A songwriter, producer, mixer, engineer, multi-instrumentalist, director, and actress, Hill Kourkoutis is based in Barrie, a small town outside of Toronto, Canada. In addition to her recording and production work, she creates music videos and mentors emerging artists. In 2022, Hill was awarded Canada's JUNO Award for Recording Engineer of the Year. She recently chatted with Lisa Machac, of Omni Sound Project, about her career, her studio (The Lair), and her plans for the future.

Feature Photo: Hill Kourkoutis Photographed by Laura Joy Photography

I know you're a musician, first and foremost. Was that how you entered audio engineering?

Absolutely. When I was younger, I started out with guitar, got into piano, and also writing my songs. Because I wanted to play everything on the demos, I started to teach myself how to play bass. I was like, "How much harder can this be? It has two less strings than a guitar!" [laughter] Then I taught myself how to play drums as well. My studio has a bunch of random little instruments in it, so whatever I need to pick up to get the job done, I will. It doesn't mean I'm proficient on it. My first producer for my first band ended up bringing his PC and full computer tower over to my parents' basement. Up until that point, I thought you had to go to a recording studio to make music, so that was a big “wow” moment for me. It opened up the possibilities of being independent in music-making. That's what sparked it. I ended up getting this software called Cool Edit Pro [by Syntrillium Software, now Adobe Audition]. I learned how to record into my computer first. It was the computer mic, and then that graduated into a Shure SM58. As I dove in deeper – and began working out of other studios – the gear and the software became more sophisticated.

I went to visit my cousin in New York back then, and he had a brand new Mac. He was like, "It's got this thing called GarageBand." He was using just the keyboard, not even a MIDI keyboard, and programming all these beats. I was like, "What?"

It's incredible! It totally opens up your world. That was the first wave of bedroom production. I found it inspiring. It's definitely what informed my future trajectory into audio engineering. That, and not having the budget to record my songs in studios with producers.

You started playing when you were really young?

I did. The first thought I can remember is that I wanted to play guitar; I think I was three years old. We'd go to a lot of these free cultural events in Toronto. On this particular day, there was a Greek band playing on stage and I apparently weaseled my way up there. I grabbed a tambourine and started playing. I remember I wanted so deeply to be a part of this band and play music with them, even though I didn't know what I was doing. It was always this thing in me. I didn't necessarily come from a family of musicians, but I came from a family of music lovers. That might have fed it. Every step that I've taken in my life has been working towards this goal in some way or another; or at least that's how it's felt. A lot of opportunities came to me that I wasn't necessarily planning on doing. I always imagined myself being an artist. I didn't necessarily imagine that I would be in a studio, or become a touring musician, or any of that. That naturally came forth as a result of me not wanting to miss out on an opportunity to learn.

When you were starting as a musician, was your goal to perform?

Initially it was being on stage, but I quickly discovered that being on stage terrified me. It still does. I'll do it, but it's not necessarily the thing that feeds my soul. I do love connecting with people, and that is a beautiful moment to have when you are performing. Music is a conduit for expression. As a kid, when I started writing my first songs, that was my way of trying to process the world around me. It was therapeutic and cathartic. Music became another voice of expression to process the world around me. That's where the initial spark came from. It's just different forms of expression. It's being able to articulate myself through different colors and voices.

Has your family always been supportive of you carving out this little space for yourself at home since they weren't necessarily musical?

They were definitely supportive. They initially were hoping that I would go...

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