Meet the team: Director of education, Robin Reumers
For the fourth article in this series, we interviewed our director of education, Robin Reumers.
about Robin Reumers
It’s almost impossible to pinpoint Robin’s job title. But we can surely conclude that he is multiskilled and ultra-talented, with a passion for music, technology and education. Robin has an extensive track record in professional audio education, immersive audio, studio building, mastering, mixing and plugin development. As an educator, he worked at a creative media school in Brussels and stood at the cradle of Abbey Road Institute Amsterdam. Studio building he did for Galaxy Studios in Belgium and Sonic City Studios in Amsterdam. He stood at the forefront of immersive audio as CTO at Galaxy Studios with their Auro 3D system. As an engineer, he learned mastering from one of the best mastering engineers on the planet, mixed several Grammy Award-nominated songs and is co-founder of the Award-winning plugin development company, Leapwing Audio.
We are extremely happy to have him as part of our Abbey Road Institute Miami team and curious to learn more about his background. How did he found his way in the exciting world of music production and audio technology, what made him come to Miami, and what does Salsa have to do with it?
You are a mixing engineer, a mastering engineer, director of education at Abbey Road Institute, co-founder of plugin company Leapwing Audio. That’s quite an impressive list. So, let’s start from the beginning: where did this all start?
“As a teenager, I was always intrigued by sound, recording old-skool mixtapes in high school and listening to many different genres.”, he explains. “I even tried deejaying for a while and that somehow really got me into making music myself. I remember as a 15-year-old, I approached the school board and asked them if we could use the school’s announcement system to play music during breaks. It got approved and it was a lot of fun. This interest in music and audio systems led me to my first summer gig: doing live sound during festival season. I loved working on music but I also realized pretty quickly that this life (live sound) wasn’t for me. I wanted to be in the studio. It was also at that time when Norah Jones’ first album came out, ‘Come Away with Me.’ That album really got me into it, learning about studio life. I started looking at who produced it and got to learn more about the recording, production, mixing and mastering process. I seriously listened to that record thousands of times.”
What was it that intrigued you so much about Norah Jones’ first album?
It just hit me so hard. I think it was the emotion of what she was trying to say and then linking that to the lyrics which were explaining that emotion you were experiencing. Just that impact of what music can have on people, that I think was the biggest realization for me. But also, the quality of the recording and the rest of the production, I started analyzing every part of the bass sound and the drums and everything. At the time I thought it sounded amazing. It was only years later when I listened to it again in Bob Katz’s (mastering engineer and author) room where I started hearing the things that could be better. But on an emotional level, that was the key for me.
The music and audio bug bit you….
Yes indeed. And when I was 17 years old, I decided I wanted to study sound engineering in Amsterdam, which at the time was a big step. I come from a small village where everybody is doing the traditional thing, like becoming an electrician or IT, whatever is considered ‘normal’. And I wanted to do something completely different. So, I’m very grateful to my parents that I got the opportunity to do so. At the time, the school in Amsterdam was the only one I could find that offered what I wanted to do and was still relatively close. I still knew very little about audio engineering. I remember looking at the curriculum and I was like ‘I want to learn this’.
Love at first sight?
Yeah, I completely fell in love with it. I mean, I studied harder than anybody. I think I was working and studying 16 hours a day, really getting into it. And then I was fortunate that I could become an audio supervisor at the school, which meant even more access to facilities and I would spend even more time recording and working with different people. At the end of the program, the band I recorded and mixed for my final project wanted to release the song. This was great, but I recommended to have it mastered professionally. They agreed and asked me to find a mastering engineer that could do the job. So, I looked around and ended up talking to Bob Katz in Florida, and he agreed to master the record. And we had a really good relationship. He gave some feedback on the mix, I improved the mix and we came out with a record that was quite decent. Afterwards, Bob told me that he was impressed by how I worked and how I followed up on his recommendations, and then I told him like “hey, if you ever need an assistant or intern, please let me know.” And pretty soon after that, he said “yes, let’s do it” So, then I decided to go to the US, to Orlando, live there for three years and become his assistant. And from there on, a lot of really amazing things happened.
Bob Katz became your mentor?
Absolutely, for sure. From what I know now when it comes to audio, 80 percent of it comes from him. He was a great mentor. I was very fortunate because like every mastering session, I got to sit in with him, I got to see what he did, I could ask any question and he was explaining every decision he made so I could really understand why he did certain things. And there’s no better school than being able to sit next to somebody like that for years.
That’s when you started mastering yourself?
While working with Bob, I was his mastering assistant. After a while, I could work on projects but Bob would check off on what I did. However, some projects that came in for mastering didn’t sound that great, so Bob suggested that I should remix them and make it sound better. I became the “Mix Doctor” at the studio. And I did that for quite some projects. So, more mixing at first, as it definitely took a lot of time before I even got remotely comfortable with mastering.
How did you get into education?
After working with Bob for some years, I couldn’t get my visa extended and I kind of had to move back to Europe and figure out what to do. Of course, my first goal was to work at Galaxy Studios because it was the most prestigious studio in Belgium. Bob even did a good word for me with them, as he tried to reach out to its owners. As I was moving closer to my return date, I still didn’t hear back from them, and then I spoke to Rudi Grieme, who was the Managing Director of SAE and he offered me to work for the school in Brussels. And funny enough right after I accepted this job, Wilfried van Baelen from Galaxy Studios called back and said I could start there. And then I felt like I didn’t want to disappoint anybody, so I just decided to do both jobs. I ended up doing that for quite some time, combining work in education in Brussels and working at Galaxy Studios in Mol (and a remote studio in Brussels). So, I was constantly traveling between those places. Definitely the craziest time of my life for sure.
I can imagine, that’s a lot of hours. What kept you going?
I just loved it so much because, at the school in Brussels, there were a lot of challenges and things I’d never done before. I mean, I had to manage people and I had no experience whatsoever. It felt quite challenging trying to figure out how to make that work. But also, at Galaxy Studios, I mean, it’s such an amazing complex with such incredible technical challenges… I think I really love tackling challenges and figuring out ways to improve things. That gives me energy. Still today. For instance, when we have a big release at Leapwing and the deadline approaches, I just get more energy and I want to work harder. It’s not like I get exhausted and I don’t do anything. For me, it’s the opposite. For me, it’s important to have lots of challenging things happening.
So what did you do at Galaxy Studios?
At Galaxy Studio I became their CTO and I decided to leave the education field for a while, and fully focus on Galaxy. I was responsible for a big expansion of the facilities and building new studios. But at Galaxy, we were also at the forefront of immersive audio, even back in 2009. It was the time when AURO 3D was invented and we had to go to places like Hollywood (Paramount Pictures) to install the system in their dubbing stage. That was a crazy project, from one day into the next, fly to Hollywood and install a whole new system within 48 hours. In the end, it was super exciting, and still proud to be at the forefront of immersive audio.
But that’s not where it ended…
Indeed. For me, my time at Galaxy Studios was great. We did so much in such a short period of time. But at some point, I felt like, OK, I’ve kind of seen it. And I was living in Mol at that time and felt I wanted to expand my horizons. I started asking myself: ‘instead of always working for different people, maybe I should start something myself?’ And that’s when in parallel, I started working on two new projects: co-found the Abbey Road Institute in Amsterdam and set up and co-found Leapwing Audio.
Education, music and technology. Is that the essence of your work?
Yeah. I guess more subconsciously. For me, music has always been the most important and has always been the center of everything. And yeah, my forte is definitely more on the engineering side, which I realized early on. I love technology because I love inventing and innovating and creating new things because that keeps me excited.
But I also really love mixing, because that creative process is such a satisfying one, it allows you to disconnect from reality and get entrenched in the story. It’s amazing! And besides that, I love educating. I love seeing students from start to finish and how you can hopefully have a positive impact on their lives. For me, teaching is one of the best things, because first of all, when you teach a subject, you really need to understand the subject. And secondly, through the questions that students ask, it makes you rethink everything and look at things from a different perspective. That’s super powerful. As a lecturer, you are contributing hopefully to their life, but they’re also contributing to you. It kind of makes the circle complete. I mean, if I wouldn’t be working actively on projects and mixing, I don’t think I would feel I’m in a position to teach. So that is important in order to teach. But when I’m teaching or mixing, I learn how to build better plugins for instance. And getting feedback from users also helps in that aspect. It’s really a circle for me that I try to keep feeding.
Running your own company as a co-founder is another thing. Do you see yourself as a businessperson?
No, not really. Nevertheless, I do think by doing these things, I kind of got to learn a lot about business. But for me, they were always a consequence of doing these things. I mean, if you want to create plugins and sell them, there is the company part. Also, if you work in the music business, you have to understand the business. Otherwise, it’s a hobby. So, I think those skills are important.
What is your drive? Why you’re doing what you’re doing?
That’s a deep question. I think I’m very passionate about seeing the effect that a song or a recording can have on people, so as an engineer, I want to get the most out of a song and as an educator, I want to get the most out of an artist or producer. And also, within Leapwing we are trying to create tools that help people be creative and get a better result and have them create songs that help them communicate what they want to communicate. I get very excited about those things. I guess ultimately I’m trying to have a positive impact on people’s lives.
You are both mixing and mastering engineer. How do you see the future of mixing?
That’s a difficult question. In my opinion, I do feel that the majority of it will go more into the role of the producer. I already see a lot of producers doing the mixing while they produce. And then as the last step, if the budgets allow it, it gets sent off to a mixing engineer. I really hope that the “mixing specialization” remains, but I think that the market is going to get smaller because there are so many clever tools. I mean, you see more and more AI (artificial intelligence) tools that are giving producers who might not have the knowledge, great feedback, helping them to make better choices. These tools are only going to get more powerful, giving producers more power to make a great mix.
Will the mixing engineer become extinct?
I hope not! This reminds me of a recent AES Conference about music and the future of AI. There was this big discussion where people would argue that an AI tool can easily analyze and correct things, but then again if you look at the music, the best music has been made by bumping into mistakes, things that weren’t supposed to happen and they turned into something great.
So the big question is; how can we make tools and have tools available that will sort of guide us and whenever we need it, whenever we feel stuck in the process when we need an opinion or inspiration, then you can use or ‘ask’ the AI for help. These tools can’t and shouldn’t be doing stuff for us just because they’re ‘right’. But yeah, I think it is definitely a challenge when it comes to the evolution of technology within mixing engineering.
At this moment, there are enough producers and mixing engineers doing their thing.
At the highest level of productions, there is still a lot of specialization and I think it is important that we know what our strengths and weaknesses are. And we shouldn’t try to do everything, especially if it’s the stuff that we’re not good at. That’s the main reason why I don’t think what I’m doing is going to get extinct. I believe there is a market for everyone; for people who do it both or for people who just do one of the two.
So you’ve been working for Abbey Road Institute now for four years. Being involved in Amsterdam and on a global level. How was the journey so far?
Oh, it has been great. The four years that I was in Amsterdam were really great. I saw some amazingly talented students and I loved every minute. And also, I’ve been to London a lot working with the team there. I think everybody is in it for the right reasons. Everybody I know is trying to do the right thing for the students and for the future of music production and sound engineering. I really love that.
And now Abbey Road is coming to Miami!
Yes! I think it’s incredible. We’re very fortunate here in the studio to get a lot of artists and producers coming by and when they see the logo they are like ‘Abbey Road? Why is this here?’ And then, of course, we explain to them the story of the Abbey Road Institute and the connection to London. And everybody thinks it’s so amazing and they feel even more excited to be here. So far, the response has been really good, bringing the brand to the US. It’s very strong and people really love what it stands for and what we’ve been doing. It really resonates. Most of the big American artists have actually recorded in Abbey Road so they know how special it is.
How did you get involved with Julio [Abbey Road Institute Miami’s Campus Director and founder]?
Yeah, that’s a nice story. Also, one of the reasons why I think professional organizations like AES are very important. I think it was during the AES in 2012 where I met Natalia Ramirez, who at that time started working for Julio. She became a really good friend and I remember I went to see her in Miami, we went to the studio and there I met Julio. And we started talking and that conversation went into all directions, deep long talks. It was great. And shortly after that, he started sending me projects to work on, working professionally together, but also personally, we became great friends. We both share this passion for music and education and that’s kind of how the whole synergy came together. And I was spending quite some time in Miami doing projects. So one thing led to the other and the rest is history.
How did it come about that Julio decided to open up the Institute?
Well, this was definitely part of many long talks. It definitely took several years, starting as an idea: me talking about my experience with my students and the great talent I came across. And him, talking about his record label, Art House Records, where he develops artists by finding talent and developing them.
It was after a lot of conversations that things started to happen. It turned into: ‘what if we formalize that education of developing artists link that with producers, engineers, and songwriters who can write and produce for those artists, do that in a very ‘boutique’ way and bring that all together’. And that’s when things started to click and I connected Julio with Abbey Road in London to talk about a possible partnership. Again, it stems from that passion for education and then making it happen.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Interesting question. I have three actually.
First: One thing that Bob always used to say: “Don’t turn your back on digital”, basically never trusting what a computer or a device does, always double-check. And make sure you’re really well prepared. Checking all the systems as much as you can. Learn about them, learn how they work and be prepared and organized!
Second, more business-related: “Don’t be available, be valuable”, like making sure you contribute to something. Don’t make your differentiating factor that you’re the cheapest. Contribute something unique because that’s what sets you apart!
Third, musically, which I learned mainly from Julio: “Don’t try as an artist, producer, songwriter or engineer to copy somebody’s style because it’s in or trending. Instead, try to figure out who you are as a person, your personality and try to find something that aligns with that. It’s so important to work on that, you know. Don’t try to do something completely opposite of who you are. Basically, it’s about self-discovery, finding out who you are and sticking to that.
How is it to work with Julio?
It’s incredible. I mean, on a musical level, what’s happening in the studio, the music that’s being created, like every day I’m amazed. I mean, I have worked and have been fortunate to be surrounded by amazingly talented and like-minded people throughout the years. But sometimes when I’m here I feel like I’m probably the least talented person in the room. Quite humbling actually 🙂 It’s crazy how much talent is here, especially on a musical level; they’re just working on another level. I see how songs get created in a short period of time, from just a simple humming of a melody to getting everything just right. That experience in itself has definitely had a big impact on me.
What are you currently working on as a mixing or mastering engineer?
Unfortunately, I can’t really talk in detail about the current projects. Because also typically projects we’re working on now only get released in 2 to 3 months from now. And if the artist hasn’t announced the song or album, I definitely can’t. Quite a few exciting projects, one from a major Colombian artist, and 2 Cuban artists. Really beautiful music and what’s really cool is that both projects were ultimately mastered by my mentor Bob Katz. So I mixed them and then got Bob to master them. What a beautiful way to close the circle.
And last, but not least; you’ve done all kinds of music, all kinds of different genres. But there is this love for Latin music. Where does that come from?
Haha, well, actually it started while working with Bob. His wife, Mary, is Colombian and she wrote a book called Salsa Talks, which is about salsa music. And when I started working for Bob, we did a lot of remastering from classic salsa records, like Fania All-Stars, Héctor Lavoe, Celia Cruz, and many more. That experience was insane; those old tapes having to be remastered. And that really made me appreciate the music, how complex the music is and how good the musicians are. So, I really started listening more and then I got interested in dancing salsa, that’s how it all started.
That’s when the Latin music bug bit you…
Absolutely. I really started liking Latin music a lot and started listening to artists like Juanes, Marc Anthony, Alejandro Sanz, and now I get to see them in the studio regularly. I’m grateful to be in Miami, the international music industry hub for Latin Music, with Abbey Road Institute and all kinds of great projects. Immensely grateful for all the opportunities that have come my way throughout the years.
Thank you Robin!
Robin Reumers’ professional profile: https://robinreumers.com/
Bob Katz, mastering engineer/author: https://www.digido.com/
Galaxy Studios: https://www.galaxystudios.com/
Leapwing Audio: https://www.leapwingaudio.com/
Meet the team: Julio Reyes Copello