Hi Ben, welcome to VENTS! How have you been?
– I’m doing quite well! Healthy, which is most important at this time I think.
With many seeking to be at the front center – what made you want to become an engineer?
– I’ve always had a knack for technology, I am fascinated with how and why things work but even when I was a kid I knew that I didn’t want to go down the rabbit hole of the Internet and IT. I was playing in a band at the time and we wanted to record our songs, but because I didn’t know anybody that could do that for us, I took it upon myself. If I were to listen to some of that material now, I’m pretty sure it’s going to sound terrible. Anyway, the challenge and intricate details of both recording technology and music seemed like the perfect marriage between tech and creative and so I decided to pursue it. Additionally, I’ve always liked working behind the scenes and I think there’s something truly special when you’re a part of an artist’s creative process. The fact that I’m not front and center allows me to work with and learn from a multitude of artists and be more objective when helping them achieve their visions.
Having worked in so many mediums as a sound and mixing engineer – do you tend to take on different approaches depending on the format?
– Yes and no: My workflow when working on music is drastically different as opposed to narrative content (film, audio drama) however, a lot of the core audio principles and the mindset one needs to have are extremely similar, if not the same. Music usually has an average of about 30 elements per song (vocals, drums, bass, guitars, keys etc.), where as narrative can easily be upwards of 200 and they are also completely different soundscapes compared to music (dialogue, footsteps, cars, explosions, gunshots, monsters etc). Mixing a drum set versus mixing a car crash requires a very different set of techniques and skills but the one thing that both mediums have in common is the human element: the dialogue, the singing; the story. The most important thing is that the listener is able to understand the story told and it is my job as a mixer to guide their focus, to highlight and hide elements, to give the story motion and to make sure that the feelings performed by the artist/actor translate through audio.
So your most recent work for QCode Dirty Dana – how did you jump into this project?
– QCode is fairly young company. They were still building their teams and they hired me to be their in-house mixing engineer right about when the COVID outbreak began. At the time they were finishing with another show called Borrasca starring Cole Sprouse and once that wrapped, the next project in line was Dirty Diana with Demi Moore and so it became the first project I mixed for QCode.
While on music, mixing engineering is important, for an immersive narrative content podcast, you certainly have a major role – first of all, what was it like to do all the work from home?
– Quite honestly, mixing is often a solitary activity to begin with so it didn’t feel all too different workflow wise. Audio software today is an incredibly powerful tool that really only requires a computer and a nice pair of headphones, but a professional studio can definitely make a big difference. Fortunately for this project, since there was no one in the office, I had access to QCode’s studio and I was able to complete certain things that I otherwise couldn’t from home. Though I will say that working in an empty office is a very odd experience.
With everything that entails this particular format – did you approach this gig and the whole work less as a podcast and more like a film?
– Most definitely! The entire approach to working on an audio drama from a mixing standpoint is almost identical to film. The absence of picture though is both liberating and extremely challenging because it gives me a blank canvas to work with, but at the same time that’s endless possibilities to present an idea and there are not guidelines for it. If you see a car driving by on screen from left to right, it only makes sense that the audio would follow it, but without picture I get to craft a lot of the geography of the world which is ultimately where a lot of the creative work happens in this process.
With the danger of catching the COVID and what not – did that make the job much challenging?
– It most certainly did. The biggest challenge with COVID was recording our actors. We designed boxes with recording equipment that we sent out to their homes so that they can record themselves. The sessions were run via Zoom conference calls. What that meant in terms of audio is that we were at the mercy of our actors to give us the best possible quality recordings; some of them did a fantastic job, and some were understandably not so great at it. In addition, they were recording from their homes, which in most cases is not an ideal recording environment, which meant the occasional airplane, dog barking, rain on the window and just overall a lot of noise to clean up in the post process that took a significant amount of time.
Speaking of challenges, what was the most challenging aspect of mixing the whole work together?
– The noise!!! Sometimes certain performances would be completely unusable because of external factors captured in the recording process. If mixing a 5 minute scene of dialogue would typically take let’s say about an hour, now it took 3 times as much time and I would often have to get very creative with how I treated the audio the make sure that any noisy elements are virtually inaudible to the listener. It was hard getting into the creative aspects because there was a lot of cleanup work.
What else is happening next in Ben Milchev’s world?
– Currently at QCode we’re working on a couple of shows, for which unfortunately I’m not at liberty to give out information. All I can say is that the stories are fantastic and the cast is amazing; some of them are very famous academy award winners. In addition, next year I will be working with an artist named Derek James (https://derekjamesmedia.com) on his debut album, which is always an exciting change of pace from podcasts. Other than that, I’m just anxiously waiting for the pandemic to be over so I can travel and see people face to face.