An interview with Dave Hampton:


An audio engineer and designer of studios and touring rigs, Dave has worked with some of the biggest names in the music industry, including Prince, Herbie Hancock, Chicago, and Marcus Miller, whose 2001 album, “M2” won Hampton a Grammy Award.

After his early training in electronics at Los Angeles Trade Tech College and CSU Dominguez Hills, Hampton worked at Oberheim Electronics, where he acquired his in-depth knowledge of analog synthesizer technology. During this period he began striking out on his own as an independent engineer, technician, and sound editor, and left the company after five years to start his own business, MATK Corporation.

Besides designing, consulting, writing, and lecturing, Hampton is currently working on producing original audio and visual projects with his company. He also sits on the steering committee of the Producers and Engineers Wing of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, which is the organization that bestows the Grammy Awards.

The former technical director of high-profile studios including Paisley Park in Minneapolis and Hancock Music in Los Angeles, Hampton has chronicled experiences in his two books, “So, You’re an Audio Engineer” and “The Business of Audio Engineering.”

How did you get started in Audio Engineering?

Answer: I started Dj’ing in High School. Then went to trade school to learn Electronics, and did work for companies like IBM and Hughes Aircraft. Next I went to university for an experimental program learning Electronic Music and Recording, and worked on projects like Armed Forces Radio. While in school I was offered a job at a company(Oberheim), that made synthesizers and drum machines. These tools were just starting to become popular in the recording process. I always knew how to engineer it’s just that knowing electronics allowed me to participate in the activity going on inside the studio, making great music.

What are the key differences you’ve seen working with legacy artists vs. new ones?

Answer: New artists, especially those younger in age very often have a fearless attitude about being new or even trying to move forward in their career. They will play anywhere, anytime and they have very clear goals from the start. Independence to a new artist means a different set of activity from the very start of a career.

Legacy artists very often use experience to help them adapt their understanding about how to continue to remain relevant, despite their age. They read people and situations quicker. They almost always are open to learn and try new things. Probably the biggest thing I see by far, is that the Legacy artist has a larger set of tools to utilize throughout the life of their career.

Do you think current economics play into the quality of today’s art?

Answer: Yes economics and “successful” art are attached. Economics on the front side of creation of art helps finance the process. On the completed side of art, finances play a role in the promotion, sale of the art, and the overall strengthening of the artist’s brand.

What’s your take on digital rights management and how it factors into formats like streaming?

Answer: Digital rights management is like being in a dark room searching for a light switch. Right along side of them in the darkness you will find IP, meta-data, and the dated language of issues that BMI, ASCAP and others use to frame the conversation that attaches artist’s to their work.

Is the home studio a viable format for producing a high-end result?

Answer: In the end it’s the individual and their ability to use whatever they have to get their ideas out. High-end results are usually the byproduct of high-end behavior. The change in studio size is real. However, it’s no excuse. I have seen hit production work done in small spaces.

What inspired you to start Reftone?

Answer: Well, I had done custom cabinets for some time for some of the studios I was building. I had developed my ideas about what products that I felt would help the creative community. Also, when my third child was born I realized I would be older by the time she started High school. So producing a product was my way to invest in the future so I can have the finances to raise my child and still be independent. My idea was to build products that help people make critical decisions in the creation of audio content. When that happens, it brings in revenue for future needs.

Now, my other reason to build them was because as I spoke at schools and visited with many students and teachers, I found that many were under the illusion that teaching Pro-Tools is teaching audio. Detailed instruction on principles like Mono referencing and or low volume monitoring for placement and accuracy were not happening. So I began to make a speaker that would (just by using it) enable the development of a clear understanding about “the mid-range” harmonics that are found in all hit music. REFTONE speakers help the user develop a relationship to the mid-range. In addition we are working on other speaker solutions that solve problems for the creative community. Presently, we are testing a NS-10 replacement woofer.

NAMM is just around the corner. REFTONE is now a brand that provides a destination for all her users. What is the design philosophy behind your products?  Deeper than the why, we want distinct differences.

The following response has been lifted from a FB response about the revelation of a competitor: “Looks just like the original. It will be interesting to hear them. We have been working on ours for two years. There is room for everyone.”

Answer: Our driver is designed to match the sound of the original part, while exceeding when it comes to performance for low end that has been present in music for some time. Much like our revised approach to the small near field reference monitors from the past found in our LD-2’s. We are always trying to give our users a direct way to a clear view sonically to the mid range frequencies.

I began my career as a studio tech so I was there to see the NS-10 enter the game at an actual R&D studio that Yamaha use to operate in Glendale Ca. Over time we saw the cabinets components change as well as the common technical problems. The first life cycle of this product saw the tweeter undergo changes as well as the tissue over the tweeter period,etc… The second half of the products life we saw many users all frying voice coils on the woofer. then one day no more woofers.

My point is this: Great products enter the industry at different times. As product developers it’s important to consider where music and music production tools were, where they are now, and where they are going. At REFTONE, we design with the future in mind. I am looking forward to head to head listening tests. Thanks for sending this, it lets us know that our research was right on point, and the reactions we have gotten from the industry testing has been great. Please introduce me to them at NAMM.

In your opinion, did the internet harm or help the artist?

Answer: It is a double edged sword. It helps, but there is an associated cost that is paid. While Google / YouTube exist there is a rush to do things based on nothing but reference videos. Doing the actual steps gives you confidence and a sense of self when you are an artist, or any profession for that matter. As far as independent power for an artist to use in navigating his or her career? Yes, helpful!

The music is the end product, but what other attributes contribute to an artist’s ability to succeed?


*Your Attitude and Aptitude help determine your Altitude!

*Outwork everyone around you.

*One person can make a difference.

*Always deliver quality

*Pay attention to feedback

*Work at your life and your life will feed your work.

What impact do you hope to achieve when you take on a project or artist?

Answer: To provide great service and through my actions, change their life. Through the product and content we create- to touch others for many years. I also want to achieve an honest wage for my efforts, as well as provide for my family. Finally, I hope that all my actions keep me relevant to the creative community all over the world.

With most music downloads priced at $.99 and the per unit cost of streaming less than that – Do you think a fixed price for music conveys the correct value of the art?  (see this debate: https://www.quora.com/Why-is-music-treated-as-a-commodity)

Answer: No way! The biggest mistake that was made was to de-value the product to $.99. When that happened it automatically jeopardized the production process for great music. While technology and time have given us great advantages we must use all with moderation. The short cuts and non-linear education offered by the web, as well as streaming content have reduced our industry to just producing background music to the chatter that is now in each of our lives. We are tethered to cell phones and tablets and waiting for others to change the dying aspects of our industry. It’s on us to change the industry by our actions. Great music will always come through a process of some type. It’s not luck and it’s very intentional.

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