Philip Tan has mixed and/or recorded 23 singles which have reached number ONE on Billboard’s Hot 100 charts. Some of the artists upon his list of credits include: Rihanna, Mariah Carey, Gwen Stefani, Jay-Z, Jennifer Hudson, Janet Jackson, Ne-Yo, Leona Lewis, Snoop Dogg, Usher, Corinne Bailey Rae, Enrique Iglesias, Ciara, Alicia Keys, Jermaine Dupri, Outkast, Aretha Franklin, Nelly..Ok that’s just a few but surely you’re starting to get the idea here ??
Philip Tan is one of the most succesful mixing engineers in American music today.
I recently had the chance to find out more about the man who decided to skip Berklee & whose make out philosophy could never be summed up in a typical 3 minute 15 second pop song.
Five Quick Stats With Engineer Philip Tan
1. Wallflower on the dance floor or Drop it Like It’s HOT?
Wallflower, sadly. Cursed with two left feet.
2. Favorite shoes or barefoot beneath the console?
No shoes, but with comfy socks!
3. Best Make Out Song ever written??
Just one?? Make Out session’s gotta last longer than one song, no? Jeff Buckley’s “Hallelujah,” Miles Davis’ “Flamenco Sketches,” Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On,” Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game,” Prince’s “Adore,” “Lady Cab Driver,” “International Lover,” Lenny Kravitz’s “It Ain’t Over Over ‘Til It’s Over,” all of D’angelo’s “Brown Sugar” album, except maybe “Shit, Damn, Motherfucker” (although it does feel kinda sexy) …
4. Atlanta does ________ better. SWEET TEA I wuz originally gonna say strip clubs …
If I had not grown up to be an engineer I surely would have been a _________. CO
MIC BOOK WRITER/ARTIST
Or perhaps a teacher. Hard to say, really. I’m rarely absolutely positively certain of much …
A staggering 250 million records sold in the US alone, you are one of the most successful Urban mixing Engineers of all time. Can you tell us a bit about your beginnings? Was there a defining moment when you knew that your life’s work would be making music?
Left home at 17. Supposed to get a degree, find job, marry a nice girl, have 2.3 kids etc. Didn’t quite work out that way (except for the marry a nice girl part - yay!). Got bored in college. Engaged in much unproductive extracurricular activities. My sis and her husband saw this, sat me down one day and had a Come to Jesus moment with me (THIS was probably the defining moment). I did a bit of soul searching and decided I wanted my life to be fun. Came down to art or music. Music won out because I didn’t always feel like drawing/painting/designing, but I’m always listening to music. Got accepted to Berklee (very happy) but couldn’t afford it (very sad). Decided to go to Full Sail instead. At the time their recording arts program was only 8 months. Came to Atlanta in 1990 for an internship at Soundscape Studios. Mainly because no studio owner/manager at any other studio I called would have me. There I met Jermaine Dupri, LA Reid, Rico Wade and Organized Noize, Outkast, Dallas Austin and several others I still work with to this day.
You are known as an independent trail blazer, but did you have mentors in the industry who helped you along the pathway?
My sisters. They were the ones who supported my decision to leave college and pursue an “alternative” career path - not well-received by my parents. I am also forever thankful to Jon Marrett and his wife Nancy, owners of the aforementioned Soundscape Studios for the opportunity they provided me. Jermaine Dupri, for believing I could do the job. He’s probably the biggest reason I have a career in music. Diane McDonald (who basically ran So So Def till 2010) for her grace under pressure and always being the sane, reasonable one. The engineers I learned from along the way - Darin Prindle, Rick Sheppard, Thom Kidd and Neal Pogue, in particular. And of course, my wife Lesley, who keeps my world rockin!
3 Grammy’s & countless accolades including an induction into the Full sail University Hall of Fame. Does all of the recognition help to motivate your process?
It’s nice to be appreciated but I’m not driven by it - not something I have any control over. Just never been someone who needs a pat on the back.
Mixing top selling albums by Rihanna, Mariah Carey, Ne-Yo, Ludacris, Usher, and Janelle Monae, were you always a lover of the Urban sound? What style music do you relax to when the lights have been turned down in the studio & it’s time to go home?
I do love urban music but I listen to all kinds. My most listened to albums include Tool’s “10,000 Days,” Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue,” Depeche Mode’s “Violator,” Peter Gabriel’s “Up” and “Us,” Massive Attack’s “Mezzanine,” Radiohead’s “OK Computer,” “In Rainbows” and “Amnesiac,” Any Prince album from the ‘80’s, MJ’s “Off the Wall,” soundtrack to “A Nightmare Before Christmas,” Keane’s “Under the Iron Sea,” Rage Against the Machine’s first 3 albums, Bjork’s “Debut,” “Post” and “Homogenic,” Dire Straits’ “Brothers in Arms,” Led Zeppelin I & II, The Police’s “Synchronicity” and Fiona Apple’s “Tidal.” I could go on and on, really …
What fabulosity are you up to currently?
Ooh, fabulosity … such a fancy word. I am currently mixing songs from Jill Scott’s upcoming album. Could be just me, but there can’t be too many better ways to spend the day than listening to Jill sing …
Absolutely Agreed Phil!!
Thanks for an amazing interview & for fabulous music.
All I can really say is Berklee’s Loss