Rapper Russ was recently on Everyday Struggle and he was asked about why he started mixing and mastering his own songs and he said that it was because audio engineers would take 2 weeks to mix and master his songs when he could do it himself within a few hours or a day.
This is true, if you know what you’re doing. If you know how to change your car’s oil, it’ll take less than 15 minutes, if you have no clue, let’s just say it’ll take a few days. But assuming you know what you’re doing, it doesn’t take two weeks to mix and master a song (we mix and master within 3 days). However, it depends on how busy the audio engineer you’re working with is as if you’re working with the top audio engineers they’re booked solid and are going to charge thousands per song (Russ alluded that he was working with these kinds of audio engineers originally).
Russ was pretty on point during the interview and addressed this by saying that, “no it doesn’t take 2 weeks to mix and master a song, it takes 3-4 hours of whenever you can slot me in those 2 weeks”.
Again this is true. So what’s my beef with Russ?
I do get the Do-It-Yourself mentality and recommend artists learn to mix and master their own stuff so they can at least get an idea of what goes into it but I don’t think that mixing and mastering your own stuff is a good long term strategy which I spell out in this post: Are You Still Mixing and Mastering Your Own Stuff? The Hero Myth Debunked (I’m obviously biased in this regard).
However I think the obvious question I’d ask Russ is do you actually think your songs are mixed and mastered at the same level as if a “professional audio engineer” did them? Russ likes to say he’s mixed and mastered all 300 of his songs over the course of his 5 years in the game, in that same time I’ve personally mixed and mastered over 4000 songs. It goes without saying, but me and other audio engineers like myself have way more experience. And yes I’m equating more experience with being better, which is true most of the time.
I’ve listened to a few Russ songs and the mixing and mastering isn’t terrible, it’s passable and I’m sure he’d say “it’s good enough” because of the tens of millions of streams he’s racked up not to mention the Gold plaque he just got for his debut album.
But here’s the rub: nobody is putting the sound quality of a Russ song on par with a Kanye song. Kanye’s had the top audio engineers provide 75 different mixes for his songs! Shoot nobody is putting Russ’s sonics on the same level as Drake, Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole, Logic, Big Sean, Migos, and Young Thug (artists who all have their own dedicated audio engineering teams). In my humble opinion, the mixing and mastering on a Russ song is slightly better than the unsigned Soundcloud rapper that mixes his songs himself (which isn’t saying much).
Moreover, Russ by recording, producing, mixing and mastering all his stuff is going to be way to biased and too close to his music to objectively hear it. A good audio engineer whose found his zen and not to mention knows how to rest his ears will address these biases.
Furthermore and I know this is probably going to make that already big chip on his shoulder even bigger but nobody with good taste listens to Russ. I’m sorry. And again he can point to his tens of millions of streams but we can all point to the landfills of trash songs with millions of plays. I only mention this because it’s an indicator of quality, sure millions of people buy Walmart brand sneakers but they do not match the quality of a Nike Air Max or Adidas Boost.
Russ has a great mentality for getting on, but it’s nothing new, Ryan Lewis & Macklemore pretty much did the same thing, and a case could be made that Russ is really this era’s lower production quality Macklemore (Russ likes to brag that he produced all his songs which is also not a sustainable strategy).
It’s a great and endearing story that Russ thinks he himself can compete with teams of audio engineers, producers and writers. It feels almost like some Kanye-ish? But Kanye does the exact opposite, he employees the best audio engineers, producers and writers to make his vision come to life. By continuing to do everything himself, Russ is hustling backwards.