The Hype Magazine had the opportunity to sit down with six–time Grammy Nominated Recording Engineer Drew Drucker (@DrewDrucker) If you ask some of his peers, they will tell you that he is an innovator at the forefront of audio engineering in the music industry.
During a recent phone interview, we here at The Hype Magazine asked him his thoughts on a variety different topics, from how important internships are in the industry, to when he started to develop his passion for music, and how a recommendation from the legendary Scott Storch gave him the break he needed in the industry. Drew takes us through the creation process of some of his favorite hits like “See You Again” featuring Wiz Khalifa and Charlie Puth’s, “We Own It” featuring Wiz Khalifa and 2 Chainz, and “Or Nah” featuring Ty Dolla $ign, The Weeknd, Wiz Khalifa & DJ Mustard.
When did you start developing your passion for music?
At a super young age, my parents would play different music throughout the day, one of them being Michael Jackson. When Michael would come on the radio I would start dancing in my car seat. When his songs would finish, I would cry because I did not understand the radio process at that age. My parents saw that I enjoyed his music so much that they decided to take me to one of his concerts. At the time, Michael said it would be his last tour, my parents didn’t want to miss the opportunity for me to see him live.
What was your first instrument?
My first instrument was the bass guitar. Some of my older cousins taught me how to properly hold the guitar and play some guitar riffs, like “Secret Agent Man” & “Sunshine of Your Love”. Then a friend of mine back in the third or fourth grade started playing the electric guitar and he talked me into picking up the bass and we started a band. He ended up moving away around the time we were starting middle school. I then decided to make the transition from bass to regular guitar, because playing bass alone with middle school sized hands wasn’t all that fun. I started to learn the drums a little bit too. I was never in the jazz band or the marching band, but I did participate in show choir for a year in middle school. This was the most organized form of music participation for me. I did take a few guitar lessons during that time, but never really learned to read music, just guitar tablature.
You have been a part of six Grammy nominations during your career to this point. What does that mean to you?
Songs that I worked on were nominated, it wasn’t like I personally was nominated for the Grammy Award. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am very proud and appreciative to be a part of those projects, but I would be more proud if an artist I helped develop, write, or produced for were to win a Grammy. When the first song was nominated it was a special feeling for me, because music I worked on was being recognized by my peers. It has been great to be a part of those projects and I’m hoping for more. To me though, it’s more significant to make timeless music than it is to win awards.
When you were working on the single “See You Again” with Wiz Khalifa & Charlie Puth, did you know the single was going to be featured in Fast and Furious 7 or did you find out after the song was completed?
Yes, we did know the single would be featured in the movie, just like “We Own It” featuring 2 Chainz was in Fast and the Furious 6. The movie studio hired Mike Caren to be the music supervisor for the film franchise. He worked at Atlantic Records at the time they signed Wiz. So, when Mike Caren gives you a call and says “I need you to make a record for a film,” you say, “yes.” During the movie soundtrack’s creation process, the directors came to the studio and laid out the vision for the song, and they described the scene that the song was attached to. We never saw the scene from the film before creating the song.
Wiz Khalifa, Juicy J, Travis Barker, The Game, Snoop Dogg, The Weeknd, Lady Gaga, Lil Jon, LMFAO, French Montana, Future, Chris Brown, Berner, Busta Rhymes, Xzibit, YG, Tyler the Creator, Will I Am, Bruno Mars, 2 Chainz, and many more. Can you give us a little insight on what is like working with these Grammy Nominated and Award Winning Artists?
Every artist is substantially different. Artists within the same genre or even signed to the same label will have diverse demeanor. Their day-to-day stresses will alter the recording session and song outcome, for better or worse. More so in the hip-hop world, one must learn how to navigate the artist’s crew or entourage. If their affiliates don’t like you, the chance of them becoming a repeat customer is slim to none. When making music with vocalists, the environment of the studio is extremely important. Too many distractions can make it harder to concentrate while creating; although some rappers feed off the energy of a full control room, others need complete privacy. Some of my clients prefer to record in the studio right next to me as opposed to the microphone booth. Artists are people too, and so often they’re treated as royalty. When I meet a new client, I don’t fan out on them. I try to find common ground, things that interest the both of us, whether that’s sports, politics, art, films, or music that we love. I try not to check my client’s credentials, stay away from researching their net worth on google, and how many awards they have won. It’s more important to see where they are at creatively at the current moment. I try to hone in on their inspirations and attempt to bring the best out of all artists I work with.
How influential was it for you interning with Paramount Recording Studios as a runner at the age of 19?
I interned at two prior locations, Nighbird Studios (formerly The Studio at the Sunset Marquis) & 4th Street Recording in Santa Monica, before I landed my first paid entry level position at Paramount Recording. The position of a runner is equivalent to the Mailroom duties in the corporate world, in the film world it’s called a PA (production assistant). A runner goes on errands for the artists, engineers, and basically does what is needed around the studio. As a runner, you learn how to navigate in the studio, it’s a critical part of becoming a full-fledged engineer. The next position up from a runner is an assistant engineer, and then from there, tracking engineer, mixing engineer, producer and so on.
What were some of the techniques you learned from Scott Storch during your earlier years as an Assistant Engineer to Mixing Engineer?
The sessions I did with Storch were very brief and the hours were extremely long, but it helped me move up the ladder quickly at the studio. I was a runner at the time when I got a phone call asking if I wanted to be an assistant engineer on a Scott Storch session. Of course, I say yes, and 24 hours into the session, the main engineer decided he couldn’t handle it anymore and left. I ended up taking over as the engineer, despite being slightly delusional from the lack of sleep. I knew what I was doing, but hadn’t really heard the current song they were working on and hadn’t seen the computer screen either. It took me a few minutes to wrap my head around some of the concepts Storch was asking for. Scott saw me vibing out to the record and then asked me if I wanted to mix the song. I thought nothing of it, wrote it off, then 5 days later the record company calls me saying Storch wanted me, his mix engineer, to book a studio and mix the song. The record was named “Fast Life” from the rap group The Clipse. Now, remember I was a runner a day and a half ago and now I’m the mix engineer. Long story short, some of the best opportunities come along when you are in the right place at the right time.
You have been labeled as an innovator and at the forefront of quality audio engineering. When you hear this from your peers what does it mean to you as a professional in your field?
It just means that I am always looking to try something new to improve my craft. Whenever I’m mixing a new album I try not to use the same pallet of colors, this is how the audience can tell the sound is evolving. I am using some of the same techniques but using different plugins and other various tools when I’m mixing each project. I’m digging deep into different levels of automation, telling a plugin parameter to perform a certain task and then go back to the original task. In a nutshell, this is a way to custom tailor effects to fit certain aspects of each song individually. Also, if I am involved with a rock project, because of my background in hip hop, I have the foresight to add more punch to the drums and bass. For me, I am always studying my craft and consistently keeping up with the new technology to keep the sound fresh and evolving.
When you are searching for interns to teach and pass on your knowledge, what are some of the characteristics you are looking for?
Now, this is going to sound random, but someone that can put together a well-written email. There is going to be a time when an individual is going to be assigned a task of reaching out to a label or company on my behalf and that representation of me is key. A lot of the engineering techniques are easily teachable, but if you cannot formulate proper email things will not able to move forward in the record biz. In addition, someone that is teachable and willing to learn the craft. Also, if you have a variety of skills, get your foot in the door and then once they trust you show them what else you can bring to the table. Basically, wear as many hats as you can, you never know when a random skill set may come in handy.
If you were going to retire tomorrow and were just finishing up your last project ever, who would be the artist or artists in the studio with you from the current generation or the past and why?
I would have to say, Paul McCartney because he is a Beatle and it would be amazing to work with him on a project. In regards to hip hop, Kendrick Lamar, Yasiin Bey (MOS Def), and Pharrell Williams are artists that I would like to work with in the studio. Other notable artists, I’d love to work with would be Bob Dylan, Andre 3000, Jay-Z, James Blake, Cher and Lana Del Rey.
What can we expect from Drew Drucker heading into the first quarter of 2017?
I have been developing an artist by name of Madeliné, she has three singles out now (“All for You,” “Highway,” and “Anchor”) off her debut LP named “Open Book”. I produced the whole thing with my production partner Dominic Thiroux. The LP will drop during the first quarter. Berner from Taylor Gang will be dropping several albums during 2017. We completed three full albums, mixed and mastered, during 2016. I’m also developing a TV show named, “In Tune Out of Bounds”. We shot the pilot episode in the Philippines and it’s in the post production phase now. It’s a music documentary and counters-culture based travel show, with a side of a crazy escapade.
What advice do you have for aspiring audio engineers looking to pursue a career in your field?Study all types of music, if you play an instrument keep playing to improve your craft. If you can kind of sing, keep practicing to get your technique down, because being a vocalist allows you to hear what the other vocalists are doing and you can help guide them when recording.