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Interview: Jay-J is Helping Music Producers “Sound Like The Records You Love”

We interview Grammy-nominated, Shifted Music label owner Jay-J.
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Jay-J is a music industry professional, artist, studio owner, and engineer with extensive experience. His audio engineering, production and remixing experience has an established track record including a Grammy nomination in 2003 for best remixed recording. He has recorded, edited, mixed and mastered the work of many artists and labels over the past 25 years. These productions, mixes and masters are a mainstay of house music listeners, and the Traxsource, Beatport, Spotify charts. He built one of the first all digital, computer based recording, mixing, mastering, and production studios in San Francisco.

A music curator and world traveling DJ, Jay-J has logged millions of miles witnessing the dance floors of some of the more notable venues around the globe. That combined with his experience in the studio has made him a particularly sought after industry partner with the ability to assist music making projects in many capacities.

Adding educator to his already impressive resume has Magnetic reaching out to him for a discussion on his Advanced Mixing and Mastering class, “Sound Like The Records You Love.” We also find out more about his incredible background as a studio owner and house music pioneer.

What inspired you to offer your mixing and mastering class?

Jay-J: It took 5 years of preparing and presenting in Logic and Ableton and Pro Tools to get here, but so far the material is working for others. Students are telling me the combo of workflow ideas, tools and plug-ins and technical understanding has them making music that sounds the best it ever did and over all a much more fun process as we eliminated the stumbling blocks for many. The same stumbling blocks I had to overcome, but those took me many years and these folks get the material in 8 weeks.

Nearly all of my career had me working with software and hardware folks doing presentations and workshops for trade shows and electronic themed events and conferences like WMC, BPM Magazine’s Remix Hotel and others. Those various workshops grew into working with a few specific companies to make some content, like Digidesign AVID for Pro Tools, Apple Jam Pack marketing songs, Sonnox Plug Ins, Sol Republic Headphones. As my workshops grew into more than just a few hours, I presented a few Advanced Mixing and Mastering courses around the world in New York, Miami, Melbourne, Sydney and San Francisco. In San Francisco, I hosted the event at Pyramind Studios, created by a few folks I knew for a long time in the SF music studio creative industry.

A few months later, they needed an instructor for a level 4 mixing and mastering class and thought the material I presented went along with what they needed, so we talked about me guiding those students. I initially took it on as a temporary “I’ll help out” type thing, but I actually really enjoyed the student interaction. Then came the interesting part: I dove into the material, curriculum, and teaching with a vengeance, re-working the entire mixing course and preparing and reorganizing constantly by evaluating the student interactions and questions. I took the material very seriously and in this process I realized I had been doing the things I was teaching for many years, and yet, I had to really solidify that knowledge to teach it in an understandable way. 

I studied what I had been doing and why. My focus was on making sure I organized and explained the process and concepts in a way that was easy to follow, grasp, understand and implement. I approached it in a systematic way of evaluating each class and semester and re-organizing the curriculum. I moved to LA and then started presenting the class. Then the pandemic took control of the world and school enrollment dropped and classes were halted. I had been thinking for a while about presenting the curriculum outside of one of the organizations I was working with and had always been clear with those people that my curriculum was my own asset and that I planned to use it in a workshop or class of my own at some point. 

So the time seemed right to go ahead and offer the course. Mainly because I had gotten to the point where a few early pandemic online variations of the course had a very easy flow and extremely low amount of specific questions from the participants.

It was then that I felt confident in the material and how I presented it. Then after speaking with a friend with two teenagers, one of which was into music, I talked about my class idea, and she said, “Yeah you should do it. It’s like my kids taking guitar lessons, an hour a week, but for actual production and music making.”

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Who’s the ideal student for this course?

JJ: Most of these students are folks who already make music, have released or at least created music and have a competent understanding of the DAW they use. It’s not a basic or beginner class. We discuss advanced listening ideas, and take a deep dive into plug in controls and some advanced ways to set up a session (or workflows). Mainly, someone who is looking for the number one secret to a Great Master. The most important part of achieving a Great Master. You’ll have to take the class to find out!

You really wear four hats: DJ, producer, mix, and mastering engineer — which isn’t always common to be prolific at all four. How does your experience as a producer and DJ inform your mix & mastering process?

JJ: I think it has offered me a unique perspective to listen to a lot of music in a lot of different locations and compare those productions in the studio as well. The infamous “CAR TEST” has stood the test of time for many a producer, audio creating professional and amateur, but I have had the ability to “Club Test” — putting a fresh studio production up against some of my favorite tracks during my DJ set. Allowing a direct comparison in the environment those tracks were created to be in offers instant clarity on where the mix or production needs to be adjusted.

What do students need to prepare for your lessons?

JJ: I work through the class similar to how a traditional mix engineer would approach a mix, so I want them to have a track where the production part is finished. That way we can meticulously apply each step and or lesson allowing for a time to apply, and learn and play around with the concepts we discuss to solidify the understanding in a long lasting way. I say a normal mix engineer will do these steps in a few hours, but we will tackle a week at a time for each particular area or lesson allowing an intricate level of application and understanding for each concept.

When you first opened Moulton Studios in 1999, did you imagine touring the globe, collaborating with brands like Digidesign, Apple, Sony Oxford, remixing with some of music's biggest stars and such? What’s been the most rewarding part of your journey so far?

JJ: I never imagined what was to come. I dreamed of it, but never really knew what the future would hold. I started the studio as a business, to engineer, edit, mix, master for clients and embed our services in the worlds of advertising, video games and music production. All the while, I would have my own personal studio to enjoy making my own music. I never thought that I would become so busy making house music that seemed to be influencing a generation, and thus having no time for the client direction I was aiming for. 

I basically opened up the studio and brought on marketing interns to send packages to ad agencies and video game creators, developing marketing print and audio materials catered towards those folks and attempting to build a studio business. Waiting for the agencies and developers to call to book the studio, my friends and I made house music every day. We did have a few of those type clients but the “sound” coming out of the studio from our productions on labels like Naked Music, Defected, Om, Large, Siesta, After Hours and others, just seemed to resonate with a lot of folks around the world so we started touring more and more and just working on the music we loved the weeks in between.

What’s one piece of advice you’d give to an aspiring artist who wants to improve their skill set, or is stuck on a process?

JJ: Expand on your knowledge of music theory and musicianship on your primary instrument, and most likely add playing chords and scales and learn keyboard techniques and theory. You can’t conquer mixing and mastering if the elements don’t sound right together. Some people are blessed with the ability to hear the different notes and understand if the relationship is right or not. Others need the theory to guide them and either one will benefit from further understanding of music theory and greater musicianship. 

Next, implement Sound ID / Sonarworks into the workflow allowing the level, and frequency choices during the production mix and master to make more sense outside of the studio. It’s been a game changer in the speed of which final versions are made, and for everyone I have consulted who added that product into the music making workflow. I believe in the company, have no further business alignment, and I paid for the most recent update, so there's no other motive than to help others make better sounding music. Making it easier to Sound Like The Records You Love. . . (see what I did there). I may as well reveal that the most important part needed to make a GREAT Master is. . .a GREAT Mix.

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