When I first created Arcane I wanted it to become a music haven for people looking for new talent. It wasn’t until I was putting the finishing touches to the site that I realized this site could be used for much more. Around October-November I was having a conversation with a close friend of mine and that conversation is what inspired this interview. The outcome of this conversation was that not only could I provide information that would be useful for music listener’s, I could provide information that is useful for people in the industry.
This conversation is initially what made me seek the songwriters, and the producers/engineers – basically the “behind the scenes” people that you will see in due time. I think it is important for every person who takes part in creating a moment to get that acknowledgement.
This interview is with Mika, an audio engineer that I was introduced to through my close friend (thanks friend). Not only is this interview informative, but it’s refreshing to hear from a perspective that people often look over.
In this interview we speak about the differences between an audio engineer and a producer, finding work, career highlights, and much more.
Q: Before you start, can you briefly explain what it is an audio engineer does? — Are there any major differences between an engineer & what a producer does?
A: The term audio engineer is a broad one and can refer to a range of jobs such as post production, electrical engineering, and live sound engineering. Studying this field includes knowing about electrical signal flow, acoustics of rooms, microphone characteristics, and so much more.
Mainly the job of an audio engineer is to tighten up the sounds that are sent in from a producer or recording company. Whatever sounds that are recorded or created artificially must also exist in a virtual space that makes sense to your aesthetic goal.
If we just record an array of instruments and try to put them together at the same volume, it will be unpleasant to the human ear. Thus, we use compression, equalization, and other processing tools to emulate a certain environment that the human ear is familiar with. People need to know how to place their instruments while producing so many engineers are producers first; however, the difference is where you place your focus.
Q: Did you grow up knowing you wanted to be in the music industry? Was there any specific event that let you know you wanted to do this professionally?
A: I was always into music as I think everyone is, especially growing up. It is something we use to escape from our daily lives or find inspiration from. I was always into computer programs and found some music making programs (DAWs – Digital Audio Workstation) and just went crazy.
At first, imitating sounds and songs that I liked, and eventually creating my own album at the age of 16 just for fun. After some positive feedback and a lot of bad feedback on the quality of the sounds I decided to take it a little more seriously and learned as much as I could about the post production side.
I eventually attended a audio engineering school/internship combination at Chung King Studios in NYC; this was probably the defining moment that shaped my knowledge and finalized my decision to pursue this “hobby”, as a career.
Q: When you initially decided to be in the industry did you have the support of your family/friends? What advice would you give someone who wants a career in music but is too afraid about what others (specifically, their family/friends) think?
A: My friends were very doubtful about this because to many it seems like an industry that is hard to get into. However, after researching the industry and surrounding myself with like-minded people I have found that there is a plethora of opportunities that aren’t going to make you “famous” but instead will give you a fulfilling life doing what you love to do.
As long as music is being made, there will be people in need of help perfecting it. Even if you don’t end up working as a post production engineer, the skill set you learn will allow you to work in many other fields including on television broadcast, movie sets, festivals, performances, and the list goes on.
Q: Was it easy find work in the beginning? How do you find work now?
A: It wasn’t easy finding paying work but it was very easy to find people that needed it done for free. Being a good post production engineer is all based on how happy your clients are. If you can do a couple projects for free and do a great job your reputation in the “industry”, whether it be worldwide or just local, will increase and your value (or price that you can charge) increases as well. Currently, word-of-mouth helps me get more work.
Q: When someone sends you a song, what is the usual process you go through? How long does it take you to complete a song?
A: The first step is to talk to the producer or the artist to find out what the goal of this song or project is. Many people have different fan bases and different values; so it is important that the producers and I have the same aesthetic goal. I write down a detailed list to base my mixing off of and begin listening to the track. If the feeling we are looking for exists in a certain track, I try to emphasize that instrument or voice.
After that it is a process of making all the instruments fit around that one sound and into a designated acoustic space. The mixing process is long and complex but once that is done, I make sure to listen to the song on multiple different speakers (laptop, car, bluetooth) and then determine whether it sounds right to me and the producer. If not, I repeat the process until the producer is happy. This can take anywhere from 5 hours to a month if the production is large and complex.
Q: How long did it take you to hone the craft of engineering? (Do you have any training)
A: The craft of engineering is always evolving. Although I feel very comfortable with the ideas of compression, equalization, spacing, and gain staging, there is never a moment when I don’t have to look something up or try something new just because the situation requires it. I’m extremely happy to have the professional experience that I have; and I’m still receiving it from masters of the trade. Nevertheless, I am also aware that engineering will never be perfected especially with new technology constantly influencing the way we make and hear music.
Q: Are there any tips you could give aspiring engineers?
A: My tips would be to try as many DAW’s as possible and to diversify your production skills. That way, when you are faced with difficult or confusing situations, you will be comfortable troubleshooting and finding the right answer. Technically, engineering is all about computer skills; but on the other hand remember you need to know how things sound in different spaces. You need to question what makes certain songs sound a certain way; try to recreate these sounds and try to connect with as many like-minded people as possible.
Q: Do you have anyone who has musically influenced you?
A: I always had an interest in the way songs were mixed from the times I listened to classic rock in the car with my dad. The band, Boston, did a lot of panning. It was probably the first band I tried to imitate production wise. After that, there was a lot of 90’s hip hop that inspired me to make broken and/or distorted drum beats
Q: Are there any artists that you want to work with? Dream collaboration?
A: Kendrick Lamar, obviously. From what it seems, he has a very precise workflow and knows exactly what he wants his voice, instruments, drums, everything, to sound like. Often as an engineer you get rappers who say: “give me that auto tune voice and then make it sound good”. Engineers hate the word “good” because it doesn’t mean anything. After Kendrick I would add Chris Webby as a personal favorite.
Q: If you had the chance to engineer for any album(s), what albums would you have engineered?
A: Nas – Illmatic & Kendrick Lamar – Section.80
Q: Do you think engineers; or anyone who is part of the “behind the scenes“ (songwriters, producers, etc.) get enough credit?
A: It is definitely possible to do the research and find who was a part of every song and I think that’s exactly what engineers want. It is a path chosen by people who often don’t want the attention or fame but instead love making the music and helping the artists reach their goals.
Q: When you look back on your career in 20-30 years; what are some career highlights would you have liked to achieve?
A: Winning a Grammy; I think is everyone’s dream, but if I help any song make it to the Billboard charts I think I’ll be happy.
Q: Would you ever mentor someone looking to build a career in your field? If not now, ever?
A: Yes, engineering can be a very tedious job and sharing the workload while teaching someone the craft is probably the most productive, win/win situation for everyone.
Q: Do you feel successful yet? If so, what moment made you feel it. If not, what do you think you will need to achieve in order to feel that?
A: Success is relative to what you did in your life before this moment. I have definitely become more successful but I am constantly looking to improve and find more connections.
Q: Should we expect to hear big things about you in the upcoming months (2018)?
A: I have been putting out instrumental albums every 6-7 months using my alter ego “Jimmer Millions” but I have taken a hiatus from that alias to concentrate on a collaborative album with a few of my friends. Although I’m not positive it will be completed within 2018, it’s definitely going to make some noise soon.