First Reflections Video: Home Studios and Remote Mixing with Grammy Winner Ariel Borujow

Dave Morrison, Founder of IsoAcoustics hosts Grammy Award winning mix engineer Ariel Borujow to talk about the secrets to his success mixing music in his home studio in New York.

Ariel’s long career in the music industry began at a recording studio in Manhattan. Ariel talks about the decision he made 7 years ago to switch to remote mixing and how it has allowed him to take more of an artistic approach.

Ariel is taking advantage of the latest advances in technology, using software such as Listento from Audiomovers which allows him to collaborate with his clients around the world in real time and high resolution. Dave and Ariel talk about setting up a home studio and getting used to the sound in your room so you are confident with your mix. Ariel shares his thoughts on spending less time focusing on specific parts and instead looks at it from a bigger perspective… Not focusing on how it sounds, but instead on how it feels.

Ariel’s roots are in the NYC hip-hop and rap scene, but now works with a very diverse range of artists like Notorious B.I.G., Madonna, P. Diddy, Kanye West, Nicki Minaj, T.I, Chittybang, Mac Miller, Lucius, Moon Boots and Andrea Bocelli.

Learn More about Ariel Borujow

Home Studio Setup:

Yamaha NS10 monitors on IsoAcoustics ISO-155 isolation stands

Head type 20 monitors with Argosy Spire 360i IsoAcoustics floor stands

Software for remote collaboration – Audio Movers


Video Transcript

Dave Morrison (DM): Hi, Ariel! Good morning! Thanks for joining me today!

Ariel Borujow (AB): Good morning! How are you!

(DM): I’m really good! How are you doing?

(AB): Great, man! Thanks for having me today!

(DM): How are you making out with this uh crazy situation? How is it affecting you?

(AB): I wouldn’t say it’s negative. I would say that uh work’s been more positive I think. Umm…I’ve been doing the remote mixing now for… I think it’s about close to seven years. So the work hasn’t changed for me much except the fact that I’m in my own home studio now and I…I…This is now I’m going on… We’re almost two and a half three years uh… since I’ve built the room…And uh so that’s been the positive…Uh…the negative in the beginning was pretty much … I have a five-year-old so that…that kind of uh became… quite daunting to have… uh you know, a little guy around, running around when uh… you know when you’re trying to mix records…

(DM): Hmm…

(AB): Aside from that it’s been great. I’ve been able to uh… I’ve noticed that a lot of my YouTube videos that I’ve done education stuff for when I did like Mixcon events and things of that nature have shot up in views and people were contacting me for uh whether i teach or do any private lessons and I do have an education background um…And I started doing private lessons on Zoom which was really cool. I don’t even call them much of the lessons I’m calling them virtual mentoring lessons because I try to tailor it towards the person and try to figure out where they are lacking, and where they can improve and things of that.  So it’s been it’s been positive for me… Life is definitely different as far as not being able to go out. I’m also the co-chair of the producer and engineer in New York for the recording academy. So a lot of the times we would do meetings in person, and we get to hang out with our peers. That’s not happening but we’re doing it on Zoom so there’s pretty much there’s no excuses for anyone not to show up these days. Um…but it’s …it’s been great as far as that. Obviously I want everything to go back to normal but in due time I’m positive about where things are heading but I think it’s also opened up a lot of opportunities for uh… for people to be aware of how remote working is in general um… just in all…all careers pretty much.

(DM):  Yeah… so that personal-personal connection is through Zoom now, and you had already started to…to work that way before we got into this situation then.

(AB): Yeah… I mean for me in the beginning it was mostly the reason I got into it was at one point I had two studios that I was one of them I was pretty much uh working out of someone’s facility where we sort of just became partners in the business aspect of it. And then I had a private mix room with a buddy of mine um… who does a lot of great jazz work, and… what I started noticing is that I had to charge more money if people wanted to come into the mix because they’re essentially booking me out, booking my room, so I had to pay the room as well. What I noticed was I started offering people “well, you can do unattended mixes at this rate”, and my manager would start getting there was more work happening there, and I had to figure out a way to make it work. So, for me the way that I made it work was at the time there was a program called Nice Cast, it was a third party program where it was streaming at 320 kilobytes per second which is, you know, it’s good, it’s high quality mp3 but you’re not getting the full frequency spectrum. What I did was I figured out a way to make it work where I would send the clients the mix.  They would send me bullet points of the changes. They already heard the high quality, the 20, you know, the 24, 32-bit uh… mix, and then to do the changes we would do them live. So they already… they didn’t have to compare an mp3 or anything, they already had in their head what it was so we would just go quickly. And now I’m using a program called … it`s from a company called Audio Movers. It’s called Listen To, and it’s great because you could stream at high quality, you know, pretty much 24 bit. You can even go up to 32 bit. I could… I could basically stream with less than like a second of lag time um… it’s… its pretty amazing! Obviously, it depends on their… their connection as well but it works well, and it’s, you know, you can actually put the plug-in on pro tools so you’re not dependent on the, you know, a third party program or some aggregate in the middle, or anything like that. It’s great! It just works out well, and I enjoy it! I get to be home, and I get to be a dad which is my favorite job.

(DM): Great! But you’ve been working with some really impressive people over the time the…Madonna`s, P Diddy, Imagine Dragons, Andre Pacelli, um… Chain Smokers and so on…

(AB): Yeah I’ve had a pretty long career in all this

(DM): How has this changed your workflow? How has this changed the way that you uh the way that you…you process?

(AB): I’ll be honest with you I think that for me… I feel more of an artistic approach to mixing than I ever did.

(DM): Hmm

(AB): Because I remember going into a studio, and they would have like the day booked out, and you had to get everything done in a day. It’s… It’s almost like a gift and a curse… like you going with that mentality that you have to get it done because the client is paying top dollar for a major room in New York, let’s say we’re on base. And now it’s great because I can literally come downstairs and work. And if I have an idea, or if I wake up in the morning and I want to continue working on a mix at six o’clock in the morning I could. Or if I want to continue working at night I have an idea um that’s… that’s where it’s been the positive. The negative is when people know that you have access you’re pretty much on call it seems like. They’ll be like, Hey I need this stem, I have a shot… Well, not now, but you know when they’re doing shows, a DJ will contact me and say, Hey I’m doing a show tonight can you send me these stems or these? Or, this producer wants to do a remix can you send me just these stems? And then they know that you have access to it.  Which isn’t the end of the world because what I do is… I’m…I’m putting everything up on the cloud anyway so I’m able to access things on my phone. And I mean technology is just…it’s mind-blowing what you can do these days! Um… so I feel like there’s definitely more time being spent working but I don’t even look at this as a job to…So, it’s…

(DM): Can I… can I have a look around your space? What uh you set up?

(AB): Sure! lWe’ll… we’ll do this… um… It’s… it’s not a… it’s not a huge space but you can pretty much see that. This is my main workstation. I have some pieces. I’m not really using anything as far as analog. Everything I do is digitally in the box…um…And then speakers.

(DM): Ah, yeah!

(AB): I’m using the head type 20s

(DM): Yep!

(AB): Uh with the argosy stand, with the ISO acoustics

(DM): Yes

(AB): And I have uh NS10s

(DM): Yup

(AB): Uh…you know, I’ve been using nNS10s for years. I also have a backup pair down there. Um, and I have another backup pair in my uh in my uh closet somewhere. I’m obsessed uh with the NS10s! It’s a…it’s a love-hate relationship.

(DM): (laughing) Very good! Well, my theory, my pro… my approach to setting up rooms is you need to start with the monitors – have good monitors, get them on stands, get your tilt, get your equilateral right, deal with that energy the reflections on the stands, and then go to the first reflections… And if you can do that, you know, depending upon your SPL, or the size of your room you may have already dealt with 85-95 percent of the challenges that uh…that you could have. So it looks as though you’ve got a nice… nice clean friendly setup there.

(AB): I think once what you’re saying is, once you get to that percentage, a lot of it in general is just getting used to your room.

(DM): Um

(AB): That’s the most important, I mean you have to know eh It took me. It’s good the room didn’t take me that long to get used to. Um I would say, it was a couple months but I would say within, – I know I said that I built this room two and a half three years ago we’re going on that in January, – but I think that for me…now… most recently within the last six months I’m getting to a point where I’m not really needing to take my work out of the room. Just be confident what I’m sending to the clients. I’ve been going more with my gut reaction, my feeling on it, and then I’ll send it right away. I’m not really sitting on the mix too long. Maybe…I mean the way that I generally work is if I’m very confident about it, I’ll send it to them that day. But usually I’ll come back the next morning with fresh ears and listen. But I’m not taking it out of my room, I mean, it’s my workflow… it`s just… and that… that’s the positive of having a…a home studio that you’ve built and, you know, are used to.

(DM): Yeah, that’s great! Let me ask you a question. I’d like to get your reaction to uh to this. This is something I’ve been doing for years, and I found that it works very well for me. When I get something that’s got a creative component, you know, it could be a rendering, artwork, an ad, –  anything like that.  Something I’ve asked for, and it comes back. Um I always open up, I look at it, I look for it, look at it as the content but then I close it, and I leave it, and I come back to it much later. And I find that when I come back with…with fresh eyes I’m not so… I’m not interested with my own bias. I’m not looking at it from my perspective, you know, is this what I asked for, is this the way I do it. I look at it with an open more objective view. And I’m more open to what other people have to offer, even things beyond what myself and that other person may have originally envisioned. So I find it very important to have that fresh look and come back. Can you relate to that at all? Is that um…Is that something that you…you find um important as well?

(AB): Absolutely! For me, what I’m learning as I’m getting older, and just having being in the business for as long as I have…that… I am reacting more in my gut instincts. Once I start overthinking something, and it’s not coming from the heart …

(DM): Yeah

(AB):…then it… once I stop reacting to things I’ll walk away from it. Uh… I’ll take a 30-minute walk and take my dog for a walk…Um…Before the pandemic I was uh…I was studying uh Brazilian jiu-jitsu which helped so I would, you know, usually I’d start in the morning…working, and I take a lot, I do a lunch class, or start later. They do a dinner, uh… It helped me gain perspective!

(DM): Umm

(AB): Also I’m able… like today, I would pick up my son from the bus so I’ll take a break at some point um… I just feel like the breaks are important, especially when you’re losing perspective. And I don’t want to overthink things. That’s…that’s kind of what you start doing when you’re… just getting into the business or, a couple of years in. You’re making these decisions because you’re not so sure, not so confident but for me I’m realizing that mixing is not about making something sound great or perfect.  It’s about uh… making it feel good.

(DM): Umm

(AB): And that’s… that’s something that I try to instill in a lot of my students. Even into my clients. But I think now, in my career, what you’re saying is, you know, holds a lot of value because people are coming more to me for my taste rather than making something sound good, and it all plays into each other. It’s having a fresh perspective on…on the art that they’re… that you’re giving.

(DM): Right, oh, that’s great so it’s kind of that feel, technical quotient, getting the right uh… balance.

(AB): Certainly! There is a balance!

(DM): Yeah! Excellent!

(AB): Yeah!

(DM): And if you’re not careful, you become so entrenched in one mindset, or something that you… you kind of lose out of their perspective.

(AB): Like you got to remember the mix you’re looking at the entire puzzle – you’re not just focused on one section, you know um…That’s where… in the beginning I was always, you know, you got to make the drums knock it, you got to.., you know, but now it’s always like the… the longer you’re in the business the less you’re soloing…uh instruments and vocals… You’re just looking at it from a bigger perspective and the big piece of pie.

(DM): Yeah, that’s excellent, excellent! You have um… projects you’re working on now, something interesting that uh…

(AB): Yeah, I mean a few things I can’t talk about but I am working on something for uh… CBS television that a producer friend of mine did. I just finished this EP by this amazing artist named Stella Cole. There are a few projects that I will be starting in the next week, and some random… just, you know, one-off singles that I’m mixing here and there. So, it’s… it’s been… it’s been quite busy, and then uh… starting mid-December, there’s a band that I work with, that an accomplished band in France called the Celtic social club. I’ve been working with the producer and drummer of that band for over 10 years. So, I start their next project next month which is first time that we’re doing it this way, which is tough, but uh… last year I had gone out to France to co-produce and record the album.

(DM): Umm

(AB): And then I flew back to New York too, took a two week break since I started, which was interesting because what was amazing about that project is I got to start the rough mixes in the studio which is something I haven’t done in…phew…it’s got to be like 10 years now.

(DM): Yeah

(AB): Um…which was nice, you know! It was… I tried not to go too deep but then I knew also that I was mixing it down the line.

(DM): Right

(AB): So, I was able to put a little bit more uh… emphasis on… on plug-ins, and balance, and things of that nature. And uh… we took a two-week break, and then he flew in, and stayed with me, and we finished the project, but now it’s going to be all remote which is the first time in 10 years that he’s not flying into New York to mix with me, so…

(DM): Ah

(AB): It’s a bit sad but…

(DM): Yeah

(AB): Um yeah… but it’s gonna be great, and there’s… there’s a few other projects that are not fully solidified yet but uh…I’m sure you’ll hear about it once.

(DM): Oh, brilliant!

(AB): Once this airs, yeah!

(DM): That’s great! Well, listen Ariel, thank you very much for your time! I really enjoy talking to you, and uh… and hearing about what you’re doing! I hope uh… you and your family stay safe there, and uh…and have a good Thanksgiving!

(AB): Thank you, man! You too, and thank you for having me!

(DM): Oh, it’s my pleasure! Thanks again!

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