Grammy award-winning sound engineer and mixer opens up about his journey into the music industry

Shaan Singh has also worked on three albums that are currently nominated for Grammy’s in February

By Laraib Anwer

Published: Mon 16 Jan 2023, 2:02 PM

Based in Los Angeles, Grammy Award-winning sound engineer and artist, Shaan Singh has made his mark in the music industry by working with some of the leading names like Childish Gambino, Young Thug, Dua Lipa, Pharrell Williams, and many more. Shaan won his Grammy in 2018 for the hit single This is America by Childish Gambino. The song was a chart-topping hit that primarily touched on the issues faced by the Black community in modern-day America. He has also worked on three albums that are currently nominated for Grammy’s in February, which include Black Radio 3 by Robert Glassper, I Never Liked You by Future, and Drones by Terrace Martin. Back in Dubai where he spent his childhood, Shaan talks about his journey with wknd. Edited excerpts from an interview:

You’ve gone from playing in bands and touring throughout the US, to producing hits in the music production scene? How has this journey been?

I was chasing that whole dream of trying to be a rockstar and being in a band and touring. I ended up finding a place where I wanted to help create music with other artistes as well, not just my own band or my own project. So I figured that making the switch to audio engineering and music production would help open more doors to working in different genres and collaborating with different artistes and also seeing if maybe that’ll help in getting me to travel the world with them and just grow as a music lover too. And luckily that’s what happened.

You’ve worked with some of the biggest names in the industry and produced some chart-topping music. What lessons did you learn while working with these figures?

It's obviously got a lot of curveballs and you learn how to work with different personalities. The hours are always different too. I’m working mid-afternoon and then I’ve done early evening, and there are times when I start working in the middle of the night, and all of a sudden I’m just up all night working till about 8am the next day, and then a few days later, my schedule switches again with a different artiste. So it is almost like fighting jet lag. You’ve got to constantly take naps and eat healthily. I have definitely learned a lot by consistently working with the same artiste for a while. You learn their workflow and it gets to a point where it becomes second nature, so you don’t have to communicate as much. You have got a flow of what the person likes to record and how you can edit and you both know what he or she wants. It just becomes like an autopilot rhythm which is such a magical feeling, and then you realise after a 12-hour session that we just did five to six songs in one night. Then you hear them back again because you forget how the first few sounded. It’s like a time warp.

You have won a Grammy for This is America (2018). How did that moment impact you?

It was a very special night. We didn’t really know exactly what was going to happen. Sometimes when you hear a song and you start working on it, you get goosebumps because you’re like ‘Well, there’s something special going on here’, and Childish Gambino was in the room along with Young Thug and the energy was really vibrant. I was basically in the studio almost 24x7, my dog was in a different room because I wasn’t even going home that much. Young Thug was working around the clock, he was taking naps here and there. The whole month or so was like a blur. So once that song was created, we all knew it was super special and it was a great surprise once it was nominated. I also took my mom to the Grammy’s. It was my first time going and I was like well, I have got to bring her with me. The song also won in four different categories that same night. I’m super grateful for that experience. The whole process made me feel like the bar is set here, so now we have to not only maintain it, but also up it. It gave me a little spark and that motivation.

Are you on team analog or digital when it comes to mixing?

I originally am an analog guy. I love working on a console, with all the outboard gear. Over the years, it started to become a bit more digital with how technology has advanced, and how the plugins are sounding. Not only are the listeners used to this modern sound, but a lot of engineers on the forefront have adapted to it, and a lot of my favourite engineers, a lot of my friends, and myself, we’re on the hybrid side. Whenever I’m mixing a song, I run my mix through analog, I run my vocals through a vintage compressor, and I just love putting my hands on something and changing the knobs and getting that analog feel to it. So in that sense, I’m definitely a hybrid, but there’s no right or wrong. Who knows maybe later on I’ll go more digital down the road, but as of now, I’m on both.

Are there any aspects you look at before you decide on working with someone?

When I was younger and was just starting out in my career, I had to be a yes man. I had to take every session if the phone rang. My rule was that I have got to answer it and show up no matter what time it is, where it is, just get there because you never know who’s going to walk in that door. That has led to this huge career too. You never know because another artiste might also walk into that studio session while they’re doing a feature or collaboration, and they might ask about you. All of a sudden you are going down this whole career path and are off to the races and who knows what’s next.

How do you think sound mixing and production has changed from when you started out to the current times?

I think over the years, it all started to blend. It used to be just pop music, it used to be just rock, used to be only hip hop, but I think now there’s pop, there’s pop R&B, there’s trap R&B, there’s rock with hip hop. Jazz has also progressed, so I think with the sonics and the production of the genres, I think they’re all blending together, which I think is really cool because the next generation of listeners, they are introduced to more genres. I think it’s all getting influenced by each other. I feel like R&B might have a space coming up soon.

What are you looking forward to?

I’m working with an artiste named Corday. He’s a younger artiste, his first album was nominated for a Grammy, and now we’re working on the third and fourth at the same time. We just did a European tour this past fall and he’s got some more tour dates coming up. I’m also starting to do some one-on-one mentorship with younger engineers and producers because I want to give back and share what I know as well. I started out in a large format studio where you would be an intern and made coffee and went on food runs and cleaned the bathroom and then you worked your way up to engineering. You get to learn all the gear and work under a successful engineer and ask a few questions here and there and learn about studio etiquette. I feel like a lot of the younger engineers or the newer engineers don’t really have access to that because many start with a studio in their room and YouTube. All that is great, it gives you all the information. But I think there is something nice about having a one-on-one with someone and asking questions. All that comes with experience which I learned the hard way. I’m also working on something in Dubai.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to pursue this career?

I would say to be the yes man. Take every opportunity to learn from your peers, because this is a very competitive industry, but it’s a really small one at the same time, so the knowledge you can gain from your friend and the process of both of you figuring stuff out will be great. It is also important to keep remembering not to give up because there are so many ups and downs, so many highs and lows, and you have to believe in yourself. Don’t worry about it and just keep going and be a good person, because that longevity is better than you being a jerk. Be a good person, work hard, don’t give up, work with your friends, and learn from each other.

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