After Abbey Road Institute: Dieter Boels


As part of our graduate profile series, we interviewed Sébastien Thirion earlier this year, who is currently working at Galaxy Studios.

For the second article, we’ve interviewed Dieter Boels. Both Dieter and Sébastien are from Belgium and part of the first group of students in Amsterdam. They graduated and received their well-earned diploma at the official graduation ceremony at the Abbey Road Studios in London.

Dieter is currently working on different projects and has some nice experiences to share.
You can read the interview with Dieter about life after Abbey Road Institute below:

You’ve graduated about 6 months ago. Where and what are you currently working (on)?
Currently, I’m working as a freelance mixing and recording engineer, mainly doing jazz. I have a small production studio of my own in Utrecht, where I do my mixing and some overdubbing. For recordings, I try to find studios that are more suitable for that particular project I’m working on. I also assist the renowned Dutch jazz recording engineer Chris Weeda and at the Red Bull Studios in Amsterdam. The assistance positions are both on a voluntary basis, which helps me to expand my knowledge, experience and network.
I also produce and write music regularly, to feed the musician in me. And last but not least I recently started a new business, which is also related to the music industry.

Sounds very interesting. Can you describe what you do in these different roles?
I’m at the start of my career and do a lot of freelance work for small, upcoming bands. Besides recording and mixing, I try to add as much value as possible for my clients by finding a suitable studio, fulfilling their technical needs, creating recording schedules and making sure everything is done within a reasonable timeframe. A nice thing is that the majority of these young bands have a blank page in terms of recording and mixing, so I can experiment a lot when choosing which equipment to use and in the mixing stage.

In my role at Red Bull Studios and/or working for Chris Weeda, my tasks are mainly related to setting up recording sessions, troubleshooting tasks and being the ProTools operator.

Dieter Boels GAM studio

How did you get into this work?
The freelance work is all about networking. This includes going out to concerts, meeting musicians, listen to what they do, et cetera. I think it’s very important to build a good relationship, therefore I think it is crucial to be genuinely interested and enthusiastic about the work of your potential customers. I rather build up friendships instead of professional relationships. I often have a coffee or a beer (or both) with people that I (want to) work with, just to talk about all kinds of stuff and to see if you are on the same page and if there is a click.
At the same time, I believe you have to be strategic as well. This is something I’ve learned in my previous jobs and positions, like keeping contact, do follow-ups for possible projects and even use a CRM (Customer relationship management) system to keep track of this all.

The assistance job at Red Bull Studios Amsterdam (RBSA) is thanks to Abbey Road Institute Amsterdam. They have a partnership, which gives students the chance to do a tryout recording session where we can present ourselves and become part of the assistant’s team at RBSA.

As for Chris Weerda; I heard so many positive stories about him in the jazz scene, so I decided to find his contact details, called him and bluntly asked if there was any possibility to join him during a recording session. This worked out nicely I can say, and now I’m assisting him as well.

What is the most important thing you’ve learned during this work period?
When you notice that you are struggling with getting the desired result during recording or mixing, instead of trying another microphone, another plugin, or worse, buying new equipment hoping it will help you to achieve the right thing, it’s better to go back to your theory!
One example I like to give: Lately, I was not so happy with the sound of my drum overheads, both from myself and the results produced by others around me. But then, recently, I was listening to some very nice and good recordings and you know what? The engineers didn’t do anything special, they just used very standard stereo recording techniques like XY and ORTF.

Engineer Dieter Boels with a Microphone

What was your biggest challenge during your startup period?
As a starting freelancer in a competitive industry, getting paid jobs without a presentable portfolio is a real challenge. You need to take some risks and be willing to do any project, which might be hard for you because it’s not completely your genre for example. But it’s important because you will gain valuable experience and the chance to build up your portfolio.

However, I do think it is better to do paid jobs instead of friendly, free jobs. Even if it’s to build up your portfolio. The main reason for this is that you feel much more comfortable working on the project and therefore actually deliver a better result. At the same time, your client will take you more seriously and therefore you will attract more serious projects. I’m just saying to play the game right. It’s quite a competitive industry and there is always someone willing to work for less money than you do.

Which skills were/are most important during this startup phase?
I think the skill of finishing something is the most valuable one. Many artists, in any art form, will never be 100% satisfied with what they’ve created at any given point. In my regard, I believe we always want to reach the level of our heroes, which often requires many years of experience. Therefore we keep on trying to improve a song or a mix and don’t know where to stop. Mastery of a skill takes years of experience and grows gradually in very small steps. Admitting this results in being able to complete songs and mixes with the necessary confidence to go forward. When listening back to a song or mixes I did a few years back, I’ll turn it off after a couple of seconds and remind myself that all those small steps together made one big step. So I think finishing or finalizing helps you going forward.

From a technical point of view, you need to master your DAW. When you are working with musicians, the way you work with your software can make or break you. Before and while being in a session you have to think ahead. You should be able to expect what the musicians want or need.

And lastly, I’ve learned that people skills are crucial. As an engineer or assistant, you have to listen. Knowing how to listen to musicians, and not always having the need to explain things, is a valuable skill. To use a corny quote: “When you talk, you are only repeating what you already know, but if you listen, you may learn something new.” *)

Nice one. What did you learn at ARIA that helped you get started?
The music business is challenging. It is what it is and if you wanna be part of it, you’ll have to do it yourself, by working hard, sometimes sacrifice, show commitment, which is only possible with an infinite love for music. By being surrounded and supported by inspirational and entrepreneurial minds I decided to throw myself into freelance work and take the risks necessary to make it in this business.

Based on your experience, what advice would you give to existing students?
Start thinking about what comes after your ‘Abbey Road Institute education’. The sooner the better. Abbey Road Institute is the perfect springboard. But only if you have a clear vision of what you want to do afterwards. Once you know what you want to achieve, focus on the necessary skills, ask who can help you, connect with the right people and profile yourself. If you wait until you are finished with your education, you might not have the same resources, connections and freedom to explore as you have now. Good luck!

Thanks Dieter! So, what are your next plans/steps?
At the time of writing and mentioned earlier briefly, I’m putting quite a lot of time and effort into my newly founded company around a new idea I have for the music industry. At the same time, I continue to do small projects to steadily build up experience, a solid portfolio and network. Lastly, I am making an EP with my personal project Windstil and am co-writing songs with Belgian producer Poldoore to release an album by the end of the year.

Wow, lots of stuff! Thank you, Dieter, for this interview. Wishing you all the best with your endeavours and looking forward to learning more about your new business. We will keep you all up to date about Dieter’s journey on our Facebook Page.

*) “I have found two people for this quote, JP McEvoy and the Dalai Lama XIV, no source was more reliable than the other.” Dieter added to this interview.


Read our previous blog about our graduate Sébastien Thirion