Late Nights and Rock & Roll: The Journey from Musician to Record Producer

Maker Spotlight: Producer, Mixer, Recording Engineer, and Songwriter Michael Pepe

Tell us a bit about yourself. 

My name is Michael Pepe; I’m a Record Producer originally from Long Island, NY and I cut my teeth in this industry in Charlotte, NC before moving to Los Angeles. I own and operate my music studio inside the legendary Barefoot Recording in Hollywood. I make records mostly in the Rock/Pop genre. I love rock and roll, recording and guitar gear, pizza, video games, hiking, and reading Bukowski.

How did you get started as a Record Producer?

I started recording and producing fairly early on. I got a guitar when I was about 14 and immediately started writing songs with my twin brother who started playing bass. We started a punk band but recording was too expensive, so I thought I’d do it on my own. I got a Fostex 8-Track digital recorder for Christmas and started to record songs on it.

Eventually we put out a CD to sell at our local shows. Other bands we played with wanted to know how we did that, so I started charging other bands to go to their garage and record them. I was about 15 or 16 at the time, and I spent most of my weekends in bands garages learning why things did or didn’t sound good (to my young ear).

I graduated high school and went to a recording academy. After that, I interned for a couple of years at a larger studio out East and started to build my clients that way. Eventually, I moved into a studio full-time and began getting calls to do other records for larger bands. 

What’s a typical day like for you?

I usually don’t wake up TOO early since bands have a tendency to like to work late. I’ve learned to work vampire hours over the course of the last 15 years of making records. I usually get to my studio around 11am or 12pm to review whatever we tracked the day/evening before. I start editing takes and getting things in order for the band to hear when they come.

After that, depending on which stage of the record I’m in, we’ll start tracking or mixing whatever is next in the process. I have a fairly particular order I like to do things in with bands, so usually, when I have a band in for weeks (or sometimes months), I have the daily and weekly schedule laid so band members know when they’re needed or what’s going to be tracked, mixed, decided upon, etc. every day.

My typical day is usually about 12 hours, and I try to keep it to 6 days a week and take Sundays off.

Walk us through your workspace. 

The studio I work out of, Barefoot Studios, has 3 rooms, and I own and operate out of Studio C. Depending on which studio I’m in, my workspace will vary, but usually I’m in my studio. I have a Mac Pro running Pro Tools with a ton of hard drives. [There is] a wall of rack gear that towers above me (with the recent earthquakes I’m reconsidering that aspect, by the way, haha), and [there are] usually any amount of guitar heads and pedals either out or racked to the other side of me.

The room is tuned very well for mixing, so it’s all at a slight angle to ensure there’s no perpendicular walls for sound to bounce off of. It’s all custom-wired to my liking for maximum productivity and signal flow for how I like to run my sessions. I spent a lot of time mulling over the details and designing the intricacies of my room, taking little bits from many studios I’ve made records in around the country over the years.

How do you use Luna?

Luna quickly became a part of my everyday workflow because of how easy it is to setup and have running everyday, and the ease in which it allows me to switch between OS’s [MacOS and iOS] on my iPad screen.

I exclusively use Pro Tools to record at my studio. I also use an app by Apogee for routing headphones and some other really useful features for my workflow. During recording, it’s incredibly handy to be able to put that [app] on my iPad and have it right next to me to make quick adjustments without ever having to leave the Pro Tools environment on my main monitor.

One of the best features of Luna I’ve found is how it functions as an app, so I can still use the Apple iOS functions like Slide Over to be able to overlay parts of iOS on top of my iPad as a second screen. It’s truly groundbreaking in that regard where I’m essentially able to use both OS’s simultaneously.

What apps/tools do you use to manage your workflow?

I also use iCal a ton, Apple Mail, and I’m a heavy DropBox user. The main thing is all those apps sync between my Mac Pro, my iPad, and my iPhone, so regardless of where I am, I have access to any or all of it.

Continuity and fast syncing are extremely important to me with how many clients, files, and schedules I’m typically balancing on a daily basis.

What podcasts are you listening to?

I really like 7 Good Minutes. It’s a great daily meditation for me. I also like The Joe Rogan Experience - he’s a trip. I’m trying to get into the Bill's Monday Morning Podcast more, and I was heavy into Armchair Expert with Dax Shepard, but I’m behind a couple of episodes now! I don’t have a long drive to the studio, so I get little bits of time during my drive to catch up with the podcasts I like. 

What inspires you most? 

Definitely other producers, bands, musicians, and gear. Generally making sound! I love taking in what’s being made around me, what new trends are emerging, and how I can evolve that.

Also books, poetry, and film. I find a trip to the beach once a month really inspires me as well. Originally being from the East Coast, it doesn’t tire having the Pacific Ocean twenty minutes away.

If you had to describe yourself as an emoji, which would you be and why?

I'd have to say: 🤣and 🤓because I like to have a good time, and I am 100% a nerd. 

Coffee or tea?

No doubt about it - coffee!!! There’s always great coffee at the studio. I’m down to 2 cups a day now though. For a while it was a constant all day long. I had to cut that out!

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