Continuing our short series on Philly’s Obsidian Music Studios, I had the opportunity to sit down with audio engineer Joseph “Joe” Kuri and PR intern Park Sehgal to talk about how Obsidian has helped Joe make a career out of his passion for music.
How did you first get involved with Obsidian Studios?
Joe: I was actually interning/assistant engineering under Shep who is the owner [of Obsidian Studios] at the prior studio that we were both at and he was my go-to mentor. He was like my idol in a way. We aren’t too far apart in age, a couple of years apart, but I always looked up to him. I thought that if he is doing [anything], it’s probably the right thing to do. So when he started splitting off from the studio and stuff, I was like: “I’m gonna do that, follow his wave, whatever he says goes.” And he kinda says it as well, I do the right-hand-man thing for him, I was there to just take care of stuff.
You know, it’s pleasurable to do, he’s my boy. He got into a business he wanted to start, [and] it’s the same thing I wanted to do. He was one of the only people in the world that I trusted and the most talented person I knew in Philly at what he was doing, and he wanted to teach me so it was perfect. That’s how I got in. We opened [Obsidian] together; I was his head engineer, the senior engineer behind him. I learned as I went, went right into it from opening. I had to get as close as I could to his level as soon as possible to make sure all our clients were happy. So it was kind of like 24 hours a day, non-stop, no sleep, following what he’s doing, watching what he’s doing, which was already what I always did. And then I came to be his right hand with it. And that’s how Obsidian kinda came together. Piece by piece.
How long have you been an audio engineer and how did you know you wanted to pursue this career?
Joe: About two years now, two and a half years. I actually didn’t know I wanted to do
. I just knew I needed a way to make money while trying to learn to get better at music and catch up to the people who were so far ahead of me. I kinda look at it like: I’m 22-23 years old, there are people who have been doing this since they were 15-16 years old, so whatever I have to do to be able to get as good as possible at what I want, I’m just going to do. And then learning production kinda fell into engineering, [and hearing] “yo, you want to make a couple bucks…” and then “yo, you’re worth this much for an hour” and I was like “wow, I can make $20 an hour just doing this, while I’m an intern? Absolutely.” You can’t say no to that. And then when I found out the money gets more than that I was like: “career it is.” It fit right alongside what I wanted to do, I’m also a singer/songwriter, vocalist, producer, all that. Everything I do with engineering completely goes back and forth with it, they intertwine with each other. This is my day job, and it switches to night when I have my fun, same building, same place. It’s the perfect career for me.
What genre of music do you usually work on, and what is your favorite genre to work on?
Joe: The most popular genres, I’d say, are R&B, hip-hop and trap. My favorite genre to work on would be traditional-style reggae. It sounds a little weird but I’ve had two or three artists from Jamaica, for all three of them it was their first year, they were all in the States. I recorded them and there’s nothing better to me. I’m not too religious myself but I love how the music isn’t just music, it’s politics, it’s culture, it’s religion, all into the same genre. Anything you want could be said into it and it’s still the same kind of music, just with different meanings. I have an appreciation for that. It’s a real therapy kind of music, it holds a lot of cultural influence. I just appreciate that a lot, and that’s probably why it’s my favorite to work on. And it’s different, I don’t get too many opportunities to work with artists that have [Jamaican] accents, and [their music] is just what I resonate with the most. I really enjoy it, it’s a great genre as a whole.
For the more tech-savvy people out there: what is your favorite type of microphone?
Joe: The go-to microphone is just the U 87, anyone who’s a tech person will know that. You’re saving money, keeping good quality. I like Neumann a lot, it’s a great company. We have the Manley Reference, we have one upstairs. We just got a new plate for it, they have a gold model of it. It’s the same model we have upstairs, but it’s completely gold-plated. Apparently, gold is supposed to help with some vibrations and frequency response, all that stuff. I don’t know too much about metals, so I can’t necessarily agree, but I like that mic. It’s the same model, just one is gold and one is not. It’s Mali’s most professional mic for sure, for vocal recording at least.
Who have you recorded with in the past that you really liked working with?
Joe: I’ve worked with a lot of Philly artists. I personally like underground people who are right at the point of [becoming big]. They’re so talented, and they have a sick fan base, but they’re so small they just don’t have the outreach to get out. Those are my favorite people to record. Out of the heavy underground who have burst through Philly in the past year or two, I’d say my favorite three artists to record would be Son of July, Lil Zack, and D4MSloan. Lil Zack and Sloan, they’re pushing their way up to the millions with their tracks now. They’re definitely enjoyable to work with, we’re friends too so it’s nice building relationships with your clients after a while. Those two are my favorite that have dipped out of the underground and into the whole industry in the past year, they’re pretty notable in Philly.
Are you working on any big projects right now?
Joe: Lots of EDM has actually been coming through, we’ve been doing a lot of vocals and help for some of the newer EDM labels out there, like Excision that started a new label last year called Subsidia. I think the studios have five or six tracks that have popped out onto the label already. There’s always new label tracks coming in and out… This is very biased actually, but one of our projects is an in-house Obsidian project is called Interkon, I’m actually a part of it as well. Its a pop-punk infused hip-hop thing, think of Blackbear and Machine Gun Kelly meets Nirvana and Blink-182 with a more traditional sound. That’s probably my most exciting project that I’m involved in working on as well as the one for the studio that I’m most excited for. And that should be dropping the first week of April. It’s bringing back the pop-punk culture, which is part of why I’m so excited for it, I come from skater culture growing up. And I’m trying to get back into the scene a little bit.
What is your favorite part of your job? What part of your job do you look forward to every day?
Joe: People leaving with a smile. It sounds corny, but I’m really big with relationships and vibes and all that with my clientele. It’s not just let’s work, pay me, then get out. Sometimes people will come in like “Dude, I’ve been waiting all week to come in here and vent out in this mic to you.” People sometimes call me like their “music therapist” as a joke. They’re talking to me through the wall, I help them get their emotions out sometimes. Even if they’re not doing their job sometimes we’ll just sit down and talk, get stuff out. Them walking out happy and them saying “We can’t get this anywhere else,” “no one else treats us like this,” “we don’t vibe with anyone like this,” “we don’t have fun and make this music in the same place anywhere [else]” makes me feel like we’re doing something right. That’s definitely the responses I like and the positivity I like to hear. It just makes me want to do better and do my job more, pick up more clients, talk to more people, and get as many people as we can in here. That’s my favorite part about it, it lets me do what I love more. I enjoy doing it.
Is there anything you want to add or plug before we wrap things up?
Park: There are opportunities for students. We do our interns on a semesterly basis because we have interns that are in school and we have interns that have a job and are not in school and are just doing this part-time. Applications are probably coming out at the end of April.
Joe: This isn’t just a knowledgeable/could be just fun internship. We have interns that just do this for fun, to do nothing, and just have fun around music. We have people that come here to literally do it as a career, we have people that come here just to put it on the resume. Any types of interns that would want to come in, I think that’s the coolest part about here is that you could go from coming in here just wanting to listen to music and clean up or watch people to leaving here making a career out of it in less than six months to a year… if you put everything into it. It would have been pretty cool if when I was interning, I did that. But I don’t know, I like where the young mentalities are lately and a lot of people have been enjoying coming through here for the internships and I’m seeing more and more people introducing other people to do it. So it’s cool, to get more people into it for sure. We’ve got like 9-10 [interns] for the semester. Last semester there were like 6-7, 7-8 [interns], Park made a nice little job out of it.
To learn more about Obsidian and possible interning opportunities, visit www.obsidianphilly.com