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Interview: Ryan Greene - Area 52 entertainment

Andrew Low
Interview: Ryan Greene - Area 52 entertainment

To this point, Ryan Greene’s 23-year, 250-record career in the recording business has been chock-a-block with the kind of gigs that any self-respecting tea boy would trade his own grandmother for and never look back. First engineer at MCA for four years, chief engineer at EMI Music for eight years, co-owner of Motor Studios in San Francisco, former owner of Crush Recording in Arizona and projects for just about every record label you care to mention.

It goes without saying that Greene has worked with a throng of heavyweight artists – he counts NOFX, Megadeth, Alice Cooper, Cheap Trick and Gladys Knight among the leagues of artists that he has produced and engineered. Interestingly, Megadeth frontman Dave Mustaine considers his band’s classic 1992 album Countdown to Extinction, which Greene helped produce, to be their best work ever.

The past year has been one of changes for Greene, as he has begun to work on music for video games, mixing eight songs for the blockbusting Guitar Hero 3, 40 songs for Rock Revolution, and yet more for Rock Band. 2009 was also the year that he abandoned his large-format console, an SSL 9000J and opted instead for a D-Command and a Dangerous 2-Bus. Happy with his new projects and his new setup, he joined forces with John Fielding to launch Area 52 Entertainment in LA.
As you can imagine, he’s an incredibly busy man. Luckily for us, we managed to sneak in a quick chat between sessions…

How are things taking off with Area 52?
Area 52 is going quite well, John and I have produced three projects within the first four months of working together. Right now I’m finishing up production for the band Authority Zero and then I’ll be producing/engineering and mixing the metal band Benedictum. After that, I’ll be P/E/M the new Back From Ashes record and have various mixing gigs in between.

You said that you got rid of your industry standard console after trying out the Dangerous Music 2-Bus. Have you ever looked back, or maybe even gone back to using a large format console? What do you miss about the big console? 
Let’s start with what I don’t miss about my big console. Firstly, the electric bill. Second would be the maintenance bill. I miss just being able to reach for an eq or compressor and twist a knob, but other than that, not a lot. I’m happy with the set-up and having the Dangerous 2-Bus has a lot to do with that.
I do miss sitting in front of a 72-input console, it’s a nice ego stroke, but I’ve found sitting in front of my D-Command is just as – if not more – powerful. It’s my Lamborghini in a Volkswagen bug body. And the D-Command has more lights.

You talk about how having the gear is nothing if you don’t have the technique and you put particular emphasis on knowing how to mic-up guitar cabs. You also mention how different cables and even picks can dramatically affect the sound. Do you think the most important part of making a record is the capturing of the sounds?

Technique? You mean there is technique to miking up a guitar cab? I thought everyone just used plugins. I was just in the studio the other day and the guitar player thought I was nuts when I suggested we change guitar cable. He couldn’t believe the difference. Honestly, I feel the most important part of making a record is having great songs and players that can play them. The feel, performance and the sound and whether or not it’s appropriate for the song, all come into play when making a record.

You skipped assistant engineer and got promoted from being a tape duplicator straight to being first engineer at MCA, while the guy before you spent four years as a tape duplicator and never got that chance. Was it purely a lucky break because the engineer had to go on another session, or do you think there was something about your work or your attitude that got you the gig?
I don’t believe in luck – everything happens for a reason. He went on to do some amazing projects. I started doing live sound when I was 15, so by the time I even went to recording school I already had a good understanding of sound and mic technique. While I was going to recording school I was working at the Troubadour in Hollywood running FOH – that was a great time.

When I started at MCA Music I worked in the tape room from 10am to 6pm. After work I would walk down to the MCA studio and just watch the sessions from 6pm to 3am, seven days a week for a year. I learned so much over that year, from how to deal with different types of personalities, learning how to cope with situations out of your control and everything else in between. I do feel attitude helped and all I wanted to do was learn everything I could. Being a good recording engineer is just a part of what you need to know. 

Do you think the pressure on your first session helped with the positive outcome or would you have found it easier working without it? Do you work better under pressure?
That first session I wouldn’t have wished on my worst enemy. Not that the session was bad – it was the pressure. I was told I had one shot at it and if it didn’t work then it was doubtful I would get another chance to engineer there. I was almost 20 years old and had to see whether I was going to sink or swim. The engineers before me all worked at the highest level, with no mistakes and I was expected to do the same. I went to sleep at night telling myself I had to work at 100 per cent accuracy.

Looking back, I feel the pressure was ...

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thing that could have happened. It’s given me a work ethic that I may not have had otherwise. 

Obviously you recognise the importance of ‘real’ recording studios in the days of home studios and so on. What things in a professional facility do you think contribute to making a great record?
I moved my big studio to my house and run a TDM Pro Tools rig, Dangerous 2-buss, D-Command, Neve, API, Universal Audio, Grace mic pres, Pultec, API, Millennia and Neve eqs, Manley, DBX, UA and Empirical Labs compressors and a good selection of mics, guitar amps, bass amps and cabinets, so I pretty much have everything a large studio would have as far as equipment.

What I don’t have is nice big tracking room like the Record Plant or Ocean Way or one of my favourite rooms in North Hollywood, Clear Lake Audio. There is nothing like walking into a million dollar control room; it has a certain feel that most home studios don’t have. On top of that, just knowing the projects that have come before you gives off a certain feel of professionalism and vibe that I can’t explain – you would have to feel it. It’s very sad that some up-and-coming engineers may never work in studios like that and they will be missing something that would change their lives forever.
I do feel you can create great records from home with today’s technology and if record budgets don’t increase a bit more people are going to stay at home. It’s sad but true.

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