2x Grammy winner Stuart White has been Beyoncé’s main studio engineer for the better part of a decade, recording and mixing every Beyoncé album since 2013. This year, he is nominated for not one but two Record of the Year Grammy Awards – for Beyoncé’s “Black Parade,” and for “Savage” by Megan Thee Stallion feat. Beyoncé.
We chatted to Stuart about his mixing chains, his favorite music, and whether he feels competitive with any other engineers out there.
You have two songs competing against each other in this year’s Grammys. Is this the first time you’ve competed against yourself?
Haha! Well, it’s the first time I’ve been nominated twice in the same category. But as far as competing against myself, that happens every day of my life. I’m constantly trying to evolve my skill, grow, and get better.
“Black Parade” incorporates trap, pop, electronic, jazz, gospel, a sprinkle of reggae, and traditional African folk vibes. How did you give each one of these styles their own pocket in the song?
Well, this song has a ton of tracks and was masterfully arranged by Beyoncé and Derek Dixie, her longtime musical director and producer.
The mix is a product of having nothing on the stereo bus. I like doing that lately when I need to dial in a good amount of separation between sounds. I worked really hard on EQing and compressing things carefully and individually to make for good separation. I love the SSL E-Channel for this, especially using the EQ for tone shaping. I like the EQ curves and the harmonics it seems to add. I also like how it doesn’t show me a visual representation of the frequencies, so I can turn knobs and just go by my ear and not my eyes.
How about the trap vibes with the 808s, kicks and snares – how did you mix these channels?
Again, the SSL E-Channel is on the kick and snares. This plugin works so well on drums. It’s all about the curves and harmonics it creates when used aggressively. Boosting and cutting near the same frequencies creates sharp curves that form transients which help define the sounds in a mix.
I work hard to EQ and layer harmonics; but I almost never compress kicks and 808s. They need to be EQed to fit together without compression imho. It’s all about phase relationship, transients and getting things to play nice with each other.
Some of the other sounds have a real vintage feel. The flute sounds like a 70s jazz record, Bobby Humphrey-style. The piano sounds like an old upright – almost like a worn old-school Jamaican record or Scott Joplin recording.
Derek Dixie gave me some great sounds to mix, to be honest. These are sounds he created masterfully. I needed to help place them nicely in the mix – some SSL E-Channel and CLA-76 for the flute, and again E-Channel and CLA-3A for the piano, just to adjust it in the mix.
Care to share some of the other plugins and chains in the two nominated Beyoncé songs?
Well, I’m always using a ton of Waves. Like I said, SSL E-Channel is on everything from vocals to music elements, especially drums.
A ton of the Renaissance plugins are on a bunch of things: R-EQ is on a lot of my returns – I like to EQ FX returns with this guy, and sometimes vocals. R-Bass is on kick and bass.
What’s on Beyoncé’s vocals?
R-Comp is the main vocal compressor on Beyoncé. C6 is also on the vocal for some multiband compression, used wisely by playing with the attack and release. And CLA-76 is used for some parallel vocal compression. CLA-3A is used similarly to the 76, but it’s gentler.
The main vocal de-esser is the Waves DeEsser – still one of the best de-essers out there. And then there’s Q10 for notching out harsh resonances.
For effects, R-Verb is Beyoncé’s main vocal reverb – it’s warm and it just works. And H-Delay is the vocal delay; very rhythmic and staccato.
These are a classic kit that always works. They’re all low latency, so we record with them, too. Using low-latency plugins equals happy artists able to create fast by recording quickly. Also, when these sessions are loaded up in other studios, they’re happy that the settings come back immediately, as most people have these plugins.
These plugins just work great over and over again. If you’re starting out – learn these plugins, period.
You can hear a lot of musical history in “Black Parade”… What music changed your life?
Thriller. This was my first tape with my first boom box at five years old. My mind was blown. And still is. R.I.P. Bruce Swedien who engineered it – the sonics on this album are so specific and amazing. "Acusonic Recording Process" – google it!
Beastie Boys’ License to Ill – my second tape. Mind blown again.
Rage Against the Machine’s first album is my favorite rock album of all time. These sonics are unmatched, period. Best-sounding rock album of all time. Respect to Rage, GGGarth Richardson and Andy Wallace.
In Utero by Nirvana – my second favorite rock album of all time. Steve Albini and Scott Litt killed it. Go play "Milk It" and turn it all the way up!
Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life, Talking Book, and Innervisions. Stevie's songwriting and feel hug your soul in a way that few songs can. The performances on these albums are magnificent.
Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors. I never get tired of this album; classic songwriting and engineering at its best.
Aretha Franklin’s Young, Gifted and Black. Aretha is a goddess of feel, melody, musicality and emotion. “Rock Steady” is the best dance songs eva!
Nina Simone’s “Sinnerman.” It's possible to have goosebumps for ten minutes straight from this song. Her voice cuts straight to your soul.
Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On. I love this album. “Inner City Blues” gives me goose bumps instantly.
The Beatles’ Abbey Road – breaking rules and blurring genres, combined with classic songwriting and sound design. My favorite from the Beatles.
Wu Tang Clan’s 36 Chambers. This reintroduced hip hop to me after being immersed in more rock/punk for a few years. We played this album 24 hours a day when it came out. It painted a picture of their environment masterfully and ushered in a new wave of hip hop.
Nas, Illmatic. Such a masterpiece album, crafted by some of the greatest to do it.
Jay-Z’s Reasonable Doubt. Jay's poetic genius shines from the very beginning. Go watch the "classic albums" documentary about it, then listen again!
Dr. Dre’s The Chronic. Such a well-produced, well-mixed album. Ahead of its time. I think I still remember all the lyrics.
Kendrick Lamar, Damn. Kendrick is crafting classic albums on the same level as the best to ever do it. His music is timeless.
A Tribe Called Quest’s Low End Theory and Midnight Marauders. Hands-down two of the best hip hop albums of all time. Big shout out to Bob Power on the snares and kicks!
Black Sabbath’s Paranoid – such a pivotal record for rock music and the beginnings of metal.
Finally, OK Computer, Kid A and King of Limbs by Radiohead. The feel, musicianship, songwriting, chords choices and sound design are at the highest level with these guys, always.
Cool and diverse! Back to 2021 – what song, new or old, did you listen to the most this year?
“Faceshopping” By Sophie (R.I.P.)
Any mixes you’ve heard in 2021 that you felt you needed to outdo? Do you feel competitive with other engineers?
I feel competitive with myself, but not with other engineers. I do feel the need to keep outdoing myself and evolving my mixing and tracking. But I’m constantly inspired by everybody. I’m a product of studying the greats, that’s how I look at it.
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