Interview Billy Aukstik – Hive Mind Recording – 11/12/18
At RecordingTheMasters, this is no secret that we love analog. But we wanted to go a step further and discover other people that share the same love for tapes and music. We decided to start a series of interviews with analog professionals from different backgrounds. With these interviews, we hope to learn and share tips, tricks and fun stories from our community.
We start this series with Billy Aukstik, a young jazz musician, owner of the label Dala Records and the analog studio Hive Mind Recording based in Brooklyn, NY. We’ve met with Billy once and we could only be impressed by all he accomplished both as a musician and a studio and label owner. With his energy, his good spirit, and his talent we truly believe he represents the future of analog.
The interview :
Can you tell me a bit about your background and how/when did you start recording on analog?
I have always been into music. I started learning trumpet and jazz music when I was in 4th grade and then, later on, got accepted to the Jazz Studies program at NYU in 2009. I developed my network there and quickly joined an afrobeat band called EMEFE. Miles Arntzen was the bandleader and the drummer of Antibalas at the time. I really got into analog music when I became friends with Antibalas and I started hanging with people from their label, Daptone Records. These guys make incredible records using mostly analog equipment and they gave me a taste for it.
After some time, I met Charles Bradley, an amazing soul singer, who was 61 years old at the time. We connected, I started playing trumpet for him, and then I decided to stop school for a moment. I went on tour with him for the next 6 years. That was one of the best experiences of my life.
When I came back home in between tours, I started a bedroom studio with a simple Tascam 246 4-track cassette machine. I did my own recording and experiments. After a few trial and errors, I got the hang of it. That’s part of the charm of analog. I remember we could hear the street noise in the background and all, but it was my music and I recorded it myself. It’s a very satisfactory feeling.
The manual for the Tascam 246 was the one that I used to guide me through the basics of recording. It was great because it breaks things down in a very simple way. It also had jokes in it, making it approachable and fun to use.
When did you decide to upgrade from your bedroom studio?
After 2 years recording in my bedroom, I started a studio in a two-level basement in the East Village. I switched from my 4 track to a Tascam 388 8-track recorder. I got it from a friend at Daptone Records, it really felt like the torch was being passed down to the new generation.
The new studio had a high ceiling and I invested in some gear, enabling me to experiment even more. Playing with mics, trying different angles. Really, it was all about experimenting and learning by trying to develop my own recording techniques. I started to record more albums there for my new label, Dala Records, that I had found around the same time. I invited friends over to be a sort of house band. I wanted to replicate what I saw at Daptone Records but with my own vibe.
After a while, I had to leave. I was looking for a new place at the same time as my current studio partners, Vince Chiarito, and Mike Buckley. We decided to work together and created Hive Mind Recording Studio in Brooklyn, New York. It took us 7 months to build. We wore Dickies onesies and built the studio from scratch.
You mentioned you learned to record by experimenting. Now you have a commercial studio, recording other people albums, did you have to go back to school to study analog recording?
Not really. My studio partner Vince is an excellent engineer and he became a mentor of sort. He taught me the theory behind what I had learned from experimenting those last couple of years. He helped me take a step back and understand the “why” behind what I was doing. It really elevated me and gave some backbone to my work.
It also enabled me to do troubleshooting and to fix problems faster. He taught me the fine tuning and how machines react to tapes etc.
I went back to my Tascam guide as well. This book is a gem.
Your studio is working well. What tape deck do you use now?
We currently use an Otari MX-70 16-track for recording and an Ampex 440B 2-track for mixdowns before sending everything to the mastering engineer. We found the Otari tape deck on Craigslist. We bought it, cleaned it and then sent the heads over to John French from JRF Magnetics, who is the best out there. We had heard of the quality of this tape deck and, so far, we have not been disappointed. It works perfectly.
In terms of tape, we use Recording The Masters SM911 1” and we love it. We had shedding issues with other brands, but so far, never with RTM tapes.
Who are the artists coming to your studio?
The artists coming through our studio play a variety of music like soul, blues, afrobeat, folk, pop, and rock n roll. Artists that we’ve worked with include Lukas Graham, Marlon Williams, Fat Night, Camellia Hartman, Eric McEntee, Agata Morio, Hearing Things, The Sway Machinery and Anbessa Orchestra, to name a few.
We opened just over a year ago and we are happy as we are getting very busy.
You mentioned that you experimented a lot with tape decks and recording. Do you have an anecdote that you could share with us?
I remember I used to connect the 4 track to my computer through the headphone jack directly. I didn’t know any better, haha. Now we thankfully have nice converters in the studio.
Why did learning to record with analog make a difference?
I truly believe that starting with a basic setup is necessary to make good music. And I am not even talking about recording. That’s the beauty of analog, it makes you more creative and focuses your mind on the music itself, whereas with pro-tools, you might spend too much time playing with tiny parameters and forget about the music altogether. I would advise any musician interested in composing to start with a 4-track machine in order to understand the basics of how songwriting, arranging and recording work, and allow their creativity to develop naturally.
Why do you continue to record on analog?
We just had a couple sessions the other week with an extremely talented singer/songwriter named Sara Velazquez. The sessions were great and, dare I say, too easy? The band was very happy because it had never been that smooth for them. They were all able to focus on making the song arrangements tight and everything just gelled. They clearly took note of the recording method and now they will come back because it was easier and faster for them.
It is just such a different feeling when you’re making a record on tape. It feels more real, everyone is more in the moment, and it keeps you honest in the studio.