Audio-Technica endorser singer/songwriter/pianist Gavin DeGraw is known for raw emotion and eloquent songcraft. His production manager and front-of-house engineer, Erick "Otto" Celeiro sat down with us recently for an exclusive A-T web interview.
Photo of Erick "Otto" Celeiro is the property of Gavin DeGraw. Unauthorized use, alteration or reproduction of this photograph is strictly prohibited.
Photo of Gavin DeGraw is by Scott Gries/Getty Images. This photo is the property of Scott Gries/Getty Images. Unauthorized use, alteration or reproduction of this photograph is strictly prohibited.
Audio-Technica endorser singer/songwriter/pianist Gavin DeGraw is known for raw emotion and eloquent songcraft. DeGraw's J Records debut, Chariot, is a remarkably accomplished and compelling first effort. DeGraw’s production manager and front-of-house engineer, Erick "Otto" Celeiro sat down with us recently for an exclusive A-T web interview.
How did you get involved in the pro audio industry?
Otto Celeiro: I toured with bands fresh out of high school as a musician. When I was off the road I worked with local sound companies—loading trucks, assisting and minor engineering gigs—to pay the bills. I once complained to a manager of a band I played in about hiring PA, and how inconsistent it was. He suggested he and I build a system and rent it to the band. Once disbanded, he and I had a system with bank payments, so I began engineering for other bands in clubs and then promoters began to contact me to handle their shows. Before we knew it, we were investing in large-format consoles and dozens of PA boxes. He and I are now part of a three-way partnership of a growing sound company in Florida.
Did you play in a band originally or start off as a mixer?
I once was a Muso… I played guitar and keyboards.
What are the unique challenges in mixing Gavin DeGraw?
I can’t really say there are serious unique challenges to mixing Gavin other than he can be unpredictable: he has a hard time following a set list. Often I don’t know what he’s going to play next, or it may even be a song I’ve never heard before—not to worry, neither has the band. He has two positions for his vocal mics, he may be singing at his piano and all of the sudden he’s at his guitar position in the middle of a song. If I’m not looking up at him, he could be singing into a muted mic.
What’s your specific audio chain to make sure the vocals really have presence?
I try and keep it quite simple, But it starts with a brilliant mic. I’ve been touring with a Soundcraft MH4 which has nice sounding mic pre’s. I insert a Summit TLA50 compressor and keep his vocal channel pretty flat. Gavin has a great voice… it helps when the source is great.
What’s your favorite A-T mic?
Because this vocal mic sounds better than any wired vocal mic I have ever used before. I can truly understand why engineers constantly ask me “What is that mic Gavin is using?” Simply crystal clear and full of energy.
Any unusual uses of A-T mics?
Yes… but she would never admit to it. Bill Clinton would be envious. Oh… did I say that aloud?
Do you like to have all the latest toys, or do you prefer to stick with the tried and true?
My company has recently purchased a couple digital consoles. Although it’s nice to know we have a piece of the future, I’m still very partial to the analog world.
Are there any particular pieces of gear that you feel are indispensable to your sound (i.e.: certain mic(s), particular reverb unit, comp unit, etc)?
Usually when we do fly dates and I can’t bring my gear with me, there is something I do not leave behind. We carry a full compliment of A-T mics. One thing I miss the most is the 5000 series wireless. We don’t fly our RF rack so we use all wired mics including the AE5400 wired mic, which sounds good, but not as warm as the wireless version.
Are there any engineers you especially look up to?
I look up to a lot of the usual suspects… Robert Scovill, Toby Francis, Dave Rat and Andy Meyer who has taught me a great deal about pro audio.
How do you maintain the health of your ears?
I really don’t do much for the health of my ears… I’m deaf in one ear and I can’t hear out of the other.
What would you say is the biggest challenge in your work?
I’d say the biggest challenge comes with every new day. Sometimes I find myself in some college field house that the reflections are so bad that the students are still hearing the gig a week later. Then I deal with mix position is against the back wall under a balcony off axis to the PA or a local sound company doesn’t have a clue how to fly their PA so instead they’ll just ground stack this new line array they just bought… because they can. Dealing with musicians too, if it weren’t for them… my gig would be cake. But the times you find yourself in a sold-out arena with a great PA and a great performance… well that’s the goods!
Do you try to make the live performance sound live or recreate the studio feel?
I usually listen to what the band is playing, then I try and make it mine. I like to mix how I hear it should be. I have been fortunate thus far to have the freedom to do so. If you listen to Gavin’s record, it’s very pop sounding, but the band plays with a lot more energy, I find myself exaggerating that energy and the results are very satisfying.
Do the live-sound engineers and studio engineers typically communicate about achieving a certain sound or do you get to do your own thing?
I have yet, not to this point in my career, had a studio engineer specifically tell me how to mix a certain band. I’ve been told by the muso’s that they want it loud and full of energy… but no need to tell me twice, because that’s how I like it.
What is your compression philosophy during a live show?
I used to mix with very light compression, straight across the board. Sister Hazel was more of an organic open mix. With Gavin’s gig I find myself compressing a lot more and liking it. I’m getting a bit friskier with the comps.
How much influence does the artist have on the mix?
All the influence comes from the artist. If your artist[s] is not in the pocket and performing sloppy, you could bet on a terrible sounding show. Crap in, crap out… you can only polish a turd so much.
Do you find the touring schedule hard work?
It is hard work, but you can make it easier on yourself by having a positive attitude and staying a few steps ahead.
What mistakes do you see inexperienced sound people making?
I honestly believe you have to have a passion for engineering. Sometimes I see kids go to engineering school and get in the field thinking it’s just going to come to them… Mixing is not for everyone, not even some trained professionals.
Do you enjoy the work?
I truly enjoy what I do.
What albums do you listen to at home?
Collective Soul – Dosage, Pink Floyd, Zep, Old Aerosmith, Audioslave, Porcupine Tree, lot’s of 70’s music, Crystal Method, Chemical bros.
What are your hobbies outside of audio?
Before the back problems, I really enjoyed riding motocross.