In the recording world, an audio engineer’s presence is to be heard, not seen. It can be argued that they are the hidden figures of the industry, despite the fact that their role in the music creation process is integral to the listening experience.
But some seasoned engineers, like MixedByAli, believe mixing – the technical process of blending individual tracks in a recording to create a version of the song that sounds as good as possible – is a lost art.
The DIY approach to making music has steadily become the preferred, and cheaper, method of the craft. Renting a top-notch recording studio can go for as much as $195 per hour or more, not including the cost to hire an audio engineer. The alternative for many up-and-comers with limited funding is recording in a spare bedroom, closet or kitchen – a practice once employed by rising Atlanta crooner 6lack. Though these approaches respect an already tight budget, they often sacrifice quality.
While the growing trend has become a threat to the engineering business, Ali saw an opportunity to create one.
Born Derek Ali in Gardena, Calif., the two-time Grammy-winning engineer has risen to audio prominence as the in-house engineer for Top Dawg Entertainment. As his success grew throughout the course of his career, his motivation to help the independent artists and everyday engineer increased, too.
Enter EngineEars, an online mixing service designed to partner musicians with independent audio engineers from around the world, created by Ali.
When in need of a mix, artists log onto the site, fill out the information form and choose one of three mixing packages that each range in services and prices, from $249.99 to $449.99. Once approved, artists then upload their song or album files to the platform’s cloud to be paired with an EngineEars-certified mixing engineer.
Though the site is still in the alpha stage, it provides a cost-efficient option to ensure that an artist’s song is getting the quality treatment it deserves before hitting streaming sites.
Ali also plans on taking his business on the road with his Seeing Sounds workshops. The educational tour consists of an intimate conversation with Ali, a deconstruction session of a hit song he recorded, followed by hands-on practices of mixing techniques. All 35 seats were sold at $750 per for his Los Angeles event in September. He looks to expand domestically in Austin, Washington D.C., New York and Atlanta, as well as internationally in Paris, London, and South Africa.
“I’m a businessman deep down inside,” he claimed. “I look at myself as a brand. If I stay stagnant and I stay still too long without pivoting and understanding the market, I’m gonna fail.”
Ali joins a number of engineers who have stepped beyond the board and into roles as entrepreneurs. Young Guru (who holds engineering credits with Jay-Z and Kanye West) has tapped into the education and speaking circuits and has starred in commercials with AT&T. Dave Pensado (Beyonce, Janet Jackson) created a YouTube channel as a platform to interview other prominent engineers and sell his own products. Alicia Keys’ engineer, Ann Mincieli, built Jungle Studios, a premiere recording destination in New York with a client base consisting of Drake, Taylor Swift, Jay-Z, Beyonce and more.
Each of the aforementioned stars have careers that span at least 20 years. For the 28-year-old Ali, the expansion of his empire is just beginning.
“Over the past few years, I’ve been transitioning from someone with no musical experience to climbing the charts with some of the biggest and best rappers in the world,” he said. “I’m to the point now where I’m ready for the next step.”