What does the term ‘producer’ actually mean in a musical sense? As producer Paul Epworth (who’s in this list) explains, “The term 'producer' bundles together a lot of very different roles, even down to being a project manager, to a vocal coach to a guitar tech. All of those things could come under the umbrella of a producer.”
Loose isn’t it? If you think back to those albums that have a really unique holistic sound and have made you preach clench-fisted to friends something along the lines of, “I can’t put my finger on it, but that whole album just had this epic… vibe” then you should check the production credits, as there in lies the unsung hero.
The importance of a good producer & audio engineer (sometimes they’re one in the same) is obvious when you hear of the great lengths bands go to to select the right one. But all too often we don’t hear too much else, hence the reason for this article.
Here are a mix of 10 different producers & audio engineers, some well known, some on the up and up – all of who are using really interesting techniques to puzzle together the music that changes our lives. Ooh heavy.
Check it out….
Starting out as a the bass player for Mercury Rev (who some of you might have seen at Harvest Festival last year), Dave is probably best known internationally for his work with The Flaming Lips, he received Grammy for At War With The Mystics
, but he’s actually been with them all the way through from In a Priest Driven Ambulance
(1990) an locally for us for his work on both of Tame Impala’s albums: the ground-breaking Innerspeaker
(2010) and their new one Lonerism
out in October. He has this way of layering up and blowing out each instrument’s sound so it swallows you.
Here’s what he had to say about working with the Lips, “It isn'’t so much a sonic thing as creating something ethereal, or simply an art project. Listen to this, and hopefully you’re going to feel like you're on drugs. Elements of the production are live, some are not. It’s like how [Miles Davis''] In A Silent Way was all edited together. In some ways you don’t know what the final result is going to be until it’s done.” (Electronic Musician, 2011). Dealing often with a sound that lends itself to a historical era in the 60’s & 70’s, you must have to be a real visionary to push it into the future. Damn I would love to pick his brain… and his black book.
Artists worked with: MGMT, Mogwai, Neon Indian, The Cribs, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Sparklehorse, Mercury Rev, The Flaming Lips, OK Go.
Ben H. Allen
Remember Gnarls Barkley’s killer hit single “Crazy”? – this guy was behind it. Ben funnily enough started off working his way up the ranks in the 90’s with artists on Bad Boy Records: P-diddy, Mase, Lil’ Kim etc before going underground, opening his own studio, “Maze” back in Georgia and recording with more avante guarde hip hop artists. It was after he earned all this cred that he started working with Cee lo Green & tracks like “Crazy” were born. Remember how popular that track was, but it had real gravel & depth to it? Well … it was that edge that led him to be selected by Animal Collective to work on Merriweather Post Pavilion and on Deerhunter’s Halcyon Digest, two of the most oddly textured and critically acclaimed albums of the last 5 years (2 of my favourite albums of ALL time). As AC's Brian Weltz explains, "he seemed to be somebody that technically knew how to work in urban hip-hop, but was open-minded to other styles as well".
Fun Fact: Animal Collective tracked almost every sound on Merriweather Post Pavilion on its own channel so they could have complete control over it. That’s impressive. Ben also produced Cut Copy’s Zonoscope & Animal Collective’s most recent release Centipede Hz.
Artists worked with: Gnarls Barkley, MIA, Matt & Kim, Deerhunter, Animal Collective, Washed Out, Cut Copy, Bombay Bicycle Club, Lenka
This guy has worked on so many different big names with different styles: Wyclef Jean to The Rapture for example, I can only think that he must work incredibly closely with each artist to really help them achieve their desired sound. There’s been a few albums in the past decade who’ve really changed the market in terms of instigating 'a new sound’ and Bloc Party’s Silent Alarm would have to be one. The raw live sound of the guitar riffs – you can hear the edge of each string ring as they're strummed - balanced out with heavy snares on top of really sharp kick drum: Paul mastered it in the recording. This is an old quote from a Sound On Sound interview back in 2009, but I just love what he says here:
"I'm a real sucker for getting a really good live take. Even if you replace everything, I'll still always work to get that live take that's really exciting. Because it's the way I always worked in the past, because I never had the luxury of time, I had to try and capture as much as I could in one sitting, I feel like if you capture that energy on a drum track, you can overdub the guitars and everything else to slot in, because you've got four people in the room and their energy's in the drum ambiance. If you do everything separately, the musicians are too busy thinking about playing to the click or playing to the parts, rather than just letting themselves go and playing 'above what they know'.
He’s currently working on Azealia Bank’s new album too… seems to know how to pick a breaking artist.
Artists worked with: Friendly Fires, Plan B, Florence + the Machine, The Big Pink, Adele, Foster the People, Sam Sparro, Babyshambles, Holy Fuck, Primal Sceam, The Futureheads
If you can think of any of the cool new Aussie indie bands that have emerged in recent years, there’s no doubt Jean-Paul Fung has had a hand in their cut through. Take Last Dinosaur’s In A Million Years for example; there’s a magic in the way that album sounds from cover to cover that has to have happened at the desk. The static-y sound of rhythm guitars on top of really clean, crisp sounding drums and the slight reverb in frontman Sean’s vocals just elicit this really warm, summery tone. He ‘s really managed to bring out the best in the band. Here's what he had to say about the process...
"We spent about a month on pre-production; writing songs, workshopping songs, experimenting with tones - not stopping until everyone involved was 100% happy with the album we were about to make.The individual drums for the single 'Zoom' were recorded separately; we would do a pass of just kick and snare, then high-hats, then toms and then cymbals. This allowed me to manipulate the drums as little or as much as I wanted - sonically and performance wise. Sean came back to my home studio on the Central Coast to finish off the vocals for the album. We spent a lot of time workshopping the lyrics, melodies and performances. All of Sean's vocals were recorded through a Shure SM7b and heavily compressed with a Retro 176."
Jean-Paul Fung started out at no-longer-existing BJB studios in Surry Hills assisting Scott Horscroft (he notably mixed The Presets Apocalypso) but now flies solo. Currently he’s working on Glass Towers' new album after their first single “Jumanji” got some heavy spins earlier this year. I’m also super impressed he was the engineer/producer on Steve Smyth’s new album Release (he was in our Top 20 Artists To Watch in 2012) as his style of blues is totally different to any of the other bands he’s worked with.
Artists worked with: Papa Vs Pretty, Josh Pyke, Little Red, Art Vs Science, Birds of Tokyo, Leader Cheetah, Bluejuice, Steve Smyth, My Disco, Phrase.
If you’re a diehard Radiohead fan – and let’s face it, you either are or you aren’t – then you’ll know this guy. Nigel has worked with the band on every album post-The Bends (1995) aside from a couple of specific tracks, he also produced Thom Yorke’s solo album The Eraser and plays in & producers his new collaborative project Atoms for Peace (check out their new single “Default”). He’s known for his work with the band in embracing the experimental – which if you think about it – is the reason Radiohead are the band they are today. Here's what he had to say about recording OK Computer (1997) "The idea was to get them while they were still developing the songs, to capture them before they got stale. Sometimes they needed a bit more working out and we got better versions of them later on." On top of everything else, Nigel pioneered this new project From the Basement where he brings in friends eg. Some of the best bands this world has ever seen and shoots them performing in an intimate setting without any commercial interference. I have literally wasted DAYS on this site – check it out here. His name also appears in the liner notes of all these artists...
Artists worked with: Beck, Here We Go Magic, The Beta Band, Pavement, Air, Travis, Four Tet, Zero 7, Orbital, Paul Oakenfeld
Jamie xx (Jamie Smith)
Everyone knows The xx right? You’d be right in thinking Jamie xx produced their debut album xx, a fairly daring move for a band not to enlist the help of seasoned professionals having not had any cut through yet. One that payed off! The band and Jaime both made names for themselves in the same breath. After their album went platinum in the UK, Jaime went to work on remixing the iconic Gil Scott Heron’s album I’m New Here re-released as We’re New Here as well as a bunch of big-name remixes – his re-work of Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” is better than the original in my book. He just has this knack for ripping what you’d think is ‘the guts’ of a track and spacing it out with off-beats, reverbed cow-bell samples and pulses of hollow keys – and it works! He also produced the killer title track “Take Care” off Drake’s latest release, which was almost a re-work of one of his Gil-Scott Heron re-works. It’s too confusing so I’ve posted both for you below.
Simon Berkelman (Berkfinger) – Audio Engineer
If you in a band in Australia who’ve at the very least toyed with recording an album, chances are you know this man; most likely by his nick name Berkfinger. Simon used to be one half of that cheeky indie rock duo (trio including a host of different drummers) Philadelphia Grand Jury. But he’s an audio engineer by trade who’s worked in London & now goes back and forth from Australian to Berlin where he’s set up a studio. On top of working with the below bands, he’s just written, recorded & produced a new album under a new moniker “Feelings”, featuring Dan W. from Art Vs Science on Drums and Dave Rennick from Dappled Cites. His first single ‘One in a Million’ is out now, have a listen below. I don’t know Simon personally, but everyone I know who does says the same things about him – “he’s just such an awesome and talented guy”. You could probably add workaholic to that list…
Artists worked with: Art vs Science, Hungary Kids of Hungary, Cloud Control, Dappled Cities, Deep Sea Arcade, Sarah Blasko, Silverchair, Sparkadia, The Temper Trap, Van She, Wolfmother, Architecture in Helsinki, Seabellies.
Name sound familiar? Dave is not only a killer record producer who has worked with everyone, from the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s to Santigold, he’s also TV on the Radio’s guitarist and the head of his own side project Maximum Balloon. He even played bass for some tracks on Jane’s Addiction’s release of last year The Great Escape Artist
. Here’s what Dave Navarro had to say “Dave has been co-producing with Rich Costey, and he's been a pivotal part of the writing process for these sessions. He's an amazing person to work with." Apparently Dave mostly uses analog synths and hardware or plugins which create the same kind of sound. Oh and he’s also a painter & photographer.
Artists worked with: TV on the Radio, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Liars, Foals (although they rejected his Antidotes mix), Santigold, Nine Inch Nails, Little Dragon, Telepathe.
I often wonder if Chris’s parents knew he was a child prodigy at an early age. He’s a multi-instrumentalist in the band Grizzly Bear of course, he co-fouded his own record label, Terrible Records home to the experimental sounds of Kindness, Chairlift, Blood Orange etc and he producers a lot of the work of the artists on his label as well as Grizzly Bear’s own material (Yellow House onwards) AND he has his own side project CANT (Dreams Come True was one of my favourite albums of last year). You know that complex layering of instruments Grizzly Bear seem to achieve in production, that give their tracks an almost orchestral sound? Chris is responsible. Fellow Grizzly member Ed Droste said this about it, "One time he put the microphone at the top of the stairwell and had our amp in the other room and recorded a really distant, hot signal and had a lot of white noise with it…. There're a lot of different techniques that he [Chris] had that I was totally clueless about."
He achieved a similar effect with a heavier focus on synth & samples on his solo album Dreams Come True, and on Twin Shadow’s debut release Forget…. They both have a similar dark pop vibe. Have a listen to both below…
Artists worked with: Grizzly Bear, The Morning Benders, Dirty Projectors, Twin Shadow
Chris started out as a drummer and you can understand him having the belief that “The whole record starts with the foundation that a good drum track provides.” It makes sense when you think about the drums on the albums he has produced, like both of Passion Pit’s: Manners (2009) & Gossamer (2012) where the drums sound live but their actually samples fed back through the desk,
“It’s really straight, there’s no release, there’s no decay. It’s all choppy and all over the place…. There are tons of moments on the Passion Pit record (Manners) where you’re boppin’ along, thinking that it’s a real drummer playing and all of a sudden, the pitch drops two octaves and it stops and you think, “Wait, what is that?” (Tape Op Interview).
He ‘s worked with such an odd variety of musicians who like different recording styles: from Les Savy Fav to Asobi Sesku to Holy Ghost! The Walkman (who like to record everything live to tape) I imagine the recording process is like an open forum of ideas. And I agree Chris, drums are everything!
Artists worked with: Passion Pit, Friendly Fires, Ruby Frost, The Walkman, Les Savy Fav, Holy Ghost!, Mumford & Sons, The Rakes, Asobi Sesku, White Rabbits