To quote my homie Chico Mann, “Sound Is Everything” and, in my opinion, has everything to do with music. It’s been years since I’ve listened to music through an iPod, preferring to feel the pulse of the beat whether speaker freaking or writhing in my seat in front of a pair of bottom heavy monitors.
And while I could go on for a hot minute expressing my disdain for Steve Jobs and the decline of quality sound leading to the popularity of a compressed mess, I’d rather tout the praises of URB’s six best engineers in New York City. These are the people who pronounce the bounce. And their work graces the grooves of the world’s best records, from Madonna to A-Trak, Busta Rhymes to Oakenfold and tons in-between. These engineers have devoted their time to help up-and-coming producers achieve new levels of success. And as home based and portable production techniques try to rule the music scene — with more and more music producers doing everything from mixing and mastering all by themselves — I offer you a peek inside the minds of these forward thinking sonic soldiers…
URB: Why engineering?
ARIEL BORUJOW: Engineering is something I’ve always been fascinated with, even before actually knowing what it was. From a young age, I was inquisitive when it came to the sound of albums and why they all sounded different, regardless of genre.
ANGAD BAINS: Why not!? I get to spend all day in the studio working with talented artists / songwriters and producers. I can’t even remember what it is I first went to college for right after high school, but I do remember having the lowest attendance and eventually ended up dropping out after my first semester. It was then that I decided to go to school for Audio Engineering. I spent all my time at the studios there and graduated valedictorian with a 4.0 from Full Sail University. I love recording. You’re there when the music is being created and there’s a lot of excitement involved. The past year, though, I’ve been leaning more towards mixing. Being a recording engineer and running the studio at the same time is demanding. You’re constantly answering emails, calls, dealing with accounts etc… I still record from time to time, but it’s not an everyday thing anymore.
AARON BASTINELLI: I fell in love with engineering early on during my first internship, which was at a small local studio behind a Chinese fast food restaurant in Pennsylvania. I always wanted to be involved in music professionally, but it was that experience that made me realize I wanted to study the record making process.
PHIL MOFFA: I got into production and recording at Purchase College where I now teach. It was back in ’99 when I had been DJing for about 2 years that I auditioned with a pair of turntables and some beats I made on an MPC recorded to cassette. Once I was given access to the studios, I basically lived in them and have ever since. I opened Butcha Sound in September of 2010. It’s a subterranean lab in the center of Manhattan.
ADAM SUSSMAN: I look at a large format console and I see the most musical piece of gear ever created. Why would I not want to spend my time behind one?
BRAD WORRELL: Because I’m a control freak. I learned the basics while I was an artist as I’ve always had strong interest it tech stuff. It definitely started as a way to record myself and my own bands.
URB: How has digital / the MP3 affected your career?
ARIEL BORUJOW: Well it’s been a gift and a curse. The gift is there is a lot more music out there. With all the social media outlets we now have artists that can really bypass labels and put projects or songs out themselves. The curse is the amount of talent being overshadowed since many think they can “make” it.
ANGAD BAINS: Records seem to be made a lot faster and have a shorter shelf life than they did back in the days of cassettes and CDs. There are countless blogs posting new tracks everyday and consumers are constantly on the hunt for new music. On the technical side, contrary to popular belief, I feel that the DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) is our generation’s greatest technological advancement in the field of audio. The recording and editing process is quicker and easier than ever. You don’t need to spend hours to do a full recall of a mix as you would with an analog console and racks of gear. Analog tape and console emulators seem to be the new trend and nearly every plugin manufacturer has something to offer. These are getting better and better. My personal favorites are Steven Slate’s VCC and VTM.
AARON BASTINELLI: Well… I grew up with it! It’s all I’ve really known. Of course I love working with it in an analog domain as much as possible, but I certainly feel most comfortable in hybrid setups. I can say though that my speed and efficiency in Pro Tools has been a huge help in developing my career.
ADAM SUSSMAN: The actual ‘career’ question is a difficult one, I have some (multi) Grammy award winning friends and acquaintances that are truly struggling on a day to day basis to pay bills. In my opinion, the music business was only a business (for engineer’s in particular) from 1950s to early 2000s. Think of it as Elvis to Eminem (also makes a good story, that it was two white guys making money off of black music).
BRAD WORRELL: Probably made it. Although I started in the era of 2” tape and 24 tracks, I was still mainly an artist then. I began engineering / producing during the rise of digital and the work that I was doing (remixes, film and advertising) was made infinitely easier by the technology. I could create full productions entirely by myself.
URB: Name two things every up and coming songwriter / producer should know.
ARIEL BORUJOW: Patience and Relationships. Both work hand in hand.
ANGAD BAINS: All it takes is 1 song. One song can change your life as it has for many of my clients and friends. Keep at it, put in the work and just keep writing. For every 100 songs you write, you’re lucky to place one…. But when you do get that one, it’s worth it. Also, collaborate with as many people as you can. I remember Dave Pensado saying this on one of his earlier episodes, “If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re clearly in the wrong room.” Be around people that inspire you.
AARON BASTINELLI: They should all know that the most important factor in making music is having a great song, and that involving another set of ears in some capacity will always help make a project better.
PHIL MOFFA: Real growth takes time. Learn the fundamentals strongly, perhaps by using a simple piece of gear like a four track or an MPC and figure out how to finish songs on them before moving on to a fully-stocked computer.
ADAM SUSSMAN: Put the time in while you can. That Malcolm Gladwell 10,000 hours of practice holds true. Write everyday, even if it’s a grocery list. And for the beat makers out there, make a beat everyday, even it’s a heartbeat with a cool filter on it.
BRAD WORRELL: It’s a muscle. Certainly songwriting, but also producing, to a degree. You need to always be working it. This means writing all the time, even when you aren’t necessarily “inspired”. That way, when random inspiration does strike, you’ll be in great shape to take advantage of it and churn out that gem.
URB: Tell us about some of your favorite projects you’ve worked on.
ARIEL BORUJOW: It’s really hard to pinpoint a specific project. I think all projects are special in their own way. How can they not be? I’m working on music everyday doing what I love and learning a lot from every artist. Throughout the years, I have been fortunate to work on countless multi platinum albums and Grammy nominated projects.
ANGAD BAINS: 1) Jay Sean 2) The Wanted 3) Wynter Gordon 4) Krewella 5) Avicci 6) Sia
AARON BASTINELLI: I love all the Converse projects I get to work on, most notably their ’3 Artist 1 Song’ releases (i.e. Mark Foster, A Trak and Kimbra’s ‘Warrior’ and Matt and Kim, Andrew W..K. and Soulja Boy’s ‘I’m A Goner’). Other than these, some of the other recent albums I’ve really enjoyed being a part of would be: Vacationer’s ‘Gone’, Body Language’s ‘Grammar’, Beast Patrol’s ‘Fierce and Grateful’ and Lynette Williams ‘Songs For Sarah’.
PHIL MOFFA: Inside the Perfect Circle is a film about my friend and mentor Joel Thome. It is a document of his career, his recovery after a debilitating stroke through music therapy and a concert we performed in 2009 at the Rubin Museum of Art in New York City based on his mandala scores. The film won many awards at film festivals across the United States. It was an honor to be a part of this film and see Joel still winning awards for his work. I’ve worked on several reggae projects with another mentor / friend / colleague of mine, Joe Ferry, who is a veteran bass player and producer. We put out a 12″ on Jump Up Records last year and this year we put together a compilation featuring Augustus Pablo and King Tubby. It is the companion CD to a book he wrote and I edited called “Connected”. It’s worth getting both the book and the CD. They’re both incredible. Recently, I’ve been performing solo techno shows on an all hardware setup and releasing music using my real name for the first time. This includes collaborations with Anthony Parasole, DJ Spider and Paul Raffaele that made some noise in the underground. Doing mixdowns for the Martinez Brothers is always something I enjoy because their productions come in at high quality and I can be sure that the work will get heard in clubs worldwide at their DJ sets. I love that about working behind the scenes on dance music. There is always potentially a party somewhere in the world where people are hearing it on a sound system. Other New York producers I have worked with include Ray West, E Beats, Harry Bennett, Night Plane and Nutritious of SpinSpinNYC. The latter has brought me some really dope deep house tracks that are a pleasure to mix because the musical parts are always great. Chuck Love even played trumpet, flute and Rhodes parts on Nutritious’ Infernal Devices remix.
ADAM SUSSMAN: I’m blessed to be in a position to take on projects that I enjoy. A record that I look back fondly on is Dante Mazzetti’s ‘Lost and Drifting’. I was too young to know how truly talented he was (and is). We got to work out of Bennett Studios for the tracking and most of the mixing. The album doesn’t even sound that good, but I sure had a blast making it.
BRAD WORRELL: Most of my favorites never saw the light of day. Early on in my production career, I did a lot of work with a hip hop artist named, Mike Down. He had a rock background and a lot of the tracks we worked on together incorporated guitars and had a real, punchy “rock” dynamic to them. While we did tracks with some pretty impressive guests on them, like Sean Paul and Bootie Brown (Pharcyde), we could never get the industry to connect with them. When I listen back to those early tracks, they sound fresh as shit and are still some of my favorite productions. I think that much of that is because we were playing outside of the rules and genre, to a degree. Just really having fun and trying anything that sounded good to us.
URB: Why New York City?
ARIEL BORUJOW: For one, I grew up 45 minutes North of the city. When I was young, I remember making trips with either family or friends and immediately knowing that one day I’d have to work here – - the fast pace, the people, the hustle all around. Hey, they say if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.
ANGAD BAINS: I love New York City. There’s a great energy in this city and some really talented artists as well as producers and songwriters. The independent music community in New York City is so tight knit and Crosby Collective is a great hub for a lot of them!
AARON BASTINELLI: Initially, it was the most accessible location for me, but as I became more immersed I began to appreciate the pace of the city more and more. Move fast, or get trampled!
PHIL MOFFA: I was born and raised in Queens and now live in Manhattan. Leaving never really appealed to me, but I wouldn’t mind spending a few months in Europe. I’ve appreciated the lifestyle there.
ADAM SUSSMAN: The hustle.
BRAD WORRELL: I moved here with my first band and at that time, as a young punk, my priorities were 24 hour access to pizza and beer. For an artist now, I’d say that as saturated as Williamsburg is, there is just so much real talent here, as well as accessible venues, that it’s definitely worth being a small fish. You’ll always be able to find that backup drummer, or a good horn section on a moment’s notice.
URB: What’s more important: having talent or having money?
ARIEL BORUJOW: Talent, for sure. That will never run out no matter what. Having money doesn’t guarantee success.
ANGAD BAINS: If you have talent and you work hard, you’ll eventually get money. If you have money, be smart so it always stays that way.
AARON BASTINELLI: Talent, always. If you have talent, are humble, and have drive, people will want to work with you despite how much money you have. There are a lot of amazing opportunities out there.
PHIL MOFFA: Having breakfast.
ADAM SUSSMAN: If you have the talent, money will find you. It just might take A LOT longer than you expect. Scratch that, it WILL take you a lot longer than you expect.
BRAD WORRELL: Uh, in reference to making music? Duh. It’s been said before, but a talented engineer / producer with an MBox will always make WAY better sounding records than an amateur at Avata.
URB: Take us on a tour of your studio. Where are you located? What do you like to do? What do you have to offer?
ARIEL BORUJOW: I’m located at Stadiumred Studios. We are located on 125th street between Park and Lexington Avenues. The facility consists of 5 amazing studios with 2 SSL rooms, full Pro Tools HD systems, 1,000 Square foot main live room and a mastering room ran by in my opinion the #1 mastering engineer Ricardo Gutierrez. Stadiumred is a close family. Aside from myself, we have Just Blaze, Omen, DJ Chachi, Mysto and Pizzi, Modern Machines, Jeremy Carr and Frequency. Also, we have engineers Tom Lazarus and Andrew Wright. I also take pride in having amazing assistant engineers and interns. We are looking to train the next wave of engineers. It’s a special place for sure. These days I spend most of my time mixing and running my label Imprint 180 alongside my business partner, Joshua Kamen.
ANGAD BAINS: Founded in 2010, owned and operated by Michael Brian and myself, the Crosby Collective Recording Studios are full-service professional recording and mixing ateliers located in the heart of New York City’s SoHo district, with a secondary location in Gramercy, completed in September of 2012. Each member of our staff brings passion, experience and a commitment to exceed our clients’ expectations. Artists needs are met with flexible options and professional quality solutions to fit each client and make for a memorable session.
AARON BASTINELLI: I work out of a lot of studios, but most of the time you can find me at Converse Rubber Tracks in Williamsburg, where I’m the Staff Engineer. It’s a beautiful studio housed in a 5,200 sq ft warehouse, with a great sounding live room and very accurate control room. Everyday I get to take part in no pressure recording sessions with bands who are given free studio time. It’s an incredibly creative and positive environment. Bands are able to apply for free time.
PHIL MOFFA: My studio is in the basement of the Recording and Rehearsal Arts Building at 251 West 30th where musicians are seen and heard 24 hours a day. It’s a pretty legendary building. The basement where my studio is was the recording location of many classic 80s records as well as rehearsals for some of the greats. Most people remark on the vibe of Butcha Sound more than anything. It is an environment that encourages creativity. In my facility, I have a decent collection of outboard gear, many classic drum machines and some synths. It’s a playground for producers and myself. I got very lucky finding it. I do lots of mixdowns, recording and even some mastering. Plus, a lot of multi-tracking of the various hardware pieces. I have a half-decent Rhodes and a nice DJ setup too.
ADAM SUSSMAN: As a freelance engineer, I’ve had the opportunity to work out of some amazing studios. Sadly, a large number of them are no longer with us (Sony, Hit Factory, Bennett Studios). Bennett Studios in Englewood, NJ, was by far my favorite place to mix. Their studio B (with a fantastically huge SSL4080) had in my opinion the flattest sounding room I’ve ever worked out of. Sadly, they closed in late 2011. Avatar is still around and if you have the budget, dear God do it. The A room is world famous for a reason.I started my career at Electric Lady Studios in NYC and I’ll always have fond memories of messing with the purple SSL in studio B (and some semi-believable ghost stories). Threshold Studios on the west side of Manhattan has a very wonderful sounding Trident 80B and a nice sized live room. James Walsh the owner is a talented producer and goes out of his way to make every sesssion a pleasure. For smaller studios, you cannot go wrong with Mercy Sound Studios located in Alphabet City. It has always been my favorite affordable studio. Scott the owner is a saint and complete gear nut (the Lucas mics, Inward Connections Tube Sidecar and the vintage Gates 1957 STA-Level come to mind). One of my favorite memories at Mercy was working with Phoebe Snow before she passed. Anybody who ever worked with her knew she was a handful to deal with and she absolutely loved it and had a blast being there. It is definitely the best bang for your buck on the east coast. I love recording any and all live instruments. If I had to choose I’d say drums and vocals. What makes that particular voice special? How do you keep that air / tone / growl / scream and not lose it during the conversion into zeros and ones? Spending the time to find the right vocal chain i.e. microphone, preamp, compressor is something that I will never tire of. I’ve always been in awe of the uber talented drummers, 3 mics or 15 mics. I don’t care…just give me some time to get the phase right between all the mics and I’ll look like a rockstar. I recently helped with a studio build out in NJ called Nightstand Studios — It was nice to hand pick some of the gear and tune the room.
BRAD WORRELL: I manage Converse Rubber Tracks in Williamsburg. I’d be inclined to let somebody more interesting give you the tour:
URB: Now, let’s get technical for a second. Tell us about some of your most favorite gear acquisitions.
ARIEL BORUJOW: Okay here goes…my Dangerous Summing Box, SSL bus compressor, Dangerous Bax EQ and Apogee Rosetta. That’s the go-to hardware. As far as plug ins, for sure my Universal Audio bundle – - hands down my favorite. I recently started using the Slate Virtual Console and Virtual tapes machine bundle. They are changing how I mix. Most important though, my ears.
ANGAD BAINS: Outboard gear, Neve 5116 console, 33609, Gml 8200 — Because I’m from the new generation of engineers, I love plugins. Here are some of the ones I use on a daily basis: Pro Tools HD 10, Steven Slate, Dsp, Sound toys, Nomad, Fab filter, and many many more…
AARON BASTINELLI: I honestly don’t own much of my own gear! I rely heavily on the studios I work out of.
PHIL MOFFA: I find use in everything from the cheapest toys to the nicest pieces of vintage gear. It is definitely essential for me to have a mixing board at the center of the lab. Recently, I got an amp for these huge Urei monitors in my wall and listening to records on them has been one of the most exciting upgrades in years. And I use my Octatrack and MPC samplers more than any other boxes as far as beats are concerned.
ADAM SUSSMAN: I’m not immune to gear porn. Who the hell wouldn’t want to use a twelve thousand dollar mic and esoteric tube compressors from the 50s? But sometimes a SM58 will sound great (and be more comfortable for the artist), just ask any of the engineer’s who’ve worked with Bjork, or Bono.
If I had to bring just a few pieces with me…a few Daking mic pre/eq’s, a few Great River MP-2NV’s, a bunch of Distressor’s, a few RETRO STA-Level’s (just drooling thinking about that RETRO compressor), one or two ribbon mics (Cloud Microphones are pretty awesome), a few SM57′s and SM58′s, and give me two or three nice Large Diaphragm Condenser (Neumann U49, Mojave M-300, Studio Projects C1). In my opinion, the single most important thing is a good sounding studio. Forget the gear. How does the ROOM sound? That is the hardest thing to get right. Find a room that what you hear sounds the same in your car, in the club, in your headphones. Especially if you’re just starting out. The low end is something that I still struggle with and the flatter the room, the better chance you have of creating a good mix that translates well.
BRAD WORRELL: On the personal side, when Reason 2.0 came out, it was groundbreaking for me. An awesome (and fun) tool that was an amazing bargain at the time. On a professional side, here at Converse Rubber Tracks, I feel like the substantial investment that we made in our Ocean Way speakers, really sets us apart in our monitoring. These are massive, mid-fields that are wonderful to track on but you can actually mix on them (and many of our engineers do just that). That’s not something that I can say about most large / soffit monitors.
URB: The readers are begging, please do us a favor, dig deep, and give us some career advice.
ARIEL BORUJOW: Relationships are important. I’m sure people hear that all the time, but it’s so true. The music business is so small that you never know who you will run into down the road. Be willing to work for next to nothing in the beginning to help build your brand. Essentially, you have to look at yourself as a brand so word of mouth spreads and people hear about you from others.
ANGAD BAINS: Stick with it. It can get really hard at times. Working long hours with little or no sleep / pay, isn’t easy. But to do what you love doing everyday…It’s an amazing feeling. Just make sure you have a good support system. They could be your friends, significant other or family. It’s a lot harder to do it alone.
AARON BASTINELLI: Work hard, find someone to mentor you (who’s been successful) in what you want to do, and really focus on your job at hand. Dedication, diligence and passion go a long way.
PHIL MOFFA: What else can you do in any art that’s truly worthwhile except lock yourself up in your respected laboratory and work your ass off? Sure we need to be in touch with people and promote and do all that stuff, but it’s worthless unless you have something substantial to put your name on and share with the world. Learn some music theory, develop your own voice, practice, dig, experiment, create. Then figure out what to do with it. If it’s any good, it will happen for you. At least that’s the advice I am giving myself nowadays.
ADAM SUSSMAN: I hate the ‘do what you love’ line, but it fits well here. The older way of moving up the chain, gopher, 2nd assistant, assistant engineer, engineer is sadly dying out. If you can get into a larger format studio, do it. The rules to follow are simple 1) Do what is asked of you 2) Shut up and listen for 5-10 years. Ego is something we all struggle with. Do whatever you can to temper it.
BRAD WORRELL: It’s quite simple really. I think that most people believe that having two of these three things will bring you success: talent / luck / hard work. The truth is that it takes all three. Sorry for the buzzkill, but you will be very hard pressed to find any super-star, whether an artist, producer or even an engineer, who hasn’t had LOTS of all three of those. Having just two, in any combination, may be enough to get you in the door, and even make for a modest career, but you’ll never go all the way without all three. Being nice to EVERYONE also helps, but sometimes that falls into the “hard work” category, I guess.