Mix Tips: Jaycen JoshuaMix Engineer in a Hit-Making Groove
Jaycen Joshua doesn’t mince words in person. He has definite opinions about recording, and having paid his dues as an assistant and achieving a level of success where you can no longer label him an up-and-comer, he isn’t afraid to say what he thinks.
Joshua has earned three Grammy Awards, and he has a credit list that reads like a who’s who of R&B meets pop—Chris Brown, T.I., Rihanna, Beyoncé, Ludacris, Justin Bieber, Keyshia Cole, Katy Perry and Nas, to name just a handful. He works today out of Larrabee, where he started as an intern in 2005 before assisting the legendary Dave Pensado for the next two years. He formed a partnership with Pensado, the Penua Project, where they shared mix duties. Today he is on his own, and he is one of the hottest mixers on the planet.
We asked Joshua to kick off our new column, Mix Tips. Here is what he had to say:
Q. The mix order? “The first thing I do when I get a Chris Brown track is…”
The first thing I do when I start a Chris Brown record is organize. Spend an hour in setup, save four hours in mixing. Then off the rip I immediately attack the beat. The most important thing in today’s R&B is the knock. You have about 4 to 8 Bars to catch the consumer’s attention and get their head nodding. The consumer in my case is Chris Brown. If he does not feel the beat bang instantly, you are toast. Uptempo or ballad, it does not matter. Once that is accomplished, I add in the vocals. After that I build around the vocal with the music.
Q. How do you approach a male rap vocal vs. male R&B vocal? Female?
This is a trick question because R&B vocals are getting to be very similar to rap vocals. What I mean is a lot of the R&B and pop vocals, for that matter, are becoming very dry. Most R&B tracks that hit the radio are uptempo or mid-tempo, so generally, I want my mixes to feel tight, up front, and in your face, using my reverb judiciously. That includes vocals. I use delays, or subtle flangers instead of reverb, and if I do use reverb I’ll gate them and/or roll off the high end so you don’t notice it as much. Another trick is parallel compressing your vocal. This makes the vocal bigger without using much effects. Nine out of 10 times I use either the 1176 (Blue Stripe) or the CLA plug-in version. I like them both. I really crush it and slowly add it back into the original vocal until it feels about right. This really helps your vocal sit up front in your face. You can also automate its intensity for feel.
Q. Beefing up the drums. How do you work with real instruments and sampled supplements? Or do you?
I always subgroup my drums. I compress, limit and EQ the drums entirely on their own drum bus. I also build my drum sound going into the compressor hearing what the compressor is going to do while I am working. Most of the time I am trying to obtain the loudest hard-hitting drums possible, and to do so compression is a must for me. I also love multiband compression. A lot can be achieved in maximizing your sound with this, but use it wisely. The Waves C6 and the ML4000 and FilterBank by McDSP are great. Finally, I parallel compress my drums—individually or the entire subgroup. 160x to the Pultec or the 550A works for me. You can also do this in the box. I like using the UAD SSL Compressor into the UAD Pultec. This is an awesome tool for solid, tight low end.
Q. Going quiet—the ballad. What’s the secret of intimacy?
Automation! I like to approach a ballad like I am watching a movie—scene by scene. I just finished working on Celine Dion, and each record was like a roller-coaster ride. One second you want her to feel like she is whispering to you, the next you want her singing on a mountaintop. Playing with front-to-back distance is really the key to me. I automate my compression and EQ to play with the proximity effect and really try to take the listener through a musical moment.
Q. Compression: When and where and why?
Everywhere! Sorry Bruce Swedien. Most important to me is on the 2-bus. I would rather compress myself then leave it to mastering. I get the mix to about 80 percent and then apply whatever compression or limiting I might want to add to the overall mix and push into it. I mix on an SSL 9000 but I do not use board compression. I print my mix back into my session through an aux that has my compression and/or limiting on it through a hardware insert or plug-in insert. My plug-in use varies for stereo bus compression, but I am a big fan of iZotope 4 and 5. Hardware, I love the SSL G384 compressor.