From the Recording Studio to the Oscars: Berklee Valencia’s Pablo Munguía on 20-Plus Years in the Music and Live Audio Industries
Since the mid-2000s, the veteran audio engineer and producer has served in the sound and music departments for some of the world’s most-watched televised events, including the Super Bowl Halftime Show, the Academy Awards, and the Grammy Awards. He’s also worked in the sound departments of the TV competition series American Idol and The X Factor and live musical specials The Little Mermaid Live! and Grease Live!. These experiences have landed Munguía eight Emmy Awards and over 20 nominations.
While his career path hasn’t always been easy, Munguía credits his eagerness to take on any opportunity, and the skills he gained at Berklee, with helping him break into the music industry.
After graduating from the college in 1998 with a diploma in music production and engineering, he worked as a runner at Westlake Recording Studios in Los Angeles. There, he took on a variety of tasks, building strong relationships with producers and musicians.
One night at Westlake, an engineer was needed for a recording session with LL Cool J, and Munguía volunteered to fill in. After setting up a microphone, preamp, and compressor, he sat down at the console to assist the rap icon in recording a track.
“I learned really fast and put myself into situations where I wasn’t completely ready,” Munguía said. “But I didn’t say, ‘No’—I said, ‘I’ll do it, and I’ll do the best I can.’”
The LL Cool J session led to a promotion for Munguía, who soon found himself assisting audio engineers in recording sessions, mixing tracks, and mastering how to use Pro Tools. He steadily climbed the ranks at Westlake, working with Barbra Streisand, Celine Dion, Ricky Martin (for his “Livin’ La Vida Loca” record), Britney Spears, and Seal, among others. Munguía says the music recording skills he gained from Berklee’s professional diploma program gave him the confidence to work with these artists.
“I wouldn’t have known to look for the microphone, the compressor, and the preamp, if I hadn’t learned that at Berklee,” Munguía said. “Knowing what I learned in school allowed me to ask the right questions that then allowed me to really get better really fast.”
Munguía realized that he could transfer many of these skills into television when Tommy Vicari, a Grammy-winning producer, engineer, and mixer, asked him to assist with the orchestra’s microphones at the Academy Awards. He took on the task, despite the steep learning curve of learning the procedures of handling sound for a major televised event. Since then, he’s worked in the sound and music department of every Oscars awards show, including the most recent broadcast on March 12.
Since 2007, he’s also been in the sound department for every Super Bowl Halftime Show (with the exception of The Weeknd in 2021), working with Prince, Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Beyoncé, Lady Gaga, Shakira and Jennifer Lopez, and, most recently, Rihanna on Feb. 12.
Munguía’s expertise has helped him navigate the show’s unique challenges, including ensuring performances go on smoothly while conservatively experimenting with new techniques and technology, and managing the artist’s expectations of how their songs will sound in a stadium, and on TV, compared to the music studio.
He adapts these experiences into his lessons, giving students virtual tours of the halftime show sound department’s working spaces during broadcasts, and filming interviews of team members discussing their roles, responsibilities, and challenges. This has helped prepare students to take on many of the similar opportunities Munguía had, as many have left Berklee and have found success working at recording studios and live TV events.
“The big lesson for me is how to make an artistic statement and make something that excites people while keeping it perfect and safe so that you know it’s not going to fail,” Munguía said.