Deep in the Heart of Texas

Chez Boom Audio's founder, Shayna Brown took time out of her busy schedule to talk to us about her work. As a sound engineer her work includes multiple Oscar and Emmy nominated movies and TV shows, Addy Award winning commercials, and Audie Award nominated audiobooks. She's on the Board of Trustees for The Long Center, has taught at Texas State University in their Sound Recording Technology program, and is a frequent guest lecturer at the University of Texas at Austin and panelist at SXSW. Her recent projects include Shazam! Fury of the Gods, Westworld, Superman and Lois, Queer as Folk, NCIS, A Handmaids Tale, and Dr Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.  


Music has always been a huge part of Browns life. Her father is a studio musician/composer and she spent years going into studios as a child. Music was a big part of her home schooling curriculum so finding herself in incredible studios, with outboard gear and mixing boards and microphones and speakers felt like home. “Being behind the scenes felt much more natural; when I was older and started watching the music engineers, I knew that being behind the glass would be a better fit for me than being behind the mic.”


Brown works with The Long Centre for Performing Arts in Austin serving as Vice-Chair of the Board of Trustees, and currently also the Chair of two committees: Programming and Strategic Planning. “We are a non-profit with several performing arts spaces. We have a beautiful concert hall that holds almost 2,500 people, and a smaller black box room that usually holds more like 250. We also have an expansive outside terrace, and a lawn that overlooks downtown Austin. We program shows in all of these spaces, and our mission is to be reflective of the community we serve, and accessible to all in this community. It’s a great way to be involved in my community and the arts. And it’s also lovely when so often the performers who come to perform at the Long Center end up coming to my studio to do work the next day!”


One of her early jobs was helping established sound engineers figure out how to navigate the new digital audio world and a little audio program called ProTools. “It started being taught at my University the year I started going there. Being able to help the audio engineers in my Dad’s world gave me a huge boost toward becoming the audio engineer I am today. None of us had heard of post-production and certainly not of ADR but eventually that would be the natural transition for me.”


Brown started her own business, Chez Boom Audio, focusing on post-production. “I like the one-on-one connection of working with an actor to help capture the perfect take.  I had worked in lots of music studios, and also had jobs doing sound design, recording commercials, recording and editing audiobooks, and just about any other sound-related thing you can think of. I knew my strengths and I knew what holes were in the market here in Austin, Texas.”


One of her great achievements was working on Academy Award winning film, Gravity. “I was Sandra Bullock’s ADR recordist/mixer. It was wild because we were trying to get sound that matched what would seem to be coming from her while she had a space suit on, including the helmet. She was a good sport and let us try things and still was able to channel her character to do the lines.”


“I love working with entire casts on shows that are filming here in Austin. That’s always fun and special, to get to know everyone and work on every episode. I love working with the legendary journalist Dan Rather on anything that comes up, because it means I’m in for some fabulous stories in between takes. I also think fondly of a movie for which I recorded Al Pacino. As a home-schooler, I missed out on a lot of pop culture, and I have still never seen a movie with Al Pacino in it. But everyone in the studio was freaking out about him coming in, and I actually stayed calm because to me, he was just another human. And he was so kind, so good at what he does, such a beautiful human, that it was a really fun project.”


In her studio Brown uses ProTools Ultimate with Izotope plug-ins and the Waves Diamond plug-in package. “Of course we have several great mics: Neumann TLM 103, Sennheiser MKH-60, Neumann U87, and Sanken COS11 are our go-too’s.  We use Genelec monitors and all of this is laid out in a beautiful Argosy studio desk. We use Skype, Zoom, Source Connect, and Source Nexus every day, and I’m not sure how we would have gotten through the pandemic without those Source Elements products. They are the MVPs here, for sure. We took some time during the pandemic to renovate, and we are moving into our newly done studio in the next few days. It’s absolutely beautiful, sounds fantastic, and is deep in the heart of Austin, Texas. We hope it’ll become quite the destination studio.”


Like many, she often experiences the challenges of sound editing and dubbing. “Tech issues can be a pain, but in general they are overcome-able. Noise, of course is an issue, but we have such great technology now that that’s pretty solvable, too. I think the bigger challenges are often the more subtle ones: learning to read the actors I’m recording, trying to understand the sound supervisor and director on the other side of the line/Zoom and make sure I’m helping them get what they want, and managing any egos, insecurities, or upset that might arise. I’ve been in so many sessions where actors take issue with a line that’s being requested, and just navigating that little hitch can be quite challenging. So just like it’s the best part of the job, people are also the most challenging.”


With the cost of living increasing, budgets are still being driven down so how can we ensure it’s not a race to the bottom? “Sound does seem to get relegated to the bottom of the budget concerns, but I think professionals understand it’s something important enough to pay for. I think showing up and doing an incredible job and making sure every project I touch sounds better for having passed through my studio will keep reminding people of that fact. I hope that affects their priorities long after our session is over; when they’re onto the next thing they remember the huge impact good sound had on their last project and budget accordingly.”


Since the pandemic and the move toward a more hybrid work ethic we asked how she thinks the landscape in post will change over the next 5 years. “I think more and more people will get DAWs in their homes, and I think our tools will become even more sophisticated so we’ll be able to make broadcast-quality sound from something recorded by an actor on his/her iPhone in their home. But no matter how quickly technology changes and how widespread home studios become, I think we’ll still need audio engineers and their ears and artistry to keep on putting the magical touches on sound.”


The audio world is tremendously male dominated, and that comes with a lot of difficulty for women whose careers are in this space. “The stereotypical audio engineer is a middle-aged dude in ripped jeans and a t-shirt. To defy that stereotype means people are going to look at you extra closely, maybe question you in ways they wouldn’t question your male counterparts, and in general make assumptions just based on gender. There’s also the “boys’ club” attitude that tells us that maybe we’re not even wanted in this field. And, of course, there’s the often-present sexual harassment (or even assault) that comes when women are under-represented, under-appreciated, and treated as novelties. That said, I think women can also set the tone for a session that’s more relaxed, warm, and nurturing than what comes naturally for most men, and that’s the environment where you’re going to get the best recordings. Any room that’s full of only men is missing out on talent and perspective we women can bring to the table.”


Although we now have some iconic female names in audio, women are still under represented as engineers. “I think the more those of us in the industry show up in studios, on sound panels, on college campuses in Recording Technology classes, in magazines, etc, the more we can show young women what’s possible, and encourage them to join us. I think it’s really important that those of us who have made our way here stand up and start to challenge the male stereotype.  And we also need women in this field to support other women, and to acknowledge that if we’re in this, it’s because we’re pretty damned good at our jobs, because if we weren’t, a man would have kicked us out long ago. So let’s give each other a hand, and also show up for the next generation, and hope we can slowly change the numbers and get more women involved.”





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