Goh Hotoda, 47, is a world-famous mix engineer whose Midas touch has produced many gold and platinum albums, including two Grammy winners. When Madonna conceived of the album “Erotica,” she had mixers Shep Pettibone and Hotoda deliver the cut that made it a major hit. The trio’s brilliant reconception of her songs on “Immaculate Collection” helped that album shift some 30 million copies. Hotoda mixed her “Vogue” single, too, and his incredible gift for creating master mixes can also be heard on Janet Jackson’s “Rhythm Nation,” David Sanborn’s “Inside,” as well as on albums that sold 12 million units for Hikaru Utada. Hotoda also worked his magic on songs for Ryuichi Sakamoto, Prince, Mariah Carey and Ray Charles, while in private he put a spell on pop star Nokko. The two live in quiet harmony with their greatest achievement and best mix, daughter Kano..
When you find the right person, you don’t have many questions left. Just answers, and they all sound good.
It’s natural that CDs don’t sell anymore. The audience wants to get their hands on the core of a musician’s work, which might be just 35 seconds of one song. That is the most they can expect people to listen to, very much like buying one cigarette as opposed to a whole pack (which used to happen many years ago). The difference is that the idea of selling one cigarette was struck upon because people didn’t have enough money for more than one smoke while now we sample things because we want to try new things and pick the best of everything.
Balance is crucial for long-term success. Talent alone will not do. Business acumen is necessary, too. I was lucky to have worked with Madonna when she was already a superstar and I was still just a work in progress. She is extremely hardworking and diligent, very much in the tradition of a ryokan okamisan (the manageress of a traditional Japanese inn). She is on top of everything and after a long day at the studio, while we were all ready to hit the sack, she was still going through invoices. She controls every aspect of her career, and that frees her from parasites.
Simple is better. Demo tapes are sketches, and they are often better than the later, mixed versions.
Negative criticism can be a great compliment. I mixed the French star Faudel’s second album, but the critic in Le Monde newspaper couldn’t understand why an Algerian-French musician would hire a Japanese from New York to mix a Rai (Bedouin folk music mixed with Arabic poetry) album. For me it was obvious: Music is borderless and we are all equal when it comes to our right to play whatever we like. My work has no national identity or sound, so I can work in many genres.
Balance comes with age. When I was young, I could only concentrate on one thing at a time, and it mostly involved music. I was hungry and wanted to succeed. Now I am calm and can manage both my work and private life. I found an equilibrium.
Japan is a great country in which to raise children. I know because I’ve lived abroad for most of my life. We moved to the United States when I was 11. I became a U.S. citizen, and since then I have lived most of my life there until I came back to Tokyo in 2005. It was great fun but I wouldn’t want to raise a child there, nor in Paris, where I spent three years. Both countries have a system failure: The U.S. has true capitalism, so people work themselves to death, while France is totally socialist, therefore nobody works. Luckily, Japan has a balanced mix of capitalism and socialism.
The last mix is always my best to date, but I already know that the next is going to be even better. This is true for music and cooking: Yesterday I caught a beautiful tuna, about 60-cm long and weighing 4 kg, and we ate it all from head to tail. We grow our own vegetables so we have ingredients, such as herbs, not normally available in Japanese stores. I mix some music, cook some food and play with the kid: Our lives are engineered to perfection.
Music mixing is a solitary occupation now. I don’t have to fly and meet musicians anymore; files land in my computer effortlessly and I mix them in my studio by myself. Before I flew so much that I had a recurring nightmare of being buried in the first-class section of a plane as it reminded me of a casket. I flew from New York to Paris, mixed songs, went on to Tokyo, worked here, then to Beirut and Casablanca to produce music there. Now all I need is my home studio and I am in business.
A wife’s job is to make her husband work harder. Nokko is doing very well there. She is an icon, and I hang onto her for dear life.
If Japanese children study English early on, they lose more than what they gain. Japanese is too complicated a language so kids must spend a lot more time mastering it than today’s public education allows them to. I am convinced that Japanese elementary children must study Japanese and math instead of English. They can easily master English in high school.
Be nice to everyone because you never know whom you might end up marrying. I knew Nokko for about 15 years, but we had a strictly professional relationship. I was 40 when the penny finally dropped and it was only then that my instincts told me this was my call. I invited her for dinner and between the main dish and dessert I asked her to marry me. I guess she was calling me all along but there was too much noise before to hear her voice.
If your primary goal is to be loved, instead of loving another person, it is not the right time to look for a partner. You are not ready because it’s not that you love but how you do it that matters. Conditions change daily and we must adjust to them while keeping the harmony between us. This requires unconditional love for the other person so we can stick with them no matter what happens.
Being copied is the ultimate sign of success. Once I mix a truly original sound, like Hikaru Utada’s was when her first CD came out, soon tons of copies start flooding the market. They are singers who imitate the original hitmaker and some of them ask me to mix their music, too. Of course I can’t. I turn down more projects than I accept because I don’t want any conflict. If a mix is copied for the next 10 years, we know it was good.
Talent used to be enough to sell itself, but now stars are made thanks to smart marketing. Japanese music is a brilliantly packaged product that goes beyond the music. Singers are tarento (media personalities) who are used to sell products, and CD sales are just the necessary step to get fat advertising contracts. This is why Japanese musicians must release a new song almost every month, to keep the advertising machine going at full speed.
As we age, it’s harder to be impressed. I find that I look for something new every time I hear a song, but often the way something sounds is the way it really should sound. My job is to make it more interesting and more layered while not doing too much to mess up the original. That is my goal and, luckily, I usually hit the spot.
Judit Kawaguchi loves to listen. She is a volunteer counselor and a TV reporter on NHK’s Out and About. Learn more at: juditfan.blog58.fc2.com/
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