Professional Sound - April 2017 - Page 21

PROFILE DARIUS SZCZEPANIAK By Andrew King D arius Szczepaniak has a lot of great studio stories. So many, in fact, that after sharing a few – about the sense of humour of the late, great Jeff Healey or having Chris Lord-Alge come out of nowhere and critique one of his mixes – he humbly cuts himself off and says, “Maybe I’ll write a book someday.” Considering the places he’s gone and people he’s met throughout his recording career, it would probably be a damn good one. A veteran of Toronto’s recording com- munity, Szczepaniak has spent time at sev- eral of the city’s best-known studios; most recently, he’s planted roots at North York’s Iguana Studios. It’s there, on the famed SSL 4082 G series console, that he’s producing some of the best work of his career with a hybrid approach to recording he’s devel- oped over the past two decades-plus. Szczepaniak was born and grew up in Toronto’s Parkdale neighbourhood. His parents instilled a strong work ethic in him early on and also surrounded him with music, insisting he take piano lessons on the weekend. “My uncle was also a music lover and would always quiz me,” he reminisces. “He would play a song and ask, ‘Quick! Who sings this?’ He always had me on my toes. I didn’t know it at the time, but that would be the foundation for my career as an adult.” His first in-studio experience came in his teens when he recorded in a commer- cial facility. “I’m sure I drove the engineer crazy,” he recalls with a chuckle, “but I ended up sitting next to him for the major- ity of the session. I remember thinking as a 16-year-old, ‘This could be a really cool thing to do.’ That’s when I became what I call an amateur recordist.” Szczepaniak would borrow a few mics, a clunky eight-track recorder, and any console he could get his hands on and record anything and anyone. Realizing he’d found his calling, he enrolled in a college recording program. Out of school, he did stints at revered rooms like Metalworks Studios, Comfort Sound, and eventually, the iconic Phase One Studios. “I did anything I could to be a ‘Phase One guy,’” he says. “I started there as an assistant and slowly worked my way up. The owner, Paul Gross, ran a tight ship, but we could always count on him for advice to make our recordings better. It was awesome.” Szczepaniak was there long enough to work his way up to head engineer. “That was one of my proudest moments,” he shares. “I was finally a ‘Phase One guy.’ We made so many records there and I met a lot of great people. It will always be one of those places that shaped my life and my future as an engineer.” Following his stint at Phase One, Szczepaniak set out as a freelance engineer. After years working in and around Toronto, he now found himself travelling to the U.S. and Europe to make records. “Working long hours and in different places meant that scheduling my life was tough,” he shares. “I needed to work, but also wanted to be at home with my family. We eventually figured it out.” Like many of his peers in the business, figuring things out has been an ongoing challenge of his career. “With so many vari- ables in technology, sticking to one method or another isn’t an option as a modern engineer,” he says, referencing analog and digital workflows. “I learned to combine the old-school techniques with new school modern music production, and nowadays I’m what you would call a hybrid engineer.” His newfound home at Iguana offers a great environment for someone with his skill set, and Szczepaniak says mixing on its his- tori c SSL is a dream come true. “The majority of my work these days is mixing, so it makes good sense to be on this board,” he says. “The live room here is great, too. I’m getting some great drum sounds here lately.” Some of his current projects include work with Windsor, ON rock outfit The Silence Factory, mixing for an act called Out of the Ruins, produced by Scott Middleton of Cancer Bats at Iguana, and recording a throwback metal band called Purveyor of Chaos. “We’re doing this record old-school style,” he says excitedly. “Play everything, edit and tune nothing. It’s is going to crush when it’s done.” Reminiscing about the highlights of his career, that’s when the stories start flowing. It’s quickly made clear that Szczepaniak loves what he’s chosen as his life’s work before he transitions to talking about a few other things that are close to him: his fam- ily life and teaching. He and his wife of 20 years, Jacquelene, and their two boys, Tyler and Connor, re- side in North York and lead a “pretty normal Canadian life,” meaning when Szczepaniak isn’t in the studio or teaching at Trebas Institute, he’s at the rink watching his boys play hockey, or in the summer, at the cot- tage devoting as much time as possible to fishing and other outdoor activities. Simply put, he loves “being a family man.” Professionally speaking, there’s plenty on the horizon for 2017, as Iguana has upgrades planned that will make mixing “a lot faster and more fun.” He continues: “We’re doing a few slight modifications to the console, and we’re getting ready to make some great records. It’ll be another great year for music” – and likely for some great stories that come with it, making for another good chapter in that book of his… Andrew King is the Editor-in-Chief of Professional Sound. PROFESSIONAL SOUND 21