Ariel Borujow is chief engineer at New York City’s Stadiumred studios and a multi-platinum, Grammy-nominated mix engineer who has worked with artist and producers such as Kanye West, Madonna, The Black Eyed Peas, P Diddy, J-Lo, Chiddy Bang, Just Blaze, and others.
His success stems from his passion for audio, which makes his typical ten-hour day (clocked seven days a week) the key ingredient in a life well lived. Indeed, when we caught up with him, Borujow was happy to be getting back into that groove after being sick for a few weeks.
“I didn’t know what to do with myself,” he laughed. “I was just stuck there, roaming around in my apartment, which is usually just a place to sleep at the end of a long day. I guess the upside is that I got to know my apartment better?”
Now back in the studio, Borujow is finishing up projects with Modern Machines, Charlie Red, and Low Country Kingdom using the Metric Halo Production Bundle, which includes ChannelStrip 3, TransientControl, Multiband Expansion, Multiband Dynamics, Character, Precision DeEsser, and HaloVerb plug-ins. Modern Machines is a pair of New York City producers who are making some of the most engaging and danceable electronic dance music on the planet, and Borujow recently mixed their single, “We Are the Night.”
“They come from an engineering background, so the tracks sounded good coming in,” he said. “Nevertheless, they gave it some grit on purpose, and the challenge was to keep that feel while making sure the music would still translate effectively at a dance club.” Borujow was a longtime user of Metric Halo’s ChannelStrip 2, and he’s pleased that ChannelStrip 3 retains the same “out-of-the-box sound” while adding features that make it even more functional and flexible.
“The size is great and the interface is even more intuitive, but the most exciting improvement is the incorporation of a spectrum analyzer,” he said. “It’s a big deal and it’s on almost all of the Production Bundle plug-ins.”
As with all of his mixes, Modern Machines benefitted from plenty of ChannelStrip 3. For the all-important kick drum, he used ChannelStrip 3 to dial in the right timbre and dynamics and then used TransientControl to punch it up.
“I’ve used other manufacturers’ transient plug-ins,” Borujow said, “but Metric Halo has given TransientControl something that is noticeably better, but in a subtle and interesting way.
“I can’t exactly put my finger on it, but there’s no doubt that it really improves the dynamics without over-processing them.” Borujow is using a slightly different part of his brain to mix Charlie Red, a duo that fuses hip-hop, blues, and rock to come up with a very unique style. The music is all live instruments and the band recorded the tracks at home.
“These guys are real artists and they go by feel,” Borujow said. “All of the tracks are masterfully performed, but some of the technical stuff needed polishing.”
Again, he used TransientControl to add shape and dynamics to the drums, and ChannelStrip 3 found use everywhere. The tracks were also noisy at times and Borujow used the Multiband Expander to carve out the noise.
The very accurate spectrum analysis feature allowed him to zero in and position the bands for maximum effect. Because Charlie Red’s recordings weren’t made in a purpose-built live room there was a certain “boxiness” to the recordings. Rather than EQ out the room mode frequencies, Borujow used Multiband Dynamics to carve them out dynamically.
“Again, the spectrum analyzer was a tremendous help,” he said. “To lessen that boxy sound, Multiband Dynamics is preferable to EQ because EQ tends to lose something. Multiband Dynamics leaves the life in the recording.
“It’s a much more pleasing solution. Metric Halo’s version sounds great and is quick and easy to work with.” With another “this meets that” description, Borujow finds Low Country Kingdom at the intersection of Gorillaz meets the Beastie Boys.
“These guys are just super musical! They produced all the music in Logic and sent me the stems,” he said. “To give it more of a ‘sound,’ I used Character. I especially like the ‘American Solid State’ algorithm.
“It’s subtle and not overboard, and it doesn’t sound digital. It sounds authentic. It’s been a go-to plug-in and setting for me lately. It’s all over the Low Country Kingdom album.”
He also used the Precision DeEsser quite a lot.
“I use it a lot of the time for vocals, sure, but I use it for a lot of other instruments as well,” he explained. “For example, the Low Country Kingdom snare sound was a little too bright at times.
“Rather than EQ it out, which kills those frequencies even when they’re not annoying, the Precision DeEsser allows me to keep them down only when they’re too much. I put the TransientControl behind it, and the snare sounded awesome.” All three projects benefitted in roughly equal degrees by Borujow’s newfound access to HaloVerb.
“I’m a huge fan of the ‘Sizzly Plate’ preset,” he said. “I find that as I get older, I use reverb as much as I used to, but I want to hear it at the front of the mix less and less.
“It’s more effective as a subconscious thing – an element that puts instruments in a common space. I don’t want to hear it, I want to feel it.”
He used HaloVerb for Modern Machines’ synths, Charlie Red’s guitars and drums, and Low Country Kingdom’s vocals.