What is the sound of hip hop

Jason Goldstein -American R&B / Hip Hop mixer

by Paul Tingen; Translation: Andreas Hau,

Jason Goldstein is one of the rising stars among the American R&B / Hip Hop mixers. He may not yet have the rank of David Pensado or Tony Maserati, but the list of his employers is hardly less impressive. Since the beginning of his career in the 90s, the 36-year-old New Yorker has worked with greats like Jennifer Lopez, LL Cool J, Rihanna, Mary J Blige, The Roots, Jay-Z, Tony Braxton, B Rich and - most successfully - with Beyoncé .

You just have to create space. You have to use levels and EQ to create space - that's what it's about

"B’Day is my biggest album to date," says Jason Goldstein with some pride, and his joy is by no means without reason: Beyoncé's second solo album sold 3.5 million copies worldwide and received a Grammy for "Best Contemporary R&B Album". Goldstein mixed ten of the eleven album tracks, including the worldwide smash hit “Déjà Vu” (nominated for Grammys in the categories of best R&B song and best rap / vocal collaboration), “Ring the Alarm” (nominated for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance) and the song Irreplaceable, which topped the US charts for ten weeks. Yes, with B’Day Goldstein achieved a really great success.

Pre-mix: the beginnings

His long journey to the top began when Goldstein moved from his hometown of Washington D.C. in the early 1990s. moved to Los Angeles. The teenager at the time had replied to a job advertisement from a studio he did not know. It turned out to be the legendary Ocean Way.

The still young and naive Jason Goldstein had “no clue of the status of this studio”, but it was soon to reveal itself to him when such illustrious personalities as Phil Ramone, Rick Rubin, Arif Mardin and Don Was came to the control room . Goldstein opened his eyes and ears wide, put on night shifts, tidied up and set up the equipment for the next morning's session. “I tried to pick up as much as I could. I was very lucky, ”said Jason Goldstein today.

Goldstein refined his skills as a sound engineer "very old-school, in practical use". This training laid the foundation for his current success as it gave him “a better understanding of how things should sound. When I have to deal with samples or badly recorded instruments today, I know what it should sound like. "

Eventually he moved to New York, where he made connections with the legendary hip hop producer duo The Track Masters, which enabled him to specialize in mixing. Today Goldstein works mainly in the Sony Music Studios in New York, even though he recently decided to completely mix in the computer from now on.

Hard and soft

“You still need the acoustics of a studio,” explains Goldstein. “There is simply no substitute for a well-sounding, correctly designed room. Plus, a Pro Tools system can crash, and then it's nice to have a large studio customer service on site. And then of course there is that certain vibe.

With the music I mix in particular, the 'wow' factor is extremely important; so i need big boxes. Customers like rooms like the one here in the Sony Music Studios with Augsperger speakers for $ 60,000 and a lounge with flat-panel TV. I only use the SSL9000 console in the Sony as a huge monitoring mixer. Customers don't care whether I use the desk or not - they just want to be in a big studio. "

One or the other studio owner may have read the previous paragraph with relief, as it seems to promise a business future for large, well-equipped studios. But why is Goldstein paying a lot of money for one of the world's leading studios with top class SSL consoles and then deciding to stop using the technology included in the price? “Mainly for two reasons,” replies Goldstein. "Until recently, I didn't really believe that I could achieve the same quality 'in-the-box'. And I'm not even talking about digital summing or too low a resolution. I mean, I've seen problems getting the same sound quality from plug-ins as from outboard effects. But in the last couple of years manufacturers have launched new plugins that I am completely satisfied with the sound of. In fact, plug-ins now sound better in some ways.

Our hands are more or less tied by the labels and the customers. If your name is David Pensado, Chris Lord-Alge, or Tony Maserati, you might get two or three days to mix a recording. But I usually only get one day. And if it's all internal to the computer, I can invest eight or ten hours in a mix, and if necessary, I can come back the next day at my own expense and make improvements in two hours that I should have made the previous evening and that I would have It would have easily cost six hours, simply because the ears get tired.

Well, then I mixed eight songs on Beyoncé's album before they were approved. When she and her producers ended up coming into the studio to listen to the mixes, I had to revisit all of the songs for one reason or another. Sometimes there were general comments about the vibe of the song, but sometimes there were very small things, like e.g. B. a single note in the bridge that should be a tad louder. And so I had to set up the whole outboard again and load the SSL console automation - for eight songs and on the very last minute. That took a lot of time. "

Therefore, says Goldstein, B’Day was the last album “with a hybrid setup of plug-ins and outboard. Everything after that was 100% in-the-box. " Goldstein is by his own admission "quite a minimalist". It is mainly important to him to respect the sounds used by the producer and not to resort to sleight of hand.

He prefers not to overdo it with Outboard; the rack he has put together over the years with special devices looks comparatively modest. When the B'Day songs arrived, his rack contained the following devices: Pendulum Audio 6386, TC M3000, TC 1220, TC Finalizer, Alan Smart C2 Compressor, the SPL Transient Designer, two Empirical Labs Distressors and a Manley Massive Passive. Goldstein is also the proud owner of JBL LSR6328p monitors.

I usually manage to get the recording to sound pretty good within the first few hours. And then the real fun begins

Mix preparations

“I think you should work with what you get and make it sound as good as you can,” explains Goldstein. “When I get a mix, the first thing I do is look at the edit window and see how well the tracks have been recorded, arranged and labeled. I'll start with that - also because more and more people are recording in home studios. Is everything aligned with a speed grid? If not, I might have to chase stuff through Beat Detective and create my own tempo map in case I want to make edits later.

If tracks aren't what they say, I listen to each track individually and label it myself. As you can see on the screenshots, I arrange the tracks in the edit window in the same way as I would with a desk: the drums are on the far left, then the bass, other rhythm elements, and behind them everything that covers a large part of the song is heard. Out of habit I always put the vocals on channels 23 and 24 in the mixer. The background vocals then start to the right of the middle; any instruments that are only used occasionally come all the way to the right. "

“When everything is the way I like it and where it's supposed to be, I set all faders to zero, let the song play and listen to what I'm feeling. Then I turn to the drums and make sure that they sound really good on their own. Gradually other elements come in, and I bring the vocals in relatively early because I used to have this habit of mixing incredible sounding instrumentals, and when I put the vocal tracks on afterwards, it was difficult to fit them into the mix.

You just have to create space. You have to use levels and EQ to create space - that's what it's about. I rarely listen to the tracks solo, except when I hear annoying frequencies that bother me and I want to find out where they're coming from. So all tracks are active and I try to equalize everything in the context of the overall mix. I usually manage to get the recording to sound pretty good within the first few hours. And then the real fun begins. With Pro Tools you have the luxury of being able to sizzle a mix on the plate every hour; if you've lost your way in one direction, you can always go back to a previous mix and build from there.

Déjà-vu

Basically, the song is a Quincy Jones homage and is reminiscent of his work with Michael Jackson before Thriller. Beyoncé really wanted the track to have a 'street feel'. Above the bass drum pattern there is an 808 and a great played bass that really goes off. The horns are real too. The potential problem with such a recording is that the drum and bass patterns are very crowded and the amount of frequency information they contain reduces the dynamics and clarity. That was my big challenge.

I was very concerned and talked to Rodney and Beyoncé about how if the mastering engineer let go of his limiter on the mix to make the mix loud, the bass would get louder too, and that would go away that particular punch that made this track makes so great. In the end, I made a couple of versions where the 808 was mixed down, and they used them.

Drums

There's something there that sounds like a loop, but that's a hi-hat pattern that I chased through a distortion effect to make it sound lo-fi and less static. Rodney programs like a drummer, there can be additional fills or small variations in the patterns at any time. So I treated the drums like a really well-rehearsed drum kit, which was a lot of fun. On the screen you can see that there are five bass drums. Rodney layers them.

It may be that he programs one very quietly and then triggers others to create the feeling he has in mind. But then there are small variations, because a few kicks temporarily drop out, which changes the feel. I've got a dirty kick drum, a clean one and another that's more like a click. If one fails, a beat sounds a little different, which makes the whole thing sound more like a real drummer who doesn't hit exactly the same every time.

The difficulty for me was getting the pattern to match the bass and the 808. They were long 808 sounds that went over several beats. So I used the EQ to cut everything but the deep bass and put a gate behind it that was triggered by one of the short bass drums that was playing all the time. This means that the 808 can only be heard when the kick is playing.

As with many mix engineers, customers complained that my mixes weren't loud enough. I don't know why that matters, because afterwards in the mastering the mixes are still made loud anyway

Then I turned back the release time and thus shortened the fade-out of the 808 beats. That cleared up the bass area and created freedom of movement for the bass. It's such a great bass line that I even emphasized the bass in slightly higher frequencies than I would normally do on an R&B recording so that the bass has more presence. He really keeps the song moving. With the bass drums I had enough depth anyway, the song is not lacking in bass. If this recording had been completely mixed in the computer, you would see more plug-ins, but here is an example of how I work.

I usually use the URS EQ on the kick drum and raise it at 30 or 60 Hz. At 300 Hz I lower it to make room for the bass guitar. At 5,000 Hz I raise it twice, once with a bell filter and again with a cow tail filter - you can see that I just turn the knobs until it sounds good! This is how the kick drum gets this snap.

The Sony Oxford Transient Modulator now replaces the Transient Designer in my rack. The plug-in shapes the envelope of the sound; With the ratio of 0.20, the attack of the bass drum is emphasized. I also use the same effect on the finger snap. It really changes the envelope. If the microphone was too far away from the kick drum when recording, you can increase the attack and it will sound like moving the mic closer to the mallet.

I also use this plug-in a lot on acoustic guitars. If the guitars are just playing rhythm and they sound too percussive, I can pull down the slider and reduce the attack without having to compress. I do that a lot. This is related to the impression of loudness. If you emphasize the attack, it sounds louder and the sound asserts itself better in the mix without you having to increase the volume. You also need less EQ and therefore have fewer phase shifts.

I also used my Alan Smart C2 Compressor for the drums. It has this “crush” mode, in which an overdriven field effect transistor generates distortion. I'm a big fan of adding distortion in small doses. Tubes distort more harmoniously, while transistors and Class A devices distort more aggressively. I think that's why a lot of guys still like to mix on the SSL4000 - these consoles are always on the verge of clipping. That gives the mix a certain aggressiveness.

So for 'Déjà Vu' I sent all the drums through Alan Smart; I chose the attack very long so that all transients come through, but the release time is very short, so that the dynamics of the drums are changed. And finally I hit the crush button to make the whole thing sound more aggressive. While mixing, I ran the uncompressed and compressed drums in parallel and varied the level of the compressed drums depending on the song section. You can make the chorus stand out by giving it a different dynamic feel.

bass

In addition to the real, well-rehearsed bass, there is also a sub-bass, something like a Moogerfooger. I didn't use it much because the Kick and the 808 together were already too much. The challenge was to make the whole thing sound dynamic despite the many different low-frequency elements. 'Bass 4.02' is the well-rehearsed bass; the number probably means it was the fourth take. You can see that I am using the URS EQ and the Oxford Compressor / Limiter on it. They do what you expect of them.

On the Oxford I pressed the 'Warmth' button to generate additional overtones that make the bass more present and assertive. The Renaissance Compressor is triggered by the bass drum. I do that a lot when the bass intersects with the kick. With each hit of the bass drum, the bass is briefly reduced by around 2 dB. When you've got bass that's as much in the foreground as it is on this recording, you can't try enough.

Into the box

Since mixing B’Day, Goldstein's outboard equipment, apart from his JBLs, has been gathering dust. “Within the last year, I've found replacements for all of my outboard devices,” says Goldstein. “The URS EQs are excellent for general sound shaping, and I'm a big fan of them. What I don't really like are parametric EQ plug-ins, because you can set the filter quality so tightly that phase shifts occur. If you use parametric EQs everywhere, you will run into serious problems. Larger interventions just sound more musical.

URS also has an excellent API Neve emulation that I don't think really sounds like API Neve, but it still sounds great. I also really like the Oxford plug-ins, especially for vocals. The compressor / limiter is really great. I also like the new Waves SSL Compressor, which I've recently been using instead of the Alan Smart as a compressor for the drums subgroup. Digidesign's Impact is pretty good too. You have to try a little harder because it doesn't have this transistor distortion. But you can add your own distortion with Amp-Farm and have practically the same effect. I also use the Cranesong Phoenix plug-in a lot; this is the best emulation of analog tape I've heard so far.

For a long time my biggest problem was that I couldn't find a reverb plug-in that offered the same quality as external hardware. That puzzled me when most reverbs are digital anyway; why couldn't they just put the same algorithms in a plug-in? But then you remember that hardware costs $ 3,000 and a plug-in costs maybe $ 600.The Lexicon 960 costs as much as $ 10,000, but as great as it sounds, it's just an algorithm, and today's computers have enough processing power for pretty much anything.

Really good reverb plug-ins only came out last year. If your reverb isn't good enough, it'll bog down the whole recording; maybe you don't even realize it until it's too late. I'm not a fan of mid-cloud reverb, and certainly not of those puffy 80s reverbs. I like clarity. I don't want to hear the reverb superficially. I think a lot of reverbs sound like an effect. You can now use tons of TC plug-in reverb and the sound just gets bigger. I used to like to use the Lexicon PCM70, which only works with 8 bits (the PCM70 already has 16-bit converters; the translator's note) and sounds a bit dirty, but connects things well.

I've used a bit of PCM70 on pretty much everything I've done using the tiled room setting, a very small room. I have now also found an emulation for this. I modified a program in the TCR 3000 called Tight & Natural by turning in the treble a little and tweaking the delay setting. "

piano

A piano tumbles through the entire song. It's in mono, and I ran it through the Waves PS22 Spread to widen the stereo image. Most pop songs have a lot of stuff going on at the same time, but this track, animated as it sounds, is actually pretty empty. There isn't much that plays all the time other than the drums, bass, and Klimper piano. By widening the stereo image of the piano, I made more room for the lead vocals in the middle.

Vocals

'BLD1C001' on track 24 are the lead vocals with just a little de-esser on it. VxFX is the delay you hear on Beyoncé's lead vocals. With Echo-Farm Dynamic Stereo Delay I add a bit of depth, character and breadth to the vocals. Dynamic delays are also called 'ducked delays' because they are ducked by the signal (that is, the level is lowered) and only come forward at the end of words and phrases. I almost never use normal delays, except as an obvious effect.

I also used the Avalon 2055 EQ and my Pendulum Audio Compressor on Beyoncé's vocals because it can sometimes sound a tad too shrill and aggressive; the tube compressor smooths that out a bit and takes the edgy away from these places. Track 23 is the Ad-Lib track; I used the De-Esser on it, then I go out into the Avalon 2055, into the Pendulum Compressor and finally into the desk. Beyoncé must have recorded the vocal takes on two different days; a take goes to audio 17, where I use the Oxford EQ to compensate for the differences in sound.

Overall mix

Aux 1 is my stereo bus. I used the Oxford 3-band EQ to fine-tune the sound of the respective song - usually just a little bit in the bass and treble. The Oxford Inflator is one of those voodoo boxes with a bit of compression and overtone generation; you can use it to play with the dynamics or mimic the sound of analog tape. That's how I make my mixes louder. As with many mix engineers, customers complained that my mixes weren't loud enough. I don't know why that matters, because afterwards in the mastering the mixes are still made loud anyway. These two plug-ins get the dynamics so that the mastering engineer can do his job unhindered.

The two TC VSS3 reverb plug-ins were actually not used on the recording.

I added them because they exactly replicate the M3000 hardware I actually used for these mixes. Since I've only been mixing on the computer, I've been using these TC reverbs. I like short reverbs, which is why the Stairway Plate program is my main reverb, which I used a lot. And where I needed a longer reverb tail to fill in gaps, for example at the end of words or between sections, I used the Ambient Plate Reverb. It's more a matter of feeling than actually hearing it.

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