Pitch Please, it’s Howard Audio!

Although Howard Audio is no newcomer to the South African advertising industry, we thought it was about time we catch up with one of the country’s most globally awarded sound facilities. Over the past 20 years Howard Audio has morphed into offering everything from original music to re-records, final mix to musical direction for live events, radio to TV. Their 3 studio facility would give any audio-junkie a ‘toner’ and their metal-winning reel is enough to make any awards show judge positively giddy. We spoke to Sound Director, owner and sweetheart Adam Howard to find out what it takes to become a multi-faceted audio company providing numerous audio services.

Many of you know Adam already, but maybe what you didn’t know is how he landed up in South Africa #WinForSA

Adam was born in the UK, but we won’t hold that against him 😉, and by age 7 he was already receiving piano lessons. He went on to be schooled at the Hogwarts of music schools – Chetham’s School of Music in Manchester and received his classical music degree from the super famous school for future-celebrities ‘Guildhall School of Drama and Music’ in London #KakFancy. Adam came to South Africa in 1997 to take up the position of Principal Trumpet player of the New Arts Philharmonic Orchestra of Pretoria and later as Principal Trumpet player of the Johannesburg Philharmonic Orchestra – eat your heart out Louis Armstrong!

Although Adam never stopped performing, over the past 21 years his career gradually expanded into composing music and final mix for commercials. In 2008 Howard Music moved to the Ministry Of Illusion, but the increasing demand from the industry and Adam’s own passion lead him to finally open Howard Audio four years ago: a state-of-the-art facility with 3 studios, able to handle not only music composition but also final mix and a space able to record music albums.

iDidTht: Adam, not to blow your own trumpet, but please do…

Adam: Wait, is this section all about do re mi mi mi?

iDidTht: Haha. Nailed it! So tell just what makes you most proud when it comes to what you’ve built up with Howard Audio?

Adam: I can see that Howard Audio has built a reputation for being able to do the big jobs that need real professional musical direction, but we also don’t shy away from the smaller gigs. We’re always passionate about finding the right musicians for the job, nailing the brief and being able to compose anything from jazz to rock ‘n roll. I’m pretty proud that with Howard Audio our clients will receive professional musical direction from people that really understand music, re-records and final mixing.

iDidTht: Jazz to rock ‘n roll? That’s a pretty broad spectrum you’re covering?

Adam: Being a composer for commercials and other media content it’s so important to be versed in all different genres of music. If someone says ‘Make it sound like Justin Bieber’s latest track’ you need to know what they’re talking about. So yes, sometimes I listen to Bieber…
iDidTht: Oh wow, we’re sorry!
Adam: No, I love it and people expect me to, it’s my job!

The Studio Space That Brings Saxy Bach (we’ll stop now)

Adam: Oh dear, please don’t give up your day job! Okay so, 4 years ago when the Ministry of Illusion and I moved together to our new premises, I took 280sqm and decided to build a studio that could swing in and out of any situation very quickly, but could also record many musicians at once. Nowadays studio spaces are very small; they usually record drums first, then record bass etc – so they multi-track. But the thing is, musicians love to play together, that’s how we perform on stage. I wanted to make sure that a group of musicians could play and record together – to capture the performance better.

Adam: We have a large live room, 2 isolation booths and three studios. Studio 1’s live room can house 15-20 musicians; so a large string section or choir can utilise the space. The smaller isolation rooms are preferred for voice-overs, but we can also put musicians in there. And then studio 2 can also utilise the live room and the isolation booth or we can use it as a recording room. In our live room, we have a beautiful Yamaha c3 Grand Piano which really appeals to jazz musicians wanting to record. So there are 4 rooms of separations. The facility can house many performers at the same time and they can see each other. It’s great for recording albums and tracks for commercials and in advertising…well, who doesn’t like to be in a sexy studio?

A Hard Day’s Night

Howard Audio’s composers and engineers combine original music, re-records, sound design and final mix to create those award-winning pieces we’ve come to love. Seriously, these guys have won what there is to win – Gold Cannes Lions, Gold Loeries, D&AD pencils and One Show awards. iDidTht has been tracking the ear-candy from Howard Audio for years and here are just some of our most recent favourite pieces.

Hugh Masekela Tribute

MTN ‘Night Shift’

Allan Gray ‘Father’s Share’

Cadbury ‘Pre-Joy’

Adam on Hugh Masekela Tribute: It feels like just yesterday that I was in Miami with Hugh Masekela and Thandiswa Mazwai – we were on our way back to Cape Town for the International Jazz Festival. We missed our connecting flight and Hugh got on the phone and called someone at SAA (The CEO of SAA North America!) And we got redirected via London Business Class. We all made the Jazz Fest! So yeah, we spent 30 hours together waiting and drinking coffee and talking, which was really special. I never knew that ten years later I would be the one playing the flugelhorn on this piece. It was Hugh’s preferred instrument. A bitter-sweet moment…

Adam on MTN ‘Night Shift’: You have to be really on top of your game to do a re-record because you have to really analyse the music. The brief for Night Shift was to make it sound exactly like the original because we had the licensing cleared to do so. To do a good re-record, first, you have to analyse the hell out of it: what key is it in, what’s the chord structure, what does the melody do, what’s the bass player doing. I can listen to a piece of music and I can hear the bass playing at the bottom and I can hear the piccolo up on the top and the violin in the middle…I hear many layers all at once. Once you’ve analyzed the music, then you can re-arrange it, change the genre of music, strip it down, build it up. Re-records are a great challenge and I am a bit of a geek so the analysis part of it – I love. You also get to really learn how a different composer approaches a piece of music

Adam on Allan Gray ‘Father’s Share’: This is one of my highlights. We realised the music had to follow the concept of time passing through the 50 years of the narrative. A flugelhorn was the featured instrument and to add some authentic African sounds we called upon top session players to add to the score. It was such an honour to work with these industry heavyweights on this.
iDidTht: And it won a Gold Loerie no less! How long did it take for you to complete it?
Adam: I would say about 3 full studio days and I got 6 musicians to work on it.

Adam on Cadbury ‘Pre-Joy’: This was a really interesting job for me. What we had to do was match the terrible sound that was on these pre-existing viral clips. To make something sound bad is really tough. I remember spending a day or two trying to crack that stuff. To be given a brief to purposefully make bad sound is a first!
iDidTht: Well it won a Gold Lion so you might have found a new career path!
Adam: Ha, you never know.

The New Kids on the Block

Adams love for music and sound is infectious and it’s that same passion and energy that runs through every part of Howard Audio and why the studio will probably never stop growing and diversifying. They’ve recently even brought on 2 new final mix and composing engineer-magicians:

‘Tlotleho Mohlahlane aka CLU is a multi-talented Senior final mix engineer & composer.  Having worked as an engineer at the SABC, Urban Brew, Upstage, Kwazi Mojo and Madhaus respectively, he has gained invaluable experience in live sound engineering, radio & outside broadcast, music engineering & production and Post final mix audio. CLU has worked on brand ads for clients such as SAB, Vodacom, DSTV, Clover, Nestle and has composed for television series on SABC and Multichoice platforms.’

‘Paul Theodorou studied at the Academy of Sound Engineering where he completed his Bsc Degree – one of the very first to attain this qualification. Previous work experience includes working at Freq’ncy Audio. Apart from his final mix skills, Paul is also a composer, specialising in the more contemporary production styles.’

The Crescendo

iDidTht: If you and the Head of Production at Howard Audio, who is also your wife, Belinda Howard, had to invite 5 artists that you’ve worked with before to dinner, who would they be?

Adam: Ha, is this the bit where I shamelessly name-drop?
iDidTht: You’re getting the hang of this!
Adam: John Legend, William Kentrdrige, Hugh Masekela, Salif Keïta and let’s drop Alicia Keys in there…
iDidTht: Whaaaat?! Aliciaaaa Keeeeys!

iDidTht: When you’re driving in your car do you listen to the radio or a mixed tape?

Adam: Sometimes I listen to Apple Music or just talk radio but many times I’ll drive in silence…..ah the silence!
iDidTht: Open your Apple Music on your phone right now and go to ‘recently played’ and send us that screenshot immediately!

Adam: It’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band by The Beatles. The reason that’s on there is because only yesterday I was mixing a jazz album and we were talking about panning – that’s when you can move a sound from the left speaker to the right speaker and in between. I used Sgt. Peppers as an example of the amazing level The Beatles were at in the 60s. You’d have drums coming out of the left speaker and in the right speaker you’ve got John Lennon, and it’s hard left and right just experimenting on another level for the time. One of the most successful albums of all time, breaking all the rules. I’m a big Beatles fan.

*We nodded appropriately but really we had no idea what Adam was talking about.

iDidTht: We like the celebrity names stuff, what are some bands you’ve played in?

Adam: You guys have no shame. As a session musician, I’ve played with lots of bands and artists, Hugh Masekela, Lira, Freshlyground, Mafikozolo, Soweto Gospel Choir and I’ve played the trumpet in front of 60 000 people at the World Cup ‘Kick-Off concert’ with the likes of John Legend, Angelique Kidjo, Alica Keys, and The Black Eyed Peas. Oh, and last month I played with TLC.
iDidTht: Wow, and who said you shouldn’t go chasing waterfalls!? What a ride you’ve been on.
Adam: Ha, it really has been!


Q: The sound your brain makes when you compose music?

Q: The sound of your brain during this interview?

Q: The sound you hear just before you get a big brief?

Apart from Adam’s wealth of knowledge and expertise as a musician and composer, Howard Audio takes the business of final mixing and sound engineering damn seriously. Their state of the art studio, which you should definitely touch them on, let’s them craft and push every recording to its maximum potential. And hey, if that doesn’t sell it for you, may we remind you of… ALICIA KEEEEYS!

View Howard Audio

Contact Howard Audio

View Howard Audio on iDidTht

Head of Production: Belinda Howard
+27 83 643 7142

Sound Director: Adam Howard
+27 72 994 9695

Produced by the iDidTht Content Studio
Credits: Anne Hirsch (Writer) / Julie Maunder

*This content may not be reproduced or used in any part without the prior written consent of iDidTht. Reprints must credit iDidTht (iDidTht.com) as the original publisher of this editorial piece and include a link to this site.

This Editorial is paid for by Howard Audio. Want our studio to create content that puts your agency/company/kickass ad you made in bright lights for the whole industry to see? View or editorial packages or contact julie@ididtht.com and we’ll make it happen! #Boom