Lessons from Leslie: Grammy-winning recording engineer wows conservatory students
Students in the Conservatory of Music’s Music Industry Studies and Music Management programs had the rare opportunity to work and learn alongside one of the best recording engineers in the business—7-time Grammy Award-winner Leslie Ann Jones.
Jones, director of music recording and scoring at the world-famous Skywalker Sound studio, joined students for an immersive, week-long visit as a guest artist-in-residence during the annual Pacific Music Business Conference in April.
“When I looked on her website and saw how many films and video games and TV shows she’s worked on, my jaw dropped,” said Riley Ferguson ’25, a music industry major.
From Rosemary Clooney to Halo, making great art
Jones joined the recording industry at a time when few women were in the field. She was the first female recording engineer at ABC Studios in Los Angeles in the mid-1970s.
Over an impressive career spanning nearly 50 years, Jones has recorded albums for top-tier musicians, including Rosemary Clooney and the Kronos Quartet, worked on the popular video game “Halo” and countless other high-profile projects.
The daughter of musicians Spike Jones and Helen Grayco, Jones grew up surrounded by music. She was in her own band as a teenager but after she started working on live sound, she became hooked.
“To quote the line from Hamilton, ‘I'm in the room where it happens,’” Jones explained. “I'm a part of making great art, and my job is to help facilitate that. Sometimes I think I should be paying [the musicians] for the experience.”
She joined Skywalker Sound in 1997, racking up nine Grammy nominations and seven wins. She also is in the National Association of Music Merchants Technical Excellence and Creativity Hall of Fame.
“Spread the wealth and get the best sound”
With her vast knowledge—and ever-present humor—Jones led students through the process of recording and mixing a song during her visit to the Stockton Campus.
The week began with students getting hands-on practice setting up microphones to record the Pacific Jazz Ensemble.
“It was really cool seeing her thought process,” said Charlotte Han ’23, a violin performance major and music management minor. “She would show us, ‘this is how I like to mic a piano, but let’s swap out these microphones because I think this one would be better. And because we have a limited number of microphones, let's see how we can spread the wealth and get the best sound possible.’”
After capturing the concert later in the week, students spent a full day in the studio with Jones mixing one of the songs.
“Students would ask questions and she would explain what she's doing and then ask, ‘what do you think we should add more of? Or should we do this?’ It was a really great interactive conversation about her mixing process,” said Benom Plumb, associate professor and program director for music industry studies and music management.
A mastering session by Grammy-nominated mastering and restoration engineer Jessica Thompson provided the finishing touches. The final recording was presented during a master class with Jones at the end of the week.
Show up and ask questions
In addition to her technical skills, students soaked up Jones’ stories from decades in the industry, including the time she was removed from a project with a famous R&B singer because his wife didn’t want a woman on the team.
Jones didn’t let it phase her.
“She said, ‘you know, I could have made a big stink about it, but I just said, okay, and then I moved on to the next thing,’” Plumb shared. “She said being herself, handling things with grace and having a good sense of humor always tended to work out for her. That’s a good lesson for our students.”
Her advice to students—show up and show initiative. “Raise your hand, ask questions and say yes to everything within reason,” Jones said.
Ferguson took the advice and ran with it. “We formed a special relationship,” he said. “I have already reached out to her several times.”
Pacific’s music industry and music management programs will add more hands-on experiences in the 2023-24 academic year. The university is making a substantial investment in state-of the-art recording equipment for an innovative professional practice initiative.