What Gudwin does for Dua Lipa comes from a different place than what he does for Justin Bieber in that he is involved with Bieber’s music from before inception. As Gudwin says, he has, “a lot more skin in the game, a lot more attachment to those projects.” Besides vocal recording, production and mixing, Gudwin is involved in the curation of both Bieber’s recent albums: Justice and Changes, and the mixing of them as well. At this point, it’s unlikely Bieber will step into a studio without Gudwin in tow.
“Josh is really fast when [Bieber]’s cutting,” says Allison Kaye, Bieber’s longtime manager. “When he wants to go back to a certain part or start from a certain place, Josh instinctively knows it. It isn’t necessarily something they’ve developed over the years. When he was a little kid, it would still be the same thing. He didn’t have the ability to say, ‘I’m just going to cut by myself,’ so he would go in with producers and he would get annoyed when Josh wasn’t there. We’d start sending Josh to sessions with him.
“There is no room that [Bieber] can’t walk into with Josh,” she continues. “Another artist’s hotel room or a brand-new studio environment with a bunch of strangers. If he’s struggling with a take or something and Josh says, ‘You got it,’ [Bieber] knows he has it. It’s trust in Josh’s ears, it’s trust in his ability, but also trust in him as a human being.”
Bieber released Changes just before the pandemic. Instead of the tour that was planned, once lockdown was in effect, he decamped to Toronto, in his home country of Canada, and started on Justice. He spent a few months in Cherry Beach Sound, cutting vocals from submissions funneled through Gudwin, and sent directly to Bieber, who is the executive producer for both Justice and Changes. When he’s focused, Bieber can cut a vocal in 45 minutes. These days for both professional and personal reasons, his work flow in the studio is streamlined and efficient.
Upon his return to Los Angeles, Bieber set up at Henson’s A, B and D Studios to complete Justice under pandemic restrictions. Gudwin brings his own Sony C-800G microphone, Tube-Tech CL 1B compressor, ATC SCM25A speakers and his Pro Tools rig.
“[Bieber] is hearing his voice the way he likes to without anything, just the microphone and his voice,” says Gudwin. “He knows how to move around the microphone to get the right sound he likes for the right song.”
Gudwin uses the same three microphones he’s always used with Bieber: the aforementioned Sony C-800G, Telefunken ELA M 251 and Neumann U 67, and the same vocal chain: Neve 1081 or 1073 preamp, CL 1B compressor and GML 8200 or 2032 EQ, right into Pro Tools. He has a CPU-light tracking template he relies on in order to operate efficiently.
“On my mix bus, I have everything inactive and build it up as the mix develops,” says Gudwin. “My record track has AutoTune on the insert in the key of the song with a light setting: 20-20- 20. That’s just enough so he can sing into it without it drastically changing the voice. While recording, I always have a compressor and an EQ ITB in the box on inserts so I can mix on the fly. This is after it hits the microphone, mic preamp, compressor and after it gets converted to digital. I have options to pull up other effects like delays, choruses, flanges. I have certain effects (fully wet) on audio tracks I put certain words on to accentuate and effect certain parts of the vocal performance and word play.
“There are empty audio tracks I use for comp tracks once we get a vocal we like,” he continues. “I drag those takes down to these tracks. They then get routed to an aux with EQ, compression so it’s easy for me to get the vocals to sound how I like them. This vocal aux will also send to shared effects. With this type of setup, I’ll start dialing sound in, shaping vocals while he’s doing reference takes.”
If Bieber wants to stack harmonies, Gudwin already has background tracks panned, tucked and grouped so they can be controlled and duplicated all together. This is in addition to effects, choruses, reverbs and delays at the bottom. He has these at the ready, fully wet, so he can drag audio to the track and instantly have it in Bieber’s ears with that effect.
What Gudwin captures is clean with just a touch of barely audible compression which he uses just to take down a word. Gudwin is in mix mode the second he’s done with recording, as Bieber likes to hear a mix of his take within five minutes.
Because Bieber plays drums, kick, snare and overheads are also in place and routed, with a click track at the ready. Gudwin has a filter on the high end, but not on the low end as the latter is easy to take out in the mix when it’s split.