Shell Rock, IA – November 2018… Grammy award winning producer and mix engineer Tony Maserati recently contributed mixes for Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s joint album “Everything Is Love,” released under the name “The Carters.” The super-star mixer—and Chandler Limited devotee—sat down with us, providing valuable insight into the production of his mixes for this seemingly spontaneous set and how Chandler Limited and EMI / Abbey Road Studios gear played a role.
While this article focuses on Tony Maserati’s mixing contributions to the “The Carters” album, records aren’t mixed unless they are first recorded, and we set the stage with input from Stuart White. Stuart White, is a Grammy award winning mixer and engineer, his credits include— Jay-Z, Niki Minaj, Sia, NAS, FKA Twigs, Ed Sheeran, Alicia Keys and he’s Beyoncé’s recording engineer and mixer.
CL: How long have you been Beyoncé’s engineer and how did you get the gig? I started in July 2012 ‘Beyoncé’ album.
SW: I started in July 2012 with the album “Beyoncé.” As far as getting the gig…Beyoncé was looking for another engineer, and her A/R Teresa LaBarbera asked to 3 different people for recommendations. Teresa spoke to Ann Mincieli, Jean-Marie Horvat and Tony Maserati, they all happened to recommend me. However, before that I was an editor on a couple 5.1 DVD projects Beyoncé had released—mixed by Jean Marie—and then Teresa asked Tony and Ann.
CL: When did the concept of a joint Beyoncé and Jay-Z album come about?
SW: I can’t really say, but their idea for a joint album had for been around a long-time, at least before Lemonade and 444.
CL: Where were the bulk of the tracks recorded?
SW: I’d say about two-thirds of it was recorded while in Paris; some of it was recorded at home and the remainder in London.
CL: Were you all laying down vocals and shooting them over to Tony and the others to mix “hot off the press?”
SW: Fixes and punches yes. Guru and I were doing punches, edits, and full mixing all the way up to the end. I mix as I record and then Tony, Chris Godbey, Leslie Braithwaite, Guru and myself all split the songs up and ‘really’ mixed it in different studios in London. Mixing this album was a very fast—yet fun, collaborative process within the dynamic all the mixers. We listened and commented on each other’s work with no ego, each of us welcoming the others opinions, helping one another to a common goal of executing The Carter's vision.
CL: Do you do any additional prep to the tracks before the mixers get the session files?
SW: Definitely. Most the songs have been rough-mixed and edited for a while by the time I’d handed them off. All the creative effects and heavy timbre manipulation I do the day we record the vocal to get into the vibe. I try and get all I can done with my “broad strokes”—a Tony term—very quickly while recording; while it's fresh and I'm excited; I have the greatest job ever and I love every minute of the process... :))
CL: Do you have any Chandler gear?
SW: Yes, I have a Mini Rack Mixer. I have my template setup so it’s double-routed, allowing me to hear my summing chain through the Mini Rack Mixer or my in the box summing chain. I can A/B to hear the difference anytime I want and I can make the choice on the fly as to which I want to go with. Sometimes I’ll print the stems through the mixer and then use those in the box. I like the Mini Rack Mixer because it’s not subtle, it has a sound, smooths the edges of the transients and adds some glue to the tracks; it's great to widen your mixes as well. I want it for the color, it’s adding to the sound and it works!
CL: What’s it like working with Tony Maserati and what does he bring to the table?
SW: Tony is the most generous and humble person to work with; he believes in collaboration and he’s a great collaborator. He’s a teacher, a mentor and like an audio father figure to all of us he's brought up. Out of everyone in the music industry, Tony is the sweetest and most genuine person I’ve ever come across. Sonically, he very much has his signature, NOBODY can do what he does, the way he injects feel into a mix and his taste/choices are amazing. He wrote the book on modern Pop & R&B mixing, as far as I can tell, he was the first guy mixing really banging-ass kick drums with a lush pristine vocal sound and top end. He's hands down the architect for what we do in the genre. When Tony mixes, he stays true to the artist/producer vision, but merges his sound with that of the of the artist, all while keeping it current. For example, the first song “Summer,” I knew nobody could mix that song better than Tony, considering his textures, feel and style; Tony is the architect for what we do, straight up!
Tony Maserati is a Grammy award winning record producer and mixing engineer, with a career spanning thirty years, and featuring a multi-genre portfolio of some of the most celebrated artists of the modern era. Tony’s musicality and “always fresh” aesthetic imparted on his mixes, is what keeps him and his team in high demand; the list of artists knocking at Tony’s door is mind-boggling, here are few to set the record— Beyoncé, Ed Sheeran, Alicia Keys, K. Flay, BØRNS, Pink, Keith Urban, Demi Lovato, Lady Gaga, Fergie, Jason Mraz, Gwen Stefani and Sia.
In reference to Beyoncé and Jay Z’s “Everything Is Love,” the album mixed in and around London during June of 2018, and released in the same month. The project was so secret that those involved had little notice prior to the gig. However, once boots were on the ground, and with help from Chandler’s U.K. distributor, NOVA Audio and Abbey Road Studios, we were able to source for Tony, some of his favorite Chandler Limited gear.
CL: Tony, you’re based out of Los Angeles and have mixed for Beyoncé many times. However, this project was different, and on a moment’s notice you and your assistant engineer Tyler Scott were jetting off to work in London, can you tell us the genesis for this project?
TM: With regards to Beyoncé, I’m often given very little notice about how many songs I’ll be involved in, or the scope of the project. This album was no different. I got the call to come to London within 24 hours of stepping on the plane. I had no time to even assess what my audio needs would be once I arrived. Communication with Beyoncé’s engineer; Stu White and her long time A&R Teresa LaBarbera happened while we were packing and in cabs on the way to London. London is a great city with amazing studios. I was placed in “The Church Studios”; Paul Epworth’s place. He has some amazing gear on hand and I spent my first 24 hours just interfacing with that. As you know, I immediately reached to you for some advice on how I could get some of my favorite Chandler pieces during that first day. Having Tyler Scott with me, made all the difference. He’s a very technical guy and as he focused on integrating my gear with Church, I could focus on the music in front of me.
CL: How many of the tracks on the album did you end up mixing?
TM: I was lucky enough to get four tracks on the album— “Love Happy, Black Effect, Summer and Boss.”
CL: As a whole, you all had multiple studios working in the city, including a room at Abbey Road Studios, while yourself were holed up at The Church Studios, and Beyoncé and Jay Z were laying down tracks elsewhere, what were the logistics of that workflow, were tracks coming in as quickly as they were laid down?
TM: The workflow between all the engineers was stellar; Leslie Braithwaite, Stu White, Young Guru, Chris Godbey, myself and all the seconds, worked very hard to keep an open line of communication. Stu and Teresa ran point for everything and made sure J&B cleared every note and nuance. This is a team of humans that can hear perfection or problems from across the room, I was happy to have their ears on my work and lucky to get their comments on my mixes.
CL: Were there active changes to takes/overdubs going on while you were in the middle of mixing a track, or was it locked in by the time you got it?
TM: Oh yes, Stu would call or text us a note to be ready for new parts, but no one stopped what they were doing, it was full-steam ahead and all facets of the process had Teresa listening to the details. Teresa knows what level B works at, she really keeps us at that highest level, throughout the process.
CL: What was turnaround time for changes and approvals of the mixes?
TM: I can’t say what were planned nor can I tell you definitively what times were adhered to; when B & Jay had the time, they listened. We got notes shortly thereafter and incorporated them into our work and turned around updates as quickly as possible. My job was to mix to the very best of my ability, keeping up with details on the release was not in my job description, B & Jay and their team make all those decisions.
CL: From production to release, the schedule was tight, how much time did you have per track?
TM: Ya know…the best I can do is ball park, because there wasn’t any time in between to count. In other words, I’d send a mix for comments from their team, and while waiting immediately jump on something else. That something else could have been listening to a track mixed by Stu or Leslie and giving general notes to keep everyone on point, same as they did for me. I know, “Boss” took me the longest, as it needed some drum additions and gluing of the different production ideas. “Love Happy” was the quickest because Stu passed it off “right in the numbers”—Perfect pass. “Black Effect” has an incredible intro monologue to it and had a profound impression on me immediately. Jay kills the rhyme as well, so I did some time on that one too. “Summer” was a glove fit for me, Young Guru got that ball rolling and I jumped in because I dreamt that mix from the moment I heard the song. It’s Beyoncé at her best, Derrick Dixie with a few choice string parts in the break; just a great performance I was feeling from the start.
CL: Did you find yourselves mixing tracks simultaneously, i.e. working on one mix, while making changes to others?
TM: Yes. Tyler Scott who joined the team at Teresa and Stu’s behest, was doing cleaning, printing and importing of audio. He’d get things lined up for me but also generally lent a hand for any engineering needs. He recorded additional strings on “Summer” and Pharrell’s vocals on “Nice."
CL: Let’s talk gear! You were an early adopter of our EMI / Abbey Road Studios RS124 compressors, you also have the TG1 and Zener Limiters, the Curve Bender EQ and our Mini Rack Mixer. However, this gig was on the road and we were able to outfit you with RS124s, a Zener Limiter and Curve Bender.
CL: Where were the RS124 compressors used, how were they applied (insert or sends), and why?
TM: I used the RS124’s on B’s vocals. B doesn’t like too much compression on her voice. She’s used to controlling the emotion of a song and I’m used to making sure she is in that position at all times.
CL: What is it that you like about the RS124, is it the sound, the way they handle transients without becoming dark?
TM: The RS124s are great at controlling volume as well as raising lower level signal in a pleasing way. I used them on the Ed Sheeran “Perfect” mix B sung on. Allowed her to control the emotion and forcefulness of her performance, without losing her or sounding over compressed.
CL: What other sources do you apply the RS124 to, and do you use them for parallel mix bus duties?
TM: Man, I’d use the RS124 Compressors for more things If I had more. On some occasions I put them on say a bass or guitar, then print that audio so I can use them on something else. For parallel mix, I find the RS124s are a great way to increase the lower mix-bus levels without adding too much at the higher decibel levels. When the material is louder, the RS124 holds the line; it also adds a bit of glue to the louder sections as well, which is what I like about it.
CL: The Zener Limiter has a different sound from the RS124, where was it employed, and what is it that you’re going for when using it?
TM: I used the Zener Limiter on Jay’s vocal. Guru (or in some cases Stu) did some preliminary compression or EQ on Jay and I might have edited it slightly, but adding the Zener to Jay seemed to give him a touch more energy to the performance.
CL: Your Curve Bender EQ lives on your mix-bus, was that the case here, and what and what’s its purpose in that position?
TM: I actually used the Curve Bender several times on Jay’s vocal as well, but then would print it and reapply the insert on my mix-bus. On the mix-bus, I’m only tending to add a little top and bottom, and I might push a little mids; I don’t go too far because I want leave room for the mastering engineer. I feel the Curve Bender is better than the Massive Passive, as an analog device it’s just stellar, it does something immediate that I assume is part and parcel to the electronics of it; that’s been evident from the first time I’ve used it. I have no idea what Wade did, but when you plug it in…there’s just something magical that happens when you insert onto the mix-bus; it really is a lovely thing on the stereo-bus.
Assistant Engineer’s Sidebar: Tyler J. Scott
CL: Tyler, you’ve been with Tony for longtime and have been a part of many records, including prior Beyoncé releases. However, this one appeared so spontaneous that you had little notice to get to the gig, what was that like?
TS: Yes, I literally had just woken up when Stu (Beyoncé engineer) called me asking me if I can come out to London with Tony to basically be a swiss army knife and do whatever needed to be done. Of course, I said yes and asked him when they would like for me to come, a few hours later I was at LAX; on my way there I stopped by the mall and grabbed some extra basics since I didn’t have enough time to do laundry haha…
CL: When you arrived, did you go straight to the studio, and once at the studio, what was the first thing you had to do?
TS: Once we landed in London we went straight from the Heathrow to the studio bags in hand. The first thing we did was get the room setup the way we needed it. This includes placing our near fields, tuning the mains, patching in hardware inserts, and general vibe stuff like candles, lighting, etc. You always want the studio to feel good and have a nice vibe while you are working so taking a little extra time to get it how you need it is always worth it.
CL: We always say– “production is a life-style,” where you’re regularly pulling long and odd hours to get the job done, can you give us your perspective of what working on this project was like?
TS: We definitely had some long hours working on multiple songs simultaneously, which could look something like me recording overdubs in one room while Tony is working on a mix in the other. Tony and I like to be able to work quick and efficiently, and what enables us to do that is our preparation and the gear we choose to implement in our hybrid workflow. Chandler gear fits into our world seamlessly, aside from the fact that it sounds incredible, it is extremely reliable and consistent from unit to unit, which makes recalls a breeze!
CL: Can you give us some detail of “the process” involved? i.e. from receipt of the session file through to handing off to Tony?
TS: Yes, I’d get a session from Stu and I will go through it, color code, organize and import the I/O for the room. Once that’s done, I will go through and do some light manual de-essing and any editing that needs to happen, then it is off to Tony. While Tony is working I am already working on the next track, setting up the recall, or at another studio with Stu. Once Tony is finished with a mix we will send it off for approval and collect any feedback from the crew.
CL: What was one of the most technical challenges of the process/session, was it having to send files back and for the between studios, keeping everything in order as it changed hands, or something else?
TS: One of the biggest challenges is just trying acclimate your ears to a room you are not familiar with as fast as possible. We make sure to reference the mixes everywhere we can and on everything we can— laptops, iPhones, headphones, small speakers, big speakers, etc.
CL: Using one of the tracks as an example, give us a technical breakdown of what sources and how the Chandler Limited / EMI Abbey Road Studios equipment was implemented.
TS: For the song “Boss” we used the RS124 Compressor on Beyoncé, the amount of compression was actually fairly light, but we were really after the color from the tubes; my favorite thing about the RS124 is how musical the attack and release settings are. On Jay-Z we used the Zener Limiter which has a nice tight upfront sound which I always love for rap vocals. On the mix-bus, we had the Curve Bender EQ. The Curve Bender is one of those pieces of gear that really compliments a hybrid workflow, giving you that little taste of analog EQ that your mix was asking for, it is a staple on our mix-bus; it's really easy to go overboard with that box because it just sounds great no matter how far you push it!
CL: What’s your favorite piece of Chandler gear and why?
TS: This is a hard one because I really love everything especially the RS124, Mini Rack Mixer, and REDD.47 Mic Amplifier, but if I only had to choose one…I would have to go with RS124, you can use it in so many ways, it is unbelievable!