Mixing the American Dream: French Audio Engineer Anne-Lise Coulet
Anne-Lise Coulet moved from France to the United States to pursue her love of punk and indie rock. But in Los Angeles the sound engineer soon found her version of the American Dream mixing monitors for giant pop acts including Jennifer Lopez, Christina Aguilera, Ne-Yo and Iggy Azalea. Shure caught up with her on tour with The Jacksons to discuss her successful career in pro audio.
Bells Driver: Your career in music began by volunteering at a student festival in your native France. How did that come about?
I have always loved music and have been drawn to live music and concerts. When I was younger, my friends and I would drive hours just to see shows. When I had the chance to help out and be part of the live experience, I jumped at the opportunity.
BD: What made you decide get into pro audio?
I had been volunteering at that festival for several years and that got me involved with a local audio company. I spent hours in the shop figuring out how a console worked and how everything was pieced together for live shows. I was hooked instantly and that's when I had the thought: I can be paid for this? I quit the program I was in at school and found a new course in Grenoble at the Institut General des Techniques du Spectacles. It was a two-year program where you split time between school and fieldwork. It was up to me to find a company to work for and that is when I found Dispatch.
BD: Dispatch is one of the biggest PA companies in Paris – what did you do there?
Working at Dispatch was like finding the Holy Grail for me! The first year I basically stayed in the shop and learned how to put together the front of house world: Monitors, RF and cables…so many cables! The second year I was in the field working on installations, patching, TV, PA and RF. Dispatch taught me how to be independent in every aspect of live music. It's where I learned everything.
BD: You then started assisting monitor engineers and eventually became one yourself. What drew you to monitors?
I've always been attracted to monitors and the engineers I worked with in the past have been very inspiring. I love the fact that it's such a personal interaction: You build a mix for someone based on their instrument, their personality, style of playing, persona and body language on stage. You get to be in their heads – literally when they have in-ear monitors! They rely on you to have a good performance. I love that sense of responsibility and comradery.
BD: You have worked with some huge French artists. What was it like to mix your first arena show?
My first arena show was with Mylene Farmer at Le Stade de France. I was part of the Intercom team. It was a massive show with long hours and high stress levels! Since then I've toured with Alain Souchon, Zazie, Christophe Willem and Johnny Hallyday and others.
BD: What made you leave France and go to America?
I really wanted to work in indie rock. I grew up a huge fan of punk rock, prog rock, alternative and noise. I thought to myself, I've learned a lot, let's see if you can make it work with your favorite bands in America. Los Angeles was the logical destination and I quickly fell in love with the city. I was lucky enough to find an audio company, US Audio and Lighting who hired me and helped me sort out my visa. I still haven't worked in punk rock but I actually do love working in pop.
BD: You now work with Jennifer Lopez and other big name pop acts. What is it like to work with such world-renowned artists?
Working with J.Lo was a huge step for me. Her shows are such a big production to put together: dancing, singing, video, pyro, sound…there is so much going on at once! It's long hours and a lot of work, but it's very rewarding. Since I started working for her my phone has been ringing a lot. Now I've worked with other artists like The Jacksons, Christina Aguilera, Ne-Yo, Tegan and Sara, Iggy Azalea, Azealia Banks and Grouplove.
BD: How has technology changed for monitor engineers during your career?
Digital is definitely a big change. When I started in Paris ten years ago, there were still a lot of analog consoles and racks. The Avid Profile was THE digital console. Now I get to play with powerful digital consoles – the DiGiCo SD7 is definitely my favorite. I am forcing myself to not be dependent on anything and to be adaptable with what I have available. Being able to have plug-ins on your USB stick is definitely awesome, but if I had to choose a portable RF analyzer is definitely something that I can't live without, and the Waves C6 is my desert island plug-in.
BD: What is your favorite type of show to work and why?
I love big shows! We are doing a residency in Las Vegas with J.Lo right now in a large venue. I love the challenge of putting it all together. A lot of inputs, a lot of outputs and a lot of frequencies in the air. Considering all the musicians are top notch, mixing IEMs (in-ear monitors) is nice and easy.
BD: J.Lo recently changed to the new Shure KSM8 microphone; how are you finding this in her IEM feed?
Night and day! J.Lo demands a very high vocal level in her IEMs, mandatorily "crisp." This is very easy to do when everything is silent around her, but once you add the band, the PA, the side fills and the fans screaming, it becomes a huge mess. With the KSM8, I have the clarity that I need. The off-axis rejection is a life changer, and the high frequency response of the capsule is amazing. Her voice cuts through in her IEM mix without applying any crazy EQ.
BD: What advice would you give to young monitor engineers starting out in the industry?
Get ready to work long hours, do not be afraid of people with huge egos and read psychology books. I quickly realized that when you do a good job, no one mentions you. Listen to what the artist wants, crack the code of their body language and be attentive to every movement they are making on stage. When you reach that level of transparency you will always have work!
BD: What can't you live without on tour?
I practice meditation every day in my bunk bed. It helps to clear my mind, resets me and gives my whole focus to the artist on stage. Touring takes a lot out of you. People can become verbally aggressive and the fatigue, especially when abroad can be intense. The daily stress and concerns are weighing on you, meditation is a great tool to balance you out. And to get rid of the external negativity a glass of red wine and a good read can also do the trick after a show.