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In the studio with Grammy-winning engineer Jason Goldstein

Jason Goldstein
Jason Goldstein
Courtesy of Jason Goldstein

If there is such a thing as climbing the ladder of success, Jason Goldstein is the poster child. In search of a job — any job — as a teenager living on his own in Los Angeles, he answered an ad to work in a studio that was located close to his apartment. The facility was Ocean Way Studios, and his job responsibilities included cleaning, dishwashing and manual labor. Somehow, something clicked for Goldstein and he began proving himself and working his way up, from unpacking microphones to learning how to engineer and mix. By the time he relocated to New York, he had worked with and for legends and was armed with a wealth of knowledge. It didn’t take long for him to find work in his now-chosen field and continue his ascent to multiple Grammy nominations and Grammy-winning status for mixing Beyonce’s multi-platinum 2007 album, B-Day.

Jason Goldstein’s track record has made him an in-demand engineer across musical lines. In addition to his award-winning work with Beyonce and longstanding relationship as The Roots’ engineer, his extensive discography includes Fleetwood Mac, David Bowie and the Nat King Cole Orchestra. He was involved in the design and release of Logic Pro X and works closely with a number of product manufacturers. In this interview, he discusses his invaluable hands-on musical education at Ocean Way Studios, the transition from analog to digital, and the state of the music industry — from record labels to record quality.

Hip-hop is not all you do, but it makes up the bulk of your discography. How did you become involved with that genre of music?

I was a DJ in my high school and college years, during the mid- to late 1980s, when hip-hop and new wave had just started. They didn’t even have names at that time. They were just brand new forms of music. Very different, obviously, but I gravitated to both equally. I listened to that music, went to those clubs and when I was 18, I moved to L.A. for no reason other than to get out of the house. Eventually, I started working at Ocean Way Studios — I had no idea about their pedigree at the time — and I never left. That was a real old-school studio. Pet Sounds was recorded there. We did a lot of string sessions and rock sessions. I worked with Rick Rubin and Jack Joseph Puig.

I got a chance to move back to New York and I finally got a gig here. New York was a more hip-hop-oriented place; this was before gangsta rap became another subgenre. I hooked up with a production team called the Trackmasters [Jean-Claude Olivier and Samuel Barnes], who did all of Will Smith’s biggest hits. They did “Independent Women” for Destiny’s Child, they did a bunch of Heavy D records, early LL Cool J and Mary J. Blige. I still work for them. I did every project they worked on, which was pop-oriented hip-hop, for the most part. We didn’t do a lot of the grungier stuff. I got to work with Jay Z, Nas, Wu-Tang Clan, and the crème de la crème of hip-hop. The Trackmasters became EVP’s of Black Music at Sony and they were hiring other producers to make records, but they needed someone to do QC for them, so I started to work with other producers, doing hip-hop and pop, and I ended up hooking up with The Roots. At the time, every song had rapping verses with song hooks, and The Roots, against their better judgment, had been forced to do a record like that. I worked on it and they really liked my work, so I mixed the last four Roots albums. I just started working on another one.

What is happening with that album?

They’ve got the gig on Jimmy Fallon, so they’re constantly creating music, every day, and they’re always looking for themes. The last album was called Undun and it was about an everyday kid, not a bad kid, who grew up in a lower-class family and ended up doing some bad stuff and getting killed. They told the story backward, so he dies at the beginning and on the last song he’s born. The album before that was a little more politically oriented. I’ll be perfectly honest: I have no idea what the new album is about yet. The working title is & Then You Shoot Your Cousin, but it could mean anything. All of their works are completely different. I started with them on Phrenology, which was one of their attempts at making a popish record, but all of their albums have a theme. Sometimes it’s a little bit hard to figure it out because it may be broad, but the last one was very conceptual and specific and each song was a different point in the kid's life. I’ve only heard some of the new music. They just started sending me tracks to start organizing them, so I haven’t heard what’s going on. It’s tough for them now, in a sense, because things are going well. Questlove is everywhere, they’ve got a very good gig on Fallon and they’re moving with him to The Tonight Show, so they’ve arrived. Although there’s a lot going on in the world, they have less to b--ch about. So I haven’t heard the new Roots album. I’ve been working with them for about ten years, give or take. They consistently put an album out every year and I always look forward to it because I don’t know what it’s going to sound like, but I know it’s going to be cool and experimental. They always put me through the wringer, and finesse and nuance and push and pull. The creative process is very in-depth and detailed, so I look forward to doing a record with them every year.

What clicked in the working relationship and how has it grown and changed? Is the recording process the same or is it different each time?

I’m on my toes for every album. They hired me specifically to do a couple of songs for the pop/hip-hop album, which was actually pretty successful, and we got along in the studio. Then they asked me to real quick, in half an hour, knock out a dirty, grimy, raw kind of thing, and they pretty much mixed the rest of Phrenology at that point. The next record, The Tipping Point, I didn’t do. They recorded it on the West Coast with Dr. Dre and some other people and they weren’t happy with it. I was surprised and really disappointed when they didn’t hire me. I thought I’d get one or two songs.

Richard Nichols, their manager, is the living, breathing entity that handles The Roots. He found them in high school, he has been executive producer/producer on every album, and this is will be their fourteenth album, including live, in the studio and collaborations. Richard comes up with the concepts in conjunction with Ahmir [Thompson, “Questlove”] and Tariq [Trotter, “Blackthought”] and he executes those. He’s the one I spend most of the time in the studio with. He’s the one that beats me up and says, “Can you do this a little bit more and this a little bit less?” When you’re in a situation like that, personality goes a long way, along with your skill set. It can be very frustrating.

I’m sure you’ve heard this from others producers and engineers — sometimes it’s like the artists are speaking another language. They’re trying to articulate what they're hearing in their heads, and you have to translate and make it happen so that everybody else can understand them. They’ve got a vision, and it’s not necessarily about musicality and knowing scales and chord progressions. They’re going for an emotion and a feeling and a vibe on a record, and they’re trying to explain that. With some songs it’s easier, and with some you’re not sure, so you strip it down five, six, seven, ten times and start over and try a different approach. I’ll do upward of thirty mixes for a song. We go through each song like that until it’s right and it’s done and we all walk out of there really happy. I think between the way that Richard and I vibe, and Ahmir and Tariq coming in after and digging in and putting their two cents in as well, it’s a combination of my ability to articulate and express what they’re hearing in their heads, and we also get along really well. We’re good friends now. They give me the songs and say, “You know more or less what we’re looking for,” and I say, “Yeah, right,” because I know it’s going to be different than whatever I do, and that’s OK. I take a stab at it, take a couple of tries, and then we get together in the studio and we start hashing it out.

Thirty mixes per song is not for everyone. Have you always been such a patient and meticulous person?

At work! If you ask my kid, I don’t know that he would say that I’m a meticulous, patient person. I try to be, yes. At the end of the day, it’s not my song. I didn’t write it. I didn’t perform it. It’s my job to bring it forth and make that song the best that it can possibly be, and/or bring forth the producers and A&R or the artist —whoever is driving the ship on the project — bring forth their artistic vision and get it out there. I have been in situations where I knew I was right. There are certain types of songs and formulas and genres that should sound a certain way and there’s not a lot of wiggle room. I’ve gotten into discussions with producers about how I think that that’s the wrong thing, but again, it’s their record.

I don’t get any back end on the songs that I mix. I missed the boat on that. Very few engineers do anymore, and they’re almost all left over from the good old days. So it’s not my job unless I’m specifically asked, like, “Here’s the mix, here’s the record, just do you. We trust you, we love the Beyonce album, make it sound like that.” In which case, oftentimes I do, and there’s very little back and forth. It’s “Turn that up a little bit, turn that down a little bit.” I will say when I think that somebody’s going in the wrong direction. I respectfully disagree. But it’s their record and it’s my job to give them what they want, so that takes some of the pressure off in that respect. Your job is to make them happy, and if you can’t make them happy, you won’t get hired again. If you’re combative and disrespectful, you don’t get hired again. It’s the producer’s job to put their foot down. The producer has to fight that battle sometimes with the label, with A&R and the marketing department. Sometimes he wins and sometimes he capitulates because the label is paying for it. That’s how I think I’ve gotten along. I’m able to work with lots of different people and personalities, and luckily, what I like to hear is what other people like to hear.

You mix in the box. Are you that guy that all the old-school producers and engineers point to and say, “See what you’ve done to the craft”?

I don’t think so. I think technology has always evolved. You could go back in time and make the same argument. Phil Spector’s mantra forever was “Back to mono.” That was his thing. When I worked at Ocean Way, he came through and he had a button on that said “Back to mono.” He worked mostly on four-tracks. He would track the whole band to one track, overdub on tracks two and three, then re-track the whole band on track four. That’s how he got “the wall of sound,” but at the end of the day it all came out mono. When the Beatles came along and had eight tracks, that was monumental. When you could pan stuff between the speakers, that was a paradigm shift. It’s always been there: automation, parametric EQ, digital reverbs instead of plates, plate reverb instead of chambers, chambers instead of just going in a big room and recording it and getting the sound of the room.

I was lucky; I caught the tail end of the analog world, so I learned to record instruments from George Massenburg and Ed Cherney. I worked with Phil Ramone and Arif Mardin, may they rest in peace. I learned about microphone placement and using the room to your advantage. I remember when the first Pro Tools came out. It was called Sound Design and it was two tracks. You could record for four minutes and it ate up the whole hard drive. Different types of automation came along, and then we had digitally controlled analog consoles. I think that it’s a blessing and a curse. Just because you can record and mix a record in your bedroom doesn’t mean you should. The fact is that it’s not as specialized as it used to be. You don’t have to go to a studio anymore and you don’t necessarily have to hire an engineer that knows all that equipment. As a result, we’ve started delivering mediocre product, very flat, with the same sonic temperature. I don’t think the old-school guys are mad at the younger guys so much as it’s just frustrating for anybody that really cares about the craft to see the way it’s gone. String players are out of jobs because sampling has gotten so good. The orchestra pit for The Amazing Spiderman doesn’t have an orchestra in it. It’s all done with synthesizers in the basement because they’re using the orchestra pit for hydraulics. What mixing in the box has allowed me to do is make records from all over the world without leaving my city. They send me a file and I do it here. It’s opened up a world of possibilities, but it’s also dumbed down the music a bit.

You’ve been doing this for twenty years, working in analog and on the first digital console. What was the learning curve like for you? What was the gear like at that time as compared to now?

The transition was more of a progression for me. What’s missing a lot today, even with all the schools, there’s a lot of theory but not a lot of practice. At Ocean Way, I worked eighty hours a week on the books and then another twenty off. The assistants were all world-class. Some of them were better than the engineers coming through, and that says a lot for that studio. There were guys who had been there for twenty years as assistants. That’s how it was at Capitol, Sound City, Sunset Sound and a lot of those older places. They took you under their wing, once they saw your work ethic or your desire, and they showed you. They walked you through it. Having a physical representation made the transition to digital easier. To understand how a wire connected one piece of gear to another using a patch bay or tie-lines — by necessity, all of us learned how to solder and do basic electrical work in the studio, because you had to. We learned to align tape machines and understand the principals of how that worked.

Slowly having the digital representation brought in made the transition easier. Pro Tools came at it from the engineering perspective. They’ve always been the company that looked at it as if they were trying to make a digital console, as opposed to, say, Logic, which started out as a production tool. As confusing as Logic was, they were way ahead of everybody in terms of MIDI implementation software and being able to do crazy routing like you wouldn’t do in the real world. Pro Tools kept it more like a real console and they always have. So again, I was lucky to have people on the forefront of doing that and I worked with them every day. I didn’t just buy a Mac and Pro Tools and have to read the manual. I was sitting there with the guy that was learning how to use it, and we were looking at each other and going, “How the hell do we do this? It’s never been done before. Can this program even accomplish what we want it to do?”

Working with those guys that were on the forefront, in New York I beta-tested the first digital console, the Neve Capricorn. I sat there with Frank Filipetti, who was an early adopter of all things digital, and we would scream at each other and at the Neve tech and try to troubleshoot things. But that enabled us to learn how this whole thing was coming along, how to clock different digital pieces of gear together, things that people don’t even think about anymore. Now everything talks to one another and it’s perfect, but back then you had clocks running at different speeds, and different sample rates and noise. So I wasn’t thrown into it. I had the luxury of not only my peers and mentors but the actual people who designed the software sitting right there going, “Oh, it doesn’t do that,” writing it down, and three months later they had a revision that took into consideration what we said. Through that, they’ve simplified the program. There are different programs. Reason is a great program, but it’s much simpler than Pro Tools or Logic. So is Garageband. That’s a really simple version of Logic. They give you all the sounds, they give you a ton of templates, and you can record one guitar pass and a vocal. If you’re not going to go to school to learn this stuff, it’s trial and error now.

One of the things kids have going for them today is everything they do is digital. My kid is 9 and he grabs my Smartphone, Googles the hockey game from last night on ESPN and looks up all the stats. It took me forever to figure out how the first Blackberry worked, and he just picks it up and uses it. It’s part of his world. So I don’t know what it’s like in the mind of an 18-year-old these days, or how hard or easy it is for them to grasp this stuff on a technical and sonic level, and being able to actually capture the sound correctly. That’s a whole different conversation. But as far as how the software works, I think their brains are just wired differently. They make connections a lot faster than people my age.

A very famous engineer loved the SSL 4000. When the 9000 came out, he could not get around the fact that they had moved the master fader six inches to the left. He could not do it. It destroyed his whole concept of how the thing should work and where things should be placed. Moving fader automation — he could not use it. He could not conceptualize the moving fader. A phenomenal engineer who did amazing records on a 4000, and he doesn’t even touch Pro Tools. Doesn’t have a clue, won’t go near it. Still making hit records today, but he has to hire a Pro Tools guy if he wants to do editing. He uses it like a tape machine. He presses play and that’s it.

I’ve always been an early adapter. I like technology, I like using it, but sometimes it’s really screwed me up. I learned the hard way to back up your hard drive with different operating systems and stuff. “Oh, the new Pro Tools is out!” Install it and, “Oh crap, now none of my plug-ins work.” So I’ve learned to keep multiple hard drives with different operating systems that I can boot off of so I can always revert back if necessary.

You were involved in the design of the Drummer program for Logic Pro X. This is not the first time you’ve designed and consulted. You work with a number of companies — Avid, JBL, AKG, Sonnox Plug-ins. How did those opportunities come about and what was your role?

I used a certain pair of speakers for eight or ten years that I really loved. They were bought out by a big company and it became very difficult to get components for the speakers, so I went on a hunt to find a new pair of speakers and I auditioned everything. I ended up picking a pair of JBL 6328P’s. I bought them and used them when I mixed Beyonce’s B’Day, which was critically acclaimed and a Number One record. I won a Grammy for it. That same year, I did a Roots record, and Sound on Sound reached out to me about an interview about how I mixed a particular song for their "Secrets of the Mix Engineers" column. They wanted to see exactly what I was using, not just how I did it, and asked if I would provide screen shots. At that time, I was making a transition. That was the last record that I was half in the box and half out of the box. I said “JBL” and the model number in the article. There’s a picture of me in front of a big console, there are screen shots, and those companies then reached out to me to say, “You picked our gear without any push from us or any quid pro quo. Would you like to discuss these things in articles or press releases?” I said, “Sure.” I don’t get free gear or anything. If I have to go someplace to mix, they’ll loan me a pair of speakers. It’s been great to have the association with them and to have input, and I get some p.r. out of it from time to time. People see my name and what gear I use and that’s led to other things.

Avid, again, I was the early adopter. I was mixing the second Lonely Island record, Turtleneck & Chain, two years ago. I was working in Pro Tools 8. Pro Tools 9 had just come out and I wanted to work in 9. The studio manager at Downtown Music, which I work out of a lot, had just installed a brand new Pro Tools 9 system that they weren’t using because nobody wanted to pull the trigger. I said, “I’ll do it.” We weren’t under any timeline pressure, so he reached out to Avid. That’s where that relationship started, because I was bridging the big jump in the architecture and design between 8 and 9. They were psyched to have somebody actually making a major-label album who wanted to go on record talking about it. I did a couple of seminars. I’ve had some input to a degree on future requests and stuff like that, which is awesome.

The Apple thing came out of nowhere and that was super-cool. They had Chris Lord-Alge, Tchad Blake and Bob Clearmountain do drum sounds for that and they picked me to do the hip-hop sounds. They must have done some research, because that really came out of nowhere. I don’t know how they found me. I’ve had a website up for a long time and my search engine optimization is pretty good, so if you put in “Jason Goldstein” and “mixer,” it comes up top five, but they must have found a couple of records that they liked. I did The Blueprint for Jay Z, and some people say it's one of the top three or five hip-hop records of all time, so between that and some of the other stuff I’ve done, I guess they felt I would be a good choice. I worked in Logic a lot, and I still do if the client wants to, so I’m actually pretty proficient in it, which I think made a difference as well. I had a comfort level there and it was fun. That’s how that relationship started. I’m always looking for more. I’d love to have some input on software design and plug-in features.

Do you play an instrument?

I can play but I don’t play. I was a DJ. I did a lot of string sessions and orchestral sessions, so I had to learn to read so that I could follow the score. I can read music pretty well. I can’t play anything I’m reading, but I can tell you the chords and the time signature. You had to be able to follow along so you could punch in during the recording, so I learned. I can’t sight-read like a musician can, but I can follow a score.

Your story is almost surreal. You moved to the West Coast at 18 just to leave home, you needed a job, so you took a job sweeping floors at Ocean Way, ended up around legends, fell in love with it and became a Grammy-winning engineer.

I literally played around in L.A, worked odd jobs and partied a lot. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I always liked music and I tried to get into the D.J. scene there, but it was pretty well established and I had a hard time doing that. Breaking into anything is tough. There was an ad in a magazine called The Recycler to work at a recording studio ten blocks from my house. I was living in Hollywood, on Sycamore and La Brea, and so I went. They told me what the job entailed and I didn’t leave for three years. I cleaned up my act and worked from 6:00 at night until the last session left, which could be 8:00 in the morning when the next shift came in, or if it was an easy night, it would be midnight. We had five rooms and no dishwashers, so you had to clean up the cigarettes and beer and whatever else and wash the dishes. Once I had become friendly with some of the assistants, they asked me to set up the night before, if I wanted to. Of course I trainwrecked it the first fifty times, but they were happy just to have the mics out of the locker and the cables on them so they didn’t have to do it when they got there in the morning. I learned how to do it. I didn’t leave. I didn’t go home. I went home to shower and feed the cat and went back to work. I would work twenty or twenty-five hours a week for free as a second assistant on some of the bigger gigs, order food, whatever. It was something that just kind of stuck.

Downtown Music Studios is pretty much your base now.

My workflow varies, depending on the client. I’ve lived in the same apartment for twelve or thirteen years, and I’ve referenced every mix I’ve done, whether it be at the Hit Factory or Sony or Downtown or wherever, in this room with these speakers, so I know this room better than any other studio at this point. I love Downtown. I get excellent results there. Zach Hancock, the manager, runs a very tight ship, so it’s a great place to work, but it depends on the client. Can they afford a studio? Do they want to come to New York? Sometimes it’s completely in the studio, sometimes it’s completely at home and we do notes via e-mail or Skype, and sometimes it’s a hybrid where I get it 80 or 90 percent done and we meet in the studio to go over the final tweaks. But Downtown is definitely my home away from home. It’s a wonderful facility.

What makes them right for your needs?

It’s the best of both worlds. It’s small and private and technically top notch. Zach is also the designer and head engineer and he does a phenomenal job. They have a vintage API, but right next to it they’re running the fastest, most up-to-date Pro Tools rig on the market. The room sounds excellent. That’s always a concern, getting a good sound in the room and it doesn’t translate somewhere else. Every mix I’ve taken out of there has been consistent. Everywhere I listen to it, everything always works. Their client services — and I’m not high maintenance; I’m just talking about fresh coffee and having a menu book that you can pick from — they just know how to take care of you. In the other room they have a vintage Neve, and running right next to that is another top-of-the-line Pro Tools rig. It’s a smaller room, which I actually like more. It’s vibey. The lounge has a wall of windows. The A room has natural light coming into it, and since I don’t work all night anymore and actually want to know what time it is, you can open the shades or black them out, if that’s what you desire. It’s a great place to work.

How often do you see the artists you engineer? With files facilitating the process, do any of them ever want to be in the studio with you?

Not that many. But it also depends on what type of artist you’re working with. If it’s a singer/songwriter who has real creative input, they’re there. I’m either talking to them on the phone, in face time, or there’s direct involvement. The Lonely Island guys, all three of them are in the room the whole time, which is an adventure because they’ve known each other since eighth grade, so they’re best frenemies. They’re amazing to work for, but it’s just hysterical. All three of them were there every day for every song. The Roots are the same thing. Rich is there every day for the entire project, and once we’ve got stuff in pocket, Ahmir and Tariq are there pretty consistently. Beyonce, on the other hand, I mixed the bulk of the album, ten out of twelve songs, before she heard anything. She set up a listening date, came in, listened to everything, made notes and that was pretty much it. It’s different, depending. But significantly less than it used to be, just because of money. If the artist isn’t in New York, someone has to pay for them to come here, put them up, feed them. It doesn’t happen as much.

Do you miss that?

I do miss that. I miss the studio and going to the studio every day. This has enabled me to do records at a price point that I wouldn’t have been able to do, and it’s allowed me to do albums for artists that I wouldn’t have been able to before because they live in another country. That being said, for a number of reasons, the interaction with the artist, the producer and the A&R guys, contentious as that could be at times, was still great. There's a creative process, and we were making better records. They were made in the studio from start to finish with qualified people. They weren’t recording in the bathroom using stock sounds from a synthesizer. I think the records, simply put, were just better.

There is a belief held by many musicians and some producers that record labels are no longer necessary. Artists can do it themselves, they say, and this is a much better time because artists can be creative without “suits” telling them what to do and telling the public what they should listen to. You work with successful, signed artists and deal with record labels on a regular basis. What’s your take on this new way of thinking?

Producers are significantly more in control of the projects than a lot of A&Rs are. At some point, when producers started popping up in videos and singing on the records, they became the creative end point of these records before A&R even got it. All the acts that I love from my youth weren’t popular until their third album. People say, “Their first album was amazing,” but their first album didn’t sell s--t when it came out. The second or third album sold a bunch of albums and everyone went back and said, “These guys have always been good.” But that was an A&R guy sticking with the project and believing in it. Now the producers find the artist, they sign production deals, they get songwriters and bring them in, and they hand-deliver a finished product to the label.

From a pop standpoint, a lot of the artists are performers. They don’t write the songs or play the music; they just perform the songs. That being said, you cannot be a successful artist without the backing of a major label. You can’t do the marketing and you can’t do the distribution. Everybody thinks, Oh, I’ll make a song and I’ll put it on the Internet. Guess what. There’s a hundred million like you and you’re just going to get lost in the noise. The chances of anybody ever even seeing your video on YouTube are next to nothing. So I think there’s a middle ground. The producers and the artists have taken this attitude because so much of what gets done gets done out of the label’s purview. They’re not involved. They literally hand the producer x amount of dollars as a budget and say, “Give me a record.” So the producer rightfully starts to thinks he’s got the power, because the A&R is not sitting there going, “We were thinking this or that.” The A&R has totally given up control. They try to take it back after the fact, but by then the guy’s killed his budget and what are you going to do? Go back in and redo it seventeen times? No, you can’t. Done. Plus, these producers have track records, so a young A&R guy is going to have a hard time arguing with Timbaland or whoever about what an album should sound like. So I think they both have a problem. It goes all the way down the line.

Records were better when A&R guys found and nurtured talent, set them up with producers who produced and engineers who engineered, and everybody had their job and no one tried to do something that wasn’t their job. The producer wasn’t engineering and mixing. The A&R guy wasn’t producing. The producer wasn’t singing on the record. Everybody did their job, they were really good at their job, and the sum of those parts created great records. When you have the same four producers and the same five songwriters making every record, they all sound the same. It’s an illusion if you think you can do it on your own. You need at least Cobalt or an E1, who understands the marketing and branding and who can cut through all the noise, because there’s so much noise out there.

There are producers I work with who bring in rough mixes that sound really good. I say, “Why do you want me to mess with them?” “Because we think you can do a better job.” All right. Sometimes it's just a little bit better because I’m a tweaker. I’ll tweak the kick drum right before the end of it. I don’t mix in a progression. We listen to it as one thing, so I mix it as one thing and I’m constantly adjusting everything. It sounds pretty good for the first hour or two, then it sound really bad for the next hour or two, and then it all settles and you go, “Oh, it’s done!” Once it’s done and it feels good, everybody else in the room says, “What did you just do? That’s it. Stop.” If a producer can do that on their own, I don’t have a problem with it. Too many think they can do it, but it sounds awful for a lot of technical and musical reasons. But that's a skill set they’re allowed to have if they can do it. It’s just when there’s no oversight that things get bad. The A&R guys used to direct the focus of the album. They’d get the producer in to create this artistic vision, discuss it with the artist and attempt to bring it to fruition. So much stuff is done in isolation now with seventeen producers on a song, and if you look at the list of songwriters, it’s like the Encyclopedia Britannica, with eighty writers. That’s impossible. There’s not even thirty words in the hook and there’s no chord progression, you’re in the same key the whole time, it doesn’t modulate, but somehow it took thirty people to create it.

Your e-mail address is available on your website. Are you flooded with requests? How do you sift through?

I’ll mix just about anything if I have the time. I usually have a conversation with the person who contacts me. Is it major label, is it independent, are you paying for it with the money you make working at the clothing store on the weekends? Send me a demo so I can hear it. But I try and mix everything that I get. Good or bad is so subjective. Even if you put a thousand people in a room and they all think a record’s good, the next person could think it’s the worst thing they’ve ever heard. There are plenty of popular songs that subscribe to that, and the reverse is true as well. Also, you have people who are making a record for themselves. So I try to set a minimum with respect to price, especially for anything that’s a major label and is going to get any kind of distribution. I put a boilerplate contract together on the back end to protect myself in case somebody is trying to b.s. me, so that if I hear something that I’ve done, I get some compensation for that, theoretically.

I try and listen to everything, and I try and do everything that people ask me to do. If I’m not doing anything today, my kid’s at school, why not mix a record? Some days I’m tired and my head’s not in it, but if someone sends me fifteen tracks and it will take me three or four hours, why not? I’m not going to be able to do that if they send me a hundred tracks and can’t pay for the time it takes to do it properly, because if you’re not going to do it properly, there’s no point. I’ve quoted people and they’ve agreed to it and they send me a file, but I tell them, “I’m sorry. I can’t do it for the price I quoted you because the tracks are a mess. They’re not labeled, there are pops and clicks, they’re noisy as hell. I’d be happy to do this, but we have to bill it hourly for me to clean it up and get it to a place to mix.” Sometimes they say OK, and sometimes their budget is maxed and I have to tell them that can’t do it. I respectfully say, “If you have someone who can clean it up and send it back to me, I’ll be happy to do it.” I would never tell anybody that their record is not good enough for me to mix, because who the hell am I to make that call? Almost all these records, people put a lot of themselves into them, and it’s not my place to tell them. Music is subjective. We’re not flying airplanes. If I make a mistake, nobody dies. If he makes his mom happy with it, that’s fine.

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Gear List

"I mix completely in the box. At home, I use a 17" Mac laptop running Pro Tools 10.3.5 connected to a Lexicon Alpha d/a via USB.
I monitor through a pair of B&W 804's powered by Mark Levinson amplification. I also use a pair of AKG 701 headphones, as well as a pair of 15-year-old Sony 7506's. In the studio, I use a Mac Pro 8 core also running Pro Tools 10.3.5.
 My main monitors are JBL 6328p's, but I also reference through Avatones and NS10's. I mostly use Sonnox and URS plug-ins,
 with Waves, Sound Toys and Digi plugs filling in where needed. I also really like the plug-ins from SPL and the rest of the Plugin Alliance, as well as Altiverb and Fab Filter. I also use the Cranesong Phoenix on most every mix."

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