The music mixing secrets and techniques behind Cardi B’s Grammy-winning album

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The music mixing secrets and techniques behind Cardi B’s Grammy-winning album

Minutes earlier than I’m supposed to fulfill combine engineer Leslie Brathwaite for the primary time, he texts me to reschedule. “So sorry, had to come make some tweaks on a Pharrell mix upstairs in my room!” the message says. I let it slide.

Leslie Brathwaite is a reputation you may not know, however he’s integral to bringing music to life. One of his newest accomplishments is mixing Cardi B’s Invasion of Privacy, which just lately received Best Rap Album on the 61st Grammy Awards, making her the primary feminine rapper to win the class as a solo artist.

As the combo engineer for Invasion of Privacy, it was Brathwaite’s job to take the entire recorded materials for the venture — from vocals to devices to particular person pattern hits — and craft the nuanced steadiness and relationship between each factor earlier than the music heads off to be mastered after which launched to the world. In the previous, he’s finished the identical for T-Pain, Rick Ross, Travis Porter, Gucci Mane, Beyoncé and Jay Z, Future, and Lil Uzi Vert (to call a number of).

After final Sunday’s Grammy Awards, Brathwaite now has seven Grammy nominations underneath his belt. In the post-Grammys glow, he talks with The Verge about what a combination engineer does, what it was wish to work with Cardi B on Invasion of Privacy, and he shares a few of his favourite studio suggestions, tips, and plug-ins.

This interview has been flippantly edited for readability.

What precisely does a combination engineer do, and why is your job needed for a track or album?

Once the artist and the musicians and the producers and everybody will get collectively and information all the fabric, I’ve to sift by all the pieces and make choices like which vocal take is one of the best? How loud is the vocal going to be? How loud is the kick drum going to be? Is the bass going to be a little bit thicker or thinner?

I’m the one which balances out the degrees. I’m the one which chooses one of the best takes. I’m the one which decides if the bass goes to be in on this part or out in one other part. If an instrument wants tuning or if any individual can’t sing that properly, I may help repair that up a little bit. It’s needed as a result of the track and the music received’t sound as polished in any other case. Quite a lot of instances, the track in its uncooked kind can’t actually talk what it’s making an attempt to speak except issues are put in the suitable context.

Do artists usually come to the desk with an thought of what they need it to sound like, or do you get inventive liberties?

There’s a 50 / 50 there. The extra inexperienced artists let me do my factor. They’re coming to me understanding that I’ve a lot data. They need my enter, they usually wish to know what I feel. And it’s like that with the extra established artists, too, however they have a tendency to have extra pointers with what they assume will work for the combo. Even the folks with essentially the most concepts nonetheless depart room for me to do my craft and insert my concepts, although, as a result of they worth perspective.

How did you begin working with Cardi B?

Craig Kallman, the top of Atlantic Records, referred to as me in 2017, and stated, “Hey man, we signed Cardi B, and we want you to mix her album. I think you’d be perfect for her and her temperament.” I didn’t hear from him for some time, after which I received a name in March 2018. They have been like, “Dude, we got to make this Cardi B album in a week. She’s pregnant, and we got to shoot all these videos. Can you make it to Miami? She really wants you to mix it down there because she wants to be a part of the process.” I used to be like, “Hell yeah!” I went to Miami, and we blended your complete album in per week and a half.

Earlier, you informed me you want your job since you don’t must work together with artists.

Let me make clear. I do like people. In basic, the factor is, I like music, however I’m not a specific fan of the music business. And so I like that buffer between me and all of the BS. Quite a lot of the time within the music business, you discover quite a lot of wannabes, individuals who assume they know all the pieces, and artists who’re simply loopy. That’s the type of stuff I are inclined to keep away from.

Fortunately, in my profession, I’ve handled quite a lot of fantastic folks. Every at times, it’s enjoyable to work with the artist and have them proper there as we’re working. Cardi was within the subsequent room doing quite a lot of promo stuff, and she or he would come and peek her head in to hearken to the combo and make little feedback. But she gave me house to work and do my factor. It’s her first main album, and I feel she was curious in regards to the course of. I’m at all times comfortable to be part of that. Like after I blended Beyoncé and Jay Z, she flew me to London and was there. It’s Beyoncé. Of course she will be there each second of the day if she desires to! But it’s not my norm.

The music mixing secrets behind Cardi B’s Grammy-winning album

Any notably good tales out of your time in Miami with Cardi B?

Yes, however I can’t share something! [Laughs] I’ll say she is a lot enjoyable to be round. I imply, she is a celebration on wheels. What you see is what you get with Cardi. She is so genuine and so actual, she couldn’t pretend that if she needed to. There’s by no means a boring second along with her.

I additionally like that she’s very good. Every night time, she would stroll round and ensure she spoke to each single individual within the studio from the entrance desk lady to the studio supervisor. She didn’t care how drained she was. One late night time, she was strolling out, stopped, after which walked again to thank the interns and the runner. She’s simply so candy. You can’t educate that, and you may’t purchase that.

After working along with her that week and a half, I stated to myself, “Man we got something special here.” This is among the higher albums I’ve blended in a very long time. It’s a very stable album.

Do you might have a favourite track on Invasion of Privacy by way of the way in which you blended it?

Yeah, the primary track, “Get Up 10,” and “Ring,” with Kehlani. Those are my two favourite mixes, they usually have been coincidentally the primary two information I blended on the album.

Why are they your favorites?

“Get Up 10” simply had a sure power to it. I believed it was an ideal intro album track with the come-up story in there. I really like the way in which it grows for some time with simply pianos and strings, after which when the beat drops midway by the track, the power is wonderful. And then I identical to “Ring” as a result of Kehlani mixed with that file sounds so good.

What was your path to turning into a combination engineer?

I used to be born in Saint Thomas within the Virgin Islands. It’s a really musical tradition, centered round calypso and soca and reggae. From a really early age, I’d comply with the calypso bands and ask them if I may hook up the amplifiers or attempt to assist them wrap cables. I used to be at all times intrigued with how issues sounded. As I received a little bit older, I’d sit for hours and play information from my dad’s assortment, listening to the kicks and the snares and the bass in songs. I’d learn the credit and was actually with all these titles and the positions of people who made the stuff work. One day, my steerage counselor gave me a little bit pamphlet from Full Sail. When I took the tour with my dad, I used to be like, “This is where I want to be.” I felt like I used to be residence, seeing all of the buttons and the boards and the audio system.

After I graduated, I used to be a runner at Glow within the Dark studios within the ‘90s here in Atlanta. I’d get espresso, go for McDonald’s, clear the loos, no matter I may to remain across the studio. I used to be an unpaid intern, however I had full entry to the studio. That was my trade. I did something they requested, however I additionally had the keys to all the pieces. I labored my method up throughout the studio. I went from being an intern to an assistant engineer after which from an assistant engineer to a recording engineer. Before I knew it, I used to be mixing. My very first massive combine was Monica’s “Don’t Take It Personal.” After that, I made a decision if I needed to be a full-time mixer, I needed to cease recording. I simply needed to be a mixer.


The development within the business was that folks needed specialised issues. If you’re going right into a hospital, and you realize you need to have a mind tumor eliminated, you don’t desire a basic surgeon to do it. You desire a mind surgeon. I noticed that mentality within the ‘90s. People would much prefer a mixer to mix their records than a guy who recorded and mixed, and mixing really spoke to me because it’s nearly me and the music.

Do you might have a signature sound whenever you combine?

I feel so. I’m recognized for with the ability to ship actual stable low finish with out it sounding muddy. It’s a consistency in bringing the low finish ahead however nonetheless having all of it sound clear and crisp.

What plug-ins are your favorites to assist obtain that?

If I needed to slender it down to at least one plug-in, I’d select Little Labs Voice Of God. It’s a plug-in for low-end shaping, and it’s wonderful on basses, kicks, and 808s.

What is the steadiness between how a lot tech can add to a combination versus what somebody inherently brings to the desk as an artist?

Technology, on the whole, is nice when it’s used as a device. When we use the know-how, that’s nice. When the know-how makes use of us, that’s when it will get dangerous. And what I imply by that’s when folks rely an excessive amount of on plug-ins and are at all times ready for the brand new software program pack to return out. Understanding the craft is what’s essential. Craft is what’s going to win out. Plug-ins come and go. The know-how modifications. I discovered on tape machines and large-format consoles, and now I’m primarily simply on a pc.

It’s wonderful the way it’s all shrunk, and now you can work from anyplace.

Exactly! When we have been making an attempt to hook up on the National Association of Music Merchants present, I had my laptop computer with me and was mixing a Pharrell track for the upcoming Pokémon film soundtrack in my resort room. I get a lot extra finished now. One of the most important benefits on this shift is that one thing that may legit take me two hours to do on a tape machine and reels now takes me lower than two seconds to do with a copy-paste perform. There’s simply no compromise on the effectivity, and we are able to work at such an alarming price versus how we used to work.

How do you resolve the place to start with a combination?

I normally start with vocals. I really feel like vocals are a very powerful a part of the track. I take what’s referred to as a subtractive strategy. I take away errors or robust S’s. When folks pronounce sure phrases, the S’s are typically a little bit poignant on microphones. If any individual’s carrying bracelets or chewing gum or one thing, and you may hear these sounds within the dead areas, I edit all that stuff out. It’s quite a lot of tedious cleanup work that some engineers don’t do.

Once I get the vocals sounding to the place I really like, then I am going to the drums. The relationship between the kick drum and the bass is essential, particularly for any kind of music that’s hip-hop based mostly. Even quite a lot of pop like Ariana Grande or Beyoncé has a hip-hop drift, so the kicks and the 808s and the bass all must work very well collectively. From there I work my method down the devices after which as soon as I get all of the music sounding a sure method, I carry the vocals again in and marry them collectively.

When you’re deciding if one thing is ideal and also you’re going to maneuver on, are you counting on technical instruments like spectrum analyzers or a intestine intuition?

It’s simply one thing in my head. I at all times inform folks music is about the way it makes you are feeling, interval. Rely in your emotions; depend on your intestine. I shut my eyes lots after I pay attention. I don’t like to take a look at the dials and the plug-ins and the meters. People will ask me technical questions like, “Well, what frequency did you roll off?” and I’m like, I don’t know. I simply flip the knobs till it sounds good. And that’s my honest-to-god strategy. There are instances after I pull up a plug-in and simply begin turning knobs. Then, when it sounds proper, I’ll simply cease and I don’t even know what the hell quantity I landed on. I’m not inquisitive about technical readouts. It’s all about really feel. But it’s essential, for my part, to know the know-how and algorithms and all the pieces else you’re utilizing. I perceive it and may have essentially the most nerdiest, technical conversations on the planet. However, my course of and the way in which I’m pushed is generally about really feel.

Some folks don’t know get out of both aspect. Some persons are caught all the way in which within the technical, after which some persons are caught all the way in which within the feels and the vibes. And I feel it’s essential to know each. Make certain you might be utilizing the stuff, and that the stuff isn’t utilizing you.

You grow to be so practiced within the technical half that your mind can parcel it away.

Yep. Actually, final night time, I used to be mixing some information, and I needed to do some clear variations. I can undergo and clear them up with out having to scroll by your complete track. I do know what the waveforms of sure curse phrases appear like. It’s simply from doing it a lot. I’ve a 99 % margin in the case of being proper when recognizing curse phrases.

What’s the commonest recording mistake you see whenever you get audio to combine?

Distortion. That’s most likely the commonest one, the place persons are yelling into microphones or into pre-amps or the recording engineer simply didn’t perceive what kind of degree wanted to be set for the incoming audio. And distortion is a really exhausting factor to repair as a result of as soon as it’s there, it’s there. It’s the commonest downside, and it’s equally essentially the most irritating factor to repair.

The music mixing secrets behind Cardi B’s Grammy-winning album

What are your ideas on the rise of bed room producers and artists making songs from starting to finish themselves?

I adore it. It’s humorous as a result of I keep in mind when Pro Tools and all the pieces else began turning into extra user-friendly and home-based with laptops, and anyone may do it, so to talk. Lots of people requested if I used to be apprehensive about my job since folks can now combine stuff of their home. I truly assume it’s job safety as a result of giving all people the instruments doesn’t give all people the expertise. And so it then actually keys folks into the truth that, sure, you may have the instruments, however you need to have the instruments and the expertise.

It’s good to make issues accessible to children as a result of there are individuals who would have in any other case by no means gotten their arms on some type of recording software program and realized that that was a ardour of theirs. One of the most important tragedies in life is folks not realizing what they’re proficient at and never realizing what they’re captivated with. Quite a lot of instances, these two issues can, and normally do, line up. So having the know-how grow to be more and more accessible in each family on each laptop computer can allow extra folks to find and put money into their skills.

Do you want much less assist now that you simply work on a laptop computer as a substitute of with larger tools like a console?

Yeah. Back within the day, I wanted an assistant. An assistant was the one who bodily did all the pieces like align the tape machines or make all of your patches on the patch bay. When you’re completed mixing, an assistant will make a file of all of the gear settings. There have been instances after we would truly take bodily Polaroids of the gear and hold them in a folder. Or when issues superior a little bit bit and a lot of the consoles had recall techniques, the assistant can be the one to save lots of all of the recall data or recall the combo after I wanted to carry it again up. But now it’s all within the pc. A push of a button saves your session. A push of one other button brings your session comes again up. There’s no must calibrate a tape machine or patch something. So the bodily use of an assistant went away for me.

Do you might have a house studio, or do you’re employed out of knowledgeable studio?

I work out of a facility right here in Atlanta referred to as ICON Studios. Akon and I personal a piece within the again half. We constructed out a two-person personal facility only for us. He rents out his portion lots, however my room just about stays unbooked as a result of I’m at all times in right here. I can’t do the personal studio at residence factor. That’s the place I’m husband and daddy!

After music leaves your arms, the place does it go?

It goes straight from me to a mastering engineer. Mastering serves a few completely different capabilities. One is to make it as loud as attainable for all mediums. Second, it’s to make all the pieces on an album sound constant. For occasion, with the Beyoncé and Jay Z’s album, I blended on there, Tony Maserati blended on there, Young Guru blended on there, and Beyoncé’s recording engineer blended a track on there. So you’ve received 4 completely different mixers. All mixers are going to return in with barely completely different ranges and barely completely different feels. So the mastering engineer’s main perform is to verify all of these mixes and ranges are related so the album feels cohesive. I assume the easiest way to explain it to folks in very layman’s phrases is, you realize whenever you’re watching TV after which the industrial comes on, and the industrial is like, dumb loud? That’s the impact that you simply don’t wish to occur on an album.

So whenever you’re completed mixing a track, it’s a lot quieter than the ultimate product? And perhaps folks would describe it as sounding flatter?

A little bit bit, sure. So mastering will bump it up a little bit bit volume-wise. They do have management over the fundamental EQ bands like lows, mids, and highs, however when it leaves my arms, the combo and the mix and the connection between the vocals and the devices, that’s what you’re listening to. You’re simply listening to a extra polished model of that after it leaves the mastering engineer.

Has there ever been a track the place you labored on it for ages and you would not come to a combination you preferred?

Sure. I may most likely say that about a lot of the songs I combine. Even with a track that does properly and other people love the combo I can at all times discover one thing to criticize. What I’ve observed, and I feel this has contributed to the way in which I combine, is that the songs I spend the least period of time on sound one of the best. That’s not a coincidence. You can unravel a combination simply as a lot as you blended it. I do know I’m finished after I begin asking too many questions and second-guessing my choices. And so my course of normally tends to be very fast. That’s additionally part of my signature. It contributes to a greater product as a result of I don’t spend half my time making an attempt to good issues. One of my mentors, the nice Bruce Swedien, stated the identical factor. And Bruce was Michael Jackson’s combine engineer.

Well, what do you think about fast?

I’d say, on common, a rap track may take me three hours to combine. A track with singing and extra pop vocals can take me about six to eight hours. That’s comparatively fast in my world. Some engineers take per week to combine a track.


[Laughs] Yeah! And that was the norm within the ‘90s. Back then, the average was three days to a week to mix one song, so even now when I tell people I can mix a rap song in three hours or a pop song in six hours, they look at me like I’m loopy. Lots of people nonetheless assume that the usual is a number of days.

What do Cardi B’s session recordsdata appear like for Invasion of Privacy? Are they beautiful clear and arranged?

Hers are fairly organized. “I Like It” was most likely essentially the most difficult session as a result of it had J Balvin and Bad Bunny and her. So it had all their vocals, after which the monitor itself was a replay of a pattern. Lots of people assume that’s the precise pattern [from Pete Rodriguez’s “I Like It Like That”], but it surely was truly replayed. Craig employed folks to replay each facet of that pattern, and it turned out to be like, 60 tracks price of stuff! I had to make use of the replayed materials, plus the brand new drums, plus Bad Bunny’s vocals, plus J Balvin’s vocals, plus Cardi’s vocals, so there was lots occurring in that specific session. Most of the opposite songs have been fairly easy.

I assume they rerecorded for “I Like It” due to pattern rights?

Yes, it’s as a result of they didn’t wish to clear the pattern. The bodily pattern prices far more to clear than should you replay it. Then you solely must clear on the efficiency half, and never the songwriting.

Craig anticipated that that track was going to be massive and it was going to get affords for sync rights and films and so forth. It simply makes doing all that enterprise a complete lot cleaner when it’s a replayed pattern than to must get the unique cleared.

When you bodily pattern any individual else’s work, they’re now an element proprietor of that track. And so something that occurs with that track, they must additionally approve. That simply makes it convoluted. So in the event that they used the unique pattern, and the NFL got here to them and stated, “Hey, we want to use ‘I Like It’ as our promo for the Super Bowl,” now they must go to all of the songwriters or whoever owns the copyright to get issues sorted. But should you replay it, you don’t must. You simply have to verify there’s compensation and credit score for his or her songwriting, however you don’t must clear the precise use.

I’ve heard you aren’t a fan of utilizing tons of plug-ins whenever you’re working.


So that assumes the audio that involves you is already in fine condition.

Yes. The factor is, at this level in my profession, I’m working with the Cardi Bs and the Pharrells and the Beyoncés. The normal degree of music that they’re coping with is normally high notch to start with. Even within the case of stuff that I get from new artists like Lil Uzi Vert, typically the repair and the way in which to actually make one thing sound good is to revert to primal mixing. Turning stuff up, turning stuff down, including a little bit decrease finish, including a little bit excessive finish. You don’t at all times must get fancy and get into scorching new plug-ins. Basic ideas could make issues sound good.

That being stated, I do know you might have some favourite plug-ins.

Voice Of God is my go-to. I just like the Fairchild 670 Tube Limiter by Universal Audio on my kicks and bass. I additionally like old-school kind EQs, the Waves PuigTec EQs and Universal Audio Pultec EQs. I’m an enormous Waves person. I exploit their Renaissance line, the de-esser and compressor, their SSL plug-ins, and their H-Delay. I completely love the Waves OneKnob collection. It’s a plug-in that’s only one knob. So if you would like a filter, you open up the OneKnob filter, and there’s only one knob the place all it does is have interaction the filter. I really like that idea. As you may inform, I’m a minimalist. Simple and to the purpose.

Does your job ever contain pitch correction for vocals?

Sure. Quite a lot of the time, I’m the one that can slap AutoTune on there, if that’s what they need. Lil Uzi Vert, he desires AutoTune on his vocals. Even singers who sing actually, very well like Ariana Grande will need some tuning typically, and I’ll use it only for the feel. AutoTune itself truly has a sound even when it’s not technically affecting notes. When the audio goes by that specific plugin, it type of smoothes issues out. Sometimes we use a extra detailed program referred to as Melodyne the place I can actually get in there and tune issues with out it sounding too robotic.

Did you utilize Melodyne or AutoTune on Invasion of Privacy?

I used each. I used a contact of AutoTune on Kehlani’s vocals in “Ring” however not lots. She’s an incredible singer. I undoubtedly used some AutoTune on Migos’ vocals in “Drip,” as a result of that’s what they like — that robotic, T-Pain-type sound. Throughout the album, I additionally used Melodyne, even on “Be Careful.” Cardi sang that hook, and I needed to Melodyne her on that, simply to get her notes and the sound correct.

“Money” is one in every of my favourite songs from Invasion of Privacy. What are examples of stuff you tweaked there?

I do refined issues. And there are some issues I didn’t contact in any respect at first. Like the hi-hats, I rolled off the low finish and added 4db within the higher frequencies. It’s not lots. It’s refined, but it surely makes it sound crispy. The piano I left alone at first, however then I received notes again on the combo, and Craig stated he needed to really feel just like the piano had extra “bite,” which for him, means extra excessive finish. On the 808, I used an EQ to spice up at 60hz, which provides it a bit extra thump. Normally, I’d enhance at a decrease frequency, however this wanted to have punch and really feel extra like a kick drum.

Are there explicit reverbs that you simply like to make use of?

I really like Audio Ease Altiverb. It’s a convolution reverb the place it makes use of quite a lot of completely different impulse responses. They’re little reverb applications the place it emulates the sounds of various rooms that engineers have cherished and used over time. It allows you to see an image of the room that it’s emulating. I really like something visible.

So let’s say there’s a church in England that they modeled the reverb after. You can pull up the reverb, after which it reveals you what that room seems like from a sure place. You can transfer your place across the room, and the reverb modifications to match how it will sound relying on the place you’d be sitting in that church.

How many arms does a track go by earlier than it will get to you?

It relies upon. When I’m working with Pharrell, his engineer may collect all of the recordsdata from different engineers after which ship it to me as one massive file. But typically, I get items from throughout, and I’ve to place all of it collectively myself.

With Cardi B, a lot of the songs have been recorded by her engineer after which it was despatched on to me. But if in case you have a track with quite a lot of completely different folks on it, that’s the place it could possibly get tough. “I Like It” is an ideal instance. If J Balvin’s engineer recorded his vocal, Bad Bunny’s engineer recorded his vocal, after which Cardi’s engineer recorded her vocal and almost certainly recorded a lot of the devices, then I get components from all these completely different engineers.

Sounds like “I Like It” took you longer to combine than regular.

Yes, it took me a full day and a half. And within the grand scheme of issues, the place I solely had per week and some days to get the entire album finished, that took up a giant chunk of time. It was such a loopy week.

What would you inform individuals who want to be higher music producers at residence?

use of your time is the web. There are so many nice educating instruments like, Pensado’s Place, and my alma mater Full Sail has tons of instructional movies the place folks like myself and others speak about their craft. There’s a lot stuff on-line {that a} younger producer or aspiring engineer can discover on-line.

That’s one thing I envy with this era. We didn’t have this. Back within the day, the one source I had for data was a set of encyclopedias! When I used to be a child I went within the encyclopedia and regarded up “recording studio.” That was my web. How freaking wonderful is it you can go to Google, kind in a sentence, and a complete ton of shit comes up? I feel it’s one of many best instruments of our time.

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