is no substitute. I use whatever Robbins are available. I love Royer Ribbons, I love Coles 4038s. I have used Fatheads on these orchestral sessions. I have used Cascade mics. I love Cascade mics, I think they are fantastic.

More to the point, it’s that characteristic of the Ribbon and the fact that it does not take your head off when a pair of trumpets blow something very hard. I couldn’t see using anything else for trombones. That’s the way to go for me, Ribbons.

Kevin: Let’s talk about woodwinds.

Slau: I typically use small diaphragm condensers. I like the AKG460s and 480s and KM84s. Again, [inaudible (audio dropped out briefly) 0:35:58] usually. It depends on the ensemble. If there is some heavy percussion behind them, I might have to go for something that has a figure eight available and there are not too many of those.

Kevin: The only thing left is percussion.

Slau: Ribbons.

Kevin: Ribbons on that too?

Slau: Yes. Again, as far as orchestral stuff, I am getting an overall picture with the stereo mic or small diaphragm, maybe Schoeps M221s in an ORTF over the orchestra. I don’t do the Decca tree for my purposes but at least with an ORTF right over the orchestra, I get a pretty good balance and I am bringing in spot mics as necessary.

For the stuff that I have right over the drums and percussion, I tend to favor the Ribbons because of their character. I have done several projects where I have only used Ribbons and nothing else. I love the sound in the big band type of stuff.

Kevin: I did a vocal session that was for a vintage record. It was four singers and I remember using all Ribbon mics. I love the way it sounded, I really did. You are making me want to go grab more Ribbons.

We probably need to wrap this up because we both need to get to work. Slau, where can people find you on the web?

Slau: I think the best place is That is the website for the podcast. I have yet to do the studio website itself. I have just never gotten around to it but I think I saw a tutorial on how to get your studio’s website going. I can’t imagine where that might be.

Kevin: I can’t imagine where that is. And I think it’s @SlauBeSharp on Twitter.

Slau: Yes, I am a Twitter hound.

Kevin: Cool. Slau, thank you for taking some time and I look forward to talking with you again sometime and maybe digging a little deeper about some stuff that can help my guys and help me too.

Slau: Wonderful, and thank you so much for getting in touch in the first place. I took a look at Mix Coach and there’s great stuff on there. I wish that I had such a resource when I was starting out. It’s wonderful that you are sharing knowledge and bringing people together. It’s a fantastic thing, keep it up.

Kevin: Thank you for the kind words. Slau, I will talk to you soon, I’m sure.

Slau: Sounds good, thank you so much, Kevin.

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