Elton “L10MixedIt” Chueng is a Grammy® Award-winning mixing engineer, best known for his work with Chance the Rapper, Smino, Saba, and Noname. Chueng got his start as an intern at Classick Studios in Chicago, where he now works full time.
We recently had the pleasure of chatting with Chueng for our ongoing 20 Questions series. Read on to learn about Chueng’s passion for changing lives through music, tips on how to make your 808s slap, and where to get the best chicken wings in Chicago.
1. How did you get started making records?
This is kind of an embarrassing story, but back in high school, me and a bunch of my friends used to rap. They would come over to record, and somebody had to make it sound professional. From there it became somewhat of an obsession. That’s how I started, but it wasn’t until years later that I really took it seriously. Probably like seven years later, after college didn’t work out, I got an internship here at Classick Studios. From there I had to hustle, and try to get sessions in by any means via Craigslist, social media, etc. The rest is history.
2. Can you tell us a little bit about your studio?
I just moved into my own space here at Classick. I was operating on the road and out of my house for the past two years, and I had a hard time staying focused. So I talked to Chris Classick, the owner of the studio, and he suggested I take over one of the production rooms. He’s always looked out for me like that.
From there I built out the room with my dad and carefully picked the equipment I wanted and invested in new pieces of gear through Vintage King, piece by piece. It’s a great space for me to mix. There’s enough space for me to comfortably do what I have to do here. I handle all my business operations out of this room and Classick Studios.
3. What’s your approach to mixing?
It’s really a case-by-case scenario; every artist and producer has their own sound. A lot of times I’ll listen to the references and the rough mix to see what it needs and where to take it. I’ve been really into clothes and style lately so when I sort out the different sounds that go into a song, I visualize them in shapes, colors, tones, and textures. From there, I keep the artist/producer in mind to help create a soundscape that fits their style, bringing out what I believe are the best qualities in voices and instruments. I believe in putting the music and art first, consistent quality is everything to me. We’re looking to shake things up in music with the artists I work with and deliver an exquisite listening experience every single time, especially as an engineer based here in Chicago.
4. What’s your favorite part of the creative process?
I have a couple of favorite parts. One is being super productive while locking in with the artist, whether that’s during recording, editing, or mixing. The second is when it gets released into the world and everyone gets to enjoy the music we’ve spent countless hours creating.
I work with a lot of up-and-coming artists, so in most cases, their budgets are limited when we work on their first projects. I can say I’ve been very lucky to have worked on a handful of impactful ones over the years and watched some of my closest friends change their lives with music. That’s probably the most rewarding part of it all. I’m just happy to be there to help.
5. What’s an average day in the studio like for you?
I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to pick up a couple of assistants, and they make my day a lot easier. They’re super motivating to me and they help hold me accountable for things. I come into the studio and they have the session already prepped and ready to go, and we just dive right into it. I don’t like leaving something unfinished, although sometimes you need to step away from a mix.
I try to finish a mix, take a break. Probably play video games here at the studio or watch TV for 30 minutes or so, and then get right back into it. I try to finish anywhere from one to three mixes every day. It’s really draining at times, but these things need to be done in order to meet deadlines.
6. What EQs do you reach for most often?
As far as hardware, I really love the Neve 1073. I’ve been using that on a lot of songs I work on. I don’t own one yet but I really like the sound of the Maag Audio EQ4 too.
For plug-ins, I use FabFilter Pro-Q 3 a lot because of its transparency and how surgical you can get with it. I love that you can do dynamic EQ now, too. I don’t use that feature much, but sometimes a mix calls for it. When I’m looking to add warmth I typically reach for the Universal Audio Pultec Pro EQ.
7. What about compressors?
I’ve been using my stereo pair of Empirical Labs Distressors a lot. I love the LA-2A a lot, too. That thing doesn’t get talked about enough. I use it on vocals all the time. I love the warmth and fullness it brings. We have a couple here at Classick that we use all the time. They sound great.
8. If you could only use one reverb for the rest of your life, what would it be?
For me, I would probably say the Valhalla Plate Reverb, that’s always been a good one. I also really like the Renaissance Reverb plug-in from Waves.
9. What’s the least expensive piece of gear you’ve ever used on a record?
I mean, way back in the day we used to use those old-school computer mics that hooked up to the sound card. But the most recent thing I can think of would be a Shure SM57. We used that to record vocals the other day.
10. What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever done to get a specific sound in a mix?
There’s this song called “Part of Me” by Noname on her album Room 25. I was having a super hard time getting the guitar to sound interesting. It just sounded so dull to me, but I couldn’t put my finger on why. No plug-in was helping.
We were trying to keep that same tone without going overboard with anything, so I flipped the phase on the guitar to make it stand out a little more on the outside of the speakers. If you mono that song out, the guitar just disappears. But without it, the song wouldn’t have sounded the way it does. Just listen to it in stereo, that’s all I ask!
11. What’s your advice for mixing 808s?
My good friend Monte Booker put me onto this plug-in called Upstereo. I don’t know if people know about this plug-in, but it slaps. You’re able to shape the tone of the 808s really well. You can widen them, make them mono, and more. I’ve been using it a lot recently.
My advice is to A/B your dry and effected 808s as much as you can to determine whether your mix decisions made the sound better or worse, keeping in mind that the 808 you’ve been working on possibly has a mix on it already.
12. What do you do in your free time, when you’re not making records?
My girlfriend has been keeping me healthy, making me go to the gym with her every morning. That’s been a very crucial part of my routine lately. Being in the studio all the time gets draining. My room, like many studios, doesn’t have any windows, so time flies. You sit there all day, eating the studio diet of burgers, fries, or whatever. So I definitely make sure I go to the gym.
A lot of the guys here at Classick have been motivating each other to stay on our toes with our health because that’s really important. Keeping your health up gives you a clear mind, which helps you make better mixing decisions at the end of the day. I also try to go out to as many shows as I can here in the city to show support in our up-and-coming music community.
13. What’s your favorite place to eat?
I’m not gonna lie, going to the gym allows me to eat bogus, right? A lot of my favorite places are chicken spots. I love chicken wings, particularly here in Chicago. We’ve got Harold’s Chicken, which is one of my favorite wing spots, six pieces fried hard, lemon pepper with the mild sauce. I stay by Evanston up north and there’s a wing spot called Buffalo Joe’s, single order suicide wings if anyone’s asking. They are immaculate.
On the healthier side, I’ll go to Jubilee Juice for smoothies and salads. At least once a week, I’ll go to Nini’s Deli to grab a sandwich and their astounding Café Con Leche. Shoutout to my guys Juany and Huey.
14. What’s the best book you’ve ever read?
When I dropped out of college, I was scared. I didn’t know what to do. One of my friends recommended a book called Rich Dad Poor Dad, which is about money management. It really reassured me that there’s a possibility of becoming a successful entrepreneur.
Coming out of college, being broke, the word entrepreneur just sounded so grandiose to me. You see so many successful, celebrated entrepreneurs, but you don’t always hear about where they started. That book reassured me that I don’t have to go to school. I don’t have to spend my money on something that isn’t guaranteed to give me a return.
Chris Classick really mentored me and helped me think like a businessman. That’s one of the books he recommended also. After reading Rich Dad Poor Dad and talking to the guys here at Classick, things made more sense. Classick always reassures me that it’s okay to reinvest money I earn to buy gear that I need because it’s going to come back to me at the end of the day. Which is very true. Ever since then, I’ve been doing my research on pieces of gear and slowly reinvested into my own business.
Since reading that book after dropping out of college, I have my own LLC now, and I’m working out of my own office at Classick Studios. That book was super vital to my life and career, so I would definitely recommend it to anybody that’s looking for a good read.
15. What’s one of your favorite albums of all time?
That’s a super hard question. But Thriller has to be one of my all-time favorites. My parents have a decent little record collection, and I just found the original copy of Thriller they bought back in the ‘80s about a year ago. I asked my friend if I could borrow his record player, and I was instantly like “Wow, that’s my childhood.”
That’s just one of those albums that takes me way back. I always see music as bookmarks in people’s lives. Whenever I turn that record on, it makes me flash back to those moments from my childhood, specific times and places, even as vivid as what certain things smelled like or felt like. I really appreciate that album because my family played it all the time when I was growing up and because it was crafted beautifully from beginning to end.
16. What’s one record you wish that you had worked on?
Something classic. I really wish I was around during the time that Marvin Gaye was around because that man’s voice is so crazy. I always wondered how Stevie Wonder worked, too. I know I’m going way back, but that’s the music I’ve been drawn to lately. Those songs are timeless, and that’s the type of music that I strive to create. I want to make timeless music. That’s one of those things that I’ve always said for myself. One of the reasons I started making records in the first place is to leave an impact on this world.
I’ve been fortunate enough to travel around the world and I remember there was this kid in Australia, who was like, “I really appreciate the work you did. Acid Rap changed my life.” I get that a lot. That record changed a lot of people’s lives. I’m starting to get that with these Noname records and these Smino records as well. That’s the type of impact I want to make.
There’s this great quote, “One of the scariest things in life is to live here on this Earth and to have only existed.” That’s my biggest fear in life. That’s why I wanted to get into music, because it’s had such an impact on my life, I wanted to do the same thing for everybody else in the world.
17. What new music have you been listening to lately?
I’ve been listening to this kid Lucky Daye. He’s really dope, just an amazing singer. Ari Lennox just released an incredible album.
I’m working on Xavier Omar’s new album right now, which is sounding incredible. Him and Sango are going crazy bringing R&B back with this album. It’s beautiful. I’m also working with this artist Uno Hype from the DMV. You can tell the amount of time that was put into his project, so I’m really looking forward to that coming out too.
18. What has changed most about your style or technique over the years?
Just paying more attention to detail and fine-tuning my ear. Ever since I’ve been able to work out of this room here at Classick, I’ve been learning the space. I’m learning these Barefoot Footprint speakers, courtesy of you guys at Vintage King, and my NS-10s. It took getting into my own treated environment to appreciate them because they really tell you the truth about your mix.
It’s just about being more knowledgeable about what I’m doing. Before I would just move knobs and faders until I felt like it sounded right. I mean, it’s still kind of the same process, but I trust myself more and I trust my ears more. I tell my assistants all the time, don’t use your eyes, just listen to it.
Just listen to the song, it will tell you what to do in terms of mixing. What I mean by that is, just critically listen to a record. It will tell you what a song needs and what it doesn’t need. It just jumps out at you, like the bass could come up, or the kick could come down. Just try to exaggerate the great things about the record and make it come to life if it isn’t already there.
19. What’s one piece of gear you can’t live without?
The SSL Sigma. I just got it earlier this year and I cannot live without this thing. When I first got it in, I ran one of my mixes through it and I almost cried. That’s the sound I’ve been chasing for so long. The detail, the space, everything just sounds great. I’ve been mostly in the box over the years, and now that I’m able to sum into such a great box like the SSL Sigma, it’s a game changer for me.
20. What’s one piece of advice you have for aspiring producers or engineers?
Learn as much as you can. Never stop learning. Even some of the top engineers and producers are still learning different ways to do things. And surround yourself with people who are just as driven as you are to keep learning.
The amount of inspiration that I get from being around my team here at the studio is huge. We’re always sharing and learning things from each other because we all want to be better. When we work together as a team, we want the best product to come out.
We really want to impact the music industry, and in order to do that, you need to learn. You need to have knowledge of how to do a lot of things. We study different kinds of music, everything from jazz to Latin music to early 2000s hip-hop. We’re just nerds about music. Sound is always evolving and we want to be ten steps ahead of the game.
So surround yourself with super-driven people, stay inspired, and never stop learning. That’s my advice.
Want to check out some of Elton "L10MixedIt" Chueng's work in the studio? Listen to the tracks below from Chance The Rapper, Smino, and Clairo.
Photo Credit: Michael Salisbury