Grammy-Winning Engineer Manny Marroquin on Working With Mac Miller, What Makes Post Malone So Unique
Surpassing cumulative sales of 250 million records globally, listeners might assume mixing engineer Manny Marroquin is preparing to retire after two decades of musical excellence. Yet with a discography that boasts names like, Bruno Mars, 2Pac, John Legend and Nas and has garnered eight Grammy awards, Marroquin's last year of musicianship puts him in position for more accolades than ever before.
The Guatemala-born, Los Angeles-raised mogul is a two-time contender in the best engineered album, non-classical category at the 2019 Grammy Awards. Additionally, Marroquin’s work is eligible for two of the evening's highest honors, as Post Malone's Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 "rockstar" is up for record of the year and his Billboard 200-crowning LP beerbongs and bentleys is nominated for album of the year. Still, perhaps the evening’s most humbling recognition will arrive in memory of a collaborator Marroquin considered "family": Mac Miller.
The late Pittsburgh MC earned his first-ever Grammy nomination posthumously, for best rap album, with his final album, Swimming. "For me, it is bittersweet. ... It hit a lot of people hard and me because as a human being, [Mac] was a really special person. As a musician, he was a very underrated artist," Marroquin explained.
Billboard connected with the chart-topping engineer to discuss his contributions to upward of 40 No. 1 Billboad 200 albums, what he has en route alongside BMG, working with music's biggest icons and beyond.
Your family moved to Los Angeles, California when you were nine years old due to the Guatemalan Civil War. At that point, what did the American dream mean to you -- was it always music?
It is funny because when my mom [took us] on a plane to LA, we were supposed to be here on vacation. She promised us a trip to Disneyland. So, whenever a day gets hard in the studio or anything, I always say I am still on vacation. [Laughs] So, it can't be that bad.
For me, it was not even about the American dream. It was like, “Let's got to Disneyland. Come on!” That was definitely the American dream. I got into music because there was always music around with my family. My mom sang and played in a band with my uncles. Music was a huge part of our culture and household. I started playing drums as I saw my family members do, around [the age of] 12.
I really, really enjoyed it. I would not say I grew up in the tough streets of LA because I am sure there is always [somewhere] tougher. Still, I grew up [around] the gang culture in LA. I think that wasn't me. [Laughs] So, I was looking for a way out. Music was definitely the way to avoid certain crowds. Also, when I say music saved my life I truly believe that. [Laughs]
At present, you are known as an eight-time GRAMMY-award winning mixing engineer. What your avid listeners may not know is that your journey began at Enterprise Studios as a runner. Describe your hustle towards becoming the man with one hundred Top 10 albums on the Billboard 200.
You know, I do not see things that I don't think about when I work on mixing. I do not think about Grammys, obviously. I do not think about the charts. I honestly take it from a very basic approach. The artist or producer comes to me to work on their baby. That is what I always say. I am an expensive babysitter. [Laughs]
Whenever they come, I try getting into their mind, whether that means talking to them, or even the music [will] speak for itself. I try to understand what their vision is. It is never about me. [The process] is never about my sound or what I can bring to the table. It is always about how I can [create a moment,] whether it is a song that makes you cry, dance, sing-along, or whatever that true emotion is: (a) I am trying not to fuck it up, and (b), I am just trying to make sure it sounds like what they envisioned. [Laughs]
But, I never think about a sound. That is kind of interesting because I am dealing with what most people perceive as a technical field. I feel it is more of a creative field with technological tools. But what we are trying to do is create that emotion that the artist once had. So, I focus subconsciously on that. Thus, the ten thousand hours I used to look at [something in the studio], is what, thirty thousand now? [Laughs]
Alongside Post Malone, you were Grammy nominated for “record of the year” with “rockstar” and “album of the year” for beerbongs & bentleys. Creatively, how was it collaborating towards two of the Grammy's highest honors?
You know, I heard -- and I have been working with Post for a long time now -- [but] he has a great team around him. He has Louis Bell which is his engineer/producer. Post has Frank Dukes. That is another amazing producer. He has a tremendous A&R team. And, I have been touching his music for years. So, doing this new album, I remember something was really special about it.
Also, I remember being in a different country when I got a call from the A&R, Rob Stevenson. [He said,] "Hey, man! We've got the new Post album." I have always been a Post Malone fan from day one, even from "White Iverson." So, something felt different about these songs, especially, "rockstar." The moment I brought up the faders I knew, my gut told me that it just felt right.
In today's world, I don't even know what genre he is. He is one of the only artists where you can not pin him down. I call it genreless music. You know? Nowadays, [people question,] “Is it hip-hop? Yes. Is it alternative? Yes. Is it kind of rock? Yes. Is it pop? Yes.”
I mean you could say "yes" to all of them. So that is exciting for me. If you look at my discography, I do not just do either R&B or pop. I do hip-hop, rock, and actually, I tend to do a little bit of everything. So, that is almost like an ideal artist for someone like myself -- where I can bring my alternative knowledge into the studio. I carry a pop sensibility, too, so it can compete with the Ariana Grande's of the world. And, it also had this cool hip-hop element to it. That is my background, mixing hip-hop.
It was a match made in heaven when I really went deep into the album. [I said,] "Oh, this is something that I had not heard before." I have heard elements of it in other people's music, but not all at once. The incredible thing is that [creating with Post Malone] is not forced. It is organic.
Particularly, how does it feel to be a contender in 2019 for "best rap album" with Mac Miller’s Swimming, among other nominations?
Yeah, that is a tough one. That nomination is a really tough one. Mac and I got to spend a lot of time in the studio. I got to know Mac well, personally, and creatively. So, when I heard the news [of him passing] as you can imagine, it was beyond devastating. It was like losing a family member.
I am sure if you ask anybody that knew him or even read about him, I think everybody feels that same way. Unfortunately, we recognize stuff like this when [someone] is no longer with us. He walked in a room, and there was just this light [that let you know] he walked in. If you were having a bad day, he would make your day much better. He definitely had a talent that we cannot even describe.
So, for me, it is bittersweet, because when we were doing the album, it [became] a very musical album. People who did not know Mac had no idea, he was a very artistic guy. Even before I worked with him, I did not realize he was that musical.
His musical journey really shows. This album proves that. I hope that this album got nominated because of its' quality. I remember working on it thinking, "Wow! This is such an amazing hip-hop album." The fact that it got nominated is great, but I hope people listen to what it really is.
So, that was tough. I miss the guy. It hit me and hit a lot of people hard because as a human being, he was a really special person. As a musician, he was a very underrated artist. He should have been much, much; I don't know... bigger. Yes, he should have been a lot bigger than what he was at the time -- based on how talented he really was.
Your discography is overwhelming. Among your 14 No. 1’s on the Billboard Hot 100, from this, are there three sessions that were exceptionally memorable?
That is like asking, "So, you have ten kids -- which one is your favorite?" [Laughs] That is like impossible to answer. You know there are certain [scenarios]. Gosh! I do not know if I have an answer to that, because I honestly try to say that I respect every artist, whether I like them personally or not. I feel like the energy you put out is the energy you get.
Thankfully, I would have a boring book if I ever decided to write one. My experiences, ninety-five percent of them have been super positive. When you get people with the same common goal, I feel like ninety percent of the time it is drama-free.
It is collaborative in a productive way. It is more good than it is bad. So, if I named three, it would be unfair to the others that were equally as keyed up. So, it is weird. It is hard to pick three sessions that stand out. I can think of one hundred just now. [Laughs]
Earlier this year, you partnered with your longtime collaborator Malay to launch Britannia Row Recordings with BMG. What can we anticipate from you in this role?
This new role is sort of [starting a new] label with my good friend Malay. In football, there was a play where [we] called, "slash." [The player] would do anything that the coach needed him to do. [Laughs] I feel like my role at BMG is a "slash." Obviously, I mix stuff.
Still, I also oversee A&R. Malay may have questions about songs, sounds, or direction. So, I am acting as an A&R. I am serving as an executive. It is a position that I was not able to make before as far as budgetary reasons or creative reasons.
Sometimes I am a co-producer. Sometimes I connect songwriters with other producers. There are other times I am looking for new artists. So, it is really what I envisioned if I ever got a label -- to sign stuff that we are proud of. We push stuff that we care about, and not only musically, but as people, too. Hopefully, we can help some careers get to another level.
My infrastructure at Larrabee [Studios] allows us to do that. At Larrabee, we have a total of seven studios. Some of the [new] stuff, for example, Johnnyswim, is a great band. We just finished the album. We are dropping the single next week. It was created, recorded, mixed, mastered, and produced all in-house.
Also, I am working on a restaurant venue concert that is right next to Larrabee Studios. Now, not only will we be able to create from beginning to end. They will be able to perform. We can capture the live performance and put it on vinyl. That was always a dream of mine, to have the ability to create things like that -- based on things that I really like and want to be a part of.
With accumulative sales approaching 250 million records, what do you feel is left to accomplish in music?
For myself, having my music venue that [will] hopefully [be] open this summer. I think, also, helping on the live sound [with artists]. I want to explore that world where live recordings are essential and important -- especially in the future.
I want to keep mixing records. That is still [exciting]. It does not matter if the records I have worked on have sold [an upward of] five, five million, or 500 million. I still really enjoy that process. Also, establishing work with the label -- I want to keep building catalogs.
[I intend to] continue the collection of artists that we are all proud of. So, those are the things that I am really focusing on in the future. Keep mixing. Hopefully, my venue will be successful, and we can keep signing artists that will make an impact.