Mixing It Up with Fela Davis

It’s safe to say that Fela Davis is a big fan of social media. The Recording Arts graduate has not only used the internet to help open up doors to new opportunities throughout her career, but she also finds a lot of her time these days consumed with creating YouTube content for 23dB Productions, the New York City-based multitrack recording/mixing/mastering service she co-owns with partner Denis Orynbekov.

23dB dedicates just as much time creating online content that speaks to and for the recording industry as it does actually recording and mixing songs and performances. Their “The Art of Music Tech” series – which Fela shoots and edits – spotlights the creative and technical process for some of the engineers, producers, and musicians who play a pivotal role in the studio. Featured guests include session guitarist Paul Pesco (Madonna, Hall and Oates), Grammy-winning producer/keyboardist Jeff Bova (Celine Dion, Michael Jackson), and jazz bassist Christian McBride, for whom Fela also serves as front-of-house engineer on the road.

So how does an audio engineer find themselves running a YouTube channel? For Fela, it was just a matter of choosing to pursue all of the interests that she’s had since starting her career in the industry. After getting her foot in the door in the world of live sound (including a stint working for large-scale tour and show production company Clair Global, she found herself drawn to explore what else was out there.

“I knew that you couldn’t get bigger or better than Clair, and it was great to see how a company like that was run, but … I wanted to do more mixing, and the position I had was more bringing gear to places and speccing out entire shows,” she says. “I had been doing two-track recordings of performances and by the time I quit Clair in 2012, I started posting [those recordings] online. Eight months later, I was contacted by Christian McBride himself on LinkedIn.”

As one of the few New York City audio engineers at the time with an active LinkedIn profile, Fela caught the attention of the four-time Grammy-winning jazz artist, and was asked to come on-board to record some performances in some of the many variations of McBride’s bands. That gig would take her around the globe and is still one of her main gigs. Around the same time, she connected with her business partner Denis and formed 23dB.

“I linked up with Denis through Craigslist after I had left my job and was looking for people to mix for free, just to gain more credits and experience,” Fela says. “He was more into studio recording and I had more expertise in live sound. And of course, Christian was always down for us to record his projects. We really got to learn on the job.”

These days, Denis handles most of the recording for 23dB, while the majority of Fela’s bandwidth when she’s not on the road with McBride is dedicated to creating the digital content for 23dB. Creating polished video pieces not only helps to promote her company’s brand and showcase their resources as a way to take on new clients, but has also helped to build connections with various companies who have endorsed her with their products. One of her favorite endorsements is with Lewitt, a Vienna-based microphone company she first encountered during an Audio Engineering Society convention.

“I really loved their kick drum mic, and I bought a bunch of their microphones shortly before I landed the gig with Christian. I recorded a two-track recording of a performance with him and sent it to the marketing director of Lewitt on Linkedin,” she recalls. “I just wanted them to check it out and share with their fans, but that turned into an endorsement deal. That was my foot in the door. A good piece of content can open up a lot of opportunities. A situation like that makes me want to make more videos featuring their microphones to keep the relationship going, plus it attracts new clients to check out what we’re doing. It helps in so many ways, so why not?”

Those videos also help to shine a much-deserved spotlight on some of the more unsung heroes of the industry, which Fela says is one of the most rewarding parts of what she and Denis have built with 23dB.

“It feels like I’m giving back to the audio world in a way that I didn’t ever think about before. It’s very fulfilling to not just help ourselves out, but also to help people who we respect and showing viewers a different side of the business that many people might not know about,” she says. “All of my career, I didn’t know how to stand out. I knew I was good at wearing multiple hats, but no one ever noticed when I was just doing live audio. Sometimes you have to create those opportunities for yourself.”