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Paul Boutin Barrels Through the Pandemic

How did Grammy-winning Engineer Paul Boutin get where he is today? Despite what he humbly says, it's not just "luck."

 Paul Boutin
Paul Boutin

Hollywood, CA (December 4, 2020)—When Paul Boutin looks back at his career as an engineer, mixer, producer and musician, the word “luck” comes up a lot. “It was a lot of luck,” he says, “a lot of being there at the right time and working with the right people.”

Boutin is being modest; it takes more than luck to occupy the chair next to double-digit Grammy-winning super-producers like Humberto Gatica and Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds. And the people he’s worked with? It’s a long list of multi-platinum-selling artists, many known by just their first names: Michael, Janet, Céline, Barbra, Stevie, Whitney.

Born in France, Boutin—now a Grammy-winner himself—was on course to become a biologist but didn’t make it into the only school on his list. “My mother said, ‘Go and do music; that’s what you’ve always wanted to do.’ I was lucky to be accepted at Berklee College in Boston and started doing songwriting,” he says. “But I wanted something concrete, so I did some arranging and some synthesis, then I went into music production and engineering.”

A friend’s invitation took Boutin to Los Angeles, where he picked up regular work at a couple of studios before Record Plant manager Rose Mann hired him as a runner. “I was lucky enough to become an assistant pretty fast and was put on a lot of good sessions. I worked a lot with Humberto Gatica, including with Céline Dion. He became sort of a father figure,” he says.

A six-month stint working on various Babyface projects led to Boutin’s current long-running gig. “Kenny was building his studio at the time and said, ‘Want to come over?’ That was in ’96—and I’ve been here ever since.”

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The first song produced at Edmonds’ Brandon’s Way facility was a Grammy-nominated collaboration with Stevie Wonder, “How Come, How Long.” Boutin laughs, “We weren’t sure everything was going to work. There were still carpenters in the studio.”

Brandon’s Way opened with a Euphonix CS2000 desk in one room, later upgraded to a CS3000, with an SSL 4000G+, later replaced by a 9000J, in another. “Since then, we’ve moved to an SSL Duality,” he says.

During the current coronavirus pandemic, Boutin has also been employing more modest technology. On Toni Braxton’s new album, Spell My Name, which he co-produced, there were still some minor vocal changes and fixes to do when it became too risky for the singer, who was diagnosed with lupus in 2008, to visit the studio.

“She’s not technical and she doesn’t have a mic, so I told her, do it on your iPhone—because the iPhone microphone is pretty good,” he says. “I had her record in a closet. I said, ‘Listen to the song so you have the tempo, then sing whatever lines you want. Keep singing them over and over and I’ll pick what’s good.’ I figured out what was the proper EQ to make it sound like what we already had, and it worked.”

The tech went up a notch when Boutin and Edmonds worked remotely with Tori Kelly on her A Tori Kelly Christmas album. “We did all the tracks here and she would sing to them. She has a Logic setup and a Sony C-800G mic. There’s a track, ‘Joy to the World,’ that we made gospely. She’s incredible—she sang the whole song to a click, then we put the music around it.”

Edmonds, who caught COVID-19 in March and quarantined at the studio, has since been focusing on live and pre-recorded social media performances. Boutin employed the CEntrance MixerFace portable audio interface on a number of those videos, including an acoustic “How Come, How Long” Edmonds performed in tribute to George Floyd, whose death in police custody sparked nationwide protests in May.

More recently, Boutin has added videographer to his job titles, beginning with a video of Edmonds’ daughter performing a Billie Eilish cover for a school project. “We shot it on the iPhone 11,” he says.

He and Edmonds followed up with a shoot in the studio and surrounding streets for a children’s charity event. “So now I’m shooting videos and editing in Final Cut Pro,” says Boutin. “We did a whole video in a day and it cost nothing. It’s fun!”

Paul Boutin •