Grammy-winning engineer Jesse Ray Ernster’s path to success began in Winnipeg, where he was born into a musical family; to Minneapolis, where grew up making records and taught at the Minneapolis Media Institute, in the old Flyte Tyme complex; to Los Angeles, where he worked at NRG Recording while juggling side gigs performing, scoring, and teaching music lessons.
After a chance studio encounter with Kanye West in 2018 led to the opportunity to engineer West’s Yandhi and Jesus Is King albums, Ernster focused exclusively on mixing; his A-List credits include Doja Cat, Burna Boy, Dora Jar, Goody Grace, and UMI. On the side, Ernster runs MIXLAND, a pro audio software company co-developed with Kiive Audio’s Eddie Lucciola.
This year, Ernster’s work on Doja Cat’s Planet Her and Kanye West’s DONDA is up for two Grammys.
Jesse Ray Ernster Is Nominated For:
Are you mainly an Auto-Tune user, or do you use other Antares tools?
Jesse: Mostly Auto-Tune. I have had Auto-Tune in my house installed on a computer since the late ’90s, because my dad was an early adopter. I remember him always using Auto-Tune to do manual tuning.
So you’ve witnessed Auto-Tune evolve throughout your life and your career.
You sometimes work on the road. Is everything in the box?
Jesse: Yeah, I’m completely in the box now. I use analog outboard gear as hardware inserts, but I sum in Pro Tools and bounce everything offline. To me, there’s no compromise in sound quality, and it helps to streamline the process of final exports and deliverables to the label.
How does Auto-Tune fit into your workflow? Are you printing vocals with Auto-Tune?
Jesse: Honestly, I use Auto-Tune more on bass and 808s than on vocals. Usually if a session comes in for a mix, Auto-Tune will already be on the vocals; I just won’t touch it. But I will commit it or I’ll freeze it down. Same with the 808s and the bass.
Let’s talk about the Grammys. Seven nominations, that’s pretty amazing. Are you headed to the show?
Jesse: Yeah, I can’t wait. This will be my first time attending the show. I won a Grammy last year, but this is the first “big four” category nomination.
Tell me about your role on Doja Cat’s Planet Her.
Jesse: There were quite a few amazing mixers across the album, and I mixed tracks one and two, “Woman” and “Naked”; and then two more [“Ride” and “Up n Down”] that are toward the end of the album on the deluxe edition.
The opening track, “Woman,” was a test mix. I was contacted by Yeti Beats, the producer; he said, “Hey, we have this Afrobeat song for Doja Cat, and we know that you mixed the African Giant album (by Burna Boy), so we’d love to try you on this!” That’s a common practice that I am excited to do: a spec mix where I take a shot, and if they like it, I get the gig.
So, the stakes were high. I did the mix, and sent it to them, and didn’t hear anything for five weeks. And then he called me and said, “We played it for Doja and she loves it. We’re going to use your mix.” I ended up working on three other songs on the album.
You used some of those Auto-Tune 808 tricks on this record.
Jesse: I used Auto-Tune Pro on bass and 808s. These days, 808s go through a lot of saturation, and a lot of producers are using plug-ins that really light up the 808’s harmonics, and it can actually cause the pitch to modulate at the head of the note. It can be really energetic, and it changes the envelope of the initial transient, creating the impression that it’s hitting harder (speakers can behave similarly when pushed, too).
However, a drawback of this method is that the bass can go out of tune and can disrupt the relationship between that and the kick. So, I’ll do a lot of splitting: I’ll have a sub-bass track where I’ll low-pass everything 60, 70, 100, and above, and then I’ll tune the subs really, really hard, leaving the upper flavor of the bass unaffected.
When I reach for Auto-Tune, it’s generally not for effect; it’s just to fix intonation issues. Physics is not a forgiving force when vibrations are rubbing the wrong way. Simply alleviating those issues with Auto-Tune can make a mix so much better, and actually reduces the necessity to over-process those elements with EQ and compression.