Take a look at a professional studio mixing console and you’ll begin to understand how complex the work of a studio engineer can be.
The wonderful 2013 documentary Sound City, produced by long-lasting rock star Dave Grohl, spends a fair amount of time discussing how crucial the Neve 8078 mixing console was to the unique sound and feel achieved at Sound City Studios for a number of decades.
But for as crucial as equipment is for creating a unique yet professional studio sound, even more important is the person in charge of running it all.
Over at KIDinaKORNER, the label of renowned producer Alex Da Kid, Bas Janssen is the person running it all.
Janssen hails from the Netherlands, where his early interest in music and performance inspired a move to London, where he expanded his musical expertise even further. From there, it was only a hop, skip, and a jump to Berklee College of Music in Boston, home of highly coveted contemporary music programs across many different genres and styles.
Nowadays, Janssen serves as both a drummer/percussionist and studio engineer, making use of two rather disparate skill sets. He works and performs both in and out of the stuido, having collaborated with famed artists such as Lyric Rachae, Arnetta Johnson, Fetty Wap, and Dana Williams.
Janssen is the go-to guy for learning more about a comprehensive love of music, one that encourages learning, and doing, as much as possible to expand musical horizons, rather than specializing and limiting one’s skills to just a single instrument or role.
Has your experience as a drummer/percussionist informed the way you approach engineering? Whether that’s recording or mixing.
Janssen: I definitely value my background as a musician while working as an engineer. It helps me to make decisions based on what I hear and what I feel as opposed to what I see, what the meters say, what my settings are, etc.
There’s also a huge difference between the studio and a live performance. Some songwriters struggle with their first gig, and some performers struggle to communicate their ideas to their producers and engineers. Having been on both sides, I definitely feel like a translator sometimes because I can easily help one side connect with the other.
Do you have to adapt your playing and engineering style when working with different musicians?
Janssen: When it comes to playing, each genre has its own vocabulary and language that requires you to approach everything differently. Some require more musical conversation with the rest of the band. Other types of music sound best when you play the part and stay out of the star’s way. Some music is rhythmically driving with high energy and some is laid back and relies on leaving space.
As far as engineering, different genres have different focuses, whether it be with frequencies or with certain instruments, but I’ve definitely had it where I was finishing one project, then moved on to the next and immediately received a note like, ‘Can you turn down the bass a bit?’ and I’d think to myself, ‘Oh yeah, I was mixing some trap 808s last week and was still in the groove when the Soul/R&B came around.’ So yes, I very much enjoy the variety of work I get as an engineer, whether it’s a songbird from Madagascar or a trumpeter who makes ‘Disruptive Jazz.’
At the end of the day, it’s about following the emotion the artist is trying to convey and doing my best to maximize that emotion.
Has living and working in Los Angeles influenced your creative outlook?
Janssen: The talent here in LA is some of the best in the world, and when they all get together in one room to challenge each other, it’s a wonderful experience.
And then of course, basically every major record label in the U.S. is based in LA. They have their writers and producers in recording studios around the clock, writing the next big hit. To be around all the newest sounds, talents, and moguls is so inspiring. It makes you want to get involved before you miss this singular musical moment.
Do you think that DAWs have made music production more accessible to more people?
Janssen: Anyone can make music now. You don’t need a room full of instrumentalists with microphones and expensive recording gear. Every Mac comes with GarageBand now. You can load up any old sound you can think of and tinker around with it until you get something you like.
Beyond that, there are a bunch of different DAWs with different focuses and characteristics, which can really help you find your own niche. I use Pro Tools for mixing, but if I ever try programming or sequencing, I’m using Logic. Most people prefer Ableton these days and a lot of today’s hits are being produced on Fruity Loops, so it really boils down to personal preference.
Overall, if there’s a will, there’s a way.
Do you have any long-term goals for your music career, or projects you would like to pursue in the near-future?
Janssen: As far as long-term goals, I’d like to engineer and mix the biggest hits I can. Working for KIDinaKORNER has let me see more sides of the industry and gain a deeper understanding. It has allowed me to work with some incredible artists and songwriters that, as a kid, I never would have dreamed of meeting. And to have all of that under Alex Da Kid’s leadership is very inspiring to me.
In addition, I’d love to do what I can to bring the artists I’m working for now into the limelight, helping them find the attention they deserve. Artists like Niu Raza to inspire love through their lyrics. Lyric Rachaé will definitley sell out stadiums worldwide soon enough, and Arnetta Johnson is bound to shake up the music industry as we know it.
Do you have any advice for young aspiring producers and musicians, and how they can set themselves apart from the crowd?
Janssen: My first piece of advice is to indulge yourself and experience as much music as you can. Different genres, different cultures, and different eras. Then just create. When you get the chance to play or produce and have any creative license, you should just follow your gut and the musical ear you’ve created for yourself that will be subconsciously influenced by all the different styles and flavors you’ve picked up over time.
The most unique sound that translates to other people is always the most genuine, passionate sound that just flows out of you. I had a problem with this for a long time. When you think too much or try too hard or do anything based on what other people want to hear, you only end up getting in your own way.
Do you enjoy the social aspect of making music? Is it exciting to have so many different perspectives being contributed at once?
Janssen: Absolutely, that’s what keeps me going. My experience at Berklee was definitely a huge opportunity to discover new people and new music. Their music, for me, was a gateway into their cultures and it opened my ears and my mind to many new perspectives.
As I mentioned previously, I keep their cultures and sounds with me to influence my creativity, but also to connect with more people wherever I go. I’ve played for a Brazilian drumming group, mixed for artists from Madagascar, Camden, NJ, and Turkey and have drummed on projects with people from Israel, Kenya and Venezuela.
Lastly, there’s no better ice breaker than music. Whether you discuss music, dance together, or watch people’s response to music, there’s nothing that changes your mood, sparks your energy, or gets you going quite like music.
by Giorgio Chang