Powerful statement-making performances by Kendrick Lamar and Kesha feature in most of the news following last night’s Grammy Awards ceremony, but it was Bruno Mars’ pop/funk smash 24K Magic that took home the lion’s share of the statues. Here we share more details about the making of Mars’ album, as well as Producer of the Year Greg Kurstin’s work with the Foo Fighters, and Mastodon’s award-winning guitar-centric project with producer Brendan O’Brien and engineer Tom Tabley.
Bruno Mars Makes 24K Magic
Mars’ pop/funk smash 24K Magic was the big winner at the Grammys Sunday night. We spoke with mix engineer Serban Ghenea, who also worked on Mars’ Uptown Funk, about collaborating with Mars and his recording team on this massively successful release.
“Everything was really well put together,” Ghenea says. “Once we got into it, we started experimenting with all kinds of production and sound changes, all kinds of vocal stuff, until we settled on what became the final. Bruno was very involved in every song. He likes to test and try and turn every stone. Sometimes we went in circles and wound up where we started, but then we felt comfortable saying, ‘This is the best way.’”
Ghenea mixed in Pro Tools, using some of his favorite Metric Halo and Waves plug-ins. “I love the Metric Halo stuff so I often start with that, and then add different things wherever necessary,” he explains. “Bruno is especially particular about his vocal and wants to make sure it’s warm and pleasing. The focus was always on trying to achieve that, but that took different forms on different songs.”
Producers: Shampoo Press & Curl. Engineers: Serban Ghenea, John Hanes, Charles Moniz. Mastering: Tom Coyne.
Awards: Album of the Year, Record of the Year, Best R&B Album of the Year, Best Engineered Album Non-Classical, for 24K Magic. Song of the Year, Best R&B Song, Best R&B Performance for “That’s What I Like.”
Producer Greg Kurstin Joins Forces with the Foo Fighters
This year’s coveted Producer of the Year award went to Greg Kurstin, for his work with Beck, ZAYN with Sia, Kendrick Lamar featuring Zacari, Halsey featuring Lauren Jauregui, Liam Gallagher, and the Foo Fighters for their album Concrete and Gold, which includes the Grammy-winner for Best Rock Song, “Run.”
Kurstin brought the band into EastWest Studios (Hollywood “We had an idea of setting up a bunch of different kinds of drum kits all miked up—some big and open and some tight,” he says. “Darrel brought in the SPL Kuwltube and Overstayer NT-02a, which sounded great on drums,” says Kurstin. “I was focused on freaking out the sounds, so I brought the Roland RE-201 space echo, Mutron Bi-phase, and an A/DA flanger, which were used a lot. They also have this great ’60s fuzz/wah—kind of like a Shin-ei but sounds different. I’m not sure what the make is, but it’s gnarly.
“I think the overall sound comes from the band’s big and raw guitar/drum sound,” continues Kurstin. “Taylor [Hawkins, drummer]’s playing is really powerful and we wanted to make sure we always had the right kit and snare. The drum miking is more on the minimal side. I was doing my best to freak out sounds with pedals or using the EastWest chamber on vocals and guitars. Darrel’s way of mixing everything together sounds massive. All together we landed on this particular sound.”
Kurstin’s impact can also be heard on Grohl’s vocals. “A lot of the time we would use a Neumann U47 for Dave and sometimes blend in a cheap little mic that came with this early ’70s reel-to-reel tape recorder,” the producer explains. “Anything you hear that is reverby is from the chamber at EastWest.”
Producer: Greg Kurstin. Engineers: Brendan Dekora, Samon Rajabnik, Julian Burg, Alex Pasco and Darrell Thorp. Mastering: Thorp and David Ives.
Awards: Producer of the Year, Greg Kurstin. Best Rock Song: “Run.”
Mastodon Wins with “Sultan’s Curse”
The Grammy-winning song “Sultan’s Curse” is on Mastodon’s seventh release, Emperor of Sand (Warner Bros.): a magical melding of grandiose melody, soul-stunning instrumental journeys, doom-laden vocals rendering drummer Brann Dailor’s surreal lyrics, and some of the greatest guitar production this side of Electric Ladyland.
Produced by frequent Mastodon collaborator and multi-instrumentalist Brendan O’Brien, primary tracking for Emperor of Sand occurred at the now closed Quarry Studios in Kennesaw, Ga., with Tom Tapley engineering, building on demos that guitarist Bill Kelliher created in his home studio.
The band gathered in The Quarry Studios’ warehouse-sized live room to track, with amplifiers isolated and cabinets in their own containers. Lead guitarist/vocalist Brent Hinds, Kelliher and Dailor tracked first, while bassist Troy Sanders added parts later.
“So much comes from how they play their instruments—that is the sound,” Tapley says. “If an effect sounded cool in-line, we would commit. If we were doing Leslie guitars and the guitar pedal sounded great inline that is how we tracked it. Basically, if it was a sound that was inspiring we went with it.”
Tapley brought outboard gear including his custom Leslie cabinet, which allows him to insert any guitar amplifier head inline. Tapley’s ADR Audio Design Vocal Stressor includes “an awesome compressor and EQ that I use on drums,” the engineer explains. An Empirical Labs Fatso touched on Coles 4038 room mics for drums. An SPL Transient Designer 4 hit the drums on the monitor path; EL Distressors sat on the guitar buses.
“If I have three microphones on a guitar cabinet,” Tapley explains, “they all get summed through bussing on the console so I can compress and EQ them overall using the API EQs, an EL Distressor, and a Teletronix LA-2A Leveling Amplifier.”
Tapley captured the band’s guitar rigs—Kelliher’s ESP Ltd. Sparrowhawk, custom and Silverburst Les Paul guitars, Friedman Butterslax Signature Series amplifiers, and Fractal Axe FX; and Hinds’ Gibson Les Pauls and Flying V guitars, Marshall amplifiers, and Electro-Harmonix Holy Grail reverb pedal—with a straight-forward approach.
“Brent can play and make it sound like he’s playing backwards,” Tapley notes. “I used three microphones per cabinet,” Tapley says. “A Shure SM57, Sennheiser MD421 and a Coles 4038 ribbon, the last of which I EQ’d up real weird so we could experiment with different guitar sounds. The 57 went over the dustcap; the 421 off-axis; the ribbon straight on the dustup.”
Producer: Brendan O’Brien. Engineering: O’Brien, Tom Tapley, Billy Joe Bowers, Bryan DiMaio. Mastering: Bowers.
Award: Best Metal Performance: “Sultan’s Curse.”
Thanks to Mix magazine writers Anthony Savona and Ken Micallef .