Exclusive Interview with Mic Roussos

Hailing from the beautiful island of Cyprus situated in east of the Mediterranean Sea, Mic Roussos is one of a kind. He's a man of many hats, finding work as a producer, an engineer, a multi-instrumentalist, a composer and a piano tuner. And he’s one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet.

As an producer/engineer, he’s had his hand in numerous projects from the Cyprus area and beyond, working with everyone from pop stars to metal bands. Since 1999, he has been the owner and operator of Mic R. Studios LTD. In 2012, he decided to move to a new studio and this time build from the ground up.

Mic Roussos recently made his first trip the United States for business in Los Angeles, CA and as part of his journey to the states, he headed north to Eugene, OR to visit the Acoustic Sciences Corporation to see the facility in person, to visit with Art Noxon and the crew and to see the products being built right before his very eyes. While he was here, we sat down with Mic to discuss a multitude of topics, including his early career, his studio, his love for ASC, the importance of acoustic treatments and much more. 

Q: Tell me first, what made you interested in music in general? What was the first moment in your life that you were like, “music is what I need to do”?
A: Going back 35 years, at the age of 5, I started being into music, with my first instrument – the violin.

Q: Was it a difficult instrument when you first started?
A: It was not that difficult. At five years old, if they give you a space ship to drive, it’s not difficult, because you’re a still a small age. Whatever they give you, you will learn it. So it wasn’t like someday I woke up and decided to be involved in music. From the time that I was born…my family are musicians. It’s in the DNA.

Q: Was violin for you or did you want to do something different?
A: Yes but that was after violin. After the violin I learned how to play electric guitar, then bass guitar, then drums, then blah blah blah. I just bought the instrument and I learned how to play.

Q: Self taught.
A: Yes, I play 11 instruments now.

Q: What drew you into recording music?
A: When I was 15, I had a band and we went to a recording studio in Cyprus to record our songs. The result wasn't what I expected.  Because I was writing music from the age of 12, I wanted to be able to record my music and be able to make the sound that I like. So I decided to study sound engineering to learn the techniques.

Q: What was your first setup?
A: A digital Yamaha 01V, a Fostex 16 digital hard disc track and a PC running Cubase. That was in 1998.

Q: Were you just recording your stuff or…
A: My stuff. My first studio was in my bedroom. I destroyed my bedroom. I put glue and wool on the walls, I modified my bedroom…

Q: What did you parents think of that when you were destroying your room?
A:  It was OK. It was something natural. You are doing that for your music.

Q: So they were good.
A: Yes, I had support. I always had support from my parents. (smiles)

Q: From that point, when did it evolve into recording for others?
A: After I rented a place and I made it a studio, my first studio, with a bigger setup. I had two Yamaha 02R, I had a Macintosh running Digital Performer with a huge amount of 2 gig of RAM (laughs). That was 1999. My home studio was just for two months.

Q: When you were first starting out, were you working odd jobs? What did you do to support yourself at that time?
A: I am a piano tuner.  It was a second job. I was working as a live engineer, I was working on radio. I did so many jobs. I was a sound engineer at a radio station. The schedule was awful.  I had to wake up at 4 o’clock in the morning because at 5 we had news. But my studio was fully booked like, I had bands. I did what I’m doing now. (laughs)

Q: So you’ve maintained this life the whole time, you didn’t have to do other things like work in a restaurant or…
A: No, after I finished my studies, all of my work was around my field.

Q: So you were blessed in that regard, because a lot of people have to do a lot of extra work to support themselves while they pursue their passion.
A: Yes, I feel blessed.

Q: What is the music industry like in Cyprus?
A: I’m working with some local bands and artists. I'm also working with people from abroad. Basically in Cyprus, I’m doing lots of TV music, soundtracks and theater. I generally have international collaborations.

Q: How did you get turned on to the TubeTraps?
A: I search a lot. I did a lot of research. I had a recording studio with foam. I had a recording studio with cork, wood and many different other materials. I wanted to make something special because I owned the building. It was very interesting, the thing with the floating walls – the IsoDamp. When you read the description of what it’s doing, it’s impressive. When you install it, it’s…I can play drums in my room and everything is closed, no windows, no anything. And you don’t hear that ‘Vvvm, Vvvm, Vvvvm’, that boomy thing from the kick. You just listen to a real kick in your stomach. The question is why do I go to the TubeTraps. OK. TubeTraps are like a room in a room. It’s an empty cylinder with a very special material inside. The sound you have is a room sound without the room. It’s the natural way to hear what you are doing. What I like apart from the design and sound and concept of that is that it’s very unique. There’s nothing like it on the market and that is removable. I can carry TubeTraps or AttackWalls anywhere. And if you just put TubeTraps in any room, you have a studio.

Q: Right…Which is different than the average concept of a studio. You build a studio intentionally in the beginning, but if a room isn’t set up right, there’s not much you can do. But the TubeTraps change that.
A: Yeah. But not only that. The Attack Wall offers something unique. With the AttackWall you have your monitors on a monitor stand, which is a TubeTrap monitor stand that makes any speaker sound amazing with 100% performance. So the way that the monitor spreads the sound is far from any other monitor installation.

Q: It’s kind of like a cockpit.
A: Yeah. A cockpit. Pilot’s view. (laughs)

Q: Did you find it online when you first heard about the technology?
A: Yeah. I found it online. It looked interesting. I was searching for something different. And I found it.

Q: So you saw this stuff online and you ordered it.
A: Yeah. I spoke to Chris Klein at ASC for one year until I finish the design and the combination because when I was talking to Chris, the studio wasn’t built. No building! (laughs). We decided the size of the rooms and what to build. Chris was extremely helpful on my studio design and I'm 100% satisfied with the results.

Q: So the addition of the traps changed the way you produced, right?
A: Of course. It was a big studio upgrade for me.

Q: What were some of the changes that happened?
A: If you don’t treat a room the proper way, you don’t actually hear what you are recording or what you are mixing. A pair of excellent monitor systems is not enough. You need a good acoustic treatment in your room. My room is flat. It’s an X-ray. What you listen to is the real thing.

Q: So when you started working with Traps, you didn’t have to work as hard, you’re not trying to fix problems.
A: No. You just put it in the room. ASC helped guide me to put the TubeTraps in the right positions. It sounds correct. I have my listening position of course. Now with the AttackWall, you can find the center of your speakers and you have an excellent stereo image.

Q: When you started using the AttackWall did it help your stature as a producer?
A: When I finished the studio and I uploaded some pictures to my page many people were very impressed. When you open the door, you are in a very high tech environment. The impression of the clients, the design, how it looks…I ask many of them to sit in my chair to listen, they were very impressed. Not just my people, but major singers, actors and theater-tv-film producers. I had 100% positive feedback from everybody, appearance-wise and sound-wise.

Q: Most producers have a good ear. They know when something sounds good or sounds bad. When did you realize you had that skill?
A: From the experience of working with different genres and as a multi-instrumentalist, I learned the genre of each instrument I play. So to have that skill, it's a matter of experience and practice. You must be a good listener.

Q: How does one go about tuning their hearing? Is there a way you have learned to hear better? Like, when you hear a bad note, you hear dissonance. But a good tune it’s harmonious. Is that the same principle that’s applied to your listening?
A: It’s a combination. It’s like a false note with a bad sound. Sound is not just the tone. If the performer is not good, an electric guitar or violin will sound not very real. It’s not the same with a false note, but it’s similar. Like a violin. It’s an instrument of a specific frequency range. Like a piano has a very large range. It’s a matter of taste and then of knowledge. All of these things are based on the experience of every person.

Q: What helps you get better?
A: Reading. Watching. Have my mind open. Books, articles. I like to search to see different techniques of how you record that, that or that. When I have free time, I’m watching YouTube tutorials because in that field, every day you are learning something. You can’t say, I know everything and I’m taught. When you say that it’s like you fell down from the 9th floor. Every day you are learning.

Q: When you look back on some of your previous work do you criticize it? Do you see how you could improve it?
A: Yeah, of course. Sometimes you learn from your old self. Sometimes I find some production that I don’t really like. But it’s good to know you are getting better. You will not see that result on your recordings, but in the way that you are thinking. When you are in your first step as a sound engineer, you are excited and passionate, and you put that here and put that there, and you have this nice salad and you give it a good dressing and then it’s ready for the dust bin, you know. Now you are more mature. It’s how seriously you are getting the profession. Like some sound engineers, before they listen to the instrument that they will mix, their hands are still on the equalizer. Listen first to see what you have, to work on and then decide. There are so many things to do that I have learned over the last 18 years. Listen first, then decide.

Q: What are some recordings that really inspire you?
A: Prince’s Sexy Mother F***er is one of the best recordings and it’s a full sound. I’m a big fan of Bruce Swedien. Everything is tidy in the mix. All these years later "Thriller" is still a top-notch production.

Q: Do you use triggers?
A: Sometimes. Depends on the genre. Especially metal. In metal, you need triggers. Every genre, if you want to be a good producer, you must know what genre you are working on. You can’t have, let’s say, in metal, the drum kit of Deep Purple’s first album. It’s impossible, because the fan of metal knows that, tchng-tch-tchng, that type of kick and snare. But it’s a matter of taste of the producer or the engineer and how to blend the trigger with the real sound. Because many of the drums you can listen to sound like midi. No life. Or if you’re producing jazz, if you never listen to live jazz, just don’t take the job. Send it to someone else who can do it.   

Q:  Any last words?
A: I have to say that I hear many people who own an AttackWall or some TubeTraps say that TubeTraps are expensive. I’m not a millionaire, but how many studios have very expensive microphones that cost $20,000? Professional studio equipment is not cheap. In my list I have some outboard gear and the cheapest unit is around 2 or 3000 euros ($2200-$3400) for a single unit. So I can’t say it’s expensive compared to what you get.