Mixing It Up in Atlanta’s Music Scene: Our One-On-One With Grammy Award-Winning Phil Tan

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By Mollee Harper, Senior Editor

Georgia Entertainment News is proud to bring you this special profile on the music side of Georgia’s booming entertainment industry. We sit down with Grammy award-winning music mixer and audio engineer Phil Tan. During our time together, Tan highlights his work over the past two and a half decades mixing and producing in Georgia’s thriving music industry, and shares insights on his craft, the tax credits and his gentle affinity for Atlanta’s music scene.

Meet Phil Tan

Phil Tan was born in Malaysia. He attended Florida’s Full Sail University and graduated from their Recording Arts program in 1990. Tan then moved to Atlanta, Georgia and began his 27-year career recording, mixing, facilitating and producing music in a wide range of genres in Georgia’s music industry.

Tan’s studio is located at Callanwolde Fine Arts Center. He has collaborated with Jermaine Dupri, Pharrell Williams, Usher and many other notable artists and professionals in the music business. He is credited with working on 26 singles that reached number one on the ‘Billboard’s Hot 100’ chart. Tan received three Grammy Awards including: Best Dance Recording in 2010 for his work on Rihanna’s ‘Only Girl (In the World)’, Best Rap Album in 2006 for Ludacris’ ‘Release Therapy’, and Best Contemporary R&B Album for his work on Mariah Carey’s ‘The Emancipation of Mimi’ in 2005.

Tan has been listed in the credits as a mixer, engineer, remixer or producer of singles and albums selling more than 200 million in the U.S. He has been called “one of the most successful mixing engineers of all time” by Modern Mixing, and was inducted into the Full Sail University Hall of Fame in 2009.

Making Music 

Tan shared, “I got my start in the music business working as an intern at a studio called SoundScape Studios in Atlanta.  John Marett was the owner. I met a lot of people including L.A. Reid, Jermaine Dupri, Babyface, Outkast, TLC, Toni Braxton. We were at the front end of the urban music launch in Atlanta’s music business.”

“I was in the right place at the right time.”

Tan continued, “I get hired to do different things. It really depends on what my client may need for their music project. I feel most comfortable mixing. 95% of the time I am hired as a mixer. Sometimes an artist may be looking for some direction. ‘What would you do with this?’ ‘How would you produce this?’ That’s when I step in as a consultant or facilitator. I also work as a producer from time to time.”

“As a mixer I am essentially a chef for music. You send me your parts, and I put them together into something that’s hopefully ‘palatable’. Then it goes to the next person who is typically a mastering engineer.”    

“With music, there are songwriters, producers and arrangers, and the artists. The producers and arrangers put together the music. The recording artists perform. The recording engineers capture their performance. Then they send all of those components to me. I try to put them all together in the right proportions so it makes sense. You have to make sure the drums aren’t too loud, the vocals are clear, things like that. Then it goes to a mastering engineer who prepares it for distribution.”

“Apple requires a certain format for the files they distribute. CD requirements are different than those. The mastering engineer deals with all of those issues and requirements.”

“After that, it goes to the team at the label where marketing, product managers, promotions, street teams and others all work really hard to make sure the word is out for the new piece of music. Obviously the artist has to be there to support their product, make promotional appearances, performances, etc.”

He added, “Hopefully, people like it and ask for more.”

“It’s hard to keep track of things today because there is so much music being made and the turnover is high. Technology makes it very easy to create music. When something takes off it often goes off like a rocket. In the past, it required a lot of legwork to promote and market music. So much is online now. When you do something significant it can take off quickly. Social media has become a much bigger factor in artists getting exposed these days too.”

“My work spans many genres including some Hip Hop, R&B, and even some Rock projects. I mostly do Pop. I’m fortunate to have had the opportunity to work in difference genres, which keeps things fun and fresh. I think Hip Hop, as a genre right now is very, very powerful. Atlanta is a significant hub for all that activity and has been since the 90s.”

Tan offered, “I’ve been very fortunate to have a lot of fairly well received projects since my start in 1991. They are all special to me. I don’t look at the projects as just music. They often turn into friendships that are a lot more valuable to me. I have worked with many of my clients for a very long time and really value those relationships.”  

Atlanta’s Music Scene

Tan continued, “I have always worked in Atlanta. The entertainment tax credits for music were always a line item in the film side of things. They weren’t expanded on before last year so many people didn’t know how to apply for them. Tammy Hurt and the team at Georgia Music Partners and the Recording Academy® were at the forefront, helping to get the word out about the criteria music projects needed to take advantage of the tax credits.”

“Georgia as a whole is just packed with talent. We have so much to offer to people who are looking for musicians. I think we have 16 working orchestras here in the state. As a city, Atlanta also has a vibrant scene with good clubs, nightlife and restaurants. A lot of young people move here and bring good ideas, concepts and good things to our city. I think geographically we are also in a great place to be for the music industry , with our excellent international airport.”

“We also have a big population of college students and young people with ideas and the energy that comes out of that demographic. A lot of the music being created here is a reflection of that. There are also established superstars here like the Zac Brown Band and more. The combination of those – the younger and older generations – is really powerful and a big part of Georgia’s success.”

Tan concluded, “I think sometimes people look at Atlanta and don’t think of it as a music town. They know about the film and television side of the entertainment business, but may not realize how much music Atlanta has been producing for a number of years. I don’t think we are that far behind cities like Los Angeles or Nashville in musical impact, if we are behind at all.”

For more information on Phil Tan, visit his website at: http://www.philtan.com/.

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