Dayana Rodríguez. Foto Cortesía de la entrevistada
Dayana Rodríguez. Foto Cortesía de la entrevistada

Between Westminster and Abdala: a Cuban sound engineer

15 minutos / Susana Gomes Bugallo

08.04.2020 / Interviews

She hardly sees the light of day. But you don't feel like you're missing anything. She says that the hours seem like minutes and that the space inside those soundproof walls is her natural habitat. What's more, she would love to know that in 10 years she will continue doing the same. Because living in a recording studio has not bored or annoyed her, and she does not think she can ever find a reason to abandon her passion: "recording and immortalizing something as magical and powerful as music."

She just came from the UK. In 2018 she obtained the prestigious Chevening Scholarship and, as can be assumed, it changed her life. Now the sound engineer and Master in Audio Production at the University of Westminster in London, Dayana Rodríguez Hernández feels a better professional, because she knows that her life has changed in all spheres.

“I am more organized when it comes to working, I respect more any detail that contributes to creating a positive work environment, and I take firm care of delivery times; That dreaded word there: deadline, has become a way of doing, and I apply it to all areas of my routine. I am very grateful for that discipline and feel that I am a more efficient person ”, she comments to Magazine AM: PM from her constant work at Abdala Studios.

Road to Westminster

It was months of excessive preparation. Although he did not know that the Chevening Scholarship existed, discovering it at random opened a path for her. She was talking to his cousin, who had just received her, who knew of her existence. She never imagined the opportunity to study for a master's degree in the UK, but she began to wonder how to apply to a similar program. And she decided to put all her efforts into achieving it.

“The application process is long and demanding. The most difficult thing was to find a balance between the application, which takes almost a year, and the work at Abdala, which consumed almost all my time. Another requirement of this process is to face an English exam that accredits you in order to study with great academic rigor in an English-speaking country, ”she recalls. 

Although there are hundreds of British universities that have art programs, finding one entirely dedicated to Sound Engineering was impossible, because they all link it to music production. "When you start to delve into the modules of each master, you realize that their way of preparing you is focused on creating versatile professionals who are capable of assuming multiple roles within an industry that every day faces the weight of development and technology" , analyzes.

Dayana had a privilege that few achieve: she was accepted by the three universities to which she applied. Then she was able to choose the Master in Audio Production at the University of Westminster in London, led by Professor Matej Dimlic, and with a faculty consisting of talented British engineers and producers such as Simon Gogerly, Nick Bennett, Kevin Paul and Glen Skinner,. among many others.

“Inside the school it was very helpful to see people with such different backgrounds studying together for the same goal. One of the most valuable elements that Chevening puts at your disposal is the possibility of connecting and exchanging with a multitude of professionals, something that allows a network of contacts with people of common interests. ” 

Each day brought a new challenge. The projects were so unique that they went beyond sound engineering and even music production. Suddenly you become someone who is looking for artistic talent, who does executive production, and many other roles that demand so much from you that they undoubtedly make you grow, Dayana recalls.

Foto: Cortesía de la entrevistada

Foto: Cortesía de la entrevistada

Two weeks in EMI Music 

Can you imagine arriving in a completely unknown country and having to find a band to produce, record, mix and master a song for them? How do you do it? Are you going from bar to bar, like a headhunter? You have several options, but none include giving up. The first academic assignments taught him to overcome obstacles and use creativity. For this, the occurrence was to publish an advertisement on Facebook showing the unsurpassed quality of the music studio they had for such a commission. The result was immediate: that turned into a casting of bands that sent their models.

Among other lots of experiences, he highlights his two weeks in the editorial section of EMI Music, a wonderful opportunity in which he could participate in meetings of the production team and see how such a large label performs dozens of creations every month. Its rigor of planning and high levels of quality guarantee unstoppable machinery that generates a lot of music, she says. “I edited a lot of content for them having access to a good part of the catalog that they handle. It was a large volume of information in a short time, and that gives the measure of how challenging it is to insert yourself into the giants of the industry, ”he says.

The University of Westminster Audio Production program labs can also be challenging. Although Dayana recognizes the quality of teachers as common points of education in Cuba and London, the education infrastructure of the United Kingdom offers the necessary tools to train professionals in each field. Recording studios with the highest technology and equipment, post production and mixing studios, a certified Dolby Atmos studio, with an inventory of microphones, preamps, guitar and bass equipment, synthesizers, industry standard peripherals, many DAWs (digital audio workstations-digital audio platforms) such as Pro Tools, Logic Pro, Ableton, Izotope, are features that allow you to take advantage of your experience at exquisite levels, she describes 

“Aprender a producir para radio, editar videos, hacer diseños sonoros para audiovisuales y animaciones, crear páginas webs, concebir un plan de negocios, hacer re-Mixes y sonido en directo, boom, escribir guiones, producir y dirigir un documental, y tantos otros proyectos, son retos que han aumentado mi versatilidad como profesional y me han dado valor para enfrentar lo que sea. También me permitieron crear un portafolio de trabajo más amplio e incorporar herramientas para cualquier encargo”.

A woman at the sound console

Of the 30 Master's students, only five were women and two of them were engineers. And being part of that small universe has its peculiarities. Even in Cuba there are not many women who work in this profession, mostly male. 

For Dayana, being a woman expresses herself making differences, and almost always requires demonstrating more, or justifying that you can also do well. "I don't think this is a particularly cruel generation in this regard, but inequalities are always there. One genre does not surpass the other, although I think that women seek a level of detail not better, but different, "she says.

In the day to day of the trade, they must face other realities that complicate their routine. Being a mother is one of the facts that lead to restructuring such a demanding schedule that escapes any planning of your time, Dayana describes thinking of other colleagues, adding that live sound is another great challenge due to issues related to physical effort. That does not prevent you from finding many working in this sector, too, he says, and confesses that he has only dabbled a little. "It is still an adrenaline rush to face a live concert where all decisions have to be made quickly and any doubts or insecurities have to be put aside."

It was precisely a woman who made her decide on her profession. Dayana Rodríguez Hernández studied music from the age of seven. She graduated from piano and medium-level theoretical-musical subjects, and until then her whole life revolved around this instrument; I did not know or dream of anything else. Then she made a choice diametrically opposed to the one recommended by her piano teacher at the National School of Art, Rosalía Capote, who encouraged her to apply to Conducting and Musicology. She had not the remotest idea about Sound Engineering, but it caught her attention. It was love for the family that tipped the balance: "As I am the daughter of two engineering parents, it was a beautiful combination of art with family tradition." 

Today she does not look far from a studio. And she thinks that only someone who loves sound engineering would describe living constantly within its walls without knowing the time as positive. 

“I enjoy almost everything from work: designing a microphone setup, experimenting with different settings and always trying to capture environments beyond direct sound. Something I rejoice in is the editing process: I love bringing my musical knowledge to the records. Communication with musicians, speaking a language as special as that of music, seeing the talent of so many people captured on a computer and observing it turned into a product, is something with inexplicable power ”, he confesses with passion.

Y mucho debe tener de inspiradora su profesión cuando se piensa en algunos de los proyectos recientes que más sonrisas le han regalado. Dayana tuvo participación en dos importantes discos de la música cubana: Libre de Pecado, un homenaje de Beatriz Márquez a Adolfo Guzmán, y Cantor of the Town, de Havana D` Primera. Este último debió compartirlo con el proceso de aplicación a la Beca Chevening, las clases de inglés, y la urgencia de hacer la post producción en una semana para que estuviera listo para llevarlo a mezclar a Estados Unidos. “Ambos discos han sido premiados y positivamente reconocidos por toda una comunidad de músicos y audiencia y me hace feliz haber tenido un papel en ello”, señala. 

“Pienso que lo más importante es sentir pasión y respeto por cada cosa que hagas. No creo que eso garantice el éxito, pero estoy convencida de que te lleva por un buen camino. Estudiar todo el tiempo e intentar estar al día con un campo tan dominado por la tecnología que cambia y evoluciona a cada segundo no es tarea fácil, pero es un deber marchar al paso de este desarrollo. Siempre intento que cada trabajo sea la mejor versión posible de sí mismo”, define como su receta.

Part of that training is visiting your work references. One of them is the famous American engineer and producer Al Schmitt, whom he admires for his unique recording style, and for a career with music icons such as Frank Sinatra, Quincy Jones, Barbra Streisand, Ray Charles, Michael Jackson, Diana Krall , and Elvis Presley. Dayana takes many well-known engineers and producers as a guide, although she knows that special attention should be paid to the context of the music, the style and the vision of the producer. “Each project is a unique and unrepeatable universe. The precision of knowing what works best for each occasion is something that you acquire and polish with experience, and I think it takes many years to master it ”.

Another ritual from which you cannot escape is that of good music. He confesses that he always goes out on the street with his headphones and loves listening to diverse genres and artists. And, strange as it might sound, Dayana usually listens to records that she has worked on, since she sees it as a training to discover hidden details within that music that has sounded so many times already and that one thinks one knows completely.

Foto: Cortesía de la entrevistada

Foto: Cortesía de la entrevistada

What should a song sound like?

It is her secret: she thinks that the music is ready when she feels that she is able to tell her story without changing or trying to improve any detail, when making an occasional concession will not take her sleep away at night. This is how she tells it, and defines that the feeling that somethings he is working on is completely accomplished is very difficult to feel. “When you're involved in more than one stage production — say, recording, post-production, and mixing — each of these processes requires a level of finish and commitment. Many times during the post production process, which is one of the closest to music and furthest from the sound itself, I try to polish in the most subtle and at the same time demanding work collected during recording. There are many times when you have to make decisions without consulting, and that balance is complex to achieve. If you work together with a producer, you feel more accompanied and, as an engineer, you try to capture the vision they have for that music ”.

“You are discovering what a song should sound like by following several steps,” she says, and reveals that her fundamental guide is to listen to a lot of music to be nourished by different sounds, style concepts and ways of doing. Communication with the author of the song is essential to ensure that this song conveys what the person conceived in her mind. 

“I think that, as engineers, we are also artists capable of contributing to each work, offering proposals, looking for colors in the music and trying to make the creation sound authentic. Fighting against the schemes that everything has to sound the same guarantees that creativity does not die and new proposals are born every day. It is there where everything maintains that magic with which music does not bore, or should never bore. ”

And her daily fight against the facilities takes place within the walls of the Abdala Studios, which she has reached since the second year of her career. It is a privilege for her to have worked as a recording assistant for three years with an engineer whom everyone respects and admires a lot: Orestes Águila. “Thanks to the opportunity to work in her team, I had the opportunity to start connecting with the industry in super interesting and complex projects, when my head was concerned with learning the most basic elements of the profession. It was a stage of much learning that required me to know the discipline of working within a studio, respect for a record production, and interaction with people of psychology as diverse and complex as all of us who are part of the art world. To this I add the training that led me to understand and put into practice the theory that until then I had received at the Higher Institute of Art (ISA). Being able to do and play everything in the studio allowed me to realize my passion for sound. ”

In addition to Abdala, she has worked in other studios in the capital: Areito from the record company Egrem, the studios of the 3rd and 18th Egrem in Miramar, as well as some productions made on PM Records. She would love to venture into the audiovisual world because she finds it fascinating to make sound for cinema. She is also passionate about everything to do with dialogue editing, Foley recording, ADR, and sound design. She considers it a very creative, challenging world and one of another dimension beyond the purely auditory experience. She had the opportunity to dabble in mastery in these aspects, and the experience left her wanting more.

“Something that has always been in my plans since I started studying the degree was to incorporate a module on music production into the curriculum. I do not think that an engineer should fulfill the role of a producer, but I do consider that he must understand this language; It is a tool that allows greater cohesion between two figures so united in a production. I had the opportunity to experience this joint preparation in London during the master's degree. The study program is focused on preparing you as an audio producer and gives you tools to be trained as an engineer and producer. Furthermore, it is the way that many related programs are designed, and I think we should take them as a guide and modify our curriculum at ISA to train better-prepared engineers with an even stronger musical culture. I don't think it is essential for an engineer to be a musician, but it is a great advantage to feel that within a studio we can speak the same language.”

Susana Gomes Bugallo

Susana Gomes Bugallo

Su plan más serio es dedicarse a escribir cuentos por el día y cantar boleros en un bar por la noche. Mientras tanto, hace un poco de uno y de lo otro. Y, de paso, algo de periodismo y marketing, que también la apasionan. Lo de la música no es negociable: necesita algún acorde siempre cerca. Y al menos siete canciones de Santi al día.

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    Jorge Aragón

    10.04.2020

    De las mejores personas que existen. Que alegría me da leer esta entrevista, ella cita que: «tuve un papel en el disco Libre de Pecado». Bueno, yo diría que sin ella, ese disco jamás hubiera sido posible! Gracias


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