Billboard interviewed Anthony Kilhoffer, who engineered the bulk of the album, mixed bits of pieces, and helped to produce a few tracks. As he explains, “I was in the studio every day with Kanye, as he was travelling the world picking up things from other producers to develop ideas.”
The whole article is an interesting dive into the album, through the recollections of someone who has been involved in all seven of Kanye West’s studio records, plus various other projects.
The most interesting section explains how there were over 75 mixes made for ‘Stronger’, as Kanye and co-producer Jon Brion worked with a bank of producers to achieve the perfect sound.
“He probably had eight to ten different mixing engineers on the song”, Kilhoffer explains. “I’d say there’s ten a piece to each mixer. I know I mixed that song for two weeks straight every day, and that was after it had been mixed by five other engineers. Then we mixed it for another week, and Jon Brion suggested if we wanted a dirty sound, to run it all through the cassette deck and bust it back through the board. We were trying all different kinds of non-traditional methods to get to the final version.
“He was taking it out of the studio and playing it in clubs to see how people would respond. It was also a different era in music, mixing on a desk, and it was the beginning of Pro Tools dominating in the studio. It was difficult finding where it was going to fit in, whether it was going to be hip-hop or electronic.”
The experimentation paid off, as the single became Kanye’s third Billboard #1. Despite the toil, the initial spark took all of five minutes to go from idea to reality.
“[Kanye’s early manager] Plain Pat said, ‘You can’t flip this. It’s not going to work.’ Pat was highly skeptical. At the end of the day, [Kanye] cooked up ‘Stronger’ in five minutes, and it was quite a departure from the boom-bap Kanye West production, and the beginning of experimenting with other albums.”