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When Cory Litwin joined Neil Jacobson’s writer-producer management agency, Hallwood Media, as executive VP two years ago, he brought with him a known quantity: Canadian hitmaker Murda Beatz, whose enviable streak of success in hip-hop includes production work with Drake, Migos and Cardi B. 

That Beatz cut his teeth while staring down a computer screen was not lost on Litwin, and the exec is expanding his role to serve what he thinks is a growing and underserved area in the music industry: audio engineers.

“Engineers are the new rock stars,” says Litwin, who is based in Los Angeles. “They’re collaborating with producers on beats to get the track ready for the artist, and they’re making sure the artist records on that beat and sounds good on it. Once the track is done, they help the artist push it onto final album track lists. They’re more like producers now, or they take on an A&R role.”

Litwin and his team — Brennen Bryant and Daniel Berkeley-Scott — have been busy beefing up their roster of engineer clients, which includes Jason “Cheese” Goldberg (known mostly for his work with YoungBoy Never Broke Again), Nickie Jon Pabón (Jack Harlow’s audio engineer and live-audio specialist, who shares in the rapper’s three Grammy nominations), Angie Randisi (from OVO’s SOTA Studios, where she worked under Noah “40” Shebib and now is a Lil Baby go-to) and Christopher Haynes, who goes by Miyagi and whose credits include PnB Rock and Jeremih. 

Most audio engineers are paid a day rate, but Litwin believes they are entitled to a lot more than a work-for-hire fee — they deserve participatory rights, too, which, for a hit song, could mean six-figure payouts. 

“A big part of our job is talking to the other producer-managers and publishers and educating them on the expanding role of engineers,” Litwin says. “We are telling these engineers, ‘You don’t need to talk about splits and money and all that stuff; we will deal with that.’ So we handle the business side for them, and they can do what they do best in the studio.”

Top engineers like Goldberg are relieved to have someone else handle high-level negotiations. “For me, it’s just about the music,” says the 38-year-old, who is based out of Santa Barbara. “You have to make sure the sound is in line with where the artist is at, and then help that process. That’s kind of why I think the engineer has evolved: It’s about the creative process, start to finish, and about feeling energies in a room and where the artist is at. Engineering today is about collecting music and communicating about where we want to go. And then making sure that all the stuff we do in the session — the recording, mixing and mastering — goes smoothly. As an engineer, you’re essentially the captain of a ship.”

For Goldberg and his management team, that ship has been sailing steadily and mightily for the past year or so — Goldberg has released more than 100 songs with YoungBoy Never Broke Again in 2022 alone. He was credited as a co-writer and producer on several songs on the rapper’s album “The Last Slimeto.”

“Every producer now knows that Jason Goldberg is a collaborator,” explains Litwin. “He will take a beat, critique the beat and tell a producer how the intro will be. Therefore, he deserves a percentage of publishing.”

Pabón, too, has proven his worth to the greater project, sharing in Harlow’s Grammy noms for rap song, melodic rap performance and rap album. “Jack and I have been working together for almost five years,” he says. “I couldn’t ask for a better person and artist to share this growth with.”

That audio engineers have especially close relationships with artists has become an increasingly key access point for managers and A&R reps hoping to get beats and songs to a specific act,  supplanting or even replacing traditional A&Rs. 

“What we have found is that the engineer knows what the artist wants better than anyone,” Litwin says. “They know which type of beats to record on, and they know when rappers are tired of a particular sound.” 

For Goldberg, who paid his dues at several Los Angeles-area studios, including Santa Monica’s Windmark Recording, fear of financial failure used to be one of his primary motivators. But that’s not true anymore. 

“A big part of my career path was this voice in the back of my head that said, ‘If I can’t do it, they will find someone else who will,’ ” he says. “YoungBoy and I have a really strong relationship. I’m invested not only in his sound and his musical progression as an artist, but I’m committed to what we’re doing together.” 

Pictured (from left): Jason “Cheese” Goldberg, Cory Litwin, Angie Randisi and Christopher “Miyagi” Haynes.

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