Indian Recording Engineer Bainz Talks Working Around the Clock with Hip-Hop Heavyweights
Angad Bains has spent over a decade in the U.S. and is currently the go-to man at the mixing boards for artists such as Young Thug, Gunna and even singer-songwriter Prateek Kuhad
It’s 9:30 am in Atlanta when Angad Bains aka Bainz logs in for a video chat that’s been tentative mostly owing to the demands of the recording industry. Specifically, hip-hop artists such as Young Thug, whom Bainz has worked with prolifically over the last few years, including the chart-topping 2019 debut So Much Fun. “You got to work crazy hours. You just get compensated more to the point that it makes sense to do it. These guys just are in the studio a lot,” Bainz says.
In 2020 alone, the New Delhi-born, Los Angeles-based engineer had his name attached to 180 releases. At one point in his career, though, he would work on music with various rappers for two years with little publicity to show for it. Bainz says, “I worked with them every day and not one song came out. I was like, ‘What the fuck is going on?’ But then they all started coming out and the accolades started matching up.”
The shortlist of these include Young Thug’s “Hot,” a collab with Gunna and Travis Scott. Gunna’s latest album Wunna (2020), Travis Scott’s “Franchise,” with Young Thug and M.I.A. and many more. Closer home, Bainz has worked on In Tokens and Charms, the 2015 debut album by singer-songwriter Prateek Kuhad. In addition to the New Delhi artist, Bainz counts Brit pop artist Jay Sean and Canadian hip-hop artist NAV as the two other prominent Indian-origin artists he’s worked with.
Setting up Crosby Recording Studios (then called Crosby Collective Studios) in New York with fellow sound engineer Michael Brian in 2010, Bainz had built on study stints at SAE in Melbourne and Full Sail University in Florida. Soon enough, he started to notice a lot of his friends (or “clients” as Bainz also refers to them) would move from New York to Los Angeles once they scored a hit song. Even his Crosby Studios co-founder Brian moved to L.A., which meant Bainz was holding things down on his own in New York. “Finally, I broke up with this girl I was dating for a very long time. And I was like, ‘Fuck it. Let’s go to L.A..’ The day I landed in L.A., I was like, ‘This is what I was putting off for so long?’ Within six months, I got super healthy. I met the most beautiful girl ever. I’m still with her,” he says, referring to singer-songwriter Lincoln, whose upcoming album Bainz is working on.
As much as it’s working all kinds of odd hours and with even odder whims – like with Travis Scott’s recording of 2018 album Astroworld, when Bainz says an entire hotel was converted into a studio space – the engineer likens the recording world to be a lot like the hospitality sector. “The artist is like the guest. You have to have that mindset, because artists are finicky people. They’re creative people and the higher level they get to, the more that’s going to happen,” he says. By his own admission, Bainz became the go-to guy for the likes of Young Thug because he works fast and his work ethic is solid. He adds, “I’m super OCD, when it comes to engineering. Because I’m Indian, my friends had this joke that I was tech support, but nine out of 10 times, if there’s any technical problem with audio related shit in the studio, I’m the guy that knows how to fix it.”
It’s important to do a lot of that almost stealthily, so that the artist’s creative flow is never disrupted, according to Bainz. “As a recording engineer, it is your job to do all the technical stuff. You should know it so well that it should never even come up. When that spark comes [for an artist], you want to catch it. A lot of people’s first reaction to what they hear on a track — at least the people I work with – they tend to stick with that. So you want to capture that, be ready. All the technical stuff should be, like, muscle memory,” he says. When the artist is done recording, that’s the engineer’s time to shine. And of course, there might be times when artists would disagree and sometimes not give Bainz the benefit of the doubt as a seasoned studio professional, but he says he takes it in his stride whether it’s with big or emerging artists. “Music is just perspective; there’s no right and wrong. As long as your perspective and the artist’s perspective aligns, you can help create,” Bainz says.
One of the challenges outside of recording, however, is preventing leaks. One of Bainz’s earliest big projects was working with rapper Wiz Khalifa on a song called “Cameras” off his 2011 album Rolling Papers, but the engineer got credited owing to the song getting leaked and running into record label troubles. He points out that often, there’ll be fake email accounts set up to phish engineers, mentioning a title of an unreleased song (that may have been picked up on from any reveals via social media). Bainz says, “These emails look so legit. Once you click that link, god knows what happens. And then people try to hack your Instagram… What do you think, there’s gonna be songs in my Instagram? Everyone’s on the fucking internet now everyone’s trying to do shit for clout. It just makes our jobs so much more stressful, but we have to do it because if something like this happens on your watch, it is career-ending.”
With more work than ever lined up for 2021 – releases by Young Thug, his label Young Stoner Life’s roster and more – Bainz points out that he first began making in-roads into engineering for hip-hop artists in a big way thanks to an Indian-origin producer named Shaan Singh and it’s a total coincidence that there’s now Mumbai-bred Aresh Banaji assisting at Crosby Recording Studios. With Thug’s next album coming up, Bainz is ready as ever to dive back into the nonstop studio session life. He says, “Album time is when everything gets into overdrive. You know, you sleep maybe an hour or two a day. It’s stressful, but once it’s out, it just gives you that feeling, you know? It’s gonna be good, man.”