Interview: Adobe Audition Gods & Gurus Durin Gleaves & Charles Van Winkle
Mark met Mr. Gleaves and Mr. Van Winkle on the Seattle and Minneapolis legs of the Sound Advice Tour.

Interview: Adobe Audition Gods & Gurus Durin Gleaves & Charles Van Winkle

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We’re very excited to have two patriarchs of Adobe Audition with us in the form of Product Manager of Adobe Audio Durin Gleaves and Senior Audio Engineer Charles Van Winkle. Mark met both of them in 2015 on the MZed Sound Advice Tour, and since then they’ve championed Cinema Sound as Mark has Adobe Audition. Today, we’ll get the Strate Dope on Audition, Post Production Audio protocols in Adobe Audition and learn what it takes to make it in the software development side of the biz.

Cinema Sound: Gentlemen, we’re so pleased to have you here!

Charles Van Winkle: As am I.

Durin Gleaves: Wouldn’t miss it!

CS: Most folks know you as the giant unstoppable monoliths of Adobe Audition, but describe your humble or not-so-humble beginnings in the biz.

CVW: I started taking piano lessons in grade school, and transitioned to percussion around middle school, and became one of the biggest band geeks my high school had ever seen – including gratuitous use of the word “supercussion”.

Adobe’s Charles Van Winkle

CS: Given the Mastery of creative American English and its coinage we’ve experienced with you over the years, it’s no surprise. [laughs]

CVW: No. It shouldn’t be. I have had access to a personal computer for probably the same amount of time, and eventually I realized that if putting computers and music together could mean [great] audio, I was hooked. I knew what I wanted to do with my life.

CS: How old were you?

CVW: Three. [laughing] No. I took some audio engineering classes at a community college, and then transferred to a bachelor program in audio recording and have been doing audio in some form ever since. Getting into software was an unexpected left turn, but as it turns out it fits me well. Looking back, I was better at reading gear manuals than getting a punchy snare sound during school.

CS: Durin?

Adobe’s Durin Gleaves. Both he and Mr. Van Winkle can regularly be seen in their “Doo-Doo Brown” Adobe Audition Sweat Suits at official functions.

DG: In high school, I spent an awful lot of time exploring computer networks for which I hadn’t been provided proper access.  An oversight, I’m sure.

CS: Clearly. [laughing]

CVW: We were all fortunate he chose audio production and not hacking or such.

DG: I thought about it.

CS: Then thought about the jail time?

DG: No. Sitting in a room all by myself. No girls.

CS: Ah. Right.

DG. This experience helped me land a technical support and QE job with one of the earliest Internet providers, Sprynet.  In my spare time, I started creating sound and MIDI elements for large-scale art projects, many of which were showcased at events like Coachella, Burning Man, and Bumbershoot.  With this background in tech and sound, I answered a call for quality engineers for Audition, about a year after Adobe had acquired Syntrilium’s Cool Edit Pro.  I like to think that it was my skill and experience that nailed the job, but I suspect it was because I brought donuts to the team interview.

CS: Well, that’s the best tip we’ve heard all day.

CVW: You brought donuts to yours? I brought churros to mine.

DG: Well, then that settles it. Sugar got us the gig.

CS: [laughing] Well, I’m sure those donuts and churros were just what they were looking for. But since you both could have interviewed anywhere, what was your passion for joining the Audition team? You’ve both been there for some time. What has you stay?

Mr. Gleaves enjoys doing Voice Over and ADR in the comfort of Bone-Dry Studios.

CVW: The churros notwithstanding, I joined the Audition team back in 2005 as a quality engineer like Durin – aka software tester simply, because I saw a job posting in my home state which had the word audio, and it was probably one of a dozen job applications I sent out that day. This was after college, and while I was freelancing as an audio engineer, so I was used to applying for gigs regularly. As it turned out, the job was pretty sweet. I got paid to try to break software, see if plug-ins worked or not, see if recording and playback worked properly from the cheapest built-in sound devices, to expensive audio gear. Now as a programmer, what keeps me coming back every day is the same satisfaction one gets from solving a puzzle. Figuring out how to make something work, or to figure out how and when and why something broke is incredibly satisfying, especially since there’s always something new to work on every day.

DG: For me, I’d always had a huge crush on Adobe’s software, having relied on their graphics applications for design work I had done for the Seattle hip hop community in the late 90’s.  Joining Adobe in any way was a no-brainer, but the opportunity to work specifically on sound applications was a bit of a dream.

CS: In a world where there are handfuls of successful DAWs, what has you passionate about continue to develop AA?

CVW: I’ve had the opportunity to work with law enforcement agencies who have used Audition for part of their technical investigations. Whether it has been dialogue cleanup, or isolating bird songs native only to certain locations, the built-in noise reduction capabilities has made the difference in being able to identify the location of missing and exploited children leading to their rescue.

CS: Wow. That’s incredible. There probably isn’t another DAW which has the kind of cleanup capability that AA has for certain. Durin?

Mr. Van Winkle has worked extensively in the music implementation of Adobe Audition.

DG: I love a good underdog story, and while Premiere Pro and Photoshop are #1 in their segments, Audition has a lot of competition which means a lot of opportunity to keep growing and bring new users on board.  I think we’ve identified some areas to just make things “better”.  As an example, the entire post-production industry labors under this shared lie of “picture lock” – a mythical moment in a schedule where the picture editor doesn’t want to make any further changes to the edit and leaves ample time for sound, color, graphics, titling, and animation to step in and do their parts. 

CS: Which actually existed up until folks realized they didn’t have to spool tape or film.

DG: Yep. But in reality, changes are made up to and after deadlines, and so much time and effort is lost rebuilding or conforming audio post to accommodate those changes.  We’re building toward a lossless, collaborative workflow that we think is going to be a much better way of working.

CS: We’re talking about the Holy Grail for Post.

CVW: Churros not required.

DG: But you’ll still need the donuts.

CS: [laughing] What’s the thing you love most about working on the AA team?

As the head of the Audition development team, Mr. Gleaves is sometimes prone to self-seriousness.

DG: First, I consider myself extremely lucky every day that I’ve got to work with some of the smartest, most creative people in the industry.  We have had such a wide variety of backgrounds on the team over the years, from Academy-award winning researchers to brilliant developers, accomplished musicians to experimental filmmakers, that I get to absorb so much knowledge and experience that I wouldn’t have had any other way.  I also love visiting real users making and doing real things – whether that’s television, film, journalism, podcasts, etc.  Even seeing how the application and features I help design being used for forensic analysis or to track ecological changes in the environment is a rush.

CVW: I can and regularly do learn something from every one of my teammates. Everyone has their own expertise and experience, and we complement each other well.

CS: Charles, it sounds like you love the people most that you work with. Would that be the same for the users?

CVW: It sounds corny, but I started out as a DAW user before I got into software, and I know the joy someone can get by using a software tool to create art, and I also know the frustration when it doesn’t work the way you expect it, or simply doesn’t work. Most people get into audio through music, but I’ve been enamored with the breadth of different types of customers Audition has. There’s everyone from notable musical artists, filmmakers, radio jocks, podcasters, educators, students, acousticians, broadcasters, speech therapists, law enforcement, whale song researchers, codec developers, armed forces, houses of worship, toy manufacturers, ham radio enthusiasts, ghost hunters, and more. So to say that I love the users most would be pretty accurate.

DG: For me, when we get feedback from a user that something Audition offered saved the day, I ride that high all day.  Maybe Remix came through when Kanye West wanted a different walk on song at the last minute, or Spectral Frequency editing saved a recording that would have otherwise been lost.  Those are real results from something our team thought up and built.  I loved creating things, so creating things that help other people create is the best.

CS: You work with people all over the world on the AA team and in multiple languages. How do you keep everything organized – and when do you sleep?

DG: [looks at Charles ]What is sleep? 

CVW: [shrugs back] Sleeping?

DG: The Audition team is certainly global, with people in Hamburg, Noida, Minnesota, Boston, San Francisco, and Seattle.  And of course, we don’t work in a vacuum, so plenty of other time zones are represented.  It comes down to scheduling interactions when there’s crossover, and staying in touch as much as possible through online tools like Slack.  Sometimes it can make for an early morning or a late evening, but we try to be respectful of everyone’s off-hours time.

CVW: It has never been the same since my twins were born. That being said, I’m lucky that some of the work-life-balance norms from my European teammates has crossed over, so taking time off is simply part of the plan and is celebrated.

CS: That’s an amazing flexibility that you’re all provided. That said, I know Durin you’ve had to travel as much as 200+ days a year. How is that balancing out for you?

DG: I think I probably need to start bringing Krispy Kreme donuts for future meetings where it’s mentioned that I need to travel more. Maybe just straight eclairs with crème filling. 

CS: Maybe including cocktails.

DG: Right!

CS: Do you believe we’ll ever see audio hardware come out of Adobe? Video hardware?

Mr. Gleaves does extensive travel around the globe assisting users in mastering Audition.

DG: I don’t think we’re going to get into audio hardware, at least in the interface sense.  There are a lot of players making great hardware already, and Adobe envisions our software as platforms that allow users to choose the right environment for themselves.  Adobe makes great software, but hardware is another beast entirely.  I don’t see us jumping into that world anytime soon.

CS: Since Adobe is all about giving flexibility to the user, who is the user which AA serves best?

DG: We’ve tried to make Audition easier to use and more approachable for users who don’t have a degree in audio engineering, but without throwing away the deep parameter and toolset that high-end experts have come to rely upon.  It’s a tricky balance, and certainly a moving target: what a non-technical voiceover artist needs is far different from a video editor being asked to mix their own audio.  I think we serve those who demand high-quality and aren’t afraid to learn a little something new along the way.

CS: That is certainly the Cinema Sound issue: how do we bring the protocols of best practices to a “global” user base. It’s one of the reasons that we like our members to connect to the Adobe ecosystem, because it makes explaining why things work so much easier. That said, who is the user you WANT to have AA serve best if you had it all your way for the future?

CVW: Before I worked at Adobe, the dream gig was to mix film scores. So I still have a dream of seeing a large film score done in Audition. By and large, I mean the people that literally track 10 microphones for 4 tympani and push hundreds of tracks for potentially hours of content.

DG: I don’t know that I can point to one specific user or market and say, “All of our eggs in THAT basket!”  I LOVE that Audition is flexible enough to handle almost any audio task you want to throw at it.  We’ve been used to restore decades-old recordings for remixing and mastering, to design and mix soundtracks for television & feature films, to locate and capture child predators based on bird chirps, to hunting for ghosts in spooky buildings. 

CS: All fair points which we see day in-and-out with our members. Since we’ve been partnering with you for over two years – not counting Sound Advice, what’s the biggest benefit you’ve seen in partnering with Cinema Sound?

DG: Cinema Sound users ask GOOD questions.  Sometimes they’re tough, either technically or because I don’t have a good answer for them, but they are always well thought out and on the money.  They’re active professionals learning new skills, and when something in Audition doesn’t work the way they expect, it helps us to question why that is and how we can improve the experience. 

CVW: That’s true. For me, Cinema Sound fills a big gap in training and education for Audition. We have users at both ends of the spectrum who say they like it because of its ease of use, and we have users that are intimated by it or might find it non-intuitive. I’m regularly asked for recommendations on training and tutorials, and I can say without looking up the URL.  

CS: That’s very kind. Thank you both. Now to get personal. In 5 years Durin/Charles will be…?

CVW: Hopefully doing exactly what I’m doing now, just with fewer emails.

DG; A million-miler on Delta Airlines?  A Bitcoin billionaire?  Roaming the world and working from wherever I happen to be that week?  Honestly, I hope to be sending my kid to college and celebrating more creative collaborations with friends.

CS: If you had advice for the independent Premiere Pro/Adobe Audition user what would it be?

CVW: Know that we do read the comments when you’re randomly asked “what would make you more likely to recommend AUDITION to others?” sometimes when you launch Audition. We also read the comments submitted if Audition terminates unexpectedly. I may even email you directly asking for more information or suggesting a workaround. 

CS: That’s amazing. Durin?

DG: In line with Charles, your feedback is just as important to Adobe as a big-time company or high-profile user.  We take suggestions, requests, and reports very seriously, and appreciate a wide range of voices and backgrounds.  If we’re not answering all of your needs, please click Help > Provide Feedback in the applications and tell us what we’re missing or how we can do better.  I think a lot of users think “Oh, Adobe is a huge company and my one little request won’t be heard.”  But that’s just not the case. 

Mark met Mr. Gleaves and Mr. Van Winkle on the Seattle and Minneapolis legs of the Sound Advice Tour respectively in 2015.

CS: If you could tell Cinema Sound members anything what would it be?

CVW: Take regular breaks for your ears. Partially because you can get into a rut listening to the same thing for hours on end, but also because you want to avoid permanent hearing damage.

DG: In the end, it’s about the results.  Close your eyes and listen to what’s coming out from the speakers.  If it sounds the way you imagined it, if it conveys the emotion and impact you wanted, then it’s correct – it doesn’t matter which reverb or compressor you used to achieve it.

CS: Which brings me to my next question: At shows, presentations and even online the question: “Is Audition the BEST DAW?” “Is it better than Pro Tools/Nuendo/Cuebase/Logic/SAW Studio et al” is always asked. You probably get it daily. What’s your heartfelt and poignant response to those who might ask?

DG: The best DAW is whatever you use to get the job done.  There are things that every platform excels at, so one can only answer that question for themselves when they are clear what they’re trying to accomplish and have explored a bit.  

CVW: I talk about how it is just another tool in the toolbox. I then follow-up with a gold analogy about sometimes you need a putter and sometimes you need a pitching wedge. I then follow that up explaining I’m more of a bowler than a golfer, hoping to get a chuckle. The more apt analogy is with microphones. When I was doing classical music recording, I could have used a stereo pair of SM-57s or I could use my matched pair Schœps. When I was doing live sound reinforcement for a battle of the bands festival, I could have used a 70 volt B&K mic on the snare, but that would have required an extra backline power drop for the power supply and deal with an expensive microphone in the proximity of several inaccurate drummers’ sticks. Or I could go with an SM-57. They’re all microphones, but each one has their place.

CS: Well said. However, we go a step beyond that, since our audience is primarily independent media professionals and say that since you already have Photoshop and the Adobe CC, you’ve got Audition for free. Basically. And while you can go out and spend $1k/year + $4,000 on Avid hardware to have the “top of the line” DAW, if you don’t have the knowledge to make a mix sound good, a recording clean, or clean dialog, it doesn’t matter what DAW you have. There’s no such thing as a “good sound button.” And worse, if there were such a thing it would be in the form of the Essential Sound Panel – in Adobe Audition.

CWV: Why is that worse?

CS: Well, from the Avid lover’s perspective.

DG: You brought the donuts on that one.

CS: [laughing] I think I’m gaining weight in this interview. When has AA/PP saved your bacon on a gig?

DG: A few years ago, I performed the dialogue edit, theatrical, and 5.1 mixes for a documentary project.  The film had been shot over a decade, originally by amateurs who weren’t sure what they were going to be creating, and the sound quality was all over the place.  Not only did Audition make it easy to clean up distortion, electrical interference, noisy rooms, and more, but the most crucial shot of the film was recorded with an in-camera microphone on a windy beach with dozens of seagulls screaming overhead.  It required almost every trick in the book to carve those !@#$ birds out and make the poignant words of an old man looking back on his life’s work sound as good as the wisdom they imparted.

 CVW: This wasn’t really a gig, but the music library in college had very limited hours of operation, yet I was assigned many hours of listening of various pieces. I used an early version of Adobe Audition to rip the music from the library, so I could listen to the assignments back in the comfort of my own dorm room. This allowed me to get the assignments done, but balance on my own schedule.

CS: Brilliant. Thank you gentlemen for your time and wisdom. We’re all looking forward to the new versions to come of Audition and of course we look forward to your continued friendship.

DG: Well said. The same for us.

CVW: It’s been a pleasure.

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