Amanda Merdzan was recently appointed assistant engineer at the renowned Metropolis Studios. Merdzan is originally from Perth, Australia and came to London to pursue a musical career, whatever shape that came in. After being an artist for several years, she decided the creative-production side was more for her and undertook a course in Music Production & Sound Engineering at The School of Sound Recording (SSR). After working at both RAK and Urchin Studios, Metropolis is now her full-time home. Here, we chat to Merdzan about her journey to where she is now, and what the future holds…
Tell me about your background.
Music has always been the most significant, stable and consistent part of my life. I began writing music and playing in bands when I was really young, and I’ve had a constantly evolving relationship with music over the years. For around eight years, my solo music was the focus; writing, releasing, touring, etc. But I was falling out of love with performing and noticed I was finding much more joy in creating. That’s what led me to go deeper into the creative process and explore new ways of making music.
I essentially began writing and producing in a completely different way than I ever had before, leaning more towards synthesized sounds. What I learnt through production sparked my interest in engineering and the more technical side of music, so I followed that, and here I am!
How did you get into the industry?
I moved from Perth, Australia to London with the intention of building on my engineering skills and immersing myself in a large and diverse creative community. I threw myself into as many music-related things as I could, and took every opportunity to meet like-minded people who were doing what I wanted to be doing. At the same time, I was also looking into opportunities to study engineering, but they were well out of my reach financially (especially as an international student). I was fortunate to receive a scholarship at The School Of Sound Recording (SSR) for an Advanced Diploma in Music Production & Sound Engineering. This was a game-changer that I am so grateful for. It gave me such a solid foundation to build from.
I eventually crossed paths with Matt Ingram (Urchin Studios) who, knowing what I was trying to achieve, asked if I wanted to assist on some sessions at Urchin. Of course, I said yes. Around the same time, an engineer from RAK gave me an intro to the studio manager at RAK, and that was the start of my three years there. This is a very simplified version of my journey into the industry, there’s been highs and lows and a lot of challenges along the way, but I’ll save that for another time.
What were your experiences like at Urchin and RAK Studios?
Both were incredible and invaluable experiences. I spent a lot of my sessions at Urchin assisting Matt, who is an incredible musician, songwriter and producer. Most of those projects were production and recording sessions, so I got to see the entire process, the ups and downs, and the way he was able to always give the artist the confidence to follow through with their vision and not compromise on that. That’s such a valuable skill to have.
Matt also gave me the opportunity to engineer for him and make technical decisions, which was great. Because of that I then had the confidence and skills to engineer sessions there with external producers.
My time at RAK really expanded my technical knowledge and my ability to work well under pressure. It introduced me to a whole world of incredible gear, setups and workflows to make all kinds of sessions run smoothly. The engineers at the studio are all incredibly knowledgeable, and all-round great people, so I always felt comfortable to ask questions and learn from them.
What has been your favourite project to work on?
I’ve had so many great days in the studio, and enjoy most sessions for completely different reasons, whether it’s the people, the music or the process. One of my most enjoyable sessions was working alongside engineer Isabel Gracefield (RAK) for Christine & The Queens. I really enjoy working with Isabel and we both really loved the music, so it was a whole lot of fun.
Another favourite project I’ve worked on was an upcoming EP by an artist called Christy O’Donnell. Not only did his music move me in such a big way from the first word I ever heard him sing, but he was the best person to be around for days on end – he made me laugh every day.
What drew you to Metropolis and what opportunities do you see there?
The impressive client list, gear and lovely people were definitely a big drawing card. The idea of being full time in one studio and becoming an integral part of the team really interested me.
As Metropolis is a busy studio, there will likely be opportunities for me to take on more engineering work, which I’m looking forward to. There are a lot of producers in the building working out of the production rooms, so the opportunity to meet new people and collaborate is also exciting.
Can you tell us more about your studio workflow?
This is something that I’m still working on and adapting all the time. Working with different engineers is a great way to discover new ways of doing things, then taking the parts you like and incorporating them into your own workflow. It also changes for every session, especially in instances where you don’t have your trusted ‘go-to’ gear to draw on and you’re in a new and unfamiliar environment. Being able to adapt quickly is really important.
Preparation and high-level organisation are the things that remain constant for me though. Spreadsheets and note-taking are my best friends in the studio. The more organised I am, the smoother the session runs. If I can keep everyone relaxed and unaware of any technical issues while I quickly work through them, then I am happy.
When getting ideas down in terms of writing/production, my preference is to have as much set up and ready to go as possible, so that when an idea comes it can be captured instantly. You don’t want the creative moment to pass while you’re trying to do something technical, because that can be frustrating and instantly kill your enthusiasm.
What is your favourite gear?
I absolutely love the Electro-Harmonix Memory Man. I’ve used it on so many instruments. I especially love it on pianos for haunting, ambient sounds. It’s the piece of gear I get excited about every time I reach for it.
Who are your inspirations?
I would have to say it’s all the people I’ve met in London that are working in this industry, they are the ones that keep me inspired and motivated. I see my friends and acquaintances pushing themselves, learning new things, working on amazing projects and keeping positive all while trying to survive in such a hectic city.
Marta Salogni specifically comes to mind, because of her attitude towards creativity. She does things that may seem unconventional to some, but that is what makes it so interesting. Her approach inspires me to be more experimental and simply try things out of curiosity, sometimes you might just stumble across something great.
Have you faced any challenges on your journey?
I think it has been, and always will always be, the sacrifices I’ve had to make to keep powering ahead on this path, ranging from financial, relationships, health and everything in between. It’s just a challenge trying to strike a healthy balance with it all. This is speaking from a freelancer’s perspective of course, which up until now has been my experience.
Everyone I talk to about it has been through the same thing though. For example, finishing a session at one studio, racing over to another to sleep there so you can wake up in a few hours and start the next one. Or cancelling your own birthday party on the day so you can go and work on a last-minute session. Understanding friends are the best friends.
What would your advice be to aspiring engineers/producers?
Surround yourself with other engineers and producers. They are going to be the ones to give you the best advice, to offer support and of course help you grow. You’re going to need each other, so make sure you build that family and nurture it. Coming up in the industry with your friends is an amazing way to experience this journey.
Also, eat well, try and exercise and try and get some good sleep.
Last year, we also interviewed Metropolis’ new studio manager, Emma Townsend. Check it out here. Need a guide to freelancing as an audio professional? Find Katie Tavini’s article, featuring multiple successful producers and engineers and their tips on freelancing, here.