Name: Will Yip
Location: Philadelphia, PA
How did you get started in the business and how come you ended up behind the console as opposed to on stage? Was recording music always on your radar?
I recorded my first demo with my best friend when I was 12. I played drums and even at 12, I thought I was going to be a drummer in a band forever…until i stepped foot in that studio. I fell in love with it. I fell in love with the BIG PICTURE aspect and from then on, i knew I wanted to be the director, the point person to put together a record. I loved that.Ii still played drums and toured and all that, but making music everyday from the ground up was just more creatively rewarding to me versus playing the same songs every night. I honestly just love being in a studio everyday, writing and producing. I’m going to do that for the rest of my life.
You have worked with a wide array of artists spanning different genres – anything from melodic acts like Lauren Hill, Keane and The Fray to hardcore, metal and punk bands. Given that sound ideals differ, is there a difference in how you approach projects of such a varied nature from a production standpoint?
Though I never approach making a record the same way twice, I have the same ideology behind everything…which is that “song is king”. I don’t care what genre the music is – country, pop,hip-hop..punk, whatever it is I’m just a fan of great songs. I grew up listening to a wide array of music. I would play drums in punk and rock bands, but listen to the chronic and shedding with Gerald Heyward (who was playing with Beyoncé at the time). I always tell artists i work with, I’m not a sound guy, I never want to be known as a sound guy, I’ll rather be a song guy. I try to approach every song differently, even within the same record. I take things I pick up on hip-hop records, and apply it to punk records and vice versa. I think that’s why I get to seamlessly work through a lot of different genres, it’s because artists don’t want to be boxed in sonically and with how their songs are presented. And that’s my whole ideology behind making music – I don’t care what genre or box you’re in when you come in, when I hear a demo, whatever i think along with the band will make that song the coolest, we’ll try.
Looking at your discography, the first album you engineered was a live album by the Arctic Moneys. That’s a pretty good place to start! From there, you’ve kept busy with several records a year. Were these early records something that put you on the map or is there any other event that took you to the next level professionally?
Those live recordings, like the Arctic Monkeys and The Fray were probably the first big and recognizable names I took part of. I was so grateful for those opportunities, but I was already recording in my mom’s basement for years. i think what “put me on the map” wasn’t a record or even a few, it was the community I was able to take part in. That’s the coolest thing about punk music – the community and artists having each other’s backs. Bands don’t pop off by themselves, they grind together on basement shows, then tour packages, etc. It was the same for me. It was great to grow up in such a creative punk and music scene in Philadelphia where I was just surrounded by incredibly inspiring artists, but having Blacklisted let me do their LP “No One Deserves to be Here More Than Me” represented that to me. I was a young kid, and no one other than the band wanted me to do that record, but I was coming up under them and they gave me a shot. Because I did the coolest punk band in Philly at that time, I got to start doing a lot of other incredible PA bands like Title Fight, who had an entire scene bubbling up around them. So, being able to grow up and be active in great scenes is what allowed me to be successful and constantly work with cool artists.
Looking back on your entire catalogue and career so far, are there any standout moments, events or productions that you think you will always remember and cherish?
There’s so much. Every record means so much to me. I really think producers take doing records for granted. Think about it – producers and engineers take part in so many records in their career. After they finish one, they’re immediately looking for the next. There are producers that average ten records a year, and I am fortunate to be able to do even more than that. But as an artist, you’re lucky if you write and produce five records in your career. So I really try to recognize the magnitude of every record I do. It’s important, and I treat it like my own and I think every band that has worked with me will tell you that. So with that, every record means so much to me and has such a special place in my heart, but if I had to pinpoint some moments so far, being able to do the records that nobody else wanted me to do outside the band always fire me up. Like i said, i don’t think anyone thought I should’ve been recording that first Blacklisted record I did when they could’ve worked with any punk legend. And Title Fight, from label to management, everyone wanted a BIG name to work with them, but Title Fight are the damn realest and we had a connection and they gave me the shot even when their team didn’t fully back it and we smashed it together. In terms of output, I know how important that was for my life. Other than that, touring around the world engineering and backing up Lauryn Hill for many years was pretty cool. I learned more from her than i think i’ll learn from anyone. She’s a true genius and artist that when you’re around her, you just want to soak up her creative output.
In 2016, you were involved in making almost 20 albums, many of which you produced, engineered and mixed! How do you find time and energy to carry such a workload?
I get asked that a lot. i just do it. i don’t sleep much. Again, i think people including myself at times take working in music for granted. We all complain about work and stuff, but you have to check yourself. What else will I be doing with my time, probably making other music! My day usually consist of waking up at 9:00 AM, starting a day with a band at 10:00 AM, working together for ten hours to 8:00 PM, go home, eat dinner…the mixing and editing that record or another record from 11:00 PM to 4:00 in the morning. Definitely not the healthiest way to live, but I love making music. I’ll find the time to do it, as long as I love the music, and I’ve been loving everything we’ve been doing in here, especially 2016, that was a fun year.
When you’re not making records, what do you do?
That’s usually pretty rare, but if I’m not producing, writing, playing or mixing music…those extra minutes will probably be getting caught up on Philly sports.
…and if you weren’t making records, what do you think you’d be doing professionally?
I honestly don’t know. I really can’t envision my life without making music around the clock. it’s just a part of my life blood now…maybe teaching it? I like to share and gas people up, ha!
If you to pinpoint one thing, what would you say is the most important in a mix?
The song. Can you feel the song? I like to use the term “plating”. Is this the best way to plate the song? Is the song hitting hard enough? Is it hitting too hard? Are you getting melody across enough? Is it too bright in melody over the mix? I think people can nerd out on ones and zeros and forget about the soul and performance of the song. Most of my roughs end up pretty close to the final mix because we kind of mix it as we’re building the song. You obviously need the mix to sound great, but that can be achieved in so many different and subjective ways. But is the song presented in the best manner and accurate to the vision of the people in the room? I want at the end of the mix for people to say, “I can’t imagine this mix any other way,” and then we’re done. It’s all big picture, hard to pinpoint a most important thing other than the heart of the song.
In a mix, where do you usually start: the drums, guitars, vocals or something else?
i come from a pretty hip-hop background in terms of my ears, so I always think of the “beat” first. I want the song to move you. So I usually start on the drums and bass. The backbone. Like when i program beats, I’ll always massage the drums and bass while I tackle the rest of the mix, especially vocals, but I want to make sure the groove hits you correctly off the bat. So, I’m grooving and dancing the rest of the way as I build the mix.
Is there any instrument you generally struggle with more than any other in a mix?
I love everything, but recently I tried mixing in something that actually sucked: an accordion. Being so nasal, they suck to mix into rock music and it’s hard to find a pocket in the midrange for it in a thick rock mix without disrupting it.
Which Toontrack products do you regularly use and where in the creative process do these come into play?
Superior Drummer 3 is an awesome tool for me. I’m such a raw performance centric person, so it takes a lot more for me to back programming acoustic drums that are supposed to be acoustic live drums. Superior Drummer 3 accomplishes that for me, especially when I’m building song ideas by myself it comes into play heavily… I can get soul out of it unlike any other program I’ve used. sometimes. I get more soul out of certain grooves with Superior Drummer 3 than when I try to play them (but maybe thats because I’ve been spending too much time out of the drum throne). But i can’t imagine a drum program that’s as user friendly, fun to use, musician intuitive, and soulful sounding as Superior Drummer 3.
Name a few all-time favorite albums that you did not work on where performance, sound and feel all come together in perfect balance.
“In Utero” changed my life. It wasn’t the most hi-fi record, but it was perfectly not hi-fi. It hit and touched your soul so quick. The thump and the teeth in the sound really made those songs pop and punch you in you face without the hi-fi sheen over everything. “In Rainbows” also changed my early adult life sonically. It was the first Radiohead record I really got into. The perfect balance of acoustic and digital performances and sound. “The Chronic 2001” by Dr. Dre… When that record came out, I’d never heard a hip-hop record that hit that hard. So crisp and the vocal delivery and capturing was perfect.
If you produced an album that you couldn’t mix yourself, who’d be the first name on your list for the gig?
Costey. I grew up admiring his mixes. The impact, the way the songs hit, hit my soul right. They all feel “real” but still big as hell and in your face.
Best studio moment ever?
First time working with Lauryn Hill and experiencing “that” level of artistry. “The Miseducation” is one of my favorite records of all time and to be able to make music with her was definitely the only time I was ever star struck in a session.
Worst studio moment ever?
One of the first sessions I did in Studio 4 as an intern and I blew out a pair of Westlake BBSM-6. That sucked. I finally got to work at my dream studio, and i destroyed their $8,000 monitors. It was a LOUD session.
Finally, any tips to those looking to make a career in music production/engineering?
Carve your own path. It’s like any other form of art, the successful ones have their way of doing things. Determine what makes you happy with music, and chase that YOUR way. Don’t live on the blogs and YouTube tutorials, go out their and do it. People go to producers for “their” thing, find and build that. There are literally endless combinations of ways and recipes to make a record – find what works for you. And most importantly, work harder than everyone else. Grind. Everybody wants to work in music, and you have to outwork the next producer. If you truly love music, that will be easy.