In conversation with: Alan Schembri

Keri Sinclair

After being left a recording studio by his late friend, Alan Schembri realized he didn’t have the tools or knowledge to continue expanding his services to his local community in Malta.

Following his upgrade to Cubase, he decided to find a studio where he could develop his skills and knowledge even further.

Travelling from Malta to Manchester, Alan came to our studios for some 1-2-1 sessions with our audio software specialist Damion O’Brien. He spoke to us to discuss his time at Spirit, what he learned, and his hopes for the future of his business in Malta.

To start, tell us a little about yourself. How did you first get in to music production?

I’ve always been fascinated with the way music is produced. A few years ago my friend, the late Vanni Farrugia, offered to let me spend time with him in his studio where I could learn to record and edit songs for local bands. When Vanni retired in 2016, he left his studio to me, where I have been continuing with his work with the help of his wife Maria.

You also have your own studio in Malta. Tell us about it, what kind of work do you provide through it?

Sort of. My recording studio is still under construction, so for the now I’m still using Mr. Farrugia’s home studio, and through that I’m able to produce CD’s for local bands. I’ve also worked with both the Festive and Good Friday Marches, as well as bands that want to record hymns to honour their local patron saint. Last year, I had the privilege of recording a live session of the Malta Police Band, as well as a musical. This year I had the opportunity to record the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra.

You’ve been busy. And so, what encouraged you to study at Spirit Studios?

I was working with Vanni for a few months and we had been learning on SonarQube and had plans to upgrade to the latest technology, so I was left in the dark after his untimely passing. I spoke with local engineer Kenny D’Ugo, who suggested I purchase Cubase to continue my learning. After I purchased the software he installed it for me and showed me the very basics of the programme.

I was still lost though because the programme has a lot of functions that neither of us knew how to use, so I started doing some research and came across Spirit Studios, which offered 1-2-1 sessions. I reached out to course advisor Dan Buxton who eventually put me in contact with Damion O’Brien, and we went from there.

That’s really cool. Tell us, how was your time here at Spirit?

It was an amazing experience. I learnt so much during my sessions with Damion, who is one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. He was very dedicated and took my story and experiences seriously, which ensured he was able to help me in the best way possible. Every question or concern I raised was answered in detail, and being able to use my hands and physically learn the programme really helped me feel more confident in my abilities as a producer.

We also listened to my own recordings and discussed them, and watching Damion listen to our local music and enjoy it was definitely a highlight for me.

And so, would you like to work with Damion again in the future?

Definitely. We worked together so well, so I’m going to keep in contact with him and hopefully continue using him to get advice on my work. We’ve also discussed the possibility of him coming to Malta once my new studio is ready, which would be really cool.

Yeah that makes sense. What’s your favourite recording memory?

That’s tough because there are a lot of beautiful memories. If I had to choose though, it would definitely be the musical and the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra recording session.

What would you like to see more of in the music industry?

I think a more general appreciation for what we do in the studios and behind the scenes. I know some people who think we just need to push a couple of buttons to get the job done, but there’s so many dedicated hours spent finalising the product. Also, more preparation on the artists’ end. Good preparation is key to a good recording session.

Do you feel like you’re a much wiser producer returning to Malta?

Definitely. I have knowledge now that I can use and incorporate in to my sessions, as well as more tools that I can use in different situations, so I’m more prepared for whatever comes my way.

As a producer, what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced?

There have been many challenges. For me, every recording, and every single noise that’s created in the studio is unique so it’s always a challenge to work with. But if I had to choose one that sticks out in my mind, it would definitely be the live recording of the concert with the Malta Police Band. When you have to control everything and everyone from behind the mixing console and make sure the sound and recording is the best it can be, it poses a challenge.