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Interview with Engineer Johannes Raassina (Justin Bieber)

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We were thrilled to hear that our client, Johannes Raassina, was nominated for a Grammy for his engineering work on Justin Bieber’s Purpose album. Johannes is a Los Angeles-based musician and engineer whose credits include Run the Jewels, Mike Snow, Cody Simpson, The Mowgli’s, and more. With the Grammy’s coming up this weekend, we caught up with Johannes to discuss working with Bieber, being nominated for a Grammy, as well as what gear and plugins he’s excited about these days.

Westlake Pro: Congratulations on the Grammy nomination for your work on Justin Bieber’s Purpose album! This is your first nomination, right?

Johannes Raassina: Yes, that’s correct.

How’s that feel? Has it changed anything for you yet?

It has a little bit, yeah. It definitely helps to be able to say that you’re a Grammy-nominated engineer! It certainly makes it easier to chat with potential clients – that’s a powerful card.

Are you planning to attend the awards on Sunday?

I am, actually. It’s super exciting.

The record came out in November 2015, so it would have been roughly two years ago that you were working on this, right?

Yeah. I worked with him over a few different periods, the first of which was actually three and a half years ago. At that point he was just cutting lots of songs and writing, trying to figure out where the record was ultimately going to go. They brought me in again towards the end to patch things that they were missing, and I ended up recording a whole song that he added at the last minute.

What was your role in those sessions – were you mostly behind the console?

Exactly. I recorded a bunch of the vocals so I was mostly working in Pro Tools, keeping the mic chain sounding great, capturing takes and making sure that he can put together his performances the way that he wants.

How did you get in with those guys, and what was it like working with him?

There was sort of a trial at first. I’ve known his main engineer, Josh Gudwin, for six or seven years. I knew he was working with Justin, and he knew that I was engineering at that time. I think he kind of tested me out on other sessions, then figured out that it would be cool to put me in with Justin.

So you passed the test!

There’s nothing like sitting in that chair with a superstar behind the mic. It’s powerful. There’s a reason that those people have the success and following that they do; I find that generally it’s not just some computer-made shit. Justin can sing his ass off – that’s how he sounds. From there it’s just getting the perfect execution of each word and each line.

What brought you out to Los Angeles?

I started in Boston – I went to college there, then stayed around for a few years working at studios and doing a little bit of production. I eventually moved to LA to be in a band I was in with buddies of mine from school. I played bass and did all the recording, by default. That was fun – we did that for six or seven years. 

Are there any pieces of gear that you’re excited about right now?

I just bought a Bricasti M7M from Rich Avrach (Westlake Pro Director of Business Development). It’s been my default for lead vocals while I figure out how to use it. I’ve also had good success with it on drum loops – surprisingly it makes the low end sound bigger without getting muddy. I have a lot of plugins that can do pretty amazing stuff, but I can’t argue with the Bricasti.

What are your go-to plugins?

UAD compressors, on pretty much everything. I like the 1176, and the LA2A is amazing. I was playing with the Fairchild on piano yesterday, that sounded pretty good. The UAD reverbs are also excellent – I use the Ocean Way room a lot. Another plugin I use a lot is the Massenburg MDW EQ. It’s one of the cleanest plugin EQs I’ve heard. I also like the Waves C6 Multiband Compressor, and have been meaning to check out the FabFilter stuff as well.

How did you get to know Rich?

I’ve known Jonathan Deans (Chief Technical Officer at Westlake Pro) for a while. I got to a point where I didn’t want to go to Guitar Center anymore and Jonathan recommended that I get in touch with Rich, who has been great. I generally know what I want, but Rich always advises me on everything and sometimes that leads to me making a better decision. He knows his shit! All these esoteric digital formats and things that are specific to certain pieces of gear, like “make sure you get this one, because otherwise those cables aren’t going to work,” things like that. It’s good to know that he has my back. 

What’s next for you?

There’s some records that are underway that I’m part of, though I’m not sure I can really speak about those yet. I’m also doing a project where I’m producing and writing, which is a first for me. That will hopefully be finished soon, I just have to mix it – which is kind of tricky when you’re also the producer, but it’s fun. It’s been a great learning experience.

Best of luck to Johannes, Justin Bieber and company at the Grammy’s this weekend! For all your pro audio and video needs, call Westlake Pro at 323-845-1145 to speak to Rich Avrach or any of our other experts.

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