- Rich Spillberg
Recording engineer, producer, musician, and composer Rich Spillberg has had a career that spanned just about every corner of the music business. From touring as a guitarist in a thrash metal band, to recording and mixing world-class orchestras, to programming keyboard rigs for Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band — Rich is called upon to facilitate the needs of artists at every level. When we sat down with him recently, he shared his musical influences, and uncovered how his audio engineering career began and how it has evolved. Rich has had quite an impressive and extensive career path — wearing a variety of hats, depending on the project he is working on. A typical day in Rich’s shoes looks different than you might expect. Here’s the full interview:
How and when did you first get into audio engineering? Was that something born out of being in the studio with your band?
Yes, that is exactly how it came about — although it wasn’t a quick transition. I always had an ear for production and was active in producing my band Wargasm’s records. I was often asked to come into the studio with other bands to help them dial in guitar sounds or help coach the band into their most solid performances. During this time, I was fortunate to be in the studio with great engineers; Phil Greene and Tom Soares from Normandy Sound, and Jim Siegel from the Outpost. These were a few of the great engineers I got to work with and watch in action. Working with them gave me a front row to excellence in engineering, not just in technique but time management as well. I used to joke by saying if I wanted my guitar to sound like a peanut butter sandwich, these guys could do it. As time progressed, I was called for more and more projects to produce, and I felt I needed to eliminate my reliance on another person to dial in the sounds that were in my head. So I bought some equipment and started my ten thousand hours. This was in the mid-nineties.
What was the path or the turning point that landed your first major engineering gig?
I think my first major engineering gig was not with a major artist. It was with a metal band from Boston called Steel Assassin. These guys had gigged in the eighties, and in 2006 they reformed to record a new record. They called me to produce, engineer, and mix their record. They absolutely put the entire job in my hands and let me have my way with it — from pre-production in rehearsals all the way to final delivery. It was “major” to me in that it ended up being a great-sounding record (called “War Of The Eight Saints”) and during the process of producing, recording, and mixing the record I broke down some barriers for myself, such as getting full trust from the client to do my thing, and then utilizing my accumulated knowledge to finish it at a high level. I also developed a relationship with a studio owner and eventually became a house engineer in that studio through this experience.
Who/what are your biggest musical influences?
I grew up in a musical family in the ’70s, and there was a lot of music in the house: jazz, soul, pop, blues…back then music was just music — there were no categories or forbidden ground. It was just listening and absorbing the vibrations. As a teenage guitarist, I became influenced by rock guitar players like Michael Schenker, Gary Moore, Angus Young, and many others. I also, in my teens, got into metal bands of the early ’80s, like Riot, Accept, Maiden, Scorpions, Raven, and many more. I sat and learned all of the songs and solos of these artists because I wanted to be able to do what they were doing. I later got into some jazz and crossover fusion-based guitarists, like Steve Morse and Pat Metheny. Again, learning whatever I could from these guys to continue to grow my vocabulary as a guitarist. Today, I can listen to just about anything and get something from it. Whether it be the Orchestral pop music of Josh Groban, heady rock from Radiohead, or an old Stevie Wonder record — it is a musical experience, and it all influences me in every way.
As Josh Grobin’s DAW Engineer and Recording and Mix Engineer for the last 15+ years, we’re pumped to hear that you’ve become a Heavyocity user. We’d love to hear when in your process you reach for your Heavyocity instruments, is that something you’ll use in upcoming recording projects?
I have used Heavyocity products in recording productions very often — beginning in the pre-production stages of a song or album. I use libraries like NOVO or FORZO to get the sounds and ideas recorded relatively quickly and certainly economically when considering the alternative of hiring an orchestra and studio to do the same. That said, even in situations where I have recorded live orchestral ensembles, I often use these products layered in, to enhance the mix, and add texture and color to the recorded instruments.
On the other side of my work, on the road as a keyboard tech and engineer for such artists as Ringo Starr, Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band, Josh Groban, Edgar Winter, and Gregg Rolie, I am called to do a wide variety of work, including building keyboard systems for tours. It is in that realm that I also use Heavyocity products. In the earlier days of touring, keyboard players would get their sounds through the keyboards they played, or through modules that they added to their rigs to gain access to more sounds. Today, keyboard rigs are centered in computers and software and as such, open up endless possibilities for sounds and textures. For me, Heavyocity libraries have been extremely useful to dial in orchestral sounds, but I have also layered them to help articulate other non-orchestral voices.
You’ve worked with some very impressive talent over the years. What does a typical day look like for you when you’re in the middle of working on a major project?
My work in the last year has been, for the most part, keyboard tech-ing for Ringo Starr, Edgar Winter, and Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band. Each day, depending on where we are in the process, can vary. When I go into any gig like this before the tour starts, I consult with the keyboard player to determine what he needs for equipment and what he’ll need for sounds. Then I spec out the costs and materials (equipment) for the rig, and then I build and program the system. Once the tour rehearsals start, I am in fine-tuning mode with the keyboardist – we make sure levels and sounds are right for the songs and often change sounds and textures to give the songs the best impact. Then, as the tour gets underway, we develop a rhythm each day by setting up the rig, then I run the rig through a series of tests (play it!) and do any last-minute programming for songs that have been added to the setlist, or songs that have been changed. Then we do the show and pack it up to go to the next city.
Do you have any favorite projects that you’ve worked on? Why?
Studio-wise, I have worked a great deal with an artist called Ryan Tremblay. His work, to me, is very special in that it is spiritually based, and his life story is one he derives his songs from. To me, it cuts directly to the heart, and he allows me to put my heart – in no small amount – into his music. That is very rewarding to me.
What’s your studio setup like? (DAW/Hardware systems); do you have a favorite piece of gear (or plugin)?
My studio has primarily been a mix studio for the last few years – it is in my house. When I track larger ensembles or drums, I go out to other studios to record. That said, I do have mic pres (API, Shadow Hills), and some nice mics (Bock Audio, Schoeps), an LA2A, and a few other pieces of hardware to do overdubs and vocal tracking at my studio. My studio centered around Pro Tools, and I use a Lynx Aurora interface with Ocean Way and NS-10 monitors. My favorite piece of gear? Well, of course there are a ton of favorites inside the box, which is where I mostly mix, but honestly, one of the most used pieces in my studio is my monitoring device — a Coleman Audion M3PHMKIII Monitor Controller. I honestly have my hand on this at all times when I mix. It takes four separate stereo inputs, and connects to three sets of monitors. So I’m constantly bouncing back and forth between my mix and reference material, and then to the different speakers. I love that piece.
If you could snap your fingers and have any virtual instrument or FX plugin custom-tailored for you, what would it be?
That’s a great question, especially in a time where EVERYTHING has already been made on the virtual side. My needs are usually project specific. For example, I may need to put a brass ensemble through a distortion unit to recreate the sound I heard in my head for the song. I might then open FORZO to pick out the best texture for the patch and find a distortion to get it to the place in my head who wanted this.
For inquires or more information on Rich’s work contact him at Rich@RichSpillbergProductions.com