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Interview with Innovators: Your Own Music Language – Shachar “Shak” Boussani

Shachar Boussani is on the road to building a career with longevity. Seeking out opportunities and gaining new experiences has given him clarity on his career path. His determination and dedication to his craft has led him to great triumphs, set-backs and amazing opportunities for further development. We got to speak with Shachar about his journey and opportunities that have contributed to him as a mixing engineer, where he is now, and where he plans to go from here.

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Can you give us a brief introduction? A bit on your path as a musician.

I grew up in Rishon LeZion, Israel, a big city that no one outside of Israel knows about it. Music wasn’t on my radar as a career path until a couple of my friends started playing instruments around middle school. I always enjoyed hanging out with them while they jammed, but didn’t consider the option of getting involved until one of them said- “how about you learn how to play bass, so you can play with us,” to which, I responded with a big “Huh?!?” I started playing bass and began acknowledging my brain coming up with complete musical pieces that I only knew how to play on bass. I began sourcing friends to record parts on their instruments, making me curious about learning to play those instruments, ie; guitar, keys, etc… Following a 3 month long stay in London, England, I decided that I did not want to stay in Israel, so I moved to Los Angeles to study at MI (Musicians Institute) for six months. I moved on to internships at studios, namely Ned Albright’s studio, which ended up being monumental in my development and went through many different phases; composing, engineering, producing, post production, mixing, engineering again. I straddle between mixing and engineering now.

Opening a studio is a big step, Hummingbird Studios had its doors open in 2018, How has that been going?

It sure is a big step! Perhaps even bigger had I known I only had 1 year and 3 months before a global pandemic hit. Hummingbird Studios opened its doors late Dec of 2018, I often just say it opened in 2019, for the sake of simplicity. What I did not fully make public is that the studio has since closed its doors due to a flood in Feb of 2021, followed by “landlord complications.” For these reasons, we couldn’t move back in once construction was completed six months later.

Setting up my studio helped to expedite my growth.

While David “Triple D” Diaz, My friend and business partner, and I had Hummingbird, it was GREAT! I loved having a studio that I’d planned, set up, purchased and wired myself. Everything was exactly the way I wanted it to be. It served my needs and wants, combined a comfort and quality that most of us cannot reach with a bedroom/project-studio. I was able to develop my skills fairly rapidly thanks to the opportunity of working in a room with great acoustics, speakers, and everything else I needed at arm’s reach on a daily basis. Bedroom/project-studios often have limitations and complications that make experimentation difficult and inaccurate if your monitoring environment is not great.

The Gear List at a studio is very important. What thought process went into the gear and Hardware at Hummingbird? 

Absolutely! I’m naturally a deep thinker, I take my time, plan, research, and think think think… I spent months planning what my studio would be like, what gear I’d have, how it’d all connect, and why? Keeping in mind what’s important, what’s less important, what to spend more money on and what to spend less on. Good acoustic treatment, speakers, patching flexibility, easy access to my synths from my desk, and a 5.1 surround mixing setup were the elements most important to me. They informed a lot of my decisions and purchases, for example; having my synths in the control room vs. in the live room forced a certain patching scheme. Having a 5.1 mixing setup informed what converters/interface I would pick, and a subwoofer that is able to serve both a 5.1 and a 2.1 configuration.

What was the first piece of equipment you bought for the studio and why? Was it also your biggest investment? If not, what was?

It may have been the Sterling Modular desk and the Aurora Audio GTP8 preamps, both were on the same ticket. The biggest investment was on the acoustic treatment, having opted to hire a professional rather than going the DIY route. I wanted it to look really nice and get busy working on what I was there to do. At the end of the day, time is money; that money is spent whether I hire someone, or spend hours a days for weeks building acoustic treatment instead of mixing. I hired Josh Nyback, who is just a treasure! He and his team are professional, easy to work with and communicate well, I wish the space allowed me to use them even more than I did. I had them treat the tracking room and install a new door between the tracking and control room. The control room was already in pretty good shape, and I had some limitations on what more I could do there.

Do you have a favorite Hardware Instrument, either at the studio or one that has made the add List?

Well, that depends exactly what we’re talking about. I do a lot of my processing in the box. The convenience is just unmatched, especially with Universal Audio’s Console. I can process and commit in a way that feels a lot like analog, but with digital flexibility and price. So with that in mind, I’d say that the Aurora Audio preamps are my favorite hardware. They beat or match any preamp in the studio on pretty much any source! In terms of instruments, I’ve was tracking down a Suzuki Omnichord for a while, after discovering its awesome sound on Kasabian’s self-titled album. Watching the price go up and down for years, I finally found a System 200m on the market for a really decent price, the timing was right, and I snatched it. Over the pandemic (one year till the studio closed), it was featured on 99% of songs produced at the studio. Sometimes just on principle because we loved it so much, and didn’t want it to feel left out.

I see Universal Audio is one of the repeats on your Gear List and they seem to be a staple in most Mixing and Mastering Engineers’ studios. UA has become a staple in my own workflow.

Yeah, they’re really great. They get the job done really well, and at a decent price point. They’re really hard to beat right now, and then being local to CA is a bit of a plus for me. Like I mentioned before, being able to track through the Console application is really working well for me! The other thing is that the Apollos have 5.1 monitor control/management, so having it all in one unit definitely saved me some money.

We’ve talked a bit about hardware gear, are there any plugins that are your go-to’s?

Plug-ins come and go so quickly! I try to balance switching things up and discovering new sonic options, with controlling over-complication of my mix process. New and exciting plugins come out all the time, so it’s very tempting to try them all. They could help with growth and development but they could throw us off balance and into fleeting trends. Finding that balance is very important. That said, some plugins I’ve been using in every mix for a long time now are Pro Q-3, UAD Pultec, R-Comp, R-Vox, Valhalla Vintage Reverb and Echo Boy. I’ve recently gotten into the Metric Halo Channel Strip; I’m finally beginning to understand how nice that EQ really is. Also, Black Rooster Audio’s KH Comp on anything low end is pretty magical (pro tip- mess around with the Knee knob)!

The pandemic has had quite an impact on the music making process and has forced a lot of adaptation. How did you adapt and did those changes create any long-term opportunities?

For sure! It was definitely not easy. Lucky for me, I was doing a lot of mixing, which I usually do unattended by the clients anyway. For a while work kept coming in but many of my clients are musicians who make their livings as session musicians, playing live gigs and touring. They may have had plenty of time to work on their songs and productions at home, but eventually ran out of money to afford paying for mixes! So that was a peculiar situation I had to work around.

I was able to fall back on some tv sound work, which helped a lot with the income. Aside from that, I formed a little Covid-Bubble with David “Triple D” Diaz, Teo Olivares, and Devon Werkheiser, and spent a lot of time in the studio writing and making new music. That was a lot of fun because we were able to be completely free with it. One of the projects is a band of the four of us that wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for Covid. Since we had no real prospects for this band and we were doing it because we could, a lot of pressure was taken off so we could just have fun with it.

You’re also Bob Horn’s assistant. Mentors and assistant work has made such a difference in my own journey, how has the experience influenced your process (mixing / production / workflow or otherwise)? 

I spent about a decade pursuing this career with minimal mentorship, certainly not at the caliber of Bob Horn. Of course, experience is invaluable and the internet has an incredible amount of information, but let me tell you… before I started assisting Bob, I thought I was a good mixer. Once I started assisting Bob, the first thing I realized was that I was playing in a completely different league than he and others like him. In my first two weeks assisting Bob, I quickly became a much better mixer and experienced an existential crisis! “Who am I?! What have I been doing till now?! Why didn’t I do this sooner?!” But everything in life has its time. The reason I reached out to Bob was because my own studio went down due to the flood. So there’s much to say about that and how the universe/God (depending on your set of beliefs) works in a very interesting way.

In regards to workflow, Bob and I were already working in a similar manner, so the influence there was fairly minimal. What I have learned is how to listen to certain things in the mix. What to listen for, what to dwell on and what to move on from. I consider Bob a low-end MASTER- sometimes even when I understand exactly what he’s doing, I still have a hard time replicating. That, of course, comes down to time and experience; mixing is not a standard mathematical equation. It’s not “Ah I understand now, I can be the greatest mixer!”. So I give myself the time. but what I do know is that in one year of direct mentorship, my mixing has leaped like I never thought was possible. So yes, the internet is a wonderful place for information and learning, but if you have an opportunity to go and assist one of your favorite mixers, engineers or producers, whatever you’re into- DO IT!

Music is one of those careers that’s always exciting with it’s new developments and constant change. What is something new that you learned or experimented with in the studio that you will be applying moving forward?

That’s true, I’m constantly surprised by the songs I get to mix. The closer they are to major-label-pop-singles the more surprised I tend to be. That leads me to two answers for you:

  • As a mixer, I try to trust the process. There’s always something enjoyable to be found in the process. Maybe there’s a particular production choice that I find interesting, maybe they got a really good bass tone, etc. the artist/producer is doing what they’re doing for a reason. I try not to get discouraged when I don’t like a song, that’s not my job. My job is to find what the artist likes about the song and accentuate that.
  • There really are no rules in music, and there is no way to determine what’s “good,” what’s not, or what will be “successful.” Just have fun! Let me say it again- HAVE FUN! Don’t try to copy others, because next week they might not be the popular thing anymore. Find your own musical language- something that’s authentic to you. Don’t be scared to be different or weird. Don’t worry about others “not getting it.” If you get it, if you’re authentic and unapologetic, your audience will find you!

Can you tell us about your upcoming plans for 2022?

That’s a tricky one. I have a couple of pretty big credits coming up this year, including legendary composer, Danny Elfman, that I hope can really give my career a push. Maybe a plan/goal is to get to a point where I really need management or representation to properly utilize that momentum.

Generally, I’m not big on making plans for the year. I haven’t had a new year’s resolution in… I don’t know how many years. I really just try to live in the moment, keep learning every day, keep growing every day. I believe that if I live every day just the way I want to live, I’m destined to live a happy and successful life. I know this philosophy isn’t for everyone, and I also know that I might change my mind next week.

Thank you again for participating in the interview! Let’s end with some advice for creatives that plan to open their own studio?

It’s been a pleasure. Thank you for caring about what I have to say!

Advice… start with having COMPLETE clarity on what it is you’re trying to do with your career. I would encourage everyone to try out different things. Play your instrument on some sessions, go on stage, write songs, produce yourself, produce others, mix songs, record bands and artists, master songs… Take your time and be clear on which of those you’re most passionate about, if any. Work from your bedroom studio, until you need to rent out other local studios to do big sessions that your bedroom cannot accommodate. By the time you’re clear on your goals, you might find that you don’t even need to open your own studio! Maybe a bedroom/project-studio situation is best for your purposes.

If you’re still certain that opening a studio is your move, at least now you’re clear about your focus. You’ll be able to properly plan the purpose of your studio and how you want it set it up. For example, don’t open a commercial studio available for others to rent out, if you want to be busy working there yourself every day. Don’t make your room the perfect mix room if production is more your thing. They all serve best with different specs.

I guess the bottom line of what I’m trying to say is that you can take your time with opening a studio. Technology makes it a very accessible and tempting option, but it may not always be a wise one to jump right into. Once I was done with my home studio, the studio I opened ended up being in operation for just over two years. Now, I cannot be happier with my choice of reaching out to Bob Horn to be his assistant. I will absolutely have my own mix room again, eventually, but for now I manage without one well enough. I hope this is useful insight for everyone. I’m always open to having people reach out and talk personally, too.

Natalie Gould is an independent songwriter, producer and mixing engineer based in Los Angeles, California. Frequenting writing rooms across genres, she pulls from personal experience and lessons from mentors to deliver the full package and quality in her work.

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