Engineer Ethan Stevens’ Love for Music Led to Him Mixing Albums for Future and Gunna
Behind the Boards
Interview: Robby Seabrook III
Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in the Fall 2022 issue of XXL Magazine, on stands now.
A passion can easily become a career. Originally a high school rap producer who also engineered his friends’ sessions, Ethan Stevens did it for the love. After graduating from The Los Angeles Film School in 2013, the now-29-year-old California native turned his Paramount Studios internship into a job as an assistant engineer two years later. He then became Metro Boomin’s engineer in 2016. The two have been inseparable since, working on everything from the original Savage Mode with 21 Savage to Metro’s forthcoming album. Recently, Ethan talked about his road to success, believing in Gunna early on and engineering in Future’s kitchen.
How would you describe your role now?
When I first started working with [Metro Boomin], I’m recording, he’s producing and that’s about it. As our relationship started to build for the past two years, we’ve had our own rooms. We’re in the same building right now. He makes beats and I’m up here recording, mixing, arranging. I just maintain it and handle all the songs getting done and keeping track because Metro makes 10 beats a day.
How did you start working with Metro?
I had done my internship at Paramount. I was a runner. One of the clients Paramount had was DJ Mustard. I knew him very well, so he had me be his assistant engineer. Mustard had gone on tour. I was just kind of left behind. Metro booked the studio. I got put on his session and we were pretty much locked in. It progressed into Savage Mode. A lot of those songs were just 60 bars, no hooks, no verses. So, we spent months just listening to every single bar and arranging.
What was it like mixing Gunna’s DS4EVER?
Metro had introduced me to Gunna in 2017 and it was just like, “Yo! He’s hard.” And I thought he was hard, too, so I ended up just doing all of Drip Season 3 for free. [DS4EVER] is probably the first album that I did just completely by myself, as far as Metro wasn’t an executive on it. I would work on a mix and then the next morning I would walk my dog, I’d listen to it in EarPods. Listen to it on over the ears. I’d listen to it on a Beats Pill. Then when I’d go to the studio. I knew what I need to tweak. I just kept doing that every single day. I just lived with it.
You also worked on Future’s I Never Liked You, his highest-selling album yet. How did you get involved with that project?
Future is just one of the realest people I’ve ever met. I worked with him a few times over the years, but this past year, I had started recording him a little bit more. I was at Future’s house a lot while I was finishing the DS4 album. I finished “Pussy Power” in Future’s kitchen. He was like, “Yo, I want you to mix my album.” I was like, “For sure, man. I’d love to.”
Read Ethan Stevens' interview in the 25th anniversary issue of XXL magazine, on newsstands now. Check out additional interviews in the magazine, including our cover story with Eminem, plus conversations with Bobby Shmurda, Yung Miami, JID, GloRilla, Yvngxchris, Sleazyworld Go, Jim Jones, Symba, Reason, Stunna Gambino, Styles P, Jim Jones, singer Jessie Reyez, actor Trevante Rhodes and music executive Katina Bynum. The issue also includes a deep dive into a narrative piece on the U.S. court systems' battle against rap lyrics, rappers’ longstanding connection to anime, the renewed interest music supervisors have in placing 1990’s hip-hop in today’s lauded TV series and the 254 past covers in XXL history.