Ariel Borujow is a Grammy nominated mix engineer who has been a part of the NYC studio community for over a decade. Doubling as a music broadcast engineer, he has the opportunity to put his multi-platinum proven touch on all different types of sounds.
His clientele has included high-profile acts such as The Black Eyed Peas, P Diddy, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Andrea Bocelli, Kanye West and many more.
In 2011 Ariel and his attorney/manager Joshua Kamen launched ImprintOne80, an independent record label dedicated to bringing back the craft of artist development
Here’s how to contact Ariel:
Label Website: www.imprint180.com
What got you into the engineering side of the music business?
In elementary school there was a choir class. I mean I can’t sing and I’ll be the first to tell you that but I can hear near perfect pitch. I just remember the teacher had a stereo system with an EQ and I asked if I could run the music for the choir. I would always mess with the EQ even though I still didn’t know what engineering was at the time.
Around that time I discovered Rick Rubin and I would listen to anything from Run DMC’s “Raising Hell” to Slayer “South of Heaven” which were produced by him. I had a dual cassette recorder and would record from one cassette to the other and try to match his EQ curve. I guess at the time, what
I was trying to do was master, which I obviously knew nothing about. That was the start of my obsession.
When I was in high school, I played sports a lot and I think I got in trouble while playing lacrosse so I had to find another after school activity. That’s when I heard that the school play needed a sound guy. We had this beautiful auditorium in our school that had a console and since they needed someone, I volunteered. That’s when I first started really messing with sound.
Then I saw a video of Metallica in the studio making the “Black Album” with Bob Rock and that solidified it for me. I used to play in bands but always had stage fright so when I saw that video, I was like “Perfect! I want to sit in that room and I want to work with musicians.”
Before high school was over, I started looking for programs and found one at NYU. Since my grades weren’t up I went to community college and took an A/V class. My teacher at the time saw that I was interested in the console in the classroom and suggested I speak with his son who was an audio engineer. His son told me that I could finish community college in two years, go to NYU for another three years and then clean bathrooms or I could go to the Institute of Audio Research for nine months and then clean bathrooms. So obviously I weighed that out and decided that I wanted to clean the bathrooms now and not later.
After that I dropped out of college and went right to the Institute of Audio Research. Two weeks into school, I got an internship at Greene Street Studios which was a famous studio in New York at the time. I interned there for almost the entire nine months while I was in school. I was going to school, interning and not sleeping. That’s what started it all.
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And at what point did you realize that mixing was where you wanted to be?
I think the obsession started pretty early for me. My first real mentor was John Siket and at the time he just got off doing the Dave Matthews “Crash” album. I was always there at the studio and I guess he took a liking to me. One night John told me that he was mixing a Phish Live Show from Boston but he didn’t have a budget. He said that I could hang out and assist on it if I wanted to. After I saw him mix that album I was like “Yeah this is exactly what I want to do”.
I wanted to manipulate everything and I wanted control over the music. There’s a certain power that you feel when you’re in that position as you know.
What is about mixing that you prefer over every other aspect of the music making process?
I’m just obsessed with sound. I still study everything and I even learn from my interns. I tell people that I’m not a very technical person and I’ve never really been one. Like when someone says “to get the bass guitar to bite you have to boost 1K”, I’ve never done it that way. I always go with how I’m feeling so there’s always been this emotional attachment to it for me. As much as I’m technically trying to get to the clients overall vision, I’m still putting my feeling into that record with whatever that may be. So yeah I guess I like it because I feel it the most.
So you’re saying that the technicals aren’t as important as how something makes you feel?
Yes but I when I was coming up I didn’t have YouTube or anything like it. When I was assisting, some of the studios I worked for, would let me use the rooms on off hours. I would bring in bands or hip hop artists to record and mix for them, that’s how I learned. So I figured out that an La2a sounded very different than an 1176 on an acoustic guitar. Then I tried to figure out why and by putting the pieces together, that’s how I learned.
So the technical stuff did come from watching guys like Maserati or Prince Charles Alexander but it was a lot more trial and error. Also when I was assisting back then, the hours were so crazy that there came a point where I lost the love for assisting because I was so tired and it was hard to watch and focus on the technical stuff. The only time to do it was when the show was mine and I got to touch the gear. That’s when I learned.
In a recent twitter pic that you posted, I saw you used 3 stock Pro Tools plug-ins: The BF-76, The EQ3 and Lo-fi. My question is: Do you think that you could get a good mix using only stock plug-ins?
That was a retweet of the plug-ins that I used for a live tracking session. When I do live tracking I set things up in a way that it’s like a console. The studio just happened to have a TDM version and those were the plug-ins they had but I use that Lofi plug-in quite a bit. There’s a stock preset in there called “Tape Emulation” and you just put that on and you’re like “Wow.” It’s honestly unreal.
If you look at my sessions then yes, you’ll see plug-ins like UAD, the WavesSSL or Metric Halo’s Channel Strip (which I think is incredible). However, most of the time when I’m cleaning up, I’m using the EQ3 – The 7-band or the UAD Cambridge EQ.
But to answer your question – Absolutely! Obviously it depends on what you’re given because if you get a turd then you can’t polish it, even if you have a neve console. If it’s bad, it’s bad. A mentor told me a long time ago that it’s the ear not the gear, so it doesn’t matter.
When I started going freelance, I had an Mbox with stock plug-ins and that’s how I was making money. I was just coming off assisting and I was like “Oh I can do this myself, in my house? Okay.” So I bought the Mbox with the Producer bundle and I had all stock plug-ins. I had the DVerb, the EQ2 (at the time), the stock compressor and the stock deEsser; I just made it work. Obviously now I’ve upgrade quite a bit but I do believe that you can make it work with whatever you have as long as what you’re given is quality.
Since you mentioned “Polishing a turd”, what do you do when you get files that are less then desirable?
First thing I do is communicate with the client, and if they are in town, than I’ll have them come by the studio with their files prior to me starting the mix. That’s something I take pride in doing and I believe in giving the client a good solid hour or two to sit and go over the song. There’s times when I look at them and say “I know you want good quality but the vocals are distorted. We are probably going to have to re-record it.”
Sometimes I’ve turned projects down because I didn’t want to promise that I could do something and not deliver on it. I have to keep it honest. I won’t take someone’s money just for the sake of taking it. I’ll communicate with my clients a lot and just be honest with them. Usually they will take my advice. I think if you portray that you are honest, you’re trying to make their music better and establish that you aren’t trying to produce their record, than most of the time they will take your advice. That’s my approach.
So if you think the record isn’t fixable, you won’t take the job?
I’ve definitely taken on my fair share of not so great records but at the end of the day I give them the opportunity first and if they still want to proceed then I just have to pull out some magic. You’ve got to find something in the song that’s going to make the song exciting even if it’s one element like a hi-hat. That one element you have to find and make it work. If I’m going to sit there for eight hours then I have to find something exciting about the record and make it work [Laughs].
How do you feel the mixing business has been impacted by the explosion of home studio rigs?
I’ve always been a business man. What I try and do is help bring up young mixers under me. Let’s say a client comes to me and has a really low budget, I’d rather give a guy a chance that’s got a laptop and a set up at home. So what I’m doing is giving him that work and a majority of the money (I’ll take a percentage). Once he’s finished with the mixes, we’ll go into my room and then I’ll tweak it and show him what he could be doing better. It’s almost like a mentorship but they’re getting paid to do it.
Times are changing; Every mix engineer is mixing a ton of independent records unless you’re like Manny Marroquin or Serban [Ghenea]. Even Tony Maserati, who I’ve worked with and is a mentor, is evolving with the times. You’ve just got to roll with the times.
Not everyone can be a great mixing engineer but do you think we’re living in a time now where at least everyone has the potential to become one?
I just had this conversation with somebody and I think that the answer is yes, absolutely. The difference is that a lot of people aren’t going to have the luxury of sitting in with an A level engineer.
The biggest downfall for someone coming up now is the interaction with an A-List client. When I have guys sit in with me, I explain to them to not worry about what I’m doing on the computer but to watch how I handle the session and control the room at any given moment. If you can learn that and master that, then that’s what’s going to get you work.
I think technically, they can learn to be really great mixers because shit, I had a 4 track cassette. I had to make due with what I had but those days are over. Now a kid in his room from anywhere around the world has the same plug-ins that I do so he can learn. Plus with the YouTube videos and everything else, you can definitely learn and I’m sure there will be some great mixers. But my belief is that if you’re in a facility you will have the opportunity to get in with major clients plus the chance to learn proper client interaction.
You recently left Stadium Red, can you talk about where you’re working now?
I have a room at Treehouse Studios located in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. It was an existing studio owned by Jason Salmon who has a management company called Atworkmusic. I met him through Just Blaze because he works very closely with one of his artists. I needed a room (a more private setting for my clients) and he needed someone who had a lot of experience so we combined our gear and made it happen.