Fernando Delgado is an Emmy Award-winning audio consultant and owner of Stickman Sound in Las Vegas. He’s an audio expert who truly loves what he does, and he recently developed a remote recording solution that allows people to stay home without sacrificing sound quality. He also happens to be a great human in general with some wonderful business advice.
Amanda: So you’ve been the go-to guy for all things audio for as long as I can remember. It seems that sound has been your passion pretty much from the beginning. You graduated from Full Sail with an engineering degree and just kind of ran with it. What is it about the audio world that drew you in?
Fernando: Well, I think initially, it was more about just entertainment. I got my first taste of life backstage in high school. I went to Performing Arts Academy as a technical theater student, and I just fell in love with it. I just knew that that’s where I wanted to spend my days, was backstage making the magic happen. And then I think the sound thing really just came from my music passion. I moved around a lot when I was a kid and music was like that one constant in my life that kind of kept me sane. So I think when I got out of high school, and I had to focus on one area, it was just like a no-brainer, that sound was going to be it. And actually, I had planned on being a recording engineer, music engineer. It just didn’t pan out that way.
Amanda: Because you primarily work in TV and film, not music. How did you get your start into that?
Fernando: I got a job at a company called CoverEdge here in Las Vegas. They were looking for ENG sound people. I didn’t know what that was, but I knew that it paid me more than I was getting paid to do the random concert. I was still bussing tables at a Hard Rock when I got that job. And so I worked there for a year and I learned with ENG audio was. We did a lot of Inside Edition, Extra, red carpets, that kind of stuff. Boxing was huge back then, so we went to media events and stuff like that. But then Columbine happened, and I ended up on the campus of Columbine, and I realized very quickly that news was not for me. I needed to be working in entertainment. So when I got home from that trip, I quit my job, probably within a couple months. And I had actually planned on getting back into music, but the freelancers here in Las Vegas, when they found out that I had quit working at CoverEdge, started throwing me gigs. My freelance TV career was kind of out of luck rather than anything. Not by design.
Amanda: I think that’s what happens quite a bit. I didn’t plan on being in this field at all, it just kind of happened to me. So you kind of have to take the paths that are given to you sometimes.
Fernando: You find people that you gel with, and I think that was a big thing for me. I got along with all the people I was working with when I was working in concerts and doing the stuff before CoverEdge. But when I did my first large scale TV production, where there was a 52-foot truck with a big expensive console in the back of it, that group of people, I was like, “Yes! You’re my people!” Ironically, all of the people in the sound team mentored me in different ways. It just so happened that that group of professionals was the core group of the A-List audio people here in Vegas. Thankfully, just about all of them took me under their wing, and each of them showed me what they were really good at. And that helped me be very diverse in what I do today.
Amanda: And Is that why you make such an effort to also mentor the younger audio people who are just getting into it? Because I know you do that quite a bit, too.
“Teaching has been a big part of who I am as a professional, selfishly so that I can understand what I’m doing even better.”
Fernando: I do that for a couple of reasons. A, I don’t want to be that old school audio guy that kind of has the mentality like “This is mine. Keep away,” right? Because that definitely exists, and it’s an old school kind of union mentality. The people that helped me helped me by sharing what they knew. And I also have found over the course of my career that you get better at what you do when you can explain it in a way that somebody that doesn’t think like you understands. Teaching has been a big part of who I am as a professional, selfishly so that I can understand what I’m doing even better.
Amanda: Well, that’s the part that I think people miss in different industries – sometimes in ours, unfortunately – is that we don’t have to be in competition with each other. In the producer world, there are a handful of other producers, and it’s mostly women in my case, that we support each other. If somebody calls me and I’m not available for a job, I will refer somebody else and hope that she gets it. I know she’s not going to steal my client. And if she does, if something happens and she’s a much better fit for that client than I am, then I would gladly step back and I know that somehow it’s going to come back. We don’t have to compete with each other because we actually do better if the whole community is helping support each other and showing people, hey, we can all work together. You’re going to get the best value no matter who you’re working with here because we all support and help each other.
Fernando: So you said earlier that I’m like to go-to. One of the reasons I think that that is, is because when a client calls me, If I’m not the best fit, I will tell you that I am not the best fit. There have been a lot of times in my career where really good opportunities came my way, but I knew somebody that I worked closely with either wanted that type of work or was just a better fit for that type of work. And so I’m very happy to hand that work over because at the end of the day, our community looks better as a result of somebody coming into town and doing a production. If I’m not the best person, then I shouldn’t be the person doing it, especially if my neighbor is the best fit. I’m with you, I don’t consider my peers to be competition, I just consider them to be my peers. Over the years, a lot of people have considered me to be their competition. And that’s great, because I think all that does is improve my reputation. Like if you’re so tripped out about me, then that might tell your client that I know what the hell I’m doing. I’m okay with that because I don’t share that stress. I’ll still give you a hug and tell you I love you, even if you feel like, you know, I’m the worst person in your community.
Amanda: Well, that’s because you put your ego aside where those people are letting their insecurities fuel them. I mean, it is about you, because, in my opinion, you are the best and that’s why you are the go-to. Some people would look at that as like, “Wow, I get to work with Fernando. I can learn a lot. And then I can be the best.” Or some might look at it as that threatening thing. And, “Well, I don’t want to work next to him, because then I’m going to look bad.” And you can’t do anything about either one of those outcomes. You just have to do what you do.
Fernando: Yeah. And that’s just it. I focus on what the job at hand is. That’s it. That’s as far as my mind goes, as far as that.
Amanda: The last time we talked, you said something that made me laugh, but it’s also an important business theme. And it was something along the lines of how you’ve earned the right to not work on trash reality. And by that, it means that when certain shows call, you don’t feel obligated to say yes anymore. And that’s always an interesting balance, because you want to work on jobs that make you money, are with fun people, and that look good on your resume, but sometimes you have to sacrifice one of those things. So maybe it’s a month-long gig and you don’t love the people, but it’s going to pay you well and give you a good credit. And that’s okay, if you’re doing it for the right reasons. Now, you’ve done the jobs, you’ve been responsible with your money, your kid is in college, so you can relax a bit and be selective about what you do. How does that feel, having gotten to that point where you don’t have to take a job because of the money? It doesn’t matter as much as connecting with what the job is, and the people.
“I actually wish that I had achieved this state of mind years ago, because I think I would have found happiness, like real happiness a lot sooner in my adult life as well.”
Fernando: It feels great. But I think it’s more of a state of mind thing than anything else. I actually wish that I had achieved this state of mind years ago, because I think I would have found happiness, like real happiness a lot sooner in my adult life as well. When I was in my 20s, it was all about feeding my family and building a reputation and hopefully a business. Today, I’ve been building my reputation and my business for 20 years. Like you said, the motivation is different now. When I was younger, I didn’t really care too much about the content, mostly because of the challenges that those types of shows provided. There was a lot of stuff that we did at the beginning of the reality boom that had just never been done. And the equipment was not designed to do the things that the producers were asking us to do. And so we had to find a lot of solutions. And that was really the exciting part about working on some of the crappier content shows. I’ve done it all – good stuff, bad stuff, and anything in between. Today, my kids are older, and I feel a personal sense of responsibility to work on stuff that makes me prideful, so that A) I can invest myself into it a little bit more. And I also care about, you know, when my son asks me what I did today, I don’t want to be embarrassed. And I’ve done a lot of shows over the course of my career where I wouldn’t answer my kids on what my day looked like. And today, thankfully, I’m able to keep myself busy without having to take some of those jobs that maybe I wouldn’t be so proud of. And a lot of that also has to do with people. If a producer calls me and we had a bad experience, but they felt like I did a good job, I’m more likely to pass on it and to send it to somebody else that might be a better fit for that producer so that I can wait for the opportunity to work with somebody that I gel with better.
Amanda: I think that’s an important thing to remember. If you say yes to an opportunity that’s not right for you, you’re kind of saying no to something that might be a better fit because now you’re booked on this one job. Maybe some better job would have come your way, but now you’re booked on this thing that you don’t want to be doing. And I think that more people need to trust themselves, and the process, earlier on in their careers. It’s very easy to think, “I need to take this job because I need the money.” It’s a very valid concern that everybody has, but working on a job where you’re miserable… I’ve done that in the corporate world where I had a job job and it wasn’t just a gig that I had to get past for a week or something, but it was companies where I had to go there every single day. And it’s just not worth it to be unhappy when you’re doing what you do, especially because we always say you should do what you love to do. The best way to do that is by working with people who are similar to you in their working styles and their values. You’re going to have a good time, but also you like to do the actual work because if not, why are you in that career? Find something that suits you better, but don’t wait until it’s too long because there will always be, “I need to buy this, I need a house, I need this, the kids need this.” There’s always going to be something, but having a little more… for lack of better words, having more faith… that things will work out. You can’t just take things because you feel you have to if you know somewhere inside that it’s not the right thing to do.
“If you’re at the very beginning of your career, be frugal. The better you can be with your money, the more you can wait for those opportunities that you are really hoping for.”
Fernando: Yeah, and you know, and I think a lot of people end up unhappy for exactly that reason, they lose focus. And I think the reason I ended up having a television career rather than a music career at the end of the day was because I had a family very young. I adopted a four-year-old when I was 22. And I had a baby when I was 23. My fatherly instincts said go where the money is, and at the time, the better money was in television. And it just so happened that I met a community of people that I gelled with. I’m very grateful for that. My career could have gone a completely different direction had I not made… because I have friends that were probably in very similar situations that are doing something very different today, because they kind of stuck it out and dealt with the poorness. It’s a personal decision. I would also say if you’re at the very beginning of your career, be frugal. The better you can be with your money, the more you can wait for those opportunities that you are really hoping for.
Amanda: I’m a big fan of being frugal, as everybody knows. I mean, I’ve been working full-time since I was in high school. And I’ve always been very conscious of money. I think because I grew up without it and so I know what a big difference it makes. And I never wanted to be in a situation where I had to worry about that. My independence is very important to me, and I wanted to make sure that I was always taking care of myself. I’m very simple in what I need. I don’t need to go out and do all these things and buy all the fancy new gadgets. I do like to have fancy new gadgets, but I get those every few years, not every time something new comes out. And that’s given me the comfort to say no to jobs that I don’t want to do, or just to sit back and think when something crazy like a pandemic comes up that I’m not worried about my livelihood, that I’m not concerned about how I’m going to pay for my mortgage next month. To me that peace of mind is one of the most important things to me in general.
Fernando: Yeah. And when you’re a business owner, or a freelancer, I think that’s one of the most important things to think of is having that buffer, and it buys you a lot more than people realize. If you have money saved in the bank, when an emergency pops up, it’s not really that big of an emergency a lot of the times if you have the funds to just plop towards a solution.
Amanda: Adaptability has become a big theme lately. I suppose it always has been, but it’s much more apparent these days. And you’ve always kind of gone with the flow in terms of what the work dictates. Sometimes you work from home by yourself, sometimes you’ve had a building full of gear and employees. How have you navigated those decisions in building your empire that is Stickman Sound?
Fernando: Well, a lot of it was out of necessity. I outgrew my home, and so I had to get an office. I got too busy to really focus on sending invoices and booking crew and all this other stuff, and that’s not what I wanted to do. That’s not how I wanted to spend my days. So I hired somebody to do it for me. Now that the pandemic has hit, everything is scaled back. We closed my shop in May. I’m sure my landlord is going to sue me. I don’t care. And I had to lay off my crew. Crystal, who was running my business for me, she found another job with her previous employer the same day I laid her off. Right now, I’m paying her health care, and I’m going to continue to pay for her health care and she’s going to help me not go out of business. That’s an agreement that her and I have. We’re both very realistic that she may or may not come back just kind of depending on what happens in the world. Marcus, who used to work for me full-time, I laid him off the same time I laid off Crystal, but he’s doing good. He and I have had conversations – he’s told me that he’s moving on, he’s not going to be coming back. He’s going to find something else to do. My son also just graduated from high school. So between the work going away because of the pandemic, and what happened with the shop and the layoff, with my son graduating, I’ve had a real opportunity to take a step back and reevaluate what is next for me. What’s next for my company? I’m 44 years old. I’m halfway through my career, I suppose. Now I’m really taking the opportunity to figure out okay, well, what is it that I’m going to do with the second half of my career? How am I going to spend my days? And how am I going to set myself up for retirement if I choose to retire, or how I choose to retire? So right now, that’s my focus. One thing that I did do, because of the pandemic, I haven’t been able to record anything. And that drives me crazy. I always have microphones nearby and mixers. So not being able to record was one of my biggest frustrations, which I guess is not bad.
Amanda: Given that, you’ve embraced the need for new solutions, and you’ve developed this new remote recording technology that I feel is a game changer because it’s allowing people to get the same quality audio they need without the limitations of travel and being in the same room. Tell us more about that.
“Now we have a really cool plug-and-play voiceover ADR record system that we can deploy to an artist’s home.”
Fernando: I went to a school called Full Sail University, and I’m a part of a group of alumni that go back and talk to the students on a regular basis. And so as soon as the pandemic happened, we had this group Zoom, and a couple of my peers – one works in gaming, the other one works in music – were both expressing how frustrated they were that they couldn’t get voiceovers and vocal recording done, because they needed a smart person on both sides of the recording. And so I called another friend of mine who’s also from Full Sail, and I said, “Hey, man. I want to build this system. Here’s what I don’t know about how to do it. Do you know how to figure these parts out?” And for three months, we banged our heads up against the walls, virtually, just about every day. But now we have a really cool plug-and-play voiceover ADR record system that we can deploy to an artist’s home. And if they have their own engineer, that engineer can basically run the session as if they were in the same building. And it sounds great.
Amanda: A few months ago, when people would need these things, they’re physically in a studio together, they’re monitoring levels, they’re doing a lot of things that just aren’t possible right now. So you’ve taken that out, that element of it, and like, “Oh, you don’t have to be in the same place,” and opened it up for everybody else to where you’re giving them the gear, right? You ship them the actual gear that they need to use?
Fernando: Yes. They don’t have to learn anything. They plug it into the wall, they hit the power button, and I have control of it from my studio. The problem with remote recording previously wasn’t necessarily that you couldn’t do it, it’s that you needed to have an engineer in both places. So wherever the talent was, you had to have an engineer. And let’s say you had a producer in a different location. Unless that producer was also an engineer, you’d have to have an engineer there as well. This allows for the artist to not need an engineer. There’s no technical know-how needed to get the system up and running. And because it runs on our private network, I have access to it as soon as the computer is powered, so I can do all of the recording. It feels like you’re in the same building when you’re actually in the middle of a session.
Amanda: So you’re basically one step away from teleportation?
Amanda: That’s fantastic! And we need to do more of that. Being able to offer services remotely has been huge for me, and that’s what’s kept me going through this time is explaining to people I don’t have to be there to do what I need to do for you. This pandemic gave an opportunity – and I know some people might take issue with calling a pandemic an opportunity, but it’s all how you look at it – it’s allowed people to figure out all these ideas that were stuck in our heads about ways we can’t do things are actually very much possible. And, in a lot of ways, better for everyone involved.
Fernando: Well, innovation comes from being put up against a wall. That’s where ideas come from. And I think that for me, that was certainly the case. I’m sitting in my studio. I’m used to being out in the field working, I travel all over the world and go on location to record stuff. And all of a sudden, I wasn’t able to. And so from wanting to record stuff, and wanting to… how long is this going to be? Is this going to be a real thing? And then listening to people’s problems and knowing that I had a solution for it. You know, I know there’s other systems out there already that are doing something very similar. And that’s great, because that means that, for me anyway, that my head is in the right place. This is something that’s needed. Otherwise, people wouldn’t be building these systems. Not being a post-production professional by trade, I feel like I have a different perspective on how a system like this can be deployed, and I think that’s my advantage.
Amanda: It’s a good advantage to have. A lot of times, people are very much focused on “me.” “This is what I need. This is what I want to do,” and not thinking so much about, that’s great, but what does your client need? And when you come from a place of well, this is a problem that I have, and I know how I solved it. So now somebody else who has the same problem, I can help them solve it. That’s really where you start to get that trajectory of building relationships, because you’re in it to help other people. And by helping other people, you then help yourself. So it all kind of works out. But you have to think about what the other person needs and what you can do to help that.
“Our job is to serve the client, and every client is going to need to be served a little bit differently.”
Fernando: At the end of the day, we all – everybody, whether they believe it or not – we all work in a service business. We are all serving somebody. In our line of work in particular, but I would imagine that this would be true in a lot of different industries as well, our job is to serve the client. And every client is going to need to be served a little bit differently. So it’s imperative upon us as being professionals to say, “Okay, what is it that you need? Here’s the skillsets that I have that can solve that problem or bring you whatever that outcome or solution you’re looking for.” And that’s how I approach every job. I think that’s also why I’m so versatile and can bounce from one area of television to another.
Amanda: That’s worked for me, too. And it comes down to I might have one primary focus and that… whether it’s producing or production managing, it’s all very similar… that might be my focus. But I can also do this thing over here. And that’s part of why I’ve tried to learn as much as possible about everything I’ve done. This comes from being the Director of Operations for a production company. I don’t need to know how to edit or to do audio to do my job, but the more I know about what my editors need, or what this animator might need, or even what codec means or this other terminology. The more I can know about it, the better I can do my job, and the more assistance I can offer to these people. And that develops, again, that relationship. And they know that I’m doing my job well, but I’m also doing what I can to take care of them and make their jobs easier. So it comes back to that whole idea of we need to be selfless in what we do. By being selfless, we help ourselves.
Fernando: Yeah, it’s funny. It’s almost selfish.
Amanda: Yes. It’s this weird circle – be selfish, to be selfless, to be selfish.
Amanda: Have you been able to put any time into some personal projects lately, or has creating this fancy new system taken most of your time?
Fernando: I have just really dedicated a lot of time to spending with family. I have never, in all of the years that I have been, I guess an adult, much as I hate to say that, I’ve never had so much time off. And I guess because we’re ready for a rainy day. My wife is also a nurse, and she’s been working a lot because of COVID, treating a lot of COVID patients. So her work increased a little bit, and kind of offset my work going away a little bit. I’ve really just spent time with my family, especially my kids.
Amanda: Well, I’ve heard that from a lot of people. This is one of the other nice things about what’s happened is so many of us are just busy, busy, busy all the time. And there are reasons for that. But this situation kind of told everybody, hey, you need to slow down, spend some time with your families, figure out some things you like to do. It’s been a nice, another nice opportunity in all of this,
Fernando: My wife and I have gotten to re- get to know each other. We’ve had plenty of time to have conversations about what the next 20 years of our life together is going to look like. I think it’s been really, really, really… I know a lot of people have suffered with their relationships. I have not. We’re closer today, I think, than when we met, which is amazing, because we’ve been together 21 years next month. And I’m closer with my kids. I know my kids, like what they’re into and how they’re doing. And it’s not just a quick side conversation anymore. That’s been great.
Amanda: Do they help keep you up on technology? Because I know you’re pretty much on top of it anyway, but it’s probably beneficial having some younger people in the mix.
Fernando: I think the only thing that they really show me a lot of is videos. Like I keep track of kind of how people are keeping track, I guess, of social media and stuff like that. One of the things is my son’s been learning Pro Tools, so that’s been really exciting, because he’s excited about it. So that gets me really pumped. He’s a guitar player and a drummer, and he’s been playing a lot. I’m such a sound guy. It’s always on my mind anyway.
Amanda: But have you ever felt burnt out on audio? Or do you still love it as much as you always did?
“I treat my engineering like a lot of people treat the gym. I get up in the morning and I’m doing gear exercises, and I’m always trying to learn new software.”
Fernando: I have been burnt out with work, where I’m just like, I need to not do this kind of work for a minute, or not see this group of people for a minute, take a little bit of a break. But I treat my engineering like a lot of people treat the gym. I get up in the morning and I’m doing gear exercises, and I’m always trying to learn new software. Like right now I’m playing around with gaming software, trying to figure out audio for gaming, I’ve never done it, I probably never will, but I’m always trying to learn something. I spend most of my mornings here in the studio.
Amanda: So what is next in the pipeline for you? Do you have you figured that out yet?
Fernando: I’m hoping to get my remote system working. I would love to get at least 50% of my personal income to be through remote recording. I have rediscovered my passion for being in the studio during this pandemic. I knew it was there, but I’ve never had enough time to actually find out if I could live in a studio. And I love being in the studio. So I’m hoping to transition into a little bit more studio life as I get older.
Amanda: That’s exactly my path. It’s not that I don’t like being in the field. There are some great things that happen out there. But sometimes I’ll watch these people who are in their 50s and 60s, and they’re still working these 12-, 14-, 16-hour days, and I just don’t want to do that. I barely want to do that at my age now, and I’m not even 40 yet. So I don’t want to have to do that. I would rather have developed my skills enough and then found this place, like what I’m doing now where, I can do remote production management, and where I can stay in my comfortable office, where I can take breaks when I need to. And I’m the same as you. I keep a regular schedule. Even when I’m working on my personal projects, I give it the same dedication I would to any job, because my business is my job.
Fernando: Being in the field is great. I loved it. And I still do love it. I’m not going to stop doing it, but I want to give myself some options as I get a little bit older. It’s certainly a younger person’s game. It’s a lot easier when you’re in your 20s to run around the world chasing cameras. I’m ready to pass some of those opportunities on to the younger generation and conquer some new challenges in the second part of my career.
Amanda: The younger ones who don’t appreciate the recovery time that they have right now, where if you work solid for a week, it’s great and you can get through it and be perfectly fine. But if you’re anything like me, after a week of those really long days, I need to decompress and basically do nothing and catch up on, and it’s not the same. I think when you’re in your early 20s, or even late 20s, you still have that quicker recovery time and you don’t need as much sleep, and it’s much easier back then.
Amanda: But you put the work in when you’re younger, and then you get to make these choices when you get a little bit older, so it’s all good. If you had one piece of advice for a creative business owner, what would it be?
“If you’re a business owner, you need to be money smart.”
Fernando: Be money smart. If you’re a business owner, you need to be money smart. You don’t need a fancy car, you just need a car that’s going to get you from point A to point B. I’m cash-only. I don’t borrow money for anything. I cut up my credit cards years ago, and I froze my credit when the Equifax breach happened. I haven’t had credit cards or credit in years. People say you can’t travel. I say that’s BS. I’ve traveled the world without it. My life is a lot easier since I became money smart.
Amanda: If you don’t spend more than you have, then you’ll be okay.
Amanda: So where can people find you out in the social media world?
Fernando: You can find me on Facebook and Instagram primarily. Stickman Sound is the handle for both of those. I am on Twitter, but not frequently. And you can always email me at Fernando@stickmansound.com.
Amanda: Fernando, thank you for taking the time to join me today.
Fernando: It’s good to see you.
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