We had the good fortune of connecting with AJ Jenkins and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi AJ, is there something that you feel is most responsible for your success?
The most important factor behind my success is rooted in relationships, everything is a team effort there is not one thing i’ve accomplished without the help of my team. It is my responsibility to be the best me I can be every second of the day that means doing my research, learning my craft, studying every waking second of the day so that once i’ve got something I can present it to a team of people who have spent their time doing the same to ideally take what i bring to the table and expand on it. I never want to be the best in the room because in that room I can’t learn.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I’ve been working in the music industry for roughly 13 years, I started out as a producer until one day I was asked if I knew how to record vocals, now yes at the time I knew basic protools skills, I knew how to press record and rearrange vocal tracks on the timeline but that was the extent of my knowledge at the time. Now because of who the artist was I was not about to say that I wasn’t an engineer so I took the challenge. After struggling and googling my way through a 12 hour session it was apparent I was not an engineer; The artist loved how when I didn’t know i’d just look it up and figure out how to do it. They decided to keep me around. I of course knew how rough it felt so I decided to go to college for audio engineering. My father always told me, “If you’re going to do something you better learn everything about that thing and be the best.” So i dove into my studies, Graduated from the LA Film and recording school and began to meet other engineers in the business who I became friends with and started to learn more and more from people such as Bob Horn (Echobar studios) and Josh WDZ among others.
The road in any field is definitely not easy, especially a field that is changing everyday. With advancements in audio technology we’re seeing a rise in at home studios, most artists record themselves nowadays. The artists I work with I record them in their homes we don’t visit commercial studios unless we’re looking for a sound from a specific room or piece of gear and we need this room to capture that vibe: that’s usually not until the mix process if at all. This is why researching and journaling is a huge part of my job. You don’t just learn signal flow and become an engineer, The soul of an engineer must be that of a guitar player, you can give two guitar players the same chord chart and both will play the piece differently because they are two different artistic souls. Yes I will press record and another engineer will press record but our interpretation and sculpting of the recording will be different. Both can be great but will be distinctively unique. It’s important as an engineer to become in=tune with the room. You must learn to read a room, read the people in the room. You’ll know once you’ve sculpted a vocal properly by the energy in the room. I’ve learned to sit down and enter autopilot, when I’m on protools i’m in the zone it’s my canvas and the artists throw their paint down for me to help them sculpt the picture.
Because I see music visually I think of audio compositing and editing like photo composition; where in photography you can physically see the result and that sense of sight triggers an emotion audio is the same way, when you press play you sit back and listen you’re searching for a feeling through trial and error. We’re turning knobs to dial in a feeling, too much of this knob or that knob can either make or break the vibe being sought after. In engineering it’s all about the details, subtle moves summed together create amazing works of art. You have to step beyond the 2d plane of left and right, with the amazing tools at our disposal we’re now able to figuratively grab a tool and reach inside of the audio to pull out character we hear. You must learn to see with your ears, When you close your eyes do the sound take you to a place? Whats in the place, what sonically can you do to enhance the vision?
Being the student I am I have learned so much over just the past year alone, mainly with my input chain. I used to rely heavily on a 1073 into an 1176 and that was my chain I swore by it and then I’d go crazy with my Pro-q sculpting itb (in the box), now I rely only on my ears and emotion. See back in the day you started at square one and you took every step required to get along the map, I was the kid that said wait a minute what’s all the gear this guys using on youtube and his mix sounds better than mine how do I get better so i’d skip fundamentals to go straight to the advanced. I found myself restarting this year, forgetting everything I thought I knew about engineering and going back to the basics. I forced myself to spend quarantine dialing in my ears. I mix most of my stuff on my yamaha headphones, my headphones to give you more clarity are modeled after the historical Ns-10 series monitors. If you’re familiar with engineering you already know the challenges here. Mixing on headphones is great for a mid range image which is important but what about low end? I’ve been experimenting night and day trying to train myself to feel where the low end is. If I boost 40hz in my headphones i can’t really hear it but i can feel how it’s shifting my mix, I used to mix the bass way too low in the headphones until one day I grabbed a pultec and boosted 30hz quite a bit to see what would happen and I felt the shift. I’m still flying blind a lot of times due to the limitation of headphone mixing but that’s where referencing and car tests come into play. (MILLIONS OF CAR TESTS)
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
Being from new york i’m biased when It comes to the difference in food culture of LA but malibu is my favorite place on this earth. Malibu Country kitchen makes in my opinion the best sandwich in LA i’m sure others will disagree but personally that’s my favorite, growing up with italian deli’s in my daily routine moving out here trying to find a deli proved to be quite the challenge but once I found this place I fell in love.
I’m also a huge fan of the Broad museum.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I remember learning about the heroes journey in college and how each story has the mentor archetype along the way. In every phase of my life I’ve had a mentor, I’ve had mentors before I even knew what a mentor was. I’m so humbled and thankful that i’ve been able to cross paths with so many amazing minds that have assisted in shaping my career. I’m humbled daily by my close friends as they grow and continue to perfect their craft it’s truly what inspires me to keep growing.