There’s something unexpected about making microphones. As an engineering nerd, I always expected that I would get the most enjoyment out of designing, building, and shipping gear. Now that Vanguard is nearly a decade old, I didn’t realize how many incredible people I would meet on this journey.
Case in point – producer and engineer Kyle Lehning. A veteran of the Nashville music scene, Kyle’s discography is staggeringly long – a testament to his staying power, production chops, and love for the craft. You can’t scroll too far without seeing recognizable artists – from working with Waylon Jennings in the ’70s, through virtually all of Randy Travis’ career, up to recent projects with Kenny Rogers and Michael Feinstein.
Kyle frequently uses his Vanguard V13 gen2 Tube Condenser and recently did a session for Skip Ewing’s upcoming record featuring several Vanguard microphones. Given his storied career, Vanguard’s Judd Levison recently picked Kyle’s brain about the love of music, the evolution of studio tech, and advice for aspiring engineers and musicians. Read on below!
Q:I love it that you’ve been on all sides of making records, as an engineer, as a producer, and as a record company exec. Is there an over-arching philosophy from having all those experiences that leads you when you’re making a record?
A: It’s a pretty simple philosophy….it’s ALWAYS the artist’s record. My job in all three areas: engineer, producer and even record company exec has been to work with artists that have a strong sense of themselves and help them make compelling music for themselves and their audience. To make sure that when the project is completed it’s what the artist intended it to be.
Q: In learning about your life and times in the music business, it occurs to me that country music isn’t so much your thing as much as just great American music. I guess they call it Americana now. Randy Travis, Ronnie Milsap, Dan Seals (and England Dan and John Ford Coley), Tompall Glaser, Jimmy Webb. Do you ever think in terms of genres, or is great music just great music? And in your opinion, what elements do you focus on to help make that music great?
A: I’ve been fortunate to have been involved in a wide variety of styles of music. I grew up with lots of influences early on. I love jazz, rock, pop, country, classical and lots of experimental music. Genre is never first on my list of cues for my interest. Is the artist unique? Is there a sense of adventure? Do I feel I have something to contribute to the process? Those are the elements I pay attention to before getting involved with a project.
Q: The recording process has changed a lot since you first hit the RED button in the early 70’s. How have the changes affected what you do? Working in the box, 100+ tracks, lots of editing capability…are you still excited about making records? What are some things you miss about the old ways, and what are some things you love about the new capabilities?
A: I LOVE the way recordings can be captured and manipulated these days! I’m not one of those folks who wants to go back to the analog tape days. Tape had its problems too. The one thing I DO miss from the tape and analog mixing days is ADRENALINE. That feeling I used to get when printing a final mix and knowing that because there was no such thing as recall it was NEVER going to sound like this again. We could remix it later but it would be different. Same with tracking and punching in…..NO UNDO…..that sense of immediacy just doesn’t exist in the new world of digital recording. Other than that…..the creative options available now are incredible. So many ways to have FUN!
Q: You’ve been an awesome supporter of what we’re doing at Vanguard Audio Labs. Obviously, you have the whole world of microphones available to you, vintage, boutique, et al. What made you give our mics a try and what about them inspired you to add them to your mic locker?
A: My friend, Bill Schnee (a giant in the audio world) first told me about your microphones. He’s a hard sell, so I always pay attention. I borrowed one of the V13s from Bill and was instantly impressed. It was warm but still had a special character. I’ve used the mics on all kinds of sources from vocals to acoustic instruments and it never disappoints. I’ve used them on male and female vocals. The quality and dependability are excellent and trustworthy. It’s an easy choice to go to the Vanguards.
Q: What advice would you give to aspiring recording engineers and producers just getting started? I saw that your son Jason has followed you into the production end of the music business, what sage words of wisdom did you share with as he was launching?
A: If you’ve just started down the road to working in the business say YES to everything. You never know where your breaks and good fortune will come from. One of the great blessings of modern recording is the availability of equipment. It’s relatively inexpensive to get started with a decent computer, interface, keyboard and a decent microphone. The evidence of successful records made in bedrooms is everywhere. The danger and curse of that approach is the lack of connection with other like minded folks. It’s easy to stay holed up in your safe little space. I think it’s most important to find ways to interact with other musicians, singers and songwriters. Get out in the world. It will increase the possibility of good things happening in SO many ways. ENJOY!!!
Q: What’s next for you?
A: More of the same. I’m still working in the studio on a variety of things. A collection of unreleased Kenny Rogers recordings. A new Skip Ewing project. New music from Lynda Carter (yes…Wonder Woman…That Lynda Carter). A beautiful duets project with Michael Feinstein called Gershwin Country was released recently. It features lots of great singing partners and is loaded with Nashville’s most talented collection of musical masters.
Life is good and the adventure continues!