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Picking and Placing Instrumental Cues in Reality TV
Carla Kay Barlow, Elizabeth Anne Mall, Adriana Lycette, and Doug Fenske listen in as fellow panelist Patty Boss fields a question from an audience member. .

Panelists: Carla Kay Barlow, Elizabeth Anne Mall, Adriana Lycette, Doug Fenske, and Patty Boss. 

Moderated by Michael Laskow

Editor’s note: These biographies are repeated for background and continuity.
CK Barlow’s work appears daily on television, including placements on ABC, CBS, NBC, BBC, CNN, HBO, Bravo, MTV, NatGeo, VH1, etc., plus national ad campaigns. Her background includes extensive indie rock and experimental electronics performance plus a master’s degree in music theory and composition. Her specialties in indie rock guitar, intricate electronica, and dramedy reflect that background. She has created music for dozens of indie film and theater projects, including the feature films Warrior Woman (2011) and Roswell FM (2014). In addition to composing, she teaches music technology at both the University of NM and Montgomery College (Rockville, MD).
Elizabeth Anne Mall is a classically trained musician who grew up in Kansas and learned to play piano at 12-years old. Drawing from pop, classical, and electronic influences, Elizabeth creates a unique musical experience. Her songs range from cutting-edge indie-pop to thoughtful piano ballads. The title of her new album Belle Laide is taken from a French term used to describe unconventional beauty. Elizabeth responded to a TAXI listing, which resulted in her meeting Grammy-Winning, multi-platinum engineer/producer/mixer Rob Chiarelli at the 2015 TAXI Road Rally. She’s now signed to his production company, The Usual Suspects. Elizabeth engineered her record in her home studio, and Chiarelli mixed it.

Adriana Lycette is a multi-instrumentalist recording artist currently based in Indianapolis, Indiana. Her first self-titled independent album was released in 2003, and she has continued writing and performing ever since. Over the past 10 years she has gained experience working with musicians and engaging audiences as a music leader of various church congregations, both small and large, and in both English and Spanish. Adriana is currently writing for film and TV, actively collaborating with other artists/producers on various projects, including instrumental tracks, singer/songwriter songs, and artist cuts.

Doug Fenske is a Grammy-nominated, multi-platinum engineer/producer/mixer. He has worked in Los Angeles, CA, since 2005 and has been involved in several aspects of record production. Fenske has worked on a string of commercially and critically successful albums, including Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange, Chris Brown’s Exclusive [The FOREVER Edition], Jamie Foxx’s Intuition, and Jordin Sparks’s Jordin Sparks. His production experience includes collaborations with some of the music industry’s most elite artists, writers, producers and engineers. Doug now serves as Director of Education at Crē•8 Music Academy in Hollywood.

Patty Boss composes music for television, including national feature scoring credits for Emmy winner Bay Windows in San Francisco. Her music plays on CBS, Fox, CNN Special Report, CBS Sports Spectacular, MTV, Bravo, National Geographic Channel, Entertainment Television (E!), TLC, Oxygen Network, TV-One, FYI Network, History Channel, H2, Travel Channel, VH1, etc. She has held roles as Audio Lead and Composer for Leapfrog Inc., Composition Guest Lecturer at New College, San Francisco, Broadcast Mixer for CurrentTV, music production for XBOX advertising; EA Games sound design credits for The Sims, & The Urbz; Keyboard and backing vocalist for several touring bands. She holds a degree from Berklee College of Music, Boston, and she’s got a Master of Arts, piano principle.

Adriana, what’s your story?
Well, I started off just really enjoying writing songs. So I just wrote songs for myself, and I played a little bit of piano and started learning the guitar. At the time, I was probably 12 or 13 and I was volunteering at this concert venue in my little town in Illinois. They had different artists that would come through, and there was this local artist there one time playing a show and I was there sweeping the floor after the show. He had this guitar with him that I thought was awesome. So after the show, I asked him questions about his guitar, and he said, “Oh, you can play it.” So I started playing one of my songs and he’s like, “Did you write this?” And I said, “Yeah.” He said that he had a studio and said that I should demo the song. At that time I was like, “What’s a demo?” I knew nothing.

"I have an advantage because I speak the language."Adriana Lycette

How old were you?
I think I was 12. So we ended up recording this demo, and I just was so fascinated by the studio. He kind of laughed, because most people just do their session and they’re ready to leave. I enjoyed the whole process, so I would sit down next to him and just watch him mix. We wouldn’t even talk for hours, and I would just watch everything he was doing on Pro Tools. Once in a while, I would ask a question, but I just thought it was so fascinating.

So that song turned into a whole album. I finished it in my sophomore year of high school. It was just a great learning experience. Then after that, I kind of stopped the whole process. I went to college; I got married. Then that producer contacted me and said, “Hey, I was just thinking about you the other day. I think you should join a thing called TAXI; you should look it up.” So I looked it up and I thought, well, OK, but I think it was still a couple of years before I joined TAXI. I started watching TAXI TV. It was just really cool, because we didn’t have a lot of money and it was just an amazing education. I didn’t have to go to school for the audio engineering, but I was learning production stuff, learning things about the industry, how to network, so many topics. So once I joined TAXI, that really gave me a focus. I could look at the listings and say, “OK, I’ll try and write for this.”

It was kind of funny because I had been a member for about two months and I submitted a song and it got forwarded. It was this really simple acoustic song. I didn’t have any equipment at all, so because we didn’t have a lot of money—it was kind of ridiculous because I’m this adult married woman—I was doing odd jobs just to try and buy a computer, and mowing lawns. So I ended up buying a 2009 iMac—it had GarageBand on it—and that’s where I started. Then I saved up a little more and got Pro Tools, because that’s what I had remembered using.

I just kind of learned and figured it out, and I didn’t really have a lot of resources, so I would check out the TAXI Forum and kind of creep on other people’s questions. Then I started asking questions myself, and everyone was just so helpful, I was amazed at the community. They don’t make you feel silly for not knowing something; they’re just like, “OK, here’s where you are. We’ll help you.” So I just felt like so many people that I had never met put me under their wings, and it was all taking place online.

I ended up recording my own song and I got forwarded by TAXI, and I thought, wow, this is easy. That was the only song that got forwarded for like the next year. [laughter]

"If you don’t jump up and grab something that you want, somebody else is going to come and get it."Doug Fenske

We’ve never heard this story before...
But I learned so much from the feedback I got from the returns. And now I’m at the point where mostly everything I submit is forwarded, and recently I submitted something and I was actually kind of bummed that it got forwarded, because I was waiting for the feedback. I wanted to learn something.

But, yeah, it’s been a really cool journey, and then everything, of course, changes when you come to Rally and you meet all these people. But I think that knowing production has opened up so many doors. Even artists that are light years more talented that me, I have an advantage because I speak the language. I can talk to a producer and make a suggestion on a mix. It gives me a tool and an edge. One thing I really like is that it gives me a chance to be creative. I don’t have to stick with one avenue. Of course, it’s important to have your one area and focus on that and not get too distracted. But I do like to do different things and challenge myself, so if I didn’t know production, I couldn’t just do an instrumental cue really quickly if I have an extra hour.

Recently—I thought it was awesome—there was this really random listing for a solo flute instrumental, and I had played flute in band for three or four years in high school. I saw that and I thought I’m going to try and get some constructive criticism. So I dug the flute out of the garage and I tried to play some scales and learn and looked at the YouTube video on how to mic a flute. I just figured it out, and I got forwarded. It was so random, but I was really happy. Wouldn’t it be funny if that was my big break or something?

I love the fact that I know enough about production that I can do that. Yeah, that’s kind of my story. I’ve gotten some placements now, and now I’m signed to some libraries...

So that’s a little footnote. You kind of went from, “And I was just starting out ... and I got some placements.” That’s why I asked you to be on the panel. Because I’ve seen your developmental arc go fairly quickly, and you didn’t stay pigeonholed as just a singer/songwriter.

You know what I’m getting from this conversation is learning production takes you out of a prison. It gives you freedom, and that is the point of this panel. I want everybody in the ballroom to have the freedom to do what you want to do. As I’ve said to C.K. many times on the phone... A few times I’ve heard this: “I’ve got to wait for my boyfriend/husband/producer/boyfriend/husband to come home before I can redo that vocal,” and it made my shoulders get tight. Nobody should have to wait for anybody to do anything that you want to do in the studio. And that’s the story you’re telling.
Yeah. Another blessing of that is there’s income that I have received because I know how to do this stuff. I do work-for-hires now. I do acoustic guitar and vocals for people all over the world. It’s been a huge blessing that I can work with people in any country. It’s just tremendous freedom just to be able to do that.

That’s what this panel is about ... freedom. [applause]

"Askreally, really simple questions, because it has nothing to do with how smart you are."Patty Boss

Doug, what’s your story? They know why you’re up here, so you don’t have to...
I’ll gloss over things then. Always obsessed with music, as I’m sure everybody else in this room is. We all feel the same way about it—it touches us and moves us in ways that other things just can’t compete. It’s important to recognize that at an early age, and I started playing saxophone at the age of 10 in school bands. I was lucky enough to discover that I wanted to go into production at age 17, and I discovered that by reading liner notes. This was in the ’90s; I’m a ’80s, ’90s kid. So reading liner notes is pretty much how I discovered what I wanted to do. Then I went off to college for something not music-related. Not really to reflect on my mother, but kind of at the advice of my mother: “You can go into music, but go get a degree first.” So I did, and I went to Eastern Illinois University. So I played in a few bands, and really started diving into writing as the band broke up. There were never creative differences, ever, right? I finished up there and I went back home and worked for a little while at a hardware store called Minards in Chicago. Then I went to recording school at the Conservatory of Recording Arts and Sciences and got my technical chops ups in engineering, because I had been involved in performances up until that point. And from there I went off and started my internship at Westlake Recording Studios. I accelerated quickly through the internship, runner, assistant engineering-kind of path and route there at Westlake, pretty much faster than anyone in recent memory, and that’s because I have a higher amount of drive than other people, to be quite frank.

And that’s why I would like to stress to you guys that these people may be your friends—and they should be treated as such with respect—but in the back of your mind you should always remember if you don’t jump up and grab something that you want, somebody else is going to come get it real quick. You have to the drive to be able to beat everyone out to get it. If you want it the most, you’ve got to go get it, and I did that. I did that and I had some successes. You know, I’ve worked on a string of commercially and incredibly successful albums. You know, I have a Grammy nomination, and when the opportunity presented itself to become a director of education at Westlake’s Production School, I didn’t flinch. It just seemed like the right thing to do at the right time. And we’ve been having some great success. I have some of my alumni and my partner out there in the audience, and they’ve been having a blast here at the Rally, and I’m just really happy to be here. [applause]

Patty, what’s your story?
Hi friends, thanks for being here on a Sunday afternoon. So let’s see... I didn’t actually study music when I was a kid. My parents tried to give me piano lessons because I was playing the piano, but I was kind of rebellious—no one’s gonna tell me what to do. Meanwhile, I was in the garage taking apart pretty much everything I could get my hands on. You know, unscrewing everything and putting back together probably half of it. The rest I couldn’t put it back together. I was the ignored middle child. So they just ignored me and I just went off and did things like that. In a way that was good, because I had some freedom to just explore things. So my past, like many of ours, is... we go through different experiences.

I started playing the piano a lot when I first got to college, just cutting my classes and playing this nice grand piano sitting in the lobby at the dorm. Then I thought, oh gee, maybe I should actually study music. So it took me some years to get to the point where I could go to music school. But I didn’t want to be a starving artist, so I stopped for six months, jumped into a computer programming school, like at one of those trade schools. Then I started computer programming for money. Meanwhile, I had my music studies hidden inside my computer manual at work doing my music homework. I did that for like two or three years straight.

So I got to music school through all that, and remember taking a technology class. I didn’t know anything; I didn’t even know what MIDI was. So I’m sitting there thinking, “Oh, I need to read the manual for how to run this recording app, or MIDI work station.” I’m sitting there going, “Gee, I’m going to have to read the manual to figure this out because I’m kind of lost in this course.” I’ll never forget the moment when I’m sitting there in the class and we had an assignment to make a sample or loop it or something, and I’m like, “Gee, I don’t really know what to do.” I’ll never forget the moment when looked over to my left, and the guy next to me was sitting at his workstation and he knew what to do. His buddy comes over, crouches down and says, “Dude, show me how to do this.” And I’m thinking that this guy is probably not the brightest guy, or maybe he is the brightest guy, but he just needs some help. So that was my moment of, Oh, no you don’t have to go read the manual. Just go up to your friend and go, “Dude, show me how to do this.”

It was like this social learning epiphany that I had. And then after that, even though there were 85% guys at my school at that time—Berklee College of Music—I kind of adopted that approach. “Dude, show me how to do this.”

What I’m trying to get at here is, it has nothing to do with intelligence; it just has to do with exposure.

So I have been making a lot of analogies to cooking. If you’re baking cookies, you throw them in the oven. If you’ve never done it, you might burn them. Then you pull them out and you eat the edge and you throw the rest away, and you’re like, “Aww, burned ’em.” So making mistakes and failing has nothing to do with your self-esteem; it has nothing to do with how good of a person you are or how intelligent you are. And with all that computer-programming stuff that I was doing, I saw the smartest person asking the simplest question. And I’ll never forget that moment, thinking this guy is the smartest guy and he just asked the simplest question. So ask really, really simple questions, because it has nothing to do with how smart you are.