Matt Shane’s career success as a sound engineer, mixer and producer has been a product of building good relationships and making the right connections, but it’s also thrived on a desire to do something new every day.
I don’t like the idea of doing the same thing every day,” said Shane, BA’02. “I don’t want the idea of a traditional office, so going to a recording studio or a post-production studio or a concert or something like that is exciting to me.”
Shane has worked in music since completing his telecommunications degree at IU. He’s worked with well-known artists such as Rosanne Cash, Elvis Costello and Daniel Lanois; sound-designed two films; and won a Grammy for his work on HBO’s "Flight of the Conchords" albums. In 2017, he was featured in the College of Arts and Sciences’ 20 Under 40 list.
“Since I was a kid, I knew I wanted to make records,” Shane said.
But when Shane came to IU in fall 1998, the music school’s recording program was relatively new. He opted to pursue a telecommunications degree to explore his interests in video production and sound work in film. He complemented his telecommunications degree with a music minor.
Outside of school, he forged his own music education path.
“I sort of did live sound at clubs and made records and recordings and stuff on my own with bands and friends of mine,” Shane said.
He also got recording experience working with Russ Castillo, a telecommunications faculty member at the time, at his recording studio outside of Bloomington.
In summer 2001, Shane interned in New York City at Pilot recording studio, where he was offered an assistant position. Knowing he needed to finish college first, Shane returned to IU and graduated in spring 2002. Will Schillinger, the recording studio’s owner, held the position for him until after he graduated. He moved to New York City that summer, and he’s lived there ever since.
Shane worked his way through the ranks of the studio from his initial fly-on-the-wall assistant position to engineering work for professional clients.
By the time HBO began work on its acclaimed comedy series "Flight of the Conchords," Shane had built a reputation for himself. On occasion clients requested him by name.
Through coincidence, a bit of luck and the good name Shane had created for himself with years of hard work, he was recommended by a former client to a producer for the series, which had begun shooting in New York and was in need of a new sound engineer after a bad experience with another studio.
And it needed it urgently. It was the sort of spur-of-the-moment request that could have been sunk by any variety of other commitments, but Shane was free and willing, and there began a years-long partnership that would take him on tours around the globe.
In 2007, Shane won a Grammy when the comedy group’s album, "The Distant Future," won the Best Comedy Album award.
He accompanied the group on its U.S. theater tour, and again on subsequent tours as its following grew larger and larger.
“It started in small theaters, and we ended in a basketball arena,” he said.
Other gigs have been less unexpected.
“I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve been on sessions where I met people and we had a really good experience, and a really good session, so when the next project came around they asked for me,” he said.
Shane is also the co-owner of Eleven Audio Design, a firm specializing in high-end audio system design. The firm’s humble beginnings came out of a series of help requests Shane and his close friend and former roommate received from local bars and other venues who knew about Shane’s experience with recording equipment.
The project began in casual exchanges of audio expertise for free drinks or spare change, and evolved into a nationally recognized firm.
“It grew to where it went from bar tabs to legitimate jobs,” he said. “It got to the point where people were asking for certificates of insurance and all this official business stuff.”
So finally, Shane and his partner, Kevin Brubaker, founded Eleven Audio Design in 2009 to design and install sound systems for commercial clients.
He branched out into film sound mixing when friends from IU who were fans of his music work approached him with a job. The first project on which they collaborated was a short film that screened at the Tribeca Film Festival.
Shane was intrigued because the film would feature no dialogue, instead constructing its sonic depth and building atmosphere from natural and non-vocal sounds.
“Sound design was a real key part of it,” Shane said. “I’d have to create all this emotion and all this movement using only natural sounds.”
One of the most magical parts of Shane’s job, he says, is helping artists render their visions in real life.
“They can see in their head how it looks and how it sounds, and then my job, or the challenge that’s presented to me, is to get it out of their head and make it come out of the speakers,” he said.
Sometimes, that process is a literal translation of the musical or sonic phrase the artist has dreamed up into a musical recording or sound design sequence. Other times, it’s a careful process of development that produces something altogether different from, but also better than, that initial vision.
“Both can be equally rewarding,” he said. “The idea that I’m faithfully recreating something exactly how they hear it or imagine it, an accomplishing that is exciting and rewarding, as well as being given the runway to try to come up with something or bring something new and creative to the work.”