Interview – Grammy-nominated MixGiant Noah Glassman

Applying subtle polish to a growing list of top-tier tracks, including crucial cuts from the new Black Panther: Wakanda Forever soundtrack, we spoke to the Grammy-nominated MixGiant himself, Noah Glassman to learn more about how he found his feet in this competitive world, and his narrative-driven philosophy.

One of the mixing world’s ascending lights, Noah Glassman (aka MIXGIANT) has applied his subtle, considered touch to such world-beating records as Doja Cat’s Planet Her and Burna Boy’s Love, Damini as well as a multitude of tracks and projects. Working often in conjunction with his mentor – Grammy Award-winning Jesse Ray Ernster – Noah injects his particular narrative sensibility into his mix philosophy, letting the track lead the way and zoning into its emotional core. We spoke to Noah about this approach, his career development to date and gained some all-purpose mixing advice. But first, we asked about his first steps into the world of mixing…

AMI: Hi Noah, Firstly, can you tell us how you first became interested in music production and mixing?

I guess the start of it was my guitar. When I graduated high school I decided I really wanted to pursue electric guitar. I was really into Pink Floyd and Jimi Hendrix and people like that. So, I just bought this Strat – which I named ‘Suzanne’. I decided to really throw myself into it, and that naturally led to production. I wanted to learn how to make my stuff sound good when I record it. So basic early production led to engineering and, eventually, mixing.

I didn’t study music ever. I studied film production in college. I worked with this artist called Tiffany Day and produced a music video for her. She told me that I should see the setup of the guy that mixed some of her tracks, that was Jesse Ray Ernster. So I hooked up with him via his Instagram, and that’s how we first met.

MIXGIANTAMI: So you began working together shortly after, I’m guessing you learned a great deal from starting working with Jesse. What were some of your biggest takeaways from that relationship?

I would say the biggest takeaways were how to maintain and interact with clients. How to please people and make sure that they’re happy. Jesse and I have always been on the same page about not gatekeeping knowledge. At the end of the day, no-one is going to hire me just for the way I EQ a snare!

Jesse was and is great at listening to his clients and figuring out what they need. That’s something that I learned from him. I think making that human connection is more important than the technical stuff more often than not. I know a lot of mixers have hard and fast rules, like ‘no revisions after three passes’, but I don’t think the job is done until the artist is happy. If that takes five or ten tries, so be it.

Jesse is an amazing friend and I’m grateful he took me under his wing, and now we’re in a collaborative, co-mixing place which is cool. I don’t assist him anymore. We kind of mix side-by-side.

AMI: How do you start on a typical mix project, do you listen to the demo and bounce around ideas?

 I’m quite flexible. I go through his battle in my mind constantly over whether I should make a more formal starting place. It really just depends on every song. I’m not at all of the belief system that a mixer should start with dry stems, I hate that idea. If you work with an artist really closely and have been building a song that the artist loves and has an emotional connection to, then not trusting their judgement is a mistake. Everything you do in isolation, even putting on a compressor, is doing something to their song.

I do think producers are mixing more these days, I think all these roles are changing. We’re not all recording at Abbey Road or EastWest. You have to do things to sound good in small rooms. So, I like to receive both dry and wet stems, but I usually use the wet – especially for the instruments. Why would I want to create your guitar delay?

I think my job is slowly revealing itself to be more of a song ‘finisher’. I love mixing and I love production, really every part of it and I think depending on the song, it might just be like ‘hey can you finish the record, and tidy up the loose ends?’.

AMI: So you see yourself as someone rounding out the rougher edges and colouring in some of the space? But, are there any catch-all techniques you apply to the majority of your mixes?

I guess. I’m detail oriented. One thing that I’ve started doing a lot more of as a standardised thing is clip-gaining vocals. I go through an entire song and clip-gain every syllable if I have to. I don’t use de-essers because I like to manually turn down every ’s’ and every sibilant sound. It takes a long time but it proves to be very worth it.

I really like dynamics and open sounds. Compression has its uses and can sound effective in small doses but I’m still trying to find that balance between wider dynamics and compression – I want to preserve the space as much as possible. I’m using a clipper instead of a limiter at the end of my mix bus. Acustica Audio’s Fire The Clip plugin has proved to be a great way to bring warmth. I was about to analogue mix buss stuff, but now I’m not, because of that.

AMI: I was listening to the Burna Boy track, Alone earlier. It’s got a real sorrowful vibe with that constant acoustic guitar, and his vocal. What was your mindset when working on that track?

So I’d been working with Amaarae on her Black Panther tracks, and was in Amsterdam when Jesse called me to say he’d been working with Burna Boy for the film. I had done Burna’s album previously and brought Jesse onboard there, so it was a nice way to return the favour. I jumped at the chance to do it.

After some initial mixing in Amsterdam, I heard that Burna wasn’t a fan of the arrangement. I returned to LA and heard that they’d re-recorded the arrangement, so we got some updated stems. I basically started going in and worked all night, Jesse did his thing, too. The next day, I was invited over to Burna’s house and I set-up on his kitchen table. It was very cool, his mum made jollof rice for us.

We just went through the song and worked on perfecting the hook. Burna has such an incredible instinct. It’s sometimes easy as a technical person to get lost in the analytical stuff, and you forget the overall song. He’s got such a superb presence, and I did the best to keep as much low end in his vocal. I used Eventide’s Squid EQ to EQ the transient and the tone separately. That’s a great plugin that can really help you to play with that separation.

MIXGIANTAMI: Can you explain more about your narrative- based philosophy when it comes to mixing?

It’s funny, I’d never really realised it until recently, but my filmmaking studies definitely have an impact. I’m always thinking about how I can enhance the emotional experience. For me, I probably shouldn’t say this, but I care a lot less about sonic fidelity than I care about emotional connection. I would rather my mixes feel really good rather than sound really good.

If a track needs to be chaotic, I allow it to be chaotic. Of course, if I make it sound terrible nobody will hire me, but I definitely think there’s a balance to be struck between something technically good, and something feeling good.

You also need to know what not to mix. Know what to leave alone. I really want to remove my ego completely from the songs I’m working on. If the track needs one EQ on one thing, then I’ll just do that. I feel like I’m trying to be a servant of the song.

AMI: What’s next on your agenda, Noah?

Well, I’ve been working on an album for a little over a year and a half with an artist called Amaarae, a Ghanaian singer. It’s really fantastic. If I showed you the Pro Tools backups it’s absolutely massive. I engineered the whole album as well as production, so being part of every process has resulted in this huge Pro Tools project. But that’s pretty much finished now, and should start being released this month.

Find out more about Noah’s work at mixgiant.com