Heba Kadry is the chief mastering engineer at Timeless Mastering in Brooklyn, NY. Heba grew up in Egypt, and after graduating from The American University in Cairo she got her start in audio by composing jingles for two years in Cairo. She moved to the US to study audio engineering at The Recording Workshop in Ohio, became an engineer at SugarHill Recording Studios in Texas and was a mastering engineer at The Lodge in NYC before moving over to her current position at Timeless.
1. So why make records?
I think the instinct to make and capture music has been deeply rooted in our evolution as humans. Whether it started out as a caveman inspired by a bird mating call or the sounds of a waterfall, sound has been an essential part of human existence and there is no escaping that; I think it was inevitable for us to figure out a way to capture it. I remember reading an article about the origins of music and how engaging in it was an indication of a more advanced society; it has allowed us to compartmentalize our emotions and therefore the ability to relate to others.
The need to capture and preserve sound is sort of an extension of that. Kind of like how some people like to write a journal or book to document the passage of time/event, music has allowed humans to do the same but in a very visceral way. I have succinct memories of important turning points and phases in my life based on the records I was listening to at the time, like all the way down to triggering specific smells and emotions. I love that and would hate to live in a world where records were no longer made.
2. Is recordmaking still a politically and/or socially significant art form?
Absolutely yes. The Arab Spring is a great recent example of that. Dozens of Egyptian artists were captured during the revolution, brutally beaten and tortured and yet despite the horror they continued making records, expressing their discontent and dreams of a better future through their art. Where would we be if we didn’t have Bob Dylan, The Beatles or Gil Scott-Heron with their political commentary influencing generation after generation. I still don’t think scientists have realized the full power of music on the human brain. Several studies have found that music touches more parts of the brain than any other function and that’s huge! Music has been used for various forms of therapy- everything from people suffering from a loss or heartbreak to patients who have endured neurological damage. Its truly remarkable. It’s like we need music to soothe our pain in this often very lonely and brutal world.
3. Why do you think so few women are recordmakers and audioworkers?
Women have been producing and engineering sound for decades it’s just that not enough people realize that due to lack of coverage. Listen to Daphne Oram or Eliane Radigue who were way ahead of everyone building their own synths back when synths didn’t even exist! Or the fact that 30 years ago Kate Bush single handedly produced all her records starting with “The Dreaming”, one of the most incredible production masterpieces ever made and a major advance in the employment of the studio as an instrument. The list goes on…
Of course this doesn’t take away from the fact that statistically speaking it is still an industry dominated by men. The only way this can truly change is if sexualized female stereotypes and views on a woman’s place in the industry drastically change. Women will feel empowered to get behind the glass when they see greater profiling on some of the incredible female producers/engineers currently out there upfront and center along with their male peers.
I don’t really know why women aren’t generally attracted to the field but I have a few theories about this. I spent the last 12 years of my life almost living in the studios I worked at, sometimes windowless rooms for ridiculously long hours and for very little compensation. You look like death pulling long hours only to do it all over again the next day; certainly not the most alluring gig! You have to be a real soldier (male or female) to power through and actually make a name for yourself to convince people you’re good enough for the job. That might be a viable deterrent for really anyone- the hours, the very steep incline and the shit pay. So that multiplied by society’s unrelenting pressure to place women in wife/caretaker role might intimidate and pressure women who may consider getting in the field.
4. What do you imagine recordmaking will be like in 100 years?
I don’t know but thats a really good question! I hate to think this but analog recording may cease to exist and plugins and virtual instruments may end up sounding superior to their analog counterparts. I have this harrowing vision of musicians in different continents jamming together in one location in a “beam me up scotty” hologram type scenario…ugh.
5. If you could change one thing about the field of recordmaking, what would you change?
That’s a tough question because there’s many things I’d like to change. If I had a choice it would be bringing back value to people’s music to where it can once again be a viable source of income. This is important because if musicians get compensated properly the industry will revive itself again and engineers and session players will consequently be paid and valued for their work and time. It’s a domino effect. Most musicians I love and admire are seriously struggling, often falling back on soul-sucking assortment of jobs that distract them from doing what they’re really good at. So what ends up happening if they do decide to make a record is they hire someone with very little experience to work on it, since that’s what they can afford (if they get paid at all, that is). This means that not only does the actual work suffer but the engineers who have the talent and the experience eventually go out of business and pack up and leave.
I’ve seen this happen time and time again, it’s absolutely heart breaking. What’s happening in Brooklyn right now for example is a vivid example of what happened to studios in Manhattan 10, 15 years ago when many large format recording studios started dropping like flies because DAWs were taking over and major labels were folding. A lot of those engineers and musicians fled to Brooklyn since it was considerably cheaper but now that’s changing again thanks to gentrification, greed, rising rents and budgets shrinking even further. There’s just no escape, it’s depressing. It has to start with artists getting a piece of the pie because everyone else benefits and we can keep doing this.
6. What was the last record you heard that truly blew your mind or touched your heart? How so?
I found the last Beck record “Morning Phase” sonically mesmerizing. It sounds like a group of people who toiled over every aspect of the recording process to the point of perfection. It just sounds extremely opulent. I’ve been referencing that record a lot this year.
7. What are some of your fears when making a record?
Probably ruining someone’s record or messing with someone’s vision. The amount of trust it takes for someone to hand off their “baby” to me so I can see it through it’s final stages is an incredible responsibility and honor. But it’s this nagging fear that drives me to make sure that never happens by becoming a better engineer and communicator.
8. What are your greatest joys when making a record?
Greatest joy is when I’m sooooo in the zone obsessing over a record I’m working on that I basically lose track of time to the point that I forget to eat, go to the bathroom or take a break. There’s something about completely losing yourself in what you do that is a constant wonderful reminder of why it is you do this everyday.
Publication Date: November 15th, 2014
First Publication: Pink Noise