Published: 22nd November 2018
From using chopsticks as drumsticks to working with Scorsese, Hollywood's Rich Crescenti has come a long way
Rich Crescenti tells us what it means to be an Audio Engineer and what it was like for him to create Hollywood hits
With a mix of anxiety and excitement, I headed to Swarnabhoomi Academy of Music — anxious because there was a cyclone warning given out and excited because I was going to meet the man behind the music of my favourite TV shows, Sex and the City and Ugly Betty. As I walked in awkwardly, interrupting his very interesting session on sound mixing and its nuances, Rich Crescenti stood up and shook my hand. Did I swoon? A little bit!
Fast forward to the classroom session that happened later, he introduced himself, "I am from Arizona, but I currently live in New York City, specifically in a neighbourhood called Bed Stuy in Brooklyn. I am an Audio Engineer and primarily work on audio mixing, producing and recording bands. I also work on live sound, write articles and teach a lot of different things related to Pro-Audio." We asked him a lot more after that humble introduction and here's how it went:
Hello India: Rich Crescenti was surprised by the number of people and herds of cows he found on the streets of Chennai and that was his first experience. But he says he loved it anyway (Pic: Nakshatra Krishnamoorthy)
You have always described yourself as an Audio Engineer, educator and writer, where did this tryst with education begin? And after 10,000 hours of teaching in NYC what is your biggest take-away?
I have always loved education. I loved being on the student side of the classroom and I enjoyed every bit of the teaching side as well. After being in NYC and working in studios and big projects, I did feel like I wanted to give something back to the student community, so I started teaching at a school called SAE and I found a love for it. There is a certain joy that comes on seeing the light-bulb go on when you’re explaining something to the students. Earlier, this industry had a mix of all ages groups, from freshers to veterans, all working together as a music-community in studios, but over the years, commercialisation has taken over and I don’t see this community building anymore. The DIY age has taken over, leading to less mentorship. Amidst all this, I found a love for teaching and being around students. We as an industry are missing out on so much without them. These young people are always aware of what is fresh and new and they keep me up-to-date with the evolving technology. It’s a win-win situation for the students and for me as well and that’s my biggest take-away.
Here at Swarnabhoomi Academy of Music, you are going to be teaching students about equalisers, compressors, stereo imaging. What's been the biggest change in the industry, in terms of sound technology?
The biggest change, in my opinion, would be the shift from the studio model to the DIY model. What it took to make professional recordings years ago was beyond the budget of most musicians. Now, with the advent of computers, smaller interfaces, faster hard drives and better technology, everything is made available, even in something as small as a student’s laptop. That is something even The Beatles never had access too. Now, let that sink in. The biggest band in the world did not have access to the technology that is made available to a student.
This evolution of technology has its pros and cons. The pros being that anyone can be a part of this industry now and its arena is open for creativity from individuals all over the world. The list of cons on the other hand just goes on. Musicians isolate themselves while in production, which is unhealthy as there is no scope for learning. There is a lot of misinformation that is being spread alongside.
Go Mixing: A Mixing and Mastering session in progress at the Swarnabhoomi Academy of Music (Pic: Nakshatra Krishnamoorthy)
You worked with Michael Patrick K, Spike Lee and Martin Scorcese on so much of the television we have grown to love — Law and Order, Gossip Girl and Sex and the City. What’s it like to do the sound mix on shows that practically everyone is watching?
My job in those shows was an ADR Recordist and a Mix Engineer. My role was vital in replacing dialogues and recording voice-overs and I thought it was a great experience. It was interesting to take a peek behind the curtains to check out the cast and see how a movie is really made. Working with talented actors is an additional benefit I would say. I worked with Sarah Jessica Parker and her voice-over for the movie Sex and the City, that experience was phenomenal. This experience inspired me to be better at what I do because working in the industry can either take you higher or get you fired. I got yelled at by Spike Lee multiple times, but I took that positively. If you’re looking to be in the business, ensure that you provide top quality work on time, every time.
Sound Tech and Education is practically available in every university. What was it like for you growing up? How did you discover that this is what you wanted to do for the rest of your life?
Like most people in this field, I started out as a musician. As a child, I remember using chopsticks as drumsticks. I was fortunate to have parents who sat me down and asked me if I wanted to learn an instrument. I got into this field as a musician, I played the drums for my band Bugs in the Dark. I got into recording initially when our band began writing songs and we were young, we didn’t really have a lot of money to afford a studio. So, I bought a four-track, a simple mixing board and a couple of microphones. I fumbled around with it until it worked and this was before the internet.
I tutored myself by associating with people in the field and learning from them. A few years later when my band broke up, I was aimless and was trying to figure out what I needed to do in life. I reminisced about my life in a studio and how much I enjoyed the process and that is when I decided to go to an audio engineering school called The Conservatory of Recording Arts and Science. After graduating from the school, I sold everything I had, packed up three suitcases and moved to NYC, where I knew just one person and from there I had learnt to make opportunities for myself and here I am now, teaching students in India. It’s more like a dream come true.