Visually Impaired, Recording Connection student Angel Ayala sees a Clear Path Ahead!

Recording Connection student Angel Ayala and Joey Heier

Recording Connection student Angel Ayala and mentor Joey Heier at Crystal Clear Recording

In a recent interview with RRFC, Recording Connection mentor Joey Heier of Crystal Clear Recording Studio in Philadelphia had nothing but praise for one of his students, a 19-year-old named Angel Ayala.

“This guy has such a pair of golden ears,” says Joey. “He plays guitar, he sings, he raps, he records—he’s just a special guy…This kid can do more without vision on a Macintosh computer than I can do.”

Yes, you read that correctly—without vision—Angel also happens to be blind..

“I have videos of him running sessions, micing a drum set,” Joey continues. “He runs my entire console totally blind. I put his hands on the faders, I showed him where different things were, and he runs entire sessions…He doesn’t use a mouse, he uses a voiceover utility where the computer talks to him and it tells him how to raise and lower volumes or pan things or add effects to things.”

One of the reasons for Angel’s recent successes behind the board is that he has never treated his impairment as an excuse—a quality for which he gives his mother, Angelica, plenty of credit.

“I have never been coddled,” says Angel. “Everything that I currently have and, you know, hope to gain, I’ve gained on my own. I’ve never been the one to take handouts…I’ve always been like that…My mom has always been a huge advocate of me doing what I want. She’s one of the reasons I’ve learned to push, and push, and push, and fight for what I need.”

Growing up with four siblings in the high-crime Kensington section of Philadelphia may also have contributed to Angel’s no-excuses mentality. “I think I’m more driven…because I don’t have a lot of the opportunities that everyone else does,” he says. “Everyone takes a lot of things for granted, and I’ve never been that way.”

Angel says his passion for audio engineering surfaced in high school, when he started recording some of his own music on Garage Band, as well as helping some of his friends with their stuff as a hobby. “I could work on the littlest problems for like hours and hours and hours at a time,” he says. “It got to the point to where I would forget to eat, you know, stuff like that. So I realized that I had a really huge passion for it.”

When Angel started applying to colleges to learn audio engineering, however, he ran into some major hurdles.“One school I didn’t get into because…they weren’t unable to accommodate my lack of vision,” he says, “And the other that I applied to audio engineering, I didn’t get in because I didn’t have enough money…I got depressed, I’m not going to lie.”

Angel says his mom came to the rescue. “She’s like, ‘Let’s look at all the alternatives that we could do because I know you don’t want to go into debt,’” he says. “She was like, ‘Let’s find something. We’re going to get you somewhere. Don’t worry.’

Their search for alternatives led to the Recording Connection and the opportunity to learn on-the-job. “I was a bit skeptical,” Angel admits. “To be honest, I went, ‘Now this is too good to be true.'”

Nevertheless, from his first in-studio studio interview with Joey Heier, all his concerns were put to rest. “My mom was just in awe of the studio,” he says. “I think she could tell in my face that like this is where I kind of need to be…I said to my mom, ‘I really hope he takes me.’”

I
ndeed, Angel got accepted and began his externship with Joey at Crystal Clear. Shortly after he started, however, Angel had the opportunity to attend a federally funded program for blind engineers called “I See Music” in Chicago, and took a few weeks off to attend. When he got back, the tools and techniques he’d acquired propelled him forward. He completed the basic bachelor-equivalent course in a couple of months, a pace that even astounded his mentor.

“The productivity of a blind engineer has been bettered tenfold,” says Angel.

Angel has stayed on with Joey to take the Recording Connection for Advanced Audio Engineering & Music Production, giving him even more hands-on experience tracking bands and participating on real sessions. Meanwhile, he’s keeping a very busy schedule between actively looking for a studio job, taking on clients in his own in his home studio, and even working on his own EP to be released in the spring. As for his long-term plans?

“My end goal is to open up my own place,” he says. “I feel like a lot of the times for a blind person to kind of make it in any industry, they have to be their own entrepreneur. So my goal is I want a beautiful place. I want a beautiful studio.”

In the meantime, Angel marvels at the progress he’s made toward his career in the past year, thanks to his externship and training in the studio with Joey.

“I have a lot more confidence now,” he says. “I knew that I wanted to be in music, but I didn’t know how I was going to get there. I didn’t have a road. I didn’t have a stepping stone to point me in the right direction… I don’t know what made [Joey] decide to take me as a student, but I’m eternally grateful.”

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