Photo courtesy of Cooper Fox
Soundscape Studios has been a staple in the Chicago music scene for years. A who’s who of artists have recorded there from Chance The Rapper to FKA Twigs to Chet Faker and so many more. But the work that goes into the music doesn’t stop with the artist. Engineers are often very literally the unsung heroes in the music world. In our new series we will interview engineers from the one and only Soundscape Studios to show you who has the magic touch behind the boards. They are artists in their own right, any music fan should be at least somewhat familiar with the people who make the music sound radio ready. First up in our series: Jeff Arenson.
What do people call you?
Jeff, for the most part, Mike blessed me with the name “pimpglitter” which is just kinda from the fact that I often focus on effects when I work, Spacey vibes in the studio and whatnot. Mike tends to call it pimp glitter because everything has to be pimp something with him. So that was given to me whether I liked it or not so… that one is still up for debate.
When did you start working with Soundscape? How did that happen?
I interned in 2013 I think. It took about four semesters before Mike would answer one of my damn emails (laughs). I knew I wanted to intern here and eventually work here and so through Columbia I was able to intern (for class credits) once I could get an interview with Mike, which was a story of its own. So I got my foot in the door and was lucky enough to start working here once that ended.
Name some crazy dope artists you’ve gotten to work with?
The Chance & Lil B tape was probably the highlight of the last four years… just seeing that come together from two opposite sides of the spectrum of the rap world. Seeing everything come off the top of the head it was very organic, just two people you wouldn’t really expect to work together. FKA Twigs was the closest I’ve been to fanboying… I did not thankfully, but to see her work was awesome. Zayn Malik was a fun one he’s probably the biggest name thats came through in terms of Twitter followers and all that. He came in the same week his album was dropping which was strange timing but still, cool dude. Bubba Sparxx was a fun one (laughs). Some other amazing people that came through include: Vince Staples, Sonny Digital, Smokepurrp, D-Low, and Sicko Mobb.
What’s a crazy story that stands out to you?
Talib Kweli, I remember I was working while I was in school and one day Mike was like “yo, I gotta get a haircut, you’re doing a Talib Kweli session in 10 minutes” and I was like “I got class”, at which point Mike just kinda looked at me and walked out the door. So that was my first big name, dudes been rapping longer than i’ve been alive. He’s worked with Young Guru and some really great engineers and that was my first experience recording a legend MC. And he was very (on point), he’d do a 16 or like a 32 and he’d be like “alright I need to pick up from there” and he’d say the word, so if I wasn’t on point he wasn’t gonna have it. I was like a 22 year old kid and like, he’d been rapping longer than fucking 22 years so he just had me on my toes. I didn’t think it went that well but then Mike came back and Talib gassed me up a little bit then came back like 5 days in a row. So just the way that came about, I had to blow off class and Mike just kinda put me in the hot seat so i’m grateful for that one.
What’s something you’ve learned from working at Soundscape?
Client expectations, nobody teaches you that shit in Columbia. No offense to Columbia but if a motherfucker comes in and says they wanna get a mixtape done in 2 hours, you gotta know how to work with different sorts of people with different goals in a certain set timeframe. Time management, just real life shit that (Mike) Kolar has taught me that there’s no class about. It’s not technical it’s just the business aspect of managing someones expectations. Which I think is something that translates in all industries.
Give us 1 funny Kolar story:
He’s made me eat animals i’ve never even knew I could eat. He’s taken me to Chinatown and made me eat pork knuckles that I thought were orange chicken. That was a traumatizing experience. Here’s a good one though: one day RTC was out of town for something, so me and Kolar substituted his music business class at Columbia. And so to lead off the class instead of introducing ourselves and explaining why we were here or that we were subs or that we even knew Alex, he just played 3 Chief Keef videos on a huge ass projector. He played “Faneto” and “Get Money” and a third one before even taking attendance, most of the class was very confused but I thought it was a great way to start a class.
Name some people you’re currently working with here that we should look out for:
Tatiana Hazel. She is a very talented (vocalist), she doesn’t really have a genre, she’s like a more Alternative/Punk version of… I don’t wanna offend her (laughs), but Lana Del Ray or FKA Twigs. She’s just in her own lane and I think she’s going to be a real name in this city within a year or two. D. Graves is always working, he’s got a better work ethic than anyone I know. Also Jebiga, I don’t know how he’s not famous yet it drives me absolutely insane, he’s as talented as 90% of the musicians in this city. He has a video with Cody LaPlant which is insane, he went to Egypt to shoot a music video, his music just… I hope that the numbers catch up to his talent in a reasonable time frame because it just drives me nuts that such garbage can get so many plays and posts and then some kid can work his ass off and his music is just so much better and he just can’t get that personal push yet. AND the motherfucker used to be Russell Westbrooks’ personal dresser, along with Jamie Foxx.
Who were some engineers you looked up to and wanted to emulate coming up?
Dave Pensado is kinda like the golden boy engineer of this era as far as his Youtube series where he interviews engineers, producers, mixers, etc. No one did that shit or cared what engineers had to say by any means when I was growing up, until he made it cool. He kinda opened the door, then MixedByAli had his whole engineers thing, in between him and Alex Tumay engineers have a Twitter presence now. Which is wild that they get verified with thousands of followers and people actually care who engineers shit now. Those are the modern guys I look up to i’d say.