Question in the Form of An Answer: An Interview with Engineer Noah Goldstein (Kanye West, Jay-Z, Nas, etc.)

Since graduating from Philadelphia’s Temple University in 2006, Noah Goldstein has engineered, mixed and occasionally produced for Nas, Jay-Z, 2 Chainz, Snoop Dogg, Patti Smith, The Mars Volta and...
By    August 29, 2013

130619-noah-goldsteinSince graduating from Philadelphia’s Temple University in 2006, Noah Goldstein has engineered, mixed and occasionally produced for Nas, Jay-Z, 2 Chainz, Snoop Dogg, Patti Smith, The Mars Volta and Ryan Adams. But his most interesting client might be Kanye West, who he has worked closely with since 2010’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.

He was there when the tracks were laid down for Watch The Throne, Cruel Summer and most recently Yeezus. It’s his responsibility to protect material from leaking and Jay-Z even shouts him out on “Who Gon Stop Me” during his final verse.
Due to privacy obligations regarding the recording process, he was unable to answer any questions about the making of Kanye’s albums. Noah only gave this interview with hesitation, as talking about any of the artists he works with could jeopardize his career. Luckily, we did still find plenty of stuff to discuss: his love of 2 Chainz, David Bowie quotes, recording with Nas and his thoughts on the role of the engineer — By Jimmy Ness

Is it true you decided to get into this business after seeing Dr Dre on Behind The Music when you were 17?
Yeah, that and I was a DJ for a long time. Since I was 16 until about 25, I DJed. I was always into music and when you DJ it sort of becomes part of you. You start listening to the music really closely and finding the details in it and reading about your favourite records and how they were made. There’s a lot of things to learn. It was just like, I want to make records man.

Tell us about the early days working in West Philly, I heard those were pretty rough times.
It was, it was. I mean basically when I started I was like 19. When I was engineering, I got my start in a studio in a really rough neighborhood and it was not uncommon to stop the track and hear gunshots on the mic. But it wasn’t all bad either. It was a great learning experience and made me realize how there were so many different facets of the music industry. I left there and moved to this other studio that was much more rock based and it was a really nice place, very comfortable and that was how I started to learn to make more proper records. Then I left there and moved to Iceland for a little while because I was really into Bjork.

After interning in Iceland you got a job at the famed Electric Lady studios in New York, built by Jimi Hendrix. How was that? That’s an amazing place to start out.
Exactly you just said it, amazing. I got super lucky getting in there. It’s really hard getting a pay check in a New York studio.

How was working with Patti Smith when you started there? That’s such a big start, you must have been nervous.
Oh fuck, yes. For real. Patti Smith man, come on that shit is crazy. That was the first session I ever did at Electric Lady, I had never been in there before. So I got hired and during my interview while I was sitting in the studio he said “I’ll give you two weeks to get acclimated before I put you on a session” and “I’m like okay that sounds great.” Twenty four hours later he was like “I’m hiring you but I can’t give you that time, I need you here in the studio for the Patti Smith mix session.” So I’d never been in the rooms before ever, it was completely new for me and working with somebody like her – she’s like a punk rock goddess. For me, I love Patti Smith’s music so I was super amped. I got in and Emery Dobyns this engineer, super awesome guy, he was like a year older than me and made me feel like everything was cool. Every time I was fucking up he was like “Nah it’s cool, I got it don’t worry.” She was like the nicest person ever and she was also very tough, just how you expect even though at the time she was 60. It was nuts, but it went really well. I would work with Patti again for sure.

You went from Temple University to working with some of the world’s most famous artists in just six years. How does that feel?
Oh man, what can you say? Living the dream, you know.

Tell us about the first time you recorded with Nas.
That was cool. Nas was like one of my all time favorite artists. He was an extremely nice dude and extremely skilled on the mic as everyone knows. It was a super chilled session, I never really get nervous when I’m working because that doesn’t really help with the session to be nervous, but I was definitely like “holy shit, it’s fucking Nas.”

What was it like recording such a racially charged album like the Untitled album? Was there tension in the studio, how was it being involved in making a project like that?
I didn’t work on a lot of the album. I worked more on the mixing and everything toward the end. But I’d say when you are in a situation like that, everyone understands what the message is and everyone that’s going to be in that room is open minded enough to appreciate it. There was no tension in my opinion because everyone there is about the cause.

You’ve worked with Jay-Z and Nas, two of the most respected MCs of all time. What were the differences between their sessions and how they write?
You know what, I should not answer that one because that would be disrespectful of their process for sure.

I read that to stop any album leaks, the draft versions of Watch The Throne were kept in fingerprinted copies locked in suitcases?
(Laughs) somewhat true. Not entirely true, but we kept them close for sure.

Were you the main person in charge of looking after the album? That must have been a 24 hour job. Were you nervous?
I mean, everything in the music industry is a 24 hour job. Was I nervous? Yes, but at the same time I look after files for every client that I work with. Yes, it was incredibly demanding and I really need to do a good job, and I did the best I could. It’s also like once you’ve worked in this business as an engineer, that’s part of your job – looking after people’s files and making sure nothing gets out to the best of your human abilities.

You worked on 2 Chainz’ album Based On A T.R.U Story and I heard you think he’s one of the best rappers around?
Ah he’s super fucking cool man, I love 2 Chainz. That’s all I can say about him, I love 2 Chainz. He’s the shit. I appreciate his raps. I just think he’s super clever. I like his style.

What’s your favourite 2 Chainz song that you worked on?
I gotta go with the one I worked on the most “Birthday Song.”

What do you think of the video?
Fuckin’ hilarious, it’s amazing. You can tell in his videos he’s got a sense of humor, definitely.

What’s he like as a person?
Absolutely nice guy. Hilarious. I don’t know him super well so I don’t know if I should comment on personalities because I don’t know him like that, but I do know him well enough to know that he’s very funny and very nice, at least to me. Cool guy.

How was working with Ryan Adams?
Man, Ryan Adams is the shit. I loved it, we had a really good time making Cardinology. It was really fun. I’ve talked to him since then and he is like a really really good guy. I haven’t spoken to him in about maybe a year, we kept in touch for a little while after that record was over, but you know I moved into a different genre. But yeah, one of my good friends works with him sometimes.

You’ve done a lot of pop/rock and rap music, are there certain principles you take from one and use with the other or vice versa?
You know what, there’s like one quote I know that my old boss Phil told me. If not I’m mistaken he told me a story and it was David Bowie who said it to him, and it’s seriously like the best principle. It is “Turn up the good shit, turn down the bad shit.”

How creative can you be as an audio engineer? Are you essentially just following orders or is there room for creativity?
I just think it depends on the people that you’re working with and how much they trust your instincts and what their doing, and what they’ve created. So I think it really does depend on your client, if people are more hands on or they just want you to be the technical guy that gets shit done. It really varies between client to client just how much you do.

Ali from TDE is earning a name for himself and Kendrick Lamar has shouted him out on several records. Do you think there’s room for audio engineers to get a little bit of recognition or do you think they’ll always be the silent partner?
I think more so now than before, engineers are kind of being noticed more. Maybe because there’s so many people that record in homes and what I gather is that people that record in homes have realized that it’s not easy to make records that sound the way they do on the radio or like their favorite album. So when they are sitting there trying to do it themselves they realize that it’s a difficult process. It’s something that takes practice, work and dedication just like anything else you become good at it. So I think that’s why we’re hearing how Drake shouts out 40, Kendrick and his engineer, even 2 Chainz and his engineer KY, Jay and Young Guru who is an amazing engineer. To answer your question, I think there’s more room for engineers to be in the spotlight but at the same time, most of us don’t have that kind of mentality. We’re not looking for that. Hence the reason, I don’t really care about doing interviews for the most part. I’m not really looking for it.

It’s more about doing a good job?
I don’t really care about being in the spotlight, it’s always been about the music. I just want to make the best music possible, that’s it.

Jay Z also shouts you out on “Who Gon’ Stop Me” doesn’t he? [“Extend The Beat, Noah”]
Yeah, that was cool.

Did you actually extend the beat, was it planned?
I did extend the beat. It was planned.

Why is your production often uncredited?
It’s not about getting the credit as long as the song sounds good.

Obviously you’ve worked with a lot of big names is there anyone you would have loved to work with or that you see as a musical idol?
Oh man, I wish I could have worked with Otis Redding when he was alive, that would have been awesome. I’m open to a lot of different things. I love all kinds of music and I’m really happy where I’m at right now. I’m not looking for other people, I’m really happy with what I’m doing right now.

Do you have a favorite song that you’ve worked on?
Oh man, that is a hard question. I don’t know, I don’t know. That’s an incredibly difficult question to pick one song. I don’t have one particular favorite in reality. I like lots of different ones for different reasons. Any song that I’ve worked on pretty closely will remind me of a moment in time. It might just remind me of something that happened at that moment so it will be sentimentally my favorite. I don’t know.

When you did the soundtrack to The Man With The Iron Fists, did you work directly with RZA?
Briefly, yeah. He was a really nice dude to work with and it was crazy meeting him for sure. He’s one of idols. I mean Wu Tang is my favorite rap group of all time.I’ve also worked with Raekwon, who was also the shit. I mean come on Cuban Linx!

You worked with Big Sean early in his career and now recently too. How do you think he’s changed as an artist?
I think every artist, Sean included, as they keep working and especially when they start performing more live that’s when they start coming into themselves. Honestly he’s always been awesome. I think Sean’s a great rapper, he’s a great personality and super charismatic. I think he’s only getting better. With performing live, his shit is tight now, not that it wasn’t before but he just keeps improving.

Does each person you work with write completely differently?
Yeah, to each their own you know. Each person has their own process and we just try to respect that process as much as possible.

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