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#Emtern Spotlight: Engineering a New Experience

Brandon Lebel head shot
Brandon Lebel ’21

Emerson interns (#emterns) work for amazing organizations and do fascinating things. One in a series of conversations with #emterns, republished from Careerbuzz.

Ugly Duck Studios is a full-service recording studio and video production company in Boston. They serve a diverse group of clients that include everything from globally recognized brands to musical artists of all genres. They also do film work, including sound design, SFX, pre-production, and editing, and have worked with NPR, The History Channel, Walt Disney Studios, and MTV.

Last Fall, Brandon Lebel ’21, a Media Arts Production major with a focus in audio post-production and minors in Music History and Culture and Psychology, interned with Ugly Duck from August to December 2020.

How did you find out about this opportunity, and what drew you to it?

I found out about this internship pretty randomly. Fall semester of my junior year, I took VM350 Studio Recording, having a serious passion for music but absolutely no recording experience under my belt. I was definitely quite a step outside my comfort zone, but I soon found myself enjoying the process of engineering sessions more than I thought I would.

One week late in the semester, my professor had to be away from Boston (he was moving to LA), and invited one of his close friends and Berklee affiliated professor, Dan Babai, to fill in. The class had a great time working with and learning from Dan, as he had nearly a decade of engineering experience and had just begun recording music full time in the Greater Boston area.

At the end of the week, he brought up that he needed spring, summer, and fall interns at his studio, Ugly Duck Studios, and that he would be more than happy to meet with us if we were interested. I got his email address and soon set up a time to meet with him.

What were some of your responsibilities during your internship?

My responsibilities during the internship mainly centered around maintaining the general upkeep of the studio, so clients and musicians came into a clean, inviting, and laid-back environment. This included simple cleaning tasks such as sweeping, wiping surfaces, picking up and taking out trash, etc. I also had a hand in setting up and tearing down studio equipment, such as mics, mic stands, and instruments before and after sessions, and organizing said equipment once all was said and done.

Being around these recording sessions also meant that I got to shadow the engineers as they worked with artists, observing their workflows for recording and mixing music while aiding them in any way I could when needed. When there was down time and no session going on, I was also given the opportunity to independently work on a studio drum sample pack, processing recorded sound effects to make them sound like drums to use in later writing and beat-making sessions.

What accomplishment were you most proud of during this internship?

I would say that I am most proud of the fact that after the internship, I feel more comfortable working on my own audio projects. Being able to shadow so many talented engineers with years of experience has helped kind of demystify the professional audio world a little bit. I got to see how people in the industry handle specific projects, how they worked within Pro Tools in an efficient way, what hardware and software was being used to achieve certain results, and how to work with clients in the real world.

While the direction I plan on going in the audio industry may not be music-related (I’m looking more into film and broadcast/podcasts), the skills and knowledge I learned at Ugly Duck were unbelievably transferable, despite being used for a different side of the audio industry. These mixing, editing, workflow, recording, and sound designing techniques have helped me gain not only insight into the industry as a whole, but confidence in myself in terms of how to improve my mixes and projects, and in experimenting and trying new ideas.

What advice do you have for people interested in this internship or opportunities similar to yours?

I would say that the best advice for those going into this internship or a similar one would be to always be observant, and notice when and why certain things happen. Always pay close attention to what the engineer is doing, and try to hear the differences they make to the mix once a specific edit or plugin has been applied. Observe their workflow and learn the shortcuts that they are accustomed to using, as anything that can save you time during a session or project is essential.

Take notes, as it will be hard to remember everything you learn otherwise (things tend to happen pretty quickly at first, but you’ll start to see patterns and maybe even know what needs to happen before the engineer gets to it). And if you are unsure of something, just ask, but wait for the right time to do so. Don’t interrupt the engineer or artist. They’re working and need to focus at all times. Use your discretion, and if you’re unsure if it’s an appropriate time to ask, write down your question and ask later.

Also, if you have the time, try to stay later than your allotted shift if a session is still going on. This shows initiative, passion, and that you are truly there to learn everything you can. Though it may not always fit your schedule, sometimes staying a little later than normal can lead to that right-place, right-time moment you’ve been looking for. It’ll also help build trust between you and the engineer, and show them that you are trustworthy and responsible.

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