CRAIG BAUER on KANYE WEST

Owner of the now famous Hinge Studios in Chicago (where Kanye West cut his teeth producing tracks for the Go-Getters’, Diddy, Lil’ Kim, Wu-Tang Clan and Da Brat), Craig Bauer recently mixed the tracks “Addiction,” “Roses,” “Late,” and “Heard ‘Em Say” for Kanye West’s platinum album, Late Registration. He talked. We shut up and listened.
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How’d you get on the whole Late Registration album thing?

Craig Bauer: I got the call from Kanye while he was tracking in New York at the time. We had tracked a lot of stuff for him before and recorded a lot of his vocals on College Dropout, but didn’t get credit, for whatever reason. So when this came around, he called me and said, “I want you to mix something for me.” I was rather shocked, frankly. It began with him saying, “Let me send you one tune.” So he sent me the track “Bring Me Down” with Brandy. It was an enormous file. Something like 107 tracks with 40 tracks of Brandy. It took me a day and half just to sort through it and get some semblance of a mix together. So finally I sent that to him over the Internet and I got a call from his manager saying “Yeah, Kanye really likes the mix, but he wants to change this and he wants to change that.” So I made a few changes and sent it back to him. Within hours he called me back personally and I could tell from his voice that he was really happy with it. “It’s smoking! It’s killin’ it! You did everything I couldn’t get before.” Then he said hang on a minute and he put Jon Brion on the phone and he said, “Hey I have to hand it to you, making Kanye happy is nearly impossible.” The funny thing about that is that when push came to shove, that particular mix didn’t even get used.

Well, it’s great to see an artist exert so much control over finished product, from a consumer’s standpoint, but how much of a pain in the ass was he?

CB: Well, Kanye takes the word meticulous to a whole a new level. The way he works he just isn’t content until he’s tried recording and mixing a song every conceivable way. I was getting calls from A&Rs in July saying, “We have to stop him. We have to cut him off because he’s going to miss another release date.” And my response was always like, “Well you guys have to tell me what you want me to do.” And that call saying, “OK, you’re done, send it in,” would never come. Nobody from the record company tells Kanye anything. To the point where he was in mastering at Sony in New York and ended up booking studio time to do some more recording during the mastering process. In fact, story has it that during the mastering he was listening to the final version with Jay-Z and LA Reid from beginning to end. After they finished listening to the album, Jay-Z and LA Reid both were talking about how much they loved it and Kanye said, “It’s not even done.” And they both were like, “OK. Do what you’ve go to do.” So he kept on going and my belief is that he would have kept on going forever if it wasn’t for the fact that the timing of the release coincided with the MTV Video Music Awards.

One thing I noticed in listening to Late Registration is loads of instrumentation and melody. Did you encourage more of a melodic overall sound during mixing?

CB: Kanye tends to favor the rhythmic elements, as opposed to the melodic elements. A lot of the initial changes he would have for me [on a mix] would be to increase the presence of the drums. However, due to my songwriting background, I would tend to favor the instrumentation. It was definitely a learning process for both of us and we always struggled to strike that balance between the rhythm and melody. However, Kanye’s method is more to try it every possible way and see what sounds best. Having not mixed with him in the past it took me a little while to get used to this. Every time he’d say, “Cool it’s done,” we’d start laying passes, there would be 30 something passes between the clean version and the regular version, stem mixes, etc. So I learned the hard way not to lay passes until the very end.

How involved were you with the way samples were mixed?

CB: Although the structure for the samples is in place prior to the mixing process, there’s a good deal of sample tweaking sonically during mixing. “Heard ’Em Say” is a good example of that. When the unmixed song arrived it had a simple mono sample of a piano riff. So I added some stereo effects, panning the original sample on the left and favoring some of the effects stuff on the right to give it a little bit of space. Kanye latched on to that right away. And being a guy who is extremely musical, one of the things that I kept trying to do, which again wasn’t Kanye’s first inclination, was to take stuff that wasn’t as musical as it could be and find a way to make it more musical; especially with the record he produced with Jon Brion playing the keyboards and guitar parts, which is a little atypical for hip-hop records in the first place, I found it completely applicable to really do something musical with it, especially since that’s the direction he went with on the album. The bottom line though is Kanye is a true visionary. Having worked with him so much over the years, there was really a big change from his early records to this one in terms of scope and melody. And I was glad to be part of it.