Interview :: Gene Leone
Gene Leone is a longtime Philadelphia recording engineer, mixer
and producer. In the late 60s, he started out
as a studio musician drummer who could also engineer
the recording sessions. He's been a senior audio
engineer for a number of area production studios,
including Quad Recording, Alpha International,
Sigma Sound, Kajem/Victory, and Wallabee. He
is now independent.
One of his current projects is Chief Engineer for "A Soulful
Tale of Two Cities", a project of Soul Renaissance Records that
begins with a double CD and DVD release. This
is a huge, collaborative effort that merges
the original music, artists and talents of two
great musical cities-- Philadelphia and Detroit--
into one soulful union: "PhilaTroit".
Imagine original, classic Philly artists, musicians, producers
and songwriters doing the songs of Motown,
and traditional Motown artists, musicians
and producers doing songs indicative of the Sound
of Philadelphia. Imagine it all done with
much love and mutual respect for each other's
The first two singles are
scheduled to be released in June 2006, with the
double CD and DVD to follow soon after. These singles
include Philly artists performing the classic Motown hit, "Got To Give It Up," featuring Bunny
Sigler on lead vocals. Motown artists take on the
classic Philly hit, "Love Train" featuring Bobby Taylor on lead vocals.
You can reach Gene Leone at: www.geneleone.com
PCG: As a radio broadcaster and voiceover narrator, I've always said that audio is a very visual medium, because when mixed right and delivered well, it stirs the imagination, correct?
GL: You're right. Sound is very
visual, and that's key. Audio that is produced
and mixed well should be a seamless connection to feeling it, seeing
it. Good sound design will evoke response and emotion from the listener,
whether it makes them smile, dance, think, yearn, remember or even cry.
If you can close your eyes and picture vast images within the music
that you are creating, you're doing great. If you see a blank wall,
uh oh, time to rethink it.
PCG: What are the elements that
go into good sound design and audio, whether it's spoken word narration
or over-the-top music productions, such as your "Soulful Tale of
Two Cities" album project?
GL: The bottom line of everything
I do in audio boils down to this--capture great
performance! Everything else builds from there. It's still about the
performance. The technology can be as simple as analog, mono tape or
as sophisticated as the new high-tech digital tools we're using today.
Doesn't matter. Great sound first begins with great performance and
grows from there.
PCG: How much of audio and sound design stems from capturing great performance, and how much of it is attributed to fixing it in the mix?
GL: It still requires great talent
on mic to begin with, and then I can tweak it afterwards.
Every artist brings their own interpretation of
their work to the project. Nuance matters. Even
the headphone mix that they are hearing in the
studio when they're laying down new tracks can
make a huge difference in how those musicians and artists perform. Being
an audio engineer is like being a chef. You're working with all these
raw ingredients, yet the whole time, you're visualizing the taste and
flavor of the finished product. Sometimes it requires a lot of input
and ingredients on my part, at other times it's simple and fabulous
right from the get-go. And when it's right, you just know it.
PCG: Audio technology has gotten quite sophisticated. How much do these new gizmos and computer programs influence your audio decisions?
GL: The new audio technology
out there is mostly about data storage and the
manipulation of that data; that's the biggest
change from analog tape to digital. The art and
magic of being a good audio engineer is still knowing
when and what button to hit and how to hit it.
As we've said on this Philly-Motown project: 'Just
hit the button, start the cuttin'.
PCG: Your latest music project is a mighty ambitious one. "A Soulful Tale of Two Cities" has morphed from an idea into an album of epic proportions.
GL: And it's still growing as
more artists and performers are finding out about
the 'PhilaTroit' project and now, they also want to jump on board. Phil
Hurtt, the award-winning Philly producer, (Hurtt co-wrote the Spinners'
hit, "I'll Be Around" with
his high school friend Thom Bell) casually mentioned
hints of the idea to me a few years back when we were in session mixing
the Ava Williams Live CD. Phil had this crazy idea about somehow getting
Philly together with Motown, but simply told me to 'get ready, this
will be something huge'.
PCG: I admire his restraint! So then what happened?
GL: As executive producer of
the project, Phil put together a tightly knit staff
and contacted two old friends, producers Bunny Sigler & Bobby Eli.
From there, our team began to take shape, adding more old friends, seasoned
studio veterans, musical craftsmen and artists from the MFSB days of
creating that distinctive sound of Philadelphia. We flew out to Detroit
- same thing with the Motown crew, the musical artists and craftsmen
from the Funk Brothers with Lamont Dozier and Clay McMurray producing,
and some songs have both camps joining forces playing together in PhilaTroit
"We started cutting this project in January '06, and since then, it's taken on a life of its own, in ways we could have never imagined."
PCG: Talk about throwing down the musical gauntlet.
GL: It's like a reunion, and
in each city there were genuine, joyous tears.
Finally, all of us back together again in the studios
of these two great cities, ... real musicians, real artists, real engineers,
real producers once again churning out real music from the heart, and
we're having a ball.
PCG: Sounds like you and Phil raided your hot Rolodex.
GL: We started cutting
this project in January '06, and since then, it's
taken on a life of its own, in ways we could have
never imagined. We've been working with legendary Philly artists and
performers such as, Bunny Sigler, Barbara Mason, Ted Mills (Blue Magic),
William Hart (Delphonics), Kathy Sledge (Sister Sledge), Major Harris,
Philly Degrees, Jimmy Ellis (Trammps), Russell Thompkins (Stylistics),
Jean Carn, etc., backed by some of the best from MFSB. Meanwhile in
Detroit, we've recorded Motown artists like Bobby Taylor, Lamont Dozier,
George Clinton, Freda Payne, Carolyn Crawford, Ali Olli Woodson (Temptations),
The Velvelettes, etc., all backed by the Funk Brothers. Unbelievable!
PCG: With all that colossal talent of titans, any clash of musical egos?
GL: The music of Motown and the
Sound of Philadelphia each had – and has – their own unique
sound and flavor. For this project, we wanted to
keep the integrity of each city's distinctive sound while still creating
something new that is huge, unique and fresh. What's amazing is the
mutual love and respect we all have for one another. The spectrum of
talent we've got working on this is off the charts. Philly and Detroit
each has its own vibe and essence, and that's what we want to capture
musically. As Phil Hurtt said, it's time to take over the sandbox, and
what better project to personify that and get it started than with this
"If you're not having fun with what you're doing, then you're doing something wrong."
PCG: It's been said that when you do what you love, you'll never work a day in your life. But then again, you'll never work harder at your craft, either. Do you embrace any particular work credo or philosophy that fuels what you do?
GL: You bet. If you're not having
fun with what you're doing, then you're doing something
wrong. This is entertainment. If we're not being entertained by what
we're doing in the studio, how can others be and how can this or any
other project come off successfully? I absolutely love what I do, and
I want to transmit that passion to the listener. If they pop that CD
in, and the music that we've produced makes them smile, makes them cry,
or somehow grabs their heart right away, bam – touchdown.
For more information about "The Soulful Tale of Two Cities" project visit www.soulfultale.com