Study Hall

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Evolving Roles: A Conversation With Monitor Engineer Ramon Morales

"Not only do you have to pay attention to what they ask for, you also have to figure out how to interpret what they're actually asking for."

Ramon Morales has always loved music, playing guitar in his youth and eventually ending up behind a mixing console.

After attending the recording program at The Art Institute of Houston (Texas), he served as an intern at one of the city’s top studios, and also mixed live shows whenever he had the opportunity.

Both experiences put him on a path to working as a monitor engineer for top artists like Destiny’s Child, Beyoncé, and currently, Lady Gaga. I recently had the opportunity to catch up with him on his work and career path.

Karl Winkler: Destiny’s Child was your first major tour, right? How did that come about?

Ramon Morales: It was at Sugar Hill studios in Houston where I starting working for them, when they were recording their second album. After some time in the studio, I also started to work with them on tour, mixing front of house for a few years. At some point I moved on to something else, but then ended up back with them for a second run.

When I came back, I was asked to mix monitors. I figured that I’d do that for a short while and then end up back at front of house. I was wrong! Everything I’ve done since has been monitors, with just a few exceptions. And I really enjoy it. Everything we do is a challenge, but I feel that mixing monitors today has unique challenges that are very different than mixing FOH.

When Beyoncé went solo, I handled monitors on every one of her tours until 2010, and between those tours I also worked with other artists, including Mary J. Blige and Mariah Carey. Working with Beyoncé was great because I knew all the music, as well as her likes and dislikes, and everything seemed to fall into place very easily. She has a powerful voice, which helps a lot, and is very professional. She knows exactly what she wants to hear. 

For the past four years or so, you’ve been with Lady Gaga. From an outsider’s perspective, she seems to be a demanding artist.

Every artist presents challenges. Like Beyoncé, she also has a very powerful voice. But with Lady Gaga, I’ve taken a different approach, from the way I set up my console to how I EQ things, It’s all different. As with most artists, there are plenty of cues to keep me busy, but currently, there’s a lot more going on, ranging from different microphones on different songs to all of the different instruments she plays. I’m constantly on the move.

I’m also mixing her band, making sure everything is exactly how it should be for them as well. Consistency is the key! Everything has to be just right, just how it was last night, and the night before that, and so on.

O.K., let’s talk about technical stuff. How has the equipment changed since you began your career?

When I started, we were still on analog consoles with racks and racks of gear to accompany them. It was a combination of wedges, side fills and in-ear monitors on stage. When using the tools correctly, it all worked out great. The right combination of wedges, side fills and ‘ears’ made everything sound full on stage.

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