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Q&A: Sound engineer Manon Grandjean

Having worked with the likes of English grime and hip-hop artist Stormy and the band London Grammar, the French engineer speaks about life in the studio

Winning Breakthrough Engineer of the Year at the MPG Awards was a defining moment for Manon Grandjean. She was “proud to represent women in the industry” and hopes the recognition from that accolade will encourage more females to carve out a career in the music business. The soul and R’n’B music fan has worked with a range of big names in the industry: from Noel Gallagher, Kasabian and Ethan Johns when she was in-house assistant and engineer at songwriter Terry Britten’s State of the Ark Studio, to engineering London Grammar’s platinum-selling debut album If You Wait in 2013 as well as the Novello-winning band’s forthcoming 2017 follow-up.

Other recent projects have included Kano’s Made in the Manor and Gavin James’ Bitter Pill.

Why did you want to work in the industry?

I was always involved in music since I was young. I was classically trained on guitar for many years. At 18 I did an internship in a recording studio in the south of France as I wanted to see what a sound engineer really does. I learned so much and I was hooked: since then, I knew that it was what I wanted to do.

How did you get started?

I started in Livingston Studios in London at the end of 2009 as an intern/runner after I finished my studies in France. I was an intern for a few months and worked my way up as an assistant. Shortly after I started working at State of The Ark [in Richmond] as a freelancer and became their trusted in-house assistant and engineer for five years. In 2013 I also started to work at RAK studios until mid-2015.

What are you currently working on?

I am currently working with Grammy award-winning writer/producer Fraser T Smith in his own studio in Parsons Green. I met him at RAK on a session for Gavin James, and ended up working with him since then, full-time. The highlight of that has been to engineer and co-mix the #1 album Gang Signs and Prayer.

What are three bits of kits you couldn’t do without and why?

Like every engineer, I like nice gear, preferably vintage! To narrow it down to three is pretty hard but, a nice microphone like an old Neumann U 47, a good preamp like a Neve 1073, and an LA2A compressor. Although great gear is essential to do great recordings, working on the sound of your source in the room is as important. I also try not to let gear get in the way of creativity and musicality.

You worked on If You Wait. How was that?

London Grammar came to State Of The Ark to work on that first album with producers Tim Bran and Roy Kerr. We all got along really well. It was the start of a great relationship. They loved the studio’s atmosphere and all the [vintage] gear in it, the whole session was very relaxed. It was like working with great friends.

Their second album is coming out soon – what can we expect from it?

We did a few weeks of recording back at State Of The Ark last year. It was great to work with them again, and with the same producers (My Riot). It a beautiful album and I am sure their fans will be very pleased with it.

Who are your biggest influences?

There are so many, people that inspire me for their technical work and musicality. Great engineers and producers like Sir George Martin and Glyn Johns, mixers like Spike Stent, mastering engineers like Mandy Parnell. It is almost unfair to give a couple of names as there are so many; every producer or engineer I worked with influenced me, you always pick up tips and tricks along the way.

You won Breakthrough Engineer of the Year at the MPG Awards. How did that feel?

It felt incredible! I couldn’t believe being up there with all those great producers and engineers and mixers I admire. I was really honoured and humbled to receive an MPG Award but I was also very proud of it, to represent women engineers and hopefully inspire younger women.

What do you think marked that breakthrough?

Engineering the first London Grammar album was a turning point for me: people started to acknowledge my work after that. Working with Fraser allowed me to take it even further by not only engineering but also mixing and mastering projects, which also a second breakthrough for me.

What is it like to work in such a male dominated industry?

I was really lucky that I always worked with nice and open-minded people that never saw my gender being an issue in the studio. It is good to bring a bit more balance in the studio environment. I think things are changing and I think people need to be aware of that – there are a lot of amazing people in the music industry and we should focus on that instead of the negatives.