“Use your ears, Luke—use your ears.” Leslie Ann Jones is director of music recording and scoring at Skywalker Sound, the recording and production facilities built by George Lucas in Marin County, California.
She has been a recording and mixing engineer for 25 years, during which time she has worked with such artists as Herbie Hancock, Angela Bofill, Michael Feinstein, Michelle Shocked, BeBe & CeCe Winans, Bobby McFerrin, Holly Near, Rosemary Clooney and Narada Michael Walden. She launched her film score mixing career with Francis Ford Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now.”
Starting her career at L.A.’s ABC Studios in 1975, she joined the staff of San Francisco’s famed Automatt Recording Studios from 1978–1987. Next up was a 10-year post at Hollywood’s Capitol Studios. Leslie returned to Northern California in 1997 to accept her current position at Skywalker Sound.
Leslie also serves as the Chairwoman of the Recording Academy, the 14,000-member trade organization responsible for the Grammy awards and numerous other educational initiatives.
Keith: What drew you to music or recording initially?
Leslie: Well, I guess it’s because I grew up in the music business, because my parents were performers and I was a guitar player. I just kind of progressed from that. I actually was drawn to music first, then the recording business later.
Keith: What can you share about your first paying gig in the business?
Leslie: Well, as a recording engineer, I was working for ABC Records, which was owned by the ABC Television Network. They had a recording studio. I’d already done a lot of live sound and had taken a couple of recording engineer courses, which were the first offered in L.A. I actually wanted to be a record producer and manager; I wanted to emulate Peter Asher. I didn’t really plan on being an engineer.
But I thought I should learn something about engineering, to make me a better producer/manager. So I just went and asked. I knew the studio manager, Phil Kaye. I told him I wanted the job, and he said, “Well, there aren’t any other women doing what you want to do. I don’t know how it will work, so we’ll just see how the clients react to you. We’ll just have to play it by ear.”
Keith: What background, training, or education has proven helpful for you during your career?
Leslie: Let’s see, I think reading a lot proved really helpful. Most people that go into this line of work have at least some sort of natural inclination for either the music or the technology. As I said, the two recording classes that I took were the first offered in L.A., and mostly for me it was because I was so self-taught that I really needed to double-check what I thought I knew.
But I started out reading magazines like “Stereo Review” and “Hi-Fidelity” because there was no “Mix” magazine when I started out. Many people came to it from kind of a broadcast or Heathkit home electronic background. Many of your readers may not even know what Heathkit is. Heathkit was a catalog company in the 1950s–1970s that provided home electronics kits for ham radio and hi-fi enthusiasts to build their own equipment.