Queen of The Sound – Q&A with Sherry Klein

Sherry Klein is an Emmy-nominated Re-recording Mixer at Smart Post Sound in Burbank, California. The studio is home to top sound designers and re-recording mixers, and has earned 14 Emmys and 34 Golden Reels.

Sherry trained as a musician in Manhattan and went on to study composition in St. Louis, Missouri and trained in Jazz Arranging and Composition at Berklee College of Music in Boston. 

She became a recording engineer at Larrabee Studios in the late 1970s – one of a handful of female engineers in Los Angeles at the time and possibly one of the only female re-recording mixers in town when she moved into post audio in the early 1980s.

Sherry’s television credits include Queen of the South, New Amsterdam, Burn Notice, Sons of Anarchy, The Shield and Arrested Development. She mixes dialogue and music with her studio partner Scott Weber, who handles Sound Effects and Foley.

Can you describe your earliest influences on audio and how you became a sound engineer? 

I spent a lot of time making demos as a teenager, but as a musician and on the other side of the glass. In those days I rarely took notice of the audio recordings taking place. The first time I became “aware” of sound was while I was studying Composition and Arranging at Berklee in Boston, a piece of music I was working on was being recorded in their small basement 2 track studio. This time it was different, my own composition was being recorded … hearing the manipulation and power the mixer had in bringing my composition to life fascinated me and I wanted to learn more about how that happens. I always say that was my first “aha” moment in audio.

You’ve been hailed as a pioneer of women in audio for TV and music – can you describe your experiences in pursuing your career in a male-dominated industry? 

It was a very long time ago and the world was different. The options were there but certainly not as readily accepted for women. When I left Berklee I met with one of my favourite professors to discuss some of my thoughts moving forward. At one point he stopped and asked if I knew how to type, and I said no. He said, ”Sherry, don’t learn, you have too much talent to be stuck in the front office of some record company and I’m afraid that’s what will happen if you choose to pursue a career in audio engineering.” Crazy huh? But it was actually great advice for those times and no, I’ve never learned to type …. correctly.

I managed to get a job at a local studio as the assistant to the owner (who was quite clear when he hired me that he felt women didn’t belong in the studio part of the facility). At the time I was also learning about sound wherever I could in my free time. While working there I met two guys who were just starting to build a 16-track studio and after seeing my passion for sound they asked if I would like to join them and be part of it all. I didn’t miss a beat and jumped at the opportunity. I helped to build the studio, wire everything put in front of me and they taught the ins and outs of music recording. We didn’t have a lot of money but two of the partners were great at thinking outside the box when it came to innovating gear and recording the cleanest sound possible with what was available to us. Because of their belief in my abilities and great training, I became an engineer and refined my skills in mixing music.

That’s not to say that I didn’t encounter my fair share of bias along the way, but I never let it get to me. I remember instances when I would be present in a group of engineers and would be sidestepped in the conversation until I started opening up my mouth talking tech and giving opinions. The look on their faces was priceless as they would realize that I wasn’t just someone’s girlfriend or the front desk girl along for the ride but a mixer as well. It used to make me grin with an odd sense of accomplishment as that realization set into the group. Honestly, if it weren’t for a handful of wonderful guys who nurtured my passion for audio, I wouldn’t be in this position today.

You worked at Sony previously and now you’ve been at Smart Post Sound for at least a decade. What makes an award-winning studio?

People always think that it’s the equipment that makes the studio but that’s not really true. It’s the people and the management that elevates the studio. Sure, new shiny equipment looks cool but if the people working on it are not at the top of their game, it really doesn’t matter how cool or new the gear is. In the end, it’s the talent and the management that makes a studio great and keeps the clients coming back again to spend those long days and nights on their projects.

Can you describe a typical day at work or a project? 

Most of our work has been comprised of two-to-three-day mixes. My partner Scott will usually mix the first day in his home studio, while I occupy a studio at Smart Post. At the end of the day, I’ll do a quick print of my dialogue and music and send him the stems. He’ll work against what I’ve sent so we’re ready to play down together in the morning of day two. We’ve pretty much worked that way from the start, even before he had his home studio. Back then he would work on headphones while I occupied the main speakers and by the end of the day we would play down together. We find this mode of working very efficient because we each get to do our own pre-dubs and by the time, we start day two, we’re a good 90% there. Working this way also gives us the time to tweak and really hone in on the material when we’re together before presenting it to producers, editors, studios etc. Regardless of how many days we have for the mix, the final day is normally playback and fixes with producers. 

Please describe the mixing stage set-up (eg. Brands of monitors, configurations etc)

We have 11 mix stages of various sizes and dimensions at Smartpost. Monitoring setups consist of speaker arrangements in 5.1, 7.1 and Dolby Atmos. Speaker’s primarily consist of JBL series models.  These vary for each stage dependent on physical sizes of space, configurations, and Dolby requirements. All stages have Avid Icon or S6 consoles that are set up with 2 mixers and a dubber config. Speakers are fed from the Dubber/Recorder system so we have the ability to monitor and view any metering needed that then translates to the output of the files needed.

I have had occasion to listen to the Miller & Kreisel speakers but have never had an opportunity to mix on them. I have always found them impressive with tight, clean and transparent characteristics. I’d love to have an opportunity to mix on them someday.

Congratulations on all your achievements to date. You’ve contributed to many popular TV shows and Queen of the South in particular, has been a hit series for Netflix. Can you tell us more about your work on the show – what are your influences and how do you like to tell the story?

Like most mixers today, we first watch the show and listen to the temp mix that’s sent by the editor. This gives us a good idea of what the producers want to hear and acts as a guide for dx/effects and balances the music used in the final mix. Our sound supervisor usually attends the spotting session where the producers, editors etc. will point out the obvious, but also their sonic vision for the overall piece. We try and improve upon what’s given with bolder sounds as well as new approaches to their ideas. Sometimes this works and other times the term “temp love” comes into play. That’s when we add or enhance their effect/ treatments in a scene with our take on it, but the producers have fallen in love with what the editor gave them in the temp dub and want us to go back to it. This can be a bit frustrating at times but more often than not we reach a place that we’re all happy with, and that’s always the best feeling. Mixing is a collaborative process and we’re there to serve their sonic vision of the material while lending our creative expertise and ears to the process.

The bass drop during the intro sequence of Queen of the South is so dramatic. In my system, the subs go down to 20 Hz and this sounds great when turned up loud. There are many instances of using bass drops throughout, especially the sudden fade outs in-between scenes – can you explain more about this and how you achieve this in the mixing room?

The opening sequence has gone through many refinements, subtle mix changes and different SFX mixers who have each put their own stamp on it over the years, but it was Albert Ibbitson and Bob Arons (season 1 sound sup. and Fx editor) that innovated the basis of what you hear in our opening sequence today. As for the other bass drops mentioned, those would be mainly courtesy of our wonderful composers Giorgio Moroder and Raney Shockne who have continually elevated our show with their innovative score and grooves. We oftentimes will enhance many of the act outs with sound effects, but most times it’s the score that pushes that sudden drop you speak of.

What gems of wisdom can you share for young folk joining the industry and particularly for women? Have things changed culturally?

I always try to help out new people coming into the industry when they contact me, especially those just graduating from school. The first thing I say is that they must show their passion in every task given, be it ordering food for clients, answering the phone or working with someone on a project. At the start of their time with any facility, they may have the language and basic concepts of things down, but until they know the day-to-day workings of that facility and the “real world” situations involving deadlines and clients, their knowledge is limited and they should be open new approaches and thinking outside of the box. Obviously, I’m saying “don’t be a know it all”

Times have changed for women entering the field. We still have a way to go to equate all in the field but it’s far more accepted these days to see women at the mixing console, in engineering and in production. 

For me, back when I was entering the industry most women weren’t even aware that these career options were available to them. Now we have the CAS (Cinema Audio Society), EIPMA (Entertainment Industry Professional Mentoring Alliance) Soundgirls.Org, Woman’s Audio Mission just to name a few and these organizations are instrumental in getting the word out about the many careers in audio outside of just becoming a hip-hop engineer! I always point people to these orgs because it’s a great way to network with sound professionals and learn from the programs they offer on their websites.

Would you please share some of your favourite music tracks, and movie titles?

That’s a loaded question because my musical taste runs the gamut of genres. I’m a child of the 60’s folk music scene and was lucky to be at Woodstock! I listened to Richie Havens, Crosby Stills and Nash, Mississippi John Hurt, Laura Nyro, along with The Beatles, Queen, Yes, Moody Blues and Steely Dan, all of whom had major influences on me. I remember driving in my car one day and the track Killer Queen came on the radio and I pulled over to the side of the road to just listen. I blasted it and waited there to find out who it was because it was so different from anything else and it completely blew me away. I still remember that moment vividly. These days I listen to Blues, R&B, Hip-hop, Rock etc. it just depends on my mood that day.

There are far too many films to name that sounded incredible to me over the years but one that always sticks in my mind was a very old film, John Boormans Emerald Forest. I don’t know if it was because I was just learning and becoming more aware of audio at that time or what, but I always remember the ambiences in the film and the effect it had on me while watching and listening. I loved the way the score interacted with all the elements. I was totally immersed in the locations and really felt something and it stayed with me all this time, so that really says something.

What we can expect from Season 5 in terms of your work?

Season 5 is our show finale season, our last season of QOTS. A lot of loose ends are tied up and it’s very story-driven to get us to the final scenes. I’ve had a wonderful production mixer in New Orleans these past two seasons and coupled with my dx editor, they’ve given me more opportunity to concentrate on making the overall mix more of what I like, as opposed to the constant fixing and digging just to get the dx out there. Pardon my words, but sometimes as a dx mixer you just have to live with making shit shine but when you get lucky with good tracks, you get to make it pretty. That’s always what you hope for. Everyone has an opinion about how the show ended, I liked it and felt that it gave the fans an “ending” to the story that we’ve been telling these last five years. 

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