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Philly Producer/Engineer Will Yip Works Harder Than You

Will Yip

Photo: Will Yip Instagram

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Philly Producer/Engineer Will Yip Works Harder Than You

Go inside Yip's journey making records, from his mom's basement all the way to Studio 4: “I’m very in the process, and I think that’s why artists trust me"

GRAMMYs/May 24, 2019 - 11:29 pm

Will Yip just might be the hardest working man in the music business. You won’t see him on tour. You won’t see his name on a marquee. You might not ever see him at all, unless you venture into the subterranean Studio 4 in Conshohocken, Pa., just a few minutes outside of Philadelphia. That’s where he is for about 13 hours a day. The other hours he’s probably mixing at home - something he does to force himself to leave the studio at some point at least.

You’ve probably heard his work, though. If you’ve listened to any record even tangentially related to punk, hardcore, emo, indie rock and beyond within the last 10 years, you’ve more that likely listened to one of his albums. The likes of Circa Survive, The Menzingers, Turnstile and Title Fight have been going to Will for his studio knowledge, his unique way of bringing out the best of artists, his creative vision and his insane work ethic.

Yip is a co-owner of Studio 4, the studio he dreamed of working at as a teenager, and one of the most sought-after producers in rock music. Professionally speaking, he’s come a long way from the kid recording in his mom’s basement, the one who finessed his way into internships, and the one who cleaned out a back room to record bands on his own time. His first exposure to the recording world began by playing drums in a band when he was 12.

“I just love being in the studio,” Yip says. “I love building. I love the behind-the-scenes of putting together music and f*ing with stuff, and just messing with ideas and seeing it from the first note recorded to the final mix. That’s why I don’t tour. I just want to create all day.”

He started recording his friends’ bands in his mom’s basement in Northeast Philly. In high school, he helped out at a nearby studio, making a few bucks an hour, watching and learning as much as possible. When college rolled around, he faced a choice: Go to the Ivy League school and pursue the “comfortable” life his parents wanted for him, or go to the state school and study engineering, a much more uncertain path.

He decided on the latter, going to Temple University to study under Phil Nicolo, co-owner of Studio 4 and Yip’s eventual business partner, himself an adjunct professor at Temple. Yip’s parents, hard-working immigrants from China, were concerned as any parent would be, they always supported him and his passion. After all, he had it all mapped out.

“I said, ‘I’m going to get in with Phil,’” Yip says. He speaks fast and excitedly. “’I’m going to meet Phil, and somehow I’m going to work at Studio 4.’ That was my dream job.”

Yip had first heard of Studio 4 as the place responsible for some of his favorite albums from artists like Boys II Men, The Fugees and Lauryn Hill. Nicolo, a GRAMMY winner, had also worked with royalty like John Lennon and Bob Dylan over his decades-spanning career.

So, he knew he wanted to end up at Studio 4, but he also knew he had to get a little more experience under his belt before he took that shot. So he hit up a now-defunct studio in South Philly called Indre Recording.

“I remember just like it was yesterday - I was 18,” he said. “I emailed the studio manager, her name was Jennifer… and I said, ‘I’d love to intern. I’m this, this and this. I have skills in recording. I’ve done it for the last six years of my life.’ And she was just like, ‘No, we’re full.’ And that was it. It was harsh. It was real. It was the first time someone said no to me like that. Because I always thought I presented well, in terms of, like, what I could do. Free work ­­– who doesn’t want that?”

Yip is exceptionally friendly and nice, but he’s not the type to take a loss when he knows he can get the win. So, he took something he had previously recorded in the basement, along with $600 – just about every penny he had at the time – and bet on himself hard.

“So I brought $600 with me, and I said, ‘I want to book mastering time,’” Yip said. “For songs that were already mastered! I just wanted to get through the door, to talk to someone!”

He played the songs for an engineer there, and he was immediately impressed.

“He was working on them, and he goes, ‘Dude, this sounds really good, where was this recorded?’ Oh, my mom’s basement,” Yip says. “He’s like, ‘What? This sounds better than some of the stuff recorded in our big room.’”

That gig lead to recording sessions and live shows. As he continued to learn by doing, he found his opportunity to get in front of Nicolo as he originally planned when he picked Temple, this time with a little more experience under his belt.

“I took Phil’s class, and the first class, I went to him and said, ‘I want to work for you. I’ll work for free,’ Yip says. “He gets that a lot. He had a line of kids. But again, I knew I was going to kill it. And he was like, ‘Alright, just show up.’ He has an open-door policy, so I showed up. And I don’t think I’ve ever stopped showing up since.”

“Once out of 3 or 400 students, you have someone who’s got it,” Nicolo says. “I don’t want to have a huge ego, but he reminded me of me at Temple. Will was that guy. I could tell he was just really on top of the ball.”

Nicolo was working with Lauryn Hill at the time. Hill is an artist both he and Yip say has a tendency to “push” her colleagues. That “it” that Yip had was something Nicolo recognized as the mark of a truly talented producer who goes beyond just turning knobs, and it became prevalent while working with Hill.

“He became my right-hand man with Lauryn Hill,” Nicolo says. “Talk about going through the trenches. If you can keep up with that s*, man, you’re in… It’s the psychological side. Anyone can figure out where to put a hi-hat or mic an amp. But it’s hard to get an artist to appreciate what you do and get what they want when they’re not putting it in correct terms. That’s an engineer. And Will did that.”

It’s that unique ability to almost connect with his artists on a symbiotic level that makes him such a good engineer. He becomes a member of the band and a teammate.

“My goal is to read their minds, to get inside their minds and then work with them to create – not even just follow direction – but just create what that vision is, you know?” -Will Yip

“He gets the best out of you,” says Tom May, guitarist/vocalist of the Menzingers, who first worked with Yip for the band’s 2017 LP After the Party, and is working with him again for their next album due out this year. “The kind of stuff that you didn’t know was really going to be there in the first place. And he’s just so good at making an environment that’s conducive to creating with all egos to the side. It’s a wild thing.”

 

The way Yip puts it, he doesn’t want to create a “Will Yip record” or even a “Studio 4 record.” He wants to make the best record that band can make in that environment.

“I’m very in the process, and I think that’s why artists kind of trust me,” Yip says. “I always tell guys that I’ve recorded with a lot of producers before. I’ve recorded with so many engineers, and I’ve tried not to be everything that I hated in those experiences. I want someone that I can trust. And I know when you trust someone that’s manning this side of the board for you, and you trust someone saying, ‘Nah, man, that’s good,’ that’s the coolest thing. That’s the safest thing. It’s like trusting your partner.”

In a lot of ways, Yip is still the kid in his mom’s basement recording his friends. His highest aspirations are to work with people who inspire him, who are fun to be around and who make music he gets genuinely stoked on. As he puts it, he doesn’t want to “chase” anything, like a paycheck or prestige. Instead, he wants to create an environment of positivity, mutual respect and creativity. That’s why artists flock from all over the globe to work with him.

“You don’t meet that many people who are like Will,” May says. “I’ve never really worked with that many people like him. He’s just so excited and ready to go. He’s able to focus better than anyone that I’ve ever worked with on anything in my life, including any schooling, jobs, the music business, working on records, everything. I’ve never seen someone who’s able to maintain that type of attention span and attention to detail, as well as managing a roomful of personalities at the same time. It’s really kind of incredible.”

“He works constantly at the highest level, and that’s what it takes,” Nicolo says. “Of people who get into this industry, why are only 2 percent of us successful?  Because you have to have that mentality and that work ethic and the ability. It’s not all pushing the pencil. You gotta have the ability. He does, and he puts in the time.”

Today, Yip’s reputation is far greater than just a producer. He’s started two record labels so he can support artists he believes in, but who might be working with limited resources. On Wikipedia, he’s “veteran producer Will Yip.” On Pitchfork, he’s “influential producer Will Yip.” These are titles typically given to folks far older than Yip, a youthful 32.

But he is a veteran. It just didn’t take him long to get there. While some of his peers have been in the business for longer than he’s been alive, his breakneck pace has allowed him to create more albums than some people will make in a lifetime, some of them GRAMMY-nominated.

And he is influential, more than he thought he would be, and in ways beyond the walls of his studio or the words of music blogs.

“I was in L.A., and I was out there for a Tigers Jaw show,” he says. “I was just by the merch table talking to couple guys, and a couple guys came by to meet me, which is crazy. L.A. - the other side of the country. This Asian dude comes up to me and says, ‘Hey dude, I’m, like, shaking right now. I can’t believe you’re here.’ I wish I would’ve taken down his information or socials so I could hit him up. But he was like, ‘Dude, you’re the reason why I think I can be an engineer. No other engineers look like me or look like you. And for you to do all of my favorite bands, I think I can do it.’ I’m like … that f*ed me up.”

Yip’s only plan was to make music with his friends forever. Being a representative for kids who look like him wasn’t a torch he planned on carrying, and it took him a while to accept it, but now he’s embraced it. It’s not that he’s playing some Mr. Modest, it’s that he’s spent so much time in his studio world that he maybe didn’t notice how much the rest of he music world grew to respect him.

“I hate talking about myself. I hate it. It’s not what I do,” he says. “All this stuff and meeting this kid, I’m like, holy s man. There’s so many talented kids. What if I got too scared if I got bummed out or took whatever job offer, or went to Penn, which I could’ve went to instead of Temple, and just made money, worked in my brother’s firm—and he’s very successful and cool, but what if I did that instead? I was that close to that thought sometimes when things weren’t going the best, even though I knew I wanted to work in music. If letting that fear of not doing something because you don’t see other people that look like you doing it, that’s fing crushing, man.”

Philly Rapper Raj Haldar, A.K.A. Lushlife, On Going From Rapper To Children's Book Author

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GRAMMY SoundChecks With Gavin DeGraw

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 05:06 am

On Aug. 28 Nashville Chapter GRAMMY U members took part in GRAMMY SoundChecks with Gavin DeGraw. Approximately 30 students gathered at music venue City Hall and watched DeGraw play through some of the singles from earlier in his career along with "Cheated On Me" from his latest self-titled album.

In between songs, DeGraw conducted a question-and-answer session and inquired about the talents and goals of the students in attendance. He gave inside tips to the musicians present on how to make it in the industry and made sure that every question was answered before moving onto the next song.

 

Juan Gabriel named 2009 Latin Recording Academy Person Of The Year

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Juan Gabriel named 2009 Latin Recording Academy Person Of The Year

Annual star-studded gala slated for Nov. 4 in Las Vegas during 10th Annual Latin GRAMMY Week celebration

GRAMMYs/May 15, 2017 - 01:36 pm

 GRAMMY.com

 Internationally renowned singer/songwriter/performer Juan Gabriel will be celebrated as the 2009 Latin Recording Academy Person of the Year, it was announced today by The Latin Recording Academy. Juan Gabriel, chosen for his professional accomplishments as well as his commitment to philanthropic efforts, will be recognized at a star-studded concert and black tie dinner on Nov. 4 at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, Nev. 

The "Celebration with Juan Gabriel" gala will be one of the most prestigious events held during Latin GRAMMY week, a celebration that culminates with the 10th Annual Latin GRAMMY Awards ceremony. The milestone telecast will be held at Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas on Nov. 5 and will be broadcast live on the Univision Television Network at 8 p.m. Eastern/7 p.m. Central. 

"As we celebrate this momentous decade of the Latin GRAMMYs, The Latin Recording Academy and its Board of Trustees take great pride in recognizing Juan Gabriel as an extraordinary entertainer who never has forgotten his roots, while at the same time having a global impact," said Latin Recording Academy President Gabriel Abaroa. "His influence on the music and culture of our era has been tremendous, and we welcome this opportunity to pay a fitting tribute to a voice that strongly resonates within our community.

Over the course of his 30-year career, Juan Gabriel has sold more than 100 million albums and has performed to sold-out audiences throughout the world. He has produced more than 100 albums for more than 50 artists including Paul Anka, Lola Beltran, Rocío Dúrcal, and Lucha Villa among many others. Additionally, Juan Gabriel has written more than 1,500 songs, which have been covered by such artists as Marc Anthony, Raúl Di Blasio, Ana Gabriel, Angelica María, Lucia Mendez, Estela Nuñez, and Son Del Son. In 1986, Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley declared Oct. 5 "The Day of Juan Gabriel." The '90s saw his induction into Billboard's Latin Music Hall of Fame and he joined La Opinion's Tributo Nacional Lifetime Achievement Award recipients list. 

At the age of 13, Juan Gabriel was already writing his own songs and in 1971 recorded his first hit, "No Tengo Dinero," which landed him a recording contract with RCA. Over the next 14 years, he established himself as Mexico's leading singer/songwriter, composing in diverse styles such as rancheras, ballads, pop, disco, and mariachi, which resulted in an incredible list of hits ("Hasta Que Te Conocí," "Siempre En Mi Mente," "Querida," "Inocente Pobre Amigo," "Abrázame Muy Fuerte," "Amor Eterno," "El Noa Noa," and "Insensible") not only for himself  but for many leading Latin artists. In 1990, Juan Gabriel became the only non-classical singer/songwriter to perform at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City and the album release of that concert, Juan Gabriel En Vivo Desde El Palacio De Bellas Artes, broke sales records and established his iconic status. 

After a hiatus from recording, Juan Gabriel released such albums as Gracias Por Esperar, Juntos Otra Vez, Abrázame Muy Fuerte, Los Gabriel…Para Ti, Juan Gabriel Con La Banda…El Recodo, and El Mexico Que Se Nos Fue, which were all certified gold and/or platinum by the RIAA. In 1996, to commemorate his 25th anniversary in the music industry, BMG released a retrospective set of CDs entitled 25 Aniversario, Solos, Duetos, y Versiones Especiales, comprised appropriately of 25 discs.   

In addition to his numerous accolades and career successes, Juan Gabriel has been a compassionate and generous philanthropist. He has donated all proceeds from approximately 10 performances a year to his favorite children's foster homes, and proceeds from fan photo-ops go to support Mexican orphans. In 1987, he founded Semjase, an orphanage for approximately 120 children, which also serves as a music school with music, recreation and video game rooms. Today, he continues to personally fund the school he opened more than 22 years ago.   

Juan Gabriel will have the distinction of becoming the 10th Latin Recording Academy Person of the Year honoree, and joins a list of artists such as Gloria Estefan, Gilberto Gil, Juan Luis Guerra, Julio Iglesias, Ricky Martin, and Carlos Santana among others who have been recognized. 

For information on purchasing tickets or tables to The Latin Recording Academy Person of the Year tribute to Juan Gabriel, please contact The Latin Recording Academy ticketing office at 310.314.8281 or ticketing@grammy.com.

Set List Bonus: Bumbershoot 2013
Grizzled Mighty perform at Bumbershoot on Sept. 1

Photo: The Recording Academy

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Set List Bonus: Bumbershoot 2013

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 04:22 am

Welcome to The Set List. Here you'll find the latest concert recaps for many of your favorite, or maybe not so favorite, artists. Our bloggers will do their best to provide you with every detail of the show, from which songs were on the set list to what the artist was wearing to which out-of-control fan made a scene. Hey, it'll be like you were there. And if you like what you read, we'll even let you know where you can catch the artist on tour. Feel free to drop us a comment and let us know your concert experience. Oh, and rock on.

By Alexa Zaske
Seattle

This past Labor Day weekend meant one thing for many folks in Seattle: Bumbershoot, a three-decade-old music and arts event that consumed the area surrounding the Space Needle from Aug. 31–Sept. 2. Amid attendees wandering around dressed as zombies and participating in festival-planned flash mobs to Michael Jackson's "Thriller," this year the focus was on music from the Pacific Northwest region — from the soulful sounds of Allen Stone and legendary female rockers Heart, to the highly-awaited return of Death Cab For Cutie performing their 2003 hit album Transatlanticism in its entirety.

The festival started off on day one with performances by synth-pop group the Flavr Blue, hip-hop artist Grynch, rapper Nacho Picasso, psychedelic pop group Beat Connection, lively rapper/writer George Watsky, hip-hop group the Physics, and (my personal favorite), punk/dance band !!! (Chk Chk Chk). Also performing on day one was Seattle folk singer/songwriter Kris Orlowski, who was accompanied by the Passenger String Quartet. As always, Orlowski's songs were catchy and endearing yet brilliant and honest.

Day one came to a scorching finale with a full set from GRAMMY-nominated rock group Heart. Kicking off with their Top 20 hit "Barracuda," the set spanned three decades of songs, including "Heartless," "Magic Man" and "What About Love?" It became a gathering of Seattle rock greats when, during Heart's final song, Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready joined for 1976's "Crazy On You."

Day two got off to an early start with performances from eccentric Seattle group Kithkin and Seattle ladies Mary Lambert and Shelby Earl, who were accompanied by the band Le Wrens. My highlight of the day was the Grizzled Mighty — a duo with a bigger sound than most family sized bands. Drummer Whitney Petty, whose stage presence and skills make for an exciting performance, was balanced out by the easy listening of guitarist and lead singer Ryan Granger.

Then the long-awaited moment finally fell upon Seattle when, after wrapping a long-awaited tour with the Postal Service, singer/songwriter Ben Gibbard returned to Seattle to represent another great success of the Pacific Northwest — Death Cab For Cutie. The band celebrated the 10-year anniversary of their album Transatlanticism by performing it from front to back. While a majority of attendees opted to watch the set from an air-conditioned arena, some of us recognized the uniqueness of this experience and enjoyed the entire set lying in the grass where the entire performance was streamed. 

Monday was the day for soul and folk. Local blues/R&B group Hot Bodies In Motion have been making their way through the Seattle scene with songs such as "Old Habits," "That Darkness" and "The Pulse." Their set was lively and enticing to people who have seen them multiple times or never at all.

My other highlights of the festival included the Maldives, who delivered a fun performance with the perfect amount of satirical humor and folk. They represent the increasing number of Pacific Northwest bands who consist of many members playing different sounds while still managing to stay cohesive and simple. I embraced the return of folk/pop duo Ivan & Alyosha with open arms and later closed my festival experience with local favorite Stone.

For music fans in Seattle and beyond, the annual Bumbershoot festival is a must-attend.

(Alexa Zaske is the Chapter Assistant for The Recording Academy Pacific Northwest Chapter. She's a music enthusiast and obsessed with the local Seattle scene.)

Neil Portnow Addresses Diversity & Inclusion, Looks Ahead During Speech At 2019 GRAMMYs

Neil Portnow and Jimmy Jam

Photo: Michael Kovac/Getty Images

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Neil Portnow Addresses Diversity & Inclusion, Looks Ahead During Speech At 2019 GRAMMYs

Jimmy Jam helps celebrate the outgoing President/CEO of the Recording Academy on the 61st GRAMMY Awards

GRAMMYs/Feb 11, 2019 - 10:58 am

As Neil Portnow's tenure as Recording Academy President/CEO draws to its end, five-time GRAMMY winner Jimmy Jam paid tribute to his friend and walked us through a brief overview of some of the Academy's major recent achievements, including the invaluable work of MusiCares, the GRAMMY Museum, Advocacy and more.

Portnow delivered a brief speech, acknowledging the need to continue to focus on issues of diversity and inclusion in the music industry. He also seized the golden opportunity to say the words he's always wanted to say on the GRAMMY stage, saying, "I'd like to thank the Academy," showing his gratitude and respect for the staff, elected leaders and music community he's worked with during his career at the Recording Academy. "We can be so proud of what we’ve all accomplished together," Portnow added.

"As I finish out my term leading this great organization, my heart and soul are filled with gratitude, pride, for the opportunity and unequal experience," he continued. "Please know that my commitment to all the good that we do will carry on as we turn the page on the next chapter of the storied history of this phenomenal institution."

Full Winners List: 61st GRAMMY Awards