Music: The Lonely Island

Jun 1, 2011 9:00 AM, By Matt Gallagher



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Jason Goldstein on Mixing the Lonely Island

Since October 2010, New York City–based mix engineer Jason Goldstein has played a pivotal role behind the scenes with the Lonely Island—Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone. Best known for the precisely choreographed and over-the-top visual humor of their “SNL Digital Shorts,” the other half of the Lonely Island’s comic equation comprises the music itself, which they showcase in their second album release, Turtleneck & Chain (Universal Republic, 2011). On the audio side, Goldstein was charged with wrangling and shaping tracks created by the trio and guest producers—in numerous studios—into finished pieces. Along the way, mixing in the box, he worked within tight scheduling and logistical constraints, fashioning a workflow that ultimately accommodated the project.

In this Q&A, Goldstein shares more details about production of Turtleneck & Chain, including the Lonely Island’s creative approach, this project’s inherent challenges and the responsibility of the mix engineer in successfully delivering comedic vocals and lyrics within pop music structures. Goldstein also elaborates on his experiences working in the New York City facility Downtown Music Studios, which originally opened in 2008 as a private facility for artists associated with Downtown Records and Downtown Music Publishing.

How did you land this gig with the Lonely Island?
They had a couple of different people in mind. I had recently done a project for Universal Republic and so I was on their radar. And I’m based in New York and all three of the guys are based in New York. We had lunch and I actually got interviewed for the job in person, which was a somewhat of new experience for me; it’s only happened once or twice before. And I got it, I think, partly based on my discography and partly based on the workflow that I use now. Because of their [busy] schedules, it was important. They definitely did their homework. The guys are very into their records, and they know exactly what they want. They work the same [in] choosing a mastering guy. I don’t feel like I got put through the ringer or anything, but they definitely made an educated decision.

I would imagine they’re very busy with Saturday Night Live during the season, and you had to schedule the mixing sessions from October through April around that.
Both Andy and Akiva are writers so from Wednesday through Sunday, they’re usually gone. Jorma left the show, but he directs movies and other stuff. And Akiva had a baby in December. So getting those three guys in a room for any length of time was an exercise in frustration and logistics. It was crazy. But we did manage to do it on a number of occasions. It was the only way to really get all the ideas solidified.

How did they collaborate with all the other producers involved?
They went the standard pop route in doing this record. They’re the executive producers, but they solicited beats from a number of producers: B-Sides, 6th Sense. They rented a house in Southern California during the summer [of 2010] when SNL was on hiatus and recorded the bulk of the record [using] Pro Tools LE 8 with varying interfaces. They had all these vocals against a 2-track.

They picked beats that they liked, married a bunch of concepts to them and bunkered down at the house in Southern California. They didn’t have tempos. They had done their best to put it on a grid, but they weren’t officially lined up with anything. They edited the 2-tracks to get what they wanted out of them; they couldn’t do exactly what they wanted everywhere because they didn’t have the multitracks. They’re musical guys but not classically trained, so they would flip the beat in all kinds of crazy ways. They would grab a quarter note or an eighth note or a bar, or whatever it was—a half a bar from this section or that section—and create sections out of that. So I had to reverse-engineer all the edits before I could even start mixing. They did a lot of the sound effects.

I was very pleasantly surprised at how well-organized their vocals were—very well labeled. It made the record flow better. It was easier to figure out the other stuff because you knew who was supposed to be where and at what time.

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