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AES 136 - Meet the Winners #6: Daniel Babai
Meet Daniel Babai from Brookline, Massachusetts, who received a Silver Award in Category 3 of the Student Recording Competition.
Tell us a little bit about yourself: Where are you from? What do you study? How did you discover your passion for audio?
I am from Concord, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston, and have lived in the area my whole life. I just graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Audio and Media Technologies at The New England Institute of Art (NEIA) in Brookline, MA. I am currently a freelance mix engineer and beat maker, working out of my home studio and various studios in the Boston area. My passion for audio began before I knew audio was a “thing,” as I always was fascinated not just with music, but the particular sounds within the music. It became a more concrete reality when I began making beats in 2010, and subsequently started pursuing a degree in order to further harness my control over sound.
Are you a musician yourself? What instruments do you play and in what musical context?
I am a musician, having started playing piano when I was 8 and bass at 14. I can also play a variety of other string and percussion instruments, but my main muses are synthesizers and drum machines.
Tell us about the production of your submission. What is the story behind it? What was it inspired by? How long did you work on it? Was it your first entry?
This song, “Lift You Up” by newly formed duo Burner and Hooch is one of many I’ve produced for my school’s record label’s first hip hop record. Typically when I make hip-hop instrumentals, I do everything, from sequenced drums to synthesizers and keyboards. In the spirit of this being an educational project, I wanted to incorporate some of the actual recording knowledge I had obtained from my classes at NEIA. In short, this started out as a simple sequenced drum beat, and then I brought a guitarist and bassist in to record. I chopped up the best parts, sequenced them into a 16 bar verse, 8 bar chorus format, and everything just fell into place from there. The whole album has a very live feel, with the vocalists writing to my beats in the studio based on the vibe they get from each song.
What was your most significant/funny/inspiring experience as an audio engineer?
Up until I started my work on this album, I had never really thought of recording as being a passion. About three sessions in I realized how much more focused I was on the making of this album than anything else I had ever done. That was a powerful moment for me. Until that point I didn’t really know I wanted to be an audio engineer; I just happened to enjoy audio related things. Seeing the production of a project through from start to finish is an incredible feeling for me, much more than just making an instrumental track by myself.
Accidents happen: What was your biggest mistake in a production and what did you do to redeem the situation?
All of my worst accidents production-wise have happened by not saving often. Do yourself a favour and make sure whichever DAW you are using is backing up automatically, if possible. One time, after getting the best drum sounds of my life, I deleted an entire session. Fortunately, the drummer was able to come in the very next day and we got even better sounds - but next time I might not be so lucky.
What's your advice for engineers who are just starting out?
Do whatever you like to do as much as possible. I can’t stress enough how lucky I am to have gotten the opportunity to produce, record, and mix an entire album. Repetition brought me where I am today, and it is the one thing that will take me to where I want to be. If you like anything enough you’ll do it as many times as it takes, and then a thousand more.
Tech talk: What are your favourite pieces of equipment, and why?
Production: Akai MPCs, and drum machines/sequencers of the sort. In an age where computers are so heavily used in electronic music production, it’s so nice to be able to step away from the big screen. This is where almost all of my beats start.
Outboard: The Empirical Labs Distressor might be my desert-island compressor. It can be transparent or give sounds a completely different character. I could mention so many more pieces of gear that are right up there for me, but the Distressor sticks out as being a magical thing in my mind having just used it on bass today.
Microphone: Beyerdynamic M160. An underrated little guy with so many different applications, and not too expensive to boot.
Plug-Ins: The SoundToys time-based effects. Wacky, weird, and wonderful.
Can you name one or multiple of your favorite recordings or productions and tell us why you like them/what you like about them?
“Donuts” by J Dilla is an example of how great recordings can be so well done, yet raw at the same time. Recycling older recordings and turning them into something new by sampling is such an incredible thing, and I believe this record was very important for that art form. I still go through phases of listening to this record exclusively for weeks at a time.
What do you like about the AES? How does it help you to become a better and more successful audio engineer?
The AES is an incredible organization. The most valuable thing about it is that becoming an AES member makes you a part of the biggest community of audio engineers in the world. What one person might not know somebody else will, and that’s a beautiful thing.
Tell us about your favourite experiences at the 136th AES Convention in Berlin!
AES 136 was my first convention. Just being there and feeling the worldwide presence gave me a whole new respect for the AES. I’m really glad I got to meet fellow student engineers from all over the world.
What is your favourite frequency?
If I have to pick one frequency, I’d rather feel it than hear it. 25 Hz.
What do you do when you’re not in the studio or doing anything music related?
Hanging out with friends, often talking about things studio-related. I need to go outside more.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
In a studio somewhere recording, making beats, and mixing. Not necessarily in that order. But that’s how I’d like to keep a roof over my head.
Once again, the SDA congratulates you to your excellent achievement. Any closing comments?
I’d like to thank Pete Peloquin, Barry Marshall, and Al Shapiro, who directly made this project possible, and all of my other incredible professors at The New England Institute of Art who continue to inspire young engineers every day. You guys are amazing.
Have a listen to Daniel's submission on Soundcloud.
If you want to get in touch with Daniel, send him an e-mail. Also, make sure to check out the following links:
Posted: Monday, August 4, 2014