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Music Production

Niko Bolas on Mixing the Prince “Originals” Album

Faced with mixing the new archival release, “Originals,” engineer Niko Bolas had to find the best way to honor the material, including taking the results to Bernie Grundman Mastering, where many Prince albums were previously mastered.

Hollywood, CA (June 26, 2019)—After mixing Originals, a 15-track album featuring 14 previously unreleased recordings that illuminate the role Prince played in other artists’ careers, engineer Niko Bolas mastered the project at Bernie Grundman Mastering.

The Prince Estate, in partnership with Warner Bros. Records and TIDAL, released Originals via all download and streaming partners and physically on CD on June 21. Limited edition deluxe CD+2LP and 180 gram 2LP formats will follow on July 19.

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The tracks were selected collaboratively by Troy Carter, on behalf of the Prince Estate, and Jay-Z. Several of the songs became major hits for the artists who recorded them, including Sheila E’s “The Glamorous Life,” “Manic Monday” by the Bangles, “Jungle Love” by the Time and Martika’s “Love… Thy Will Be Done.”

“When the tapes arrived from Minneapolis at Iron Mountain’s storage facility in LA, Greg Parkin, director, digital solutions hired me to build a control room so that the assets were secure and never left the building,” says Bolas, the mixing engineer on the Prince project, who worked closely with estate archivist Michael Howe. “I was responsible for the mixes for review, which went very well, before mastering the album at Bernie Grundman’s in Hollywood.”

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Grundman mastered numerous Prince albums, including his debut, which was recorded and mixed by Tommy Vicari at Record Plant recording studios in Sausalito, CA. “He didn’t want anyone giving him any direction. That’s why he didn’t want to hang out with a lot of the people at the record company, because they were always telling him what he should do to make a hit record. For all the albums we mastered, he’d be here in L.A. for one day and then he’d go back to Minneapolis. We would then have telephone conversations and send reference disks back and forth. He didn’t want to stay around and have that kind of pressure and influence.”

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Some of the tapes were finished releases, Bolas reports. “We re-mixed them with Prince’s vocals, the guide vocals. We soon learned that whoever the artist was that had the original single tried to use his phrasing exactly.”

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Bolas, who knows most of the original engineers, continues, “The first thing I did was call David Leonard, Susan Rogers and Peggy McCreary. I asked all three of them, what did you do? What do I do, and how can I honor this? They all told me what equipment they had in the control room at the time and what was going on.

“The greatest thing for me was when Peggy McCreary sat down and listened to one of my mixes. She said, ‘It’s a great mix, but it’s not what he would like. You have to sing the words and dance to it, and that’s all he would want.’ Once I reframed my brain around that, it was actually really easy to do, because everything’s recorded so well. It was already there.”

Bernie Grundman Mastering •