The Grammy Awards broadcast takes place this coming Sunday January 28 at 7:30 pm Eastern. Here are some of EM's picks from among the nominees, some because of their complex sounds and production, and others because of the perfect simplicity of the approach.
Bruno Mars, 24K Magic, Record of the Year, Album of the Year, Best R&B Performance, Best R&B Album, Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical
Mix engineer Serban Ghenea, who also worked on Mars’ Uptown Funk, mixed in Pro Tools, using some of his favorite Metric Halo and Waves plug-ins
“Bruno is especially particular about his vocal and wants to make sure it’s warm and pleasing,” Ghenea says. “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.
K.Flay, Every Where Is Some Where Best Engineered Album Non-Classical
On Every Where Is Some Where, Kristine Flaherty (aka K.Flay) fuses hip-hop, indie rock and electronica. This creative writer and musician also does some of her own engineering, and she took a hands-on approach in the studios where she made her album with multiple production teams.
“The song ‘High Enough’ was supposed to be nasty—intentionally lo-fi and almost messed-up sounding,” says Adam Hawkins, one of the engineers who worked with K.Flay and producer Mike Elizondo. “There was a lot of distortion used—some while recording, distorting outboard gear on the analog side before it goes to Pro Tools, and some from adding plug-ins.”
Producers: Tommy English, Mike Elizondo, JT Daly, Simon Says. Engineers: Brent Arrowood, Miles Comaskey, JT Daly, Tommy English, Kristine Flaherty, Adam Hawkins, Chad Howat and Tony Maserati. Mastering: Joe LaPorta.
Odesza, A Moment Apart, Best Dance/Electronica Album
Electronica/pop duo Harrison Mills and Clayton Knight latest album blends synthesized and processed sounds with organic-sounding instruments and vocals from guest Regina Spektor, Leon Bridges, Sasha Sloan, RY X, and more.
“Our studio is built around Native Instruments Maschine and the S49 Kontrol keyboard, with a couple hardware synths like the Korg minilogue and Moog Voyager XL, and plug-ins from UA, iZotope and Soundtoys,” says Mills. “We like to saturate and distort everything to give it lots of warmth but that can be easy to overdo.”
Producer: ODESZA, Engineers: ODESZA, Alden Paguia, Alex Williams. Mastering: Matt Colton.
Mastodon, Emperor of Sand, Best Rock Album
Psychedelic metal-masters Mastodon have crafted a mighty body of mind-expanding rock work. The band’s seventh, and latest, release, Emperor of Sand (Warner Bros.) was produced by Brendan O’Brien and mainly recorded by engineering legend Tom Tapley.
“The more analog gear we can run signal through the better,” Tapley says. “I have an API 1608 and I love it. And I have zero problems recording into a computer. But I like the sound that comes back from running signal through analog gear at all times.”
Producer: Brendan O’Brien. Engineering: O’Brien, Tom Tapley, Billy Joe Bowers, Bryan DiMaio. Mastering: Bowers.
Roger Waters, Is This the Life We Really Want? Best Engineered Album Non-Classical
Waters’ highly topical fifth solo album makes a statement through the former Pink Floyd member and his production team’s use of effects, rock arrangements and vocalizing. The album digs into subjects topics from the state of the music biz to the fate of the planet.
“This album has incredible range,” says mastering engineer Bob Ludwig. “You can pat Nigel Godrich on the back for incorporating all of that angst into his amazing mixes, yet keeping it a very beautiful record to hear.”
Producer: Nigel Godrich. Engineers: Godrich, Sam Petts-Davies, Darrell Thorp. Mastering: Robert Ludwig.
Perfume Genius, No Shape, Best Engineered Album Non-Classical
This album hovers somewhere between R&B and prog rock, with lush vocal harmonies and reverb, symphonic synth sounds, and spare rhythmic parts. It’s a very different animal from Alabama Shakes’ Sound and Color, for which engineer Shawn Everett won in this category in 2016.
“Melodyne was used heavily,” Everett says. “Not for tuning vocals but for manipulating found sound. Any found sound can become the most lush/alien orchestra you’ve ever heard.”
Producer: Blake Mills. Engineers: Shawn Everett, Joseph Lorge. Mastering: Patricia Sullivan.
The Mavericks, Brand New Day, Best Americana Album
The Mavericks’ latest release, Brand New Day, is the third album Niko Bolas has engineered and co-produced. Old records played an influential role in the sound of Brand New Day. Bolas says that old records informed the sound of this album. A morning spent listening to Phil Spector productions, for example, made an impact on the title track.
“That track is damn near mono, and we put everything on that thing, including kettle drums and those tubular bells,” Bolas says. “[Drummer] Paul Deakin added tympani and a glockenspiel—all the things we heard on the vinyl we played that morning. It kept evolving until we realized, it’s the Wall of Sound! Something I’ve learned over the years is, it’s always easier to play an idea than it is to talk about it.”
Producers: Raul Malo and Niko Bolas. Engineers: Bolas, Sean Badum. Mastering: Richard Dodd Mastering
Rose Cousins, Natural Conclusion, Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical
Recorded in Noble Street Studios, Toronto, Rose Cousins’ album showcases the best in acoustic recording. Ryan Freeland is nominated for the third time in this category, for an album that shines with almost Joni Mitchell-esque beauty. Freeland transported a handful of AEA micropones from his Stampede Origin studio in L.A. to set up live sessions with Cousins at the piano.
Producer: Joe Henry. Engineer: Ryan Freeland. Mastering: Joao Carvalho.