Bringing the Magic of Music to Life
PHOTOS COURTESY OF YAKIR BARRABI
When I spoke with Jordan Schultz, he was waiting with great anticipation for the results of the Latin GRAMMYs. Wiplash’s latest album, which he mastered, was nominated for best Rock album. “Even if I don’t win it’s ok,” he muttered to me. “A colleague told me not long ago, ‘Let me be nominated for a Grammy every year and I’ll be happy.’”
Schultz (38), an Israeli sound engineer from Haifa, long ago broke through the glass ceiling in Israel. His resume includes successful projects with international artists including Nicki Minaj, Rita Ora and Sean Paul.
Just like Israeli talents such as Shira Hass (Unorthodox, Asia) or Niv Sultan (Tehran) have recently become prominent names in the American television industry, from behind his computer screen and console Schultz has mixed and mastered successful projects in the USA, including “Neon Lights” by LODATO, which took first place on Billboard’s dance chart, the single “Dreamer,” which became FIFA’s official song for 2023 and the anthem of the World Cup, as well as mixing and mastering the official WWE wrestlers’ anthem. Despite all this Schultz remains down to earth. He continues to work from a small room that he converted into a home studio. With an impressive list of projects involving artists from all genres and styles, Schultz has become a household name in the world of mixing and sound engineering, and he is sought out by top musical producers in Israel and all over the world.
Most of the time, sound engineers do not get to enjoy the spotlight. However, this says nothing about the importance of their job. In fact, no professional album is released before it has been mixed and mastered. Schultz’s work involves blending together the recorded tracks created by the producer, editing the final sound, and giving the recordings their balance and color. Although this is very technical work, a talented audio engineer can make it creative and is highly esteemed by artists and musical producers. The sound engineer’s work is often an integral part of the musical production and artistic decisions. Take for example Nigel Godrich who produced “OK Computer”—Radiohead’s groundbreaking album—or the audio engineer Alan Parsons, who was behind Pink Floyd’s iconic album “The Dark Side of the Moon.”
Jordan, how did you discover the world of sound?
J.S.: “Totally by chance. I was thirteen years old and one day a classmate of mine told me that he was producing a song on his computer. I didn’t understand what he meant and asked him to show me. He opened the computer, opened some old and weird-looking program, and pressed ‘play.’ Suddenly I heard sounds and music coming out of the computer. I asked him to make me a copy. I remember that it was on an old floppy disk of just a few megabytes. I installed the program on my computer and started playing around with it. I fell in love. That’s how it all started. Since then, I’ve been making music.”
What does a sound engineer’s job entail?
“For every song that’s released, no matter the style or genre, there’s a musical producer who is responsible for its production, recording the instruments, arranging them, and building the song. These instruments are saved on tracks: layers upon layers of elements that together make up the song. It’s my job to arrange them so that they sound good together. Without the mixing, the song will just be a combination of instruments and will sound like a big mess. As an audio engineer, I try to pass on the musical producer’s vision.
“Most people look at mixing as very technical work, but a good mixer directly continues the work of the producer and doesn’t work in isolation.
“However, with today’s technology and the internet, it’s pretty rare for an audio engineer to sit with the producer in the studio. He simply sends the rough mix, which is a rough version that he makes to share his vision for the song. Then I understand where he wants to take the song and do my work to give the best results.”
Schultz never studied audio editing at a traditional educational institution. He acquired his knowledge by spending endless hours in the recording studio, researching and experimenting with different kinds of sound. He trained his ear and taught himself how to mix. Since then, he has made sure to bring the newest technology and the most advanced tools to his home studio and his work. As a teenager he recorded many hits that captivated dance floors all over Israel. But at the beginning, he told me, he was not welcomed by the mainstream.
“In Israel in the 1990s, electronic music had a bad name,” said Schultz. “Everyone who produced electronic music was tagged as a hippie or an outsider. In 1999, the label GMI opened in Israel: it deals with electronic music. I started working for them and we released hits that became popular and were played on the radio and at parties and events. We recorded hits with Oren and Eyal Barkan, singles that pioneered electronic music in Israel. After this we made a hit mix ‘After Basdinim.’ I remember that half the country was singing the words to the song. It’s funny because that song was made as a parody, and it blew up and became a mega hit. All these songs opened the path and gave electronic music a stage. Just like today everyone wants to be a chef, at the start of the 2000s, everyone wanted to be a DJ.”
You work with music from very different genres?
“Yes, I really try to work with everyone. In Israel and abroad. Although I have made a lot of electronic music, the album that is nominated for a Latin GRAMMY is a Latin Rock album. It’s important to me to work with artists from different styles because that makes my work a lot more interesting and less tiring.”
You did the mastering for Wiplash’s Album. How is that different from mixing?
“When I’m mixing, I get the tracks and arrange them in an artistic way so that the recording will sound good to everyone. Mastering is a process of precise audio work: the detailed finishes at the highest possible level. It’s really fine tuning of the mix and final polishing. Afterwards, the song is ready to be heard.”
What makes someone a successful audio engineer?
“First of all, you need to know what the other side expects from you. You need to be able to communicate well with the customer on a personal level, know how to create connections, and always be sociable and polite. You need to understand that sometimes musicians are looking for someone to listen to them and someone who can give them advice. Also, you always have to be one step ahead of everyone else in the industry. A good sound engineer needs to be at the forefront of technology: the best tools and the newest programs. The level is always rising in this industry, and an engineer with the latest advances in the field can push his work to the limits, to produce the best sound and work efficiently.”
As an engineer living in Israel, what’s your impression of working on projects in the US?
“It’s been an amazing experience. The producers in the US are very professional: every artist signs with a label that has a team of professionals. The producers instruct the audio engineer very clearly. You always understand what their vision is and in what direction they want to take the song. The work is efficient and fast. I really enjoy working with producers and artists in the US, for me it’s like a dream come true.”
What music do you listen to?
“I love modern classical music and I mainly listen to composers like Hans Zimmer, Howard Shore and James Newton Howard. Their music is totally different from the music I work with day to day, but I find that it moves me. The liveliness and the dynamic of the orchestra is like nothing else.”
What musical achievement makes you especially proud?
“Being nominated for the Latin GRAMMY. I never thought I would succeed in breaking into the Latin industry and being part of such an exclusive list of audio engineers. Winning a Grammy is every musical artist’s dream. I don’t speak Spanish and live in Israel, so for me to be nominated for the Latin GRAMMY for best Rock album feels completely unreal.”
To conclude, which American artist would you like to work with?
“Wow, there are a lot. Of course, it would be a dream come true to work with Taylor Swift, she’s the hottest singer in recent years. I would also love to work with Jennifer Lopez and The Weekend. I have to say that I’m really a geek, and I know all the Star Wars movies by heart, so to work with John Williams, who composed the music for those films, as well as a lot of other famous movies, would be really amazing.”
Elad Massuri is a contributing writer to Jlife Magazine.