Radio Days: Former BIRN Engineers Blaze Paths to Success after Berklee
In the five years that Aaron Bastinelli ‘09 has been at Converse Rubber Tracks studios, he’s recorded more than 1,000 bands at his Williamsburg, New York base and at dozens of pop-up studios in Paris, Rio de Janeiro, Barcelona, Berlin, and several other cities.
It’s a job he never expected, but one that he came to exceptionally well prepared. Though his music production and engineering (MP&E) studies gave him the technical chops to do this job, he says it was his three years at the Berklee Internet Radio Network, known as the BIRN, that gave him the practical skills to run the New York shop and the pop-ups. Rubber Tracks gives away free, eight-hour studio sessions to emerging musicians.
“It’s been a lot of fun. I mean, just go and work in studios all around the world...I never in a million years thought I’d be able to do the amount of travel and work with the amount of bands, and the level of bands, varying from brand-new indie bands to very huge top-level artists,” Bastinelli says.
In some ways, the job mirrors what he did during his time at the BIRN. It was there that he helped set up the station’s first studio, in the Commonwealth Avenue dorms, and worked as the chief engineer. He also designed the broadcast system the BIRN still uses, and hosted his own weekly rock show, Pirate Radio, with fellow student Mikhail Garbinsky '07.
But it was largely what he calls the “baptism-by-fire” nature of having to solve problems quickly that trained him to move at the speed necessary to work in a professional studio.
“[The BIRN] gave me the confidence coming out [of Berklee] that allowed me to really get into situations and kind of own them, but own them not in an aggressive way. I just had the confidence in myself to do the things that people asked of me. For me, the BIRN really helped solidify that,” he says.
Matt Carlson ‘11 is a former MP&E major who worked with Bastinelli at the BIRN and now works as a recording engineer at Rubber Tracks in Boston. Bastinelli hired him for both jobs. Carlson agrees that it was the problem-solving skills and the sometimes on-the-fly aspect of working at the BIRN that prepared him for professional work.
“That’s extremely valuable in what I do now,” he says. “The studio sessions here have to happen. If something breaks, or something goes wrong, or you run into some other kind of struggle, you have to figure out a way to make it happen.”
Tony Brown, who supervises the students working at the BIRN, says that the engineers hold incredibly active positions. "The station now broadcasts up to seven live events every week. Students who engineer at the station as interns or as work-study [student employees] gain invaluable experience through repetition, which greatly benefits them as they enter the workforce. They are either recording, broadcasting, mixing, or editing during every shift. The work they do also has a huge impact on how the station and the college is perceived," he says.
After Carlson graduated, and before he came to Rubber Tracks, he worked for several years at the Perkins School for the Blind, starting Radio Perkins, a professional radio station in which everything is accessible for the visually impaired. It was a job he found rewarding in part because he got to see how blind students were able to use the medium to grow.
Radio Tilled a Video Star
For Maria Goulamhoussen ‘14, who studied both MP&E and electronic production and design, it was the video skills she learned during her time as the visual media director and as staff engineer at the BIRN that have helped her in her jobs as an audio producer at Disney Interactive and as the creative director of Inspire Entertainment.
“It was basically a free master’s I was getting…learning everything there was to know about video editing, lighting, and shooting music videos,” she says of recording the shows at the Red Room at Cafe 939 for the BIRN. She and her mentor, Vivian Buff, developed a YouTube channel that featured recaps of BIRN Alive shows as well as promotional videos and DJ profiles. Within a few years, it had earned 400,000 views.
Goulamhoussen also started a training program for BIRN DJs who wanted to participate in live events for video, teaching them Final Cut Pro and camera techniques.
“So much of what I learned at the BIRN I’ve applied to my professional life,” she says. “All of my video skills came from the BIRN and I use them all the time to develop promo videos for events, artists, and web content. Working with artists is a big aspect of my current job and I honed [these] skills by working with artists through BIRN Alive.”
Goulamhoussen says that it is not only these relationships, but the ones she made with her fellow BIRN engineers, that have stuck with her. “They still remain some of my closest friends from Berklee. We developed a community at the BIRN....and developed a strong bond unlike anything else I experienced throughout Berklee,” she says. “We had a killer team and I know that if I ever needed any professional help with anything, or needed to recommend a person for a job, they would be my go-to team.”