The 60th annual Grammy Awards return to New York on January 28, and this year’s nominees in the Best Engineer, Non-Classical category epitomize technical artistry and musical brilliance. We congratulate the engineering nominees, as well as the producers and musicians who worked on these five beautifully crafted albums.
K.Flay, Every Where Is Some Where
On Every Where Is Some Where, Kristine Flaherty (aka K.Flay) developed an inventive fusion of hip-hop, indie rock and electronica. Multiple production teams put their talents to work, as well, including producer Mike Elizondo and his frequent engineering partners Adam Hawkins and Brent Arrowood. In Elizondo’s studio at CanAm (Tarzana, Calif.), Hawkins did most of the tracking and mixing on “High Enough,” while Arrowood tracked most of “Mean It,” which was mixed by Tony Maserati.
“‘High Enough’ was supposed to be nasty—intentionally lo-fi and almost messed-up sounding,” Hawkins says. “There was a lot of distortion used—some while recording, distorting outboard gear on the analog side before it goes to Pro Tools, and some from adding plug-ins.”
“Mike has a guitar pedal FX loop on his Logic rig where he does his drum programming,” Arrowood says. “He swaps out what pedals are there, and a lot of the drums and synths on ‘High Enough’ ran through that. Adam drove a 1073 [Neve mic preamp], which added some distortion, but most of it is from an Overstayer [Saturator] NT-02a.
“Kristine was awesome to work with,” Hawkins says. “I loved that she wants to do a lot of the engineering and editing herself. It was cool to see an artist so in it.”
Producers: Tommy English, Mike Elizondo, JT Daly, Simon Says.
Engineers: Brent Arrowood, Miles Comaskey, JT Daly, Tommy English, Kristine Flaherty, Adam Hawkins, Chad Howat and Tony Maserati.
Mastering: Joe LaPorta.
Roger Waters, Is This the Life We Really Want?
Waters’ fifth solo album echoes sounds the artist developed with Pink Floyd, but the content is entirely of its time. Via effects, rock arrangements and Waters’ evocative voice, the album explores topics from the state of the music business to the fate of the planet. Mastering engineer Bob Ludwig recalls, “This album has incredible range. You can pat Nigel Godrich on the back for incorporating all of that angst into his amazing mixes, yet keeping it a very beautiful record to hear. I think the most important thing [during mastering] was to really get into the album and ‘get’ what Roger was trying to communicate, to let the story unfold with all the high and low spots sitting as they should. Then I had to choose a level so the listener could set the playback gain at one spot and not have to change it during the 54 minutes.”
Producer: Nigel Godrich.
Engineers: Godrich, Sam Petts-Davies, Darrell Thorp.
Mastering: Robert Ludwig.
Rose Cousins, Natural Conclusion
Nominated for the third time in this category, Ryan Freeland traveled with producer Joe Henry to Toronto to record and mix Rose Cousins’ exquisite, intimate album Natural Conclusion. Freeland took along a pair each of AEA N8 and N22 ribbon mics.
With Cousins’ expressive lead vocal and piano playing at its core, the album was recorded live in Noble Street Studios. Freeland put up a Neumann M49 and one of the N22s for vocals. The other N22 was used on acoustic guitar, and the N8s served as room mics. All of his inputs went through the studio’s collection of outboard Neve and API mic preamps.
“We basically did everything in one big room, but you end up doing fixes from alternate takes—sometimes you take the whole band, or sometimes just piano and vocal,” Freeland says. “Some fixes are tricky and you have to be really creative when you have bleed, but that’s part of the fun for me.”
Producer: Joe Henry.
Engineer: Ryan Freeland.
Mastering: Joao Carvalho.
Perfume Genius, No Shape
This album hovers somewhere between R&B and prog rock, with lush vocal harmonies and reverb, symphonic synth sounds and spare rhythmic parts. It’s a very different animal from Alabama Shakes’ Sound and Color, for which engineer Shawn Everett won in this category in 2016.
“Almost all of the arrangements came from experimentation,” Everett says. “We recorded one song using a Neumann binaural head taped down in one location—we were trying to simulate the feeling of a church in the Ozarks. We’d place musicians in the room based on this little story we concocted about depressed churchgoers, where the sad old man would sit in relation to the young struggling couple. We also had a big discussion about where the priest’s pulpit would be set up, where the church P.A. would be situated and what kind of P.A. they’d be using.
“I used the binaural mic a ton on this record, as well as a lot of contact mics. Melodyne was used heavily, also—not for tuning vocals but for manipulating found sound. Any found sound can become the most lush/alien orchestra you’ve ever heard.”
Producer: Blake Mills.
Engineers: Shawn Everett, Joseph Lorge.
Mastering: Patricia Sullivan.
Bruno Mars, 24K Magic
Mars is nominated in four categories this year for his latest pop/funk smash. Mix engineer Serban Ghenea, who also worked on Mars’ Uptown Funk, has only positive things to say about working with Mars and his recording engineer Charles Moniz.
“Everything was really well put together,” Ghenea says. “Once we got into it, we started experimenting with all kinds of production and sound changes, all kinds of vocal stuff, until we settled on what became the final. Bruno was very involved in every song. He likes to test and try and turn every stone. Sometimes we went in circles and wound up where we started, but then we felt comfortable saying, ‘This is the best way.’”
Ghenea mixed in Pro Tools, using some of his favorite Metric Halo and Waves plug-ins. “I love the Metric Halo stuff so I often start with that, and then add different things wherever necessary,” he explains. “Bruno is especially particular about his vocal and wants to make sure it’s warm and pleasing. The focus was always on trying to achieve that, but that took different forms on different songs.”
Producers: Shampoo Press & Curl.
Engineers: Serban Ghenea, John Hanes, Charles Moniz.
Mastering: Tom Coyne.