Philly Creative Guide

Creative Personality

Gene Leone | Recording Engineer, Mixer and Producer

Interview :: Gene Leone
by Ruth Weisberg, 1 Jun 2006

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 camps.

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.

Gene Leone; Recording Engineer, Mixer and Producer

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'.

Masters of Funk, Soul and Blues present A Soulful Tale of Two Cities

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 collaboration.

"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 one.

"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

Print Article