Creating a Sonic Identity: Tony Hoffer's Approach to Production - Progressions: Success in the Music Industry

Episode 101

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Published on:

10th Jan 2024

Creating a Sonic Identity: Tony Hoffer's Approach to Production

Tony Hoffer is a 7 time Grammy nominated record producer and mixing engineer. Tony’s work includes The Kooks’ “Naive”, M83’s “Midnight City”, Beck’s “Midnight Vultures”, Fitz & the Tantrum’s “More the Just a Dream”, and Phoenix “Alphabetical.”

In this episode, you'll learn about:

  • Making Beck “Midnight Vultures” and how it changed Tony’s career
  • Tony’s approach to working with bands in the studio
  • How Tony crafts a unique sonic identity for every project
  • Why vocals get recorded early in the process
  • Adding “grit” during the recording and mixing process
  • Balancing the artist’s vision with label expectations (or not)
  • The challenge of setting out to make something new
  • Setting daily targets to maintain momentum in the studio
  • Using guitar pedals to add character to anything
  • Reaching out to Artists

Connect with Tony

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Credits:

Guest: Tony Hoffer

Host: Travis Ference

Editor: Stephen Boyd

Theme Music: inter.ference

Transcript
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I basically brought a crate of records down to the studio. I played

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something for Beck off a Bony M record. I grabbed a little

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loop of that, like, a little bit of that. It's kind of a little drum

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thing. Looped it up, and then we just started building on

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that. That's seven time Grammy nominator, producer, and mixer Tony Hoffer. Tony's

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discography is full of records that have likely been sonic and musical

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influences for so many of us. We're talking about stuff like Phoenix,

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Alphabetical, M 83, hurry up, we're dreaming kooks inside in,

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inside out, and Beck, midnight Vultures. As somebody that works with bands live

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in the studio, Tony knows how to keep momentum going. And then. So I'm

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pushing everybody. I'm pushing myself. I'm pushing

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just the whole team, the artists, everyone, to just like, let's keep

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moving, let's keep the momentum. And I think by having that target. Tony tells us

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how he's always on the artist side and always working to bring

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their vision to life. And I'm asking myself, well, what is the sonic identity of

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this thing? We're. If you can't answer that, then we're not there. And part of

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facilitating that vision is giving every idea a chance and exploring

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every option. The only way to do that, if. There'S certain sounds that you like,

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you need to know how to either create them quickly or find where they are.

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If you've saved them or if it's a preset or whatever it is, you just

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need to know how to get to stuff quickly. So this one's a masterclass in

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everything from production to distortion. So stick around for my interview with Tony

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Hoffer.

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I was listening to a lot of your catalog this morning, kind of revisiting a

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lot of records that I listen to so much. So I know you've had a

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huge influence on so many producers and musicians out there,

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but I'm curious to know, is there a project or an album that you

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did that you think shaped you the most or helped you get on the path

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that you are on now? A project that I did, I would

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say, probably would have been back midnight vultures,

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because that was sort of the first big milestone for

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me, the first time I'd worked with a well

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known artist, and the first project that came

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out on a major label, and I knew people would be, some

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people would hopefully hear the record, but I would say that project in particular,

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that album in particular, was kind of a catalyst

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for how I ended up doing a lot of things, even to this day, just

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in terms of production, what takes to choose

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how far to go in terms of getting things

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precise or not precise or leaving things a little

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loose, whatever. That established a lot of things for

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me. Yeah, it was amazing working with Beck and everybody that

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was around all the musicians at that time. So, yeah,

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I would say probably that album, but the reality is they're all.

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I've been doing this for a number of years now, but even records that

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I'm currently doing, I'm still finding new ways of doing things

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as a producer and as a mixer and engineer.

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The hunt is always on to find a new

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way of presenting a synth or a guitar

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tone or whatever, just to kind of bring something new

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to the space. I'm always

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finding inspiration with pretty much every project that I do because the

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reality is, whatever I did on the last project that I did,

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it's guaranteed not to work on this

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next project. Totally. So you're constantly having to

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find new things, but a lot of the framework, I'd say,

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would have come from that first big project that I did with Beck. Yeah,

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that record. I was just listening to that one the most this morning because I

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haven't listened to it in a while, and I was going to ask you about

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it later. The way the mix is and the way you guys put it together

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is so cool. That first track is so mono, but the things that

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are on the sides really catch you. I just think there's a lot of really

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deliberate choices that are really dope. Was that something that you guys were talking about?

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Were you making that record like, hey, we're going to do this. Let's fucking go

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for it. Let's leave safe on the edge

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and make what we think is cool. It was definitely, let's

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make something that we think is cool. Yeah, we wanted to

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make something. The spirit of that project was, we're

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going to go on an adventure making something that hasn't been made before.

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For Beck, I mean, I think pretty much all of his albums are that really.

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Yeah. But this one in particular, we were going pretty deep because we weren't working

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in a traditional studio. We were working in a studio in

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Beck's house. So we had a lot of freedom and a lot of time. Maybe

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too much time, actually. But it definitely allowed us to

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experiment and try different iterations of

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songs, and it allowed us to be very creative and to

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make mistakes and try things. Some things would work, some

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things not, but it was good. When you say.

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Because I hear people say stuff like this all the time, you set out to

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make something that hadn't been made before. What's a conversation like that with an

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artist when you're about to go into pre production and everybody wants

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to just kind of change the game, how do you even approach that? It feels

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so daunting just to say, we're going to do this. It's hard to

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say we're going to make something that's never been made before, and this is how

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we're going to do it. You kind of have to just start throwing things at

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the wall, which is pretty much what we did. How I started with that project,

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I basically brought a crate of records down to the studio, and then

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I played something for Beck off a bony M record,

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and it sounded cool, so I grabbed a little loop of that, like a little

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bit of that. It's kind of a little drum thing, looped it up, and then

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we just started building on that. And I think just by nature

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of the choices that we made, not trying to do things that

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we've heard before, I think true north was that let's just make

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something we haven't heard before. So when it came time to doing a guitar part

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or whatever, let's find a tone that we haven't

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really heard before. Yeah. Or something that's

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played, in a way, an approach that we haven't heard before

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with this type of tone, with juxtapose with this type of

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rhythm, drumbeat and loop or whatever. So

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I think it was kind of a bit by bit sort of record,

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and one thing at a time and whatever

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the last thing was that we put on there, we knew that we wanted to

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do something else that would keep it veering in these different

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directions, and then hopefully we would end up in the destination

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that was the right place to be. Yeah, totally. It's

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interesting because this opening little bit kind of segues so many of the questions that

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I had. Let's go, sonic identity for a minute. I think people that are familiar

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with your work could probably pick out a record that you did out of a

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lineup. Like you kind of have a thing. Is that kind of from this

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commitment of just doing what you like, or do you think it's shaped over

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time where you kind of have grabbed things that work

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and don't work and catalog them all? The sonic

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identity, for me is such an important thing

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that I'm just always trying to find what? And I'm asking

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myself, well, what is the sonic identity of this thing we're doing? What is

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it? And if it's. If I can't answer that, then we're not there. We've

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got to keep going. And I think a lot of that growing up, I listened

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to a lot of music, and I still do, and have a real good

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knowledge of music. Maybe I could be a music

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historian for certain things. I'm quite knowledgeable,

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but it's been really helpful for me over the years to

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be able to just have this catalog in my

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head of different reverbs that were cool in

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different instances of songs that I liked. Or

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somehow a certain song evoked a

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certain feeling or an energy or an atmosphere or whatever,

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and that could be cool on this song to give it some kind

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of a twist or a new thing. I feel like I have a lot of

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tools buried in my head, just from the

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years as a kid, as a teenager, as a young adult,

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as an adult, grown up, whatever, listening to all kinds of

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music and having a good understanding of how it was made and

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created. So, yeah, I hope that answers the

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question. Yeah, no, it totally does. Some people do this and

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some people don't sit down with the artists, like, mid session and just play them

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something, see how they react. Like, hey, what do you think of this thing from

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the 70s that I love? Do you pull anything out of this you want to

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put in here? For sure, yeah, I'll reference things all the time, because

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sometimes it's hard to say, well, I'd like to do this. It's going to be

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kind of this meets that. It seems very arbitrary, and it probably

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doesn't make sense because it probably hasn't been done before. Well, there's two

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things. One way would be to show the references. It'd be kind of like this.

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The chorus of this, the way the reverb or whatever it is,

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with snare of that. Or if we can work

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fast. I try to work fast. So let's just do it

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quickly, and then we can talk about it. Which is probably the best

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way. But, yeah, it could be so hard. The way that everybody describes music,

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it's like what you say and what the lead singer of the

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band translates that as. Could be totally unrelated. That's why

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being able to do it quick is probably definitely the way to go. Yeah.

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Because then you see, like, okay, it works, or it doesn't work. Do you

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feel like we're kind of getting into production already? Do you feel like every

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idea should get chased in the studio? If the bass player

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has an idea and it's doable quick, does everybody get a shot to

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kind of try something? I mean, I try to do that, especially if they're good

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ideas. Obviously, I'm coming with a lot of ideas, but I

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definitely do want the artists to have input and to

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bring their ideas, because often a lot of their ideas are really good,

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and even the wackier ones have many

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times been amazing. Yeah. So I definitely

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welcome ideas from everyone. Everyone that's part

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of the group that I'm working with. Whether we get to all of them,

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there might be some where you can kind of tell

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it's probably not the right thing. It's probably not the

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right thing, and it probably would take a long time to

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try, and so you'll have to kind of whittle them

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down to the best. And we'd have a discussion on the

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consensus of what everyone thinks. All right, we've got three ideas, a, b, and

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c. We can do one. What's everyone feeling? And everyone's

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feeling b. So that's what we're going to spend the next couple of hours doing,

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then focusing on b. Yeah. What I wanted to talk about

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mostly, or a fair bit with you is producing bands.

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We're basically there. Right. What's your approach to kind of taking,

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like, a really great live band that everybody

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loves and then translating that into a record that

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is a new experience or a different experience for the listener? I mean, obviously the

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record is going to be more produced, but how do you make sure that you

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retain what everybody loved when they signed that band or why everybody

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went to the show and you put that into a record? When I'm working with

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an artist, I'm always looking for the strengths. So if that's one of

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the strengths, the live show, let's say, and clearly everyone's liking

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the live show, then I would definitely factor that into

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how I'm doing things in the studio. So that

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may determine whether we use a click or not. Like, if they're not using

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a click live, I would assess what's happening live. I

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would try to get a good understanding of what's happening live. I would try to

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see them in person if they were on tour, if it's possible to do

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that. Sometimes it's not because they're not playing, but at the very least, I would

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do some kind of rehearsal with them in a rehearsal room, and I would be

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there right in front of them watching them live. But, yeah, I would try

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to distill down what is the

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thing that makes this so great. And I would definitely try to keep all of

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those great points in by the time we get to the studio.

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So that if that is a thing and if it's a big strength where

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there's sort of a cool attitude or that the songs have a bit more of

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an edge, or there's sort of a freeness to the

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songs that maybe they wouldn't have

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if they're chained to a click or things

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are too clean in the studio or whatever. I'd

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be very mindful of that to make sure that that doesn't happen where things

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are boring, they're not too clean, or they're too clean,

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and then it's a big surprise for everybody, so I wouldn't want that to happen.

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Yeah. Do you ever find that when you

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identify what you think that special piece of an artist is, do you find that

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generally the artist is unaware of that? I feel like some people are

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like, when they're doing their own thing, they're unaware of what is actually connecting

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with the audience. Do you find that to be the

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case? Yeah, I would say most of the time, but then

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sometimes there's artists that I work with that definitely have. They're very

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intuitive as to what they're tapped in. Yeah.

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People need and want from them as an artist, but, yeah. Does it

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matter whether you're in touch with that? I don't know if it matters.

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On one hand, if I were an artist, I suppose it'd be

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helpful if you really were dialed in with your fans. It probably would be a

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good thing, I would say, because then you would. Know it's probably true.

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But then, at the same time, you have to make the music.

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You have to be evolving. You can't

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be thinking, oh, well, my fans aren't going to like this because then

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I feel like that'd be a little restrictive. But I think just having a good

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understanding of what your fans want, as long as it's not

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limiting what you do. I like to talk about managing

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expectations and how you can use expectations to

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fulfill somebody or totally blow their mind when they're like, they

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expect this and you're like, no, that's not what we're doing today. I think that's

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a pretty powerful tool when it comes to mixing or producing or anything.

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Yeah. So along the lines of managing expectations,

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how do you handle? Because we both know making a record can take weeks and

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weeks and weeks. Personalities in the room, momentum

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slowdowns, maybe creativity slumps on week

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four. What are some of the things that you do during a month

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long session that kind of just keeps the band excited,

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fresh, moving forward? Well,

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I have targets every day, and I usually figure those targets

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out. There'll be kind of an overall target where I need to get this done

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by x date. Then there'll be daily

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targets where the target is to get the

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majority of this song tracked, the music part of it

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tracked, maybe even get a vocal. And that's

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a target that I'll set in a way for myself.

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So I may or may not discuss that target with the

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artist, but it causes me to push

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to where we stay on target to get what we

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need to get done by 10:00 or whatever. By the

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end of the day, usually we hit the target or go beyond

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it. We'll get the majority of the song done, if not the whole song, and

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get it in a good place where then we can hear it the next morning

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and have some good perspective to have a fresh listen, and

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then we can do some additional bits to it and then

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get on to another one and keep going. And I think by doing that, by

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having clear targets, and usually I'll establish maybe the night

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before or the morning of, I might mention something like, hey, I'd like to dig

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into this song, song x. I'd like to dig into that

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and get pretty deep with it. The morning

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before, I'll wake up, have breakfast, I'll be listening to things.

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I'll make some sort of decision, like, okay, I feel like we can

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get everything, all instruments up to blah, blah, blah, done,

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and then that'll be my target. And then, so I'm pushing everybody. I'm pushing

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myself. I'm pushing just the whole team, the artists,

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everyone, to just like, let's keep moving. Let's keep the momentum. And I think by

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having that target, it causes us to not have

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slumps and get too fixated

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on minutiae that is really

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insignificant to the target. Some things we can come

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back to. Yeah, there's some things where if I feel like

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we're getting bogged down and it's possible to come back to it

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later on, almost just like, let's just step out of that, focus our

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attention on something else, and then get back moving,

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and then we can revisit that later in the day or the next day, and

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it'd be a much quicker cycle to do that. Very

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cool. So is that a pretty average pace for you, songish a

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day, when you're working? I guess it depends on the artist. Yeah, it depends on

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the artist, but, yeah, I would say song a day for the

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main stuff, and then usually the kind of

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fun, tweaky stuff, the overdub stuff, that could take

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a half day. Again, it depends on what we're talking about

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here. Like, the type of music we're doing, can the artists work

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at a pace like that? Some can, some not. And that's fine,

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too sometimes for the more electronic leaning

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projects that I do. Sometimes a song a day is not realistic because

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there's so much sound design and just

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building kind of the sonic world of the thing and so it

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takes a bit longer. Yeah, but if it's a band

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and everyone's focused, yeah, we can get a lot done in a

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day. A lot of people, they'll start a record and

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they'll do. This week we're doing drums. But I feel like the way that you're

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talking, the going the song by song approach, I feel like that probably allows

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each song to be the character of that song. Is that part of the reason

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you do it so that like, hey, the drums have to be like this for

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this song? Because I feel like if you just did drums to a couple of

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demo guitars and some clicks and stuff like that, you might have a

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cohesiveness that is wrong. You know what I mean? Yeah,

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I've done that before because I've had to, for whatever reason, we were in

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situations where we had to hire, bring in a session drummer and we

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only had this person for two days, so I don't love that.

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But 99% of what I do, yeah, I'm doing it song by

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song so I can set everything up to be

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based around that song and it's custom

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for that song. I don't like doing a week of drums and then a week

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of bass and then a week of guitars for two weeks and synths for

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a week. Whatever. I like doing it song by

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song. I like getting vocals done sooner than

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later. The vocals are obviously a very important piece of the

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puzzle. So I like getting vocals done on the

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earlier side of whatever time we have. Just so I know we've got some

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extra time in case we need to go back and do another

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pass at something or drop in on some bits. Maybe

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some lyrics change after living with it, I don't know, but I like

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having a little bit of time. I don't like saving vocals to the very end.

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Well, it keeps everybody engaged, too. It's like if you're just doing drums for a

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week, you know, the bass player is just not coming in for a week and

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then he's going to have a problem with some fill.

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You mentioned sound design and electronic records taking a little bit

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longer. Do you have any tips for producers on just knowing

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your sample library, knowing your record collection, how you organize

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things, anything to help, like a young kid just work faster when he's

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shaping tones. Yeah, I mean, to work fast, you definitely need to

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know your tools and you've got to put the time

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in. I've put a lot of time in on my own. Before I

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started doing big projects that people know about. I spent

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years of doing lots of unknown stuff and

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my own stuff. And with that, learning my favorite

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samples, or being able to work fast with the

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computer, or be able to mic something quickly, or if

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something's wrong with the sound of it, I know how to adjust the mic

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quickly. I just know what to do and I can just do it. Be a

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to b, get back and keep things moving. So,

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yeah, you just have to know your tools. If it's like you

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mentioned, electronic artists or producer. Yeah,

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you definitely need to know what synths or if there's

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certain sounds that you like, you need to know how to either create them quickly

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or find where they are. If you've saved them or if it's a preset or

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whatever it is. You just need to know how to get to stuff quickly. I

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don't know if you know Damien Taylor, producer mixer? I don't think

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so, no. He always encourages people to go through their sample library and delete the

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stuff you don't like. And that was, like, mind blowing to me because you're like,

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I've got 80 gigs of drums and you use the same four kicks. And

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he's like, why do you have 7000 kicks when you use 50 of them? Just

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delete them. But I can't delete them. They're my

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samples that I don't use. You know what I mean?

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Yeah. I don't know what I've got, but I've got

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a lot that I've accumulated over the years. I feel like I don't think I

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could do that because I work on so many different types of things

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and I'mixing so many different styles and genres

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that I know where everything is for the most part. I can move

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fast, but there are some things where I've only used

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once or twice over 24 years, but

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I'm holding that in there just in case something comes

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up a couple of years from now and I need that thing

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and, you know, it'll be there and I don't know

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if I could do that. Before I deleted them, I definitely backed them

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up. So they're all on another hard drive.

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At the end of a session, you talk about doing so many,

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making new sounds and creating things that haven't been heard before. At the end of

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a project. Do you do any saving pro tools? Track presets or saving

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presets or grabbing drum samples? Do you do any

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archival? Like, these are dope. I want to save these and know I can get

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back to them. No, I never just move on. Yeah.

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Just, like, onto the next thing. I just don't

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want, like, what I said earlier, I just feel like whatever I did

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on this project that I'm just finished. I don't feel

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that that is going to work on the next project that I have. Yeah.

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And I like having things be specific to each project.

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Now, there might be certain ways and techniques, certain things that I

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do from project to project that are the same, like the way things are

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miced or organized or whatever, but in

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terms of sounds, I try to

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create the sonic identity for each project. Like, have that, be

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unique, a unique thing, and not get into assembly

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line, cookie cutter type stuff. I'm not a fan of

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presets. Yeah, well, I

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mean, obviously you're going to think this because you're not a fan of presets, because

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when you came up, you were using analog synths and you were building sounds. Do

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you think the fact that now you can download Arturia and just load

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up every Juno preset you can think of, do you think kids should not

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use the presets and learn how to make a Juno sound? I think they should

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learn how to make a juno sound so you can get the sound that's right

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for the thing that you're trying to do and just have a good understanding of

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how that instrument works. To be very

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causative over that and not be flipping through presets. Now,

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with that said, sometimes there's some cool presets, sometimes I'll

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flip through presets and I'll find something that's actually perfect. It's maybe a

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very complex sound that would have taken me a while to program on something,

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like some soft synth or whatever, but for the most part, I'm really just trying

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to find something unique for each part or each project.

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So if I did find a preset that I use, I probably wouldn't use it

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for straight up something else. Yeah. Sometimes I feel like

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all the technology that we have today is so enabling for

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young producers to learn music and be making something cool, but then at the same

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time, it also enables you to skip some of that

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learning that you and I have gone through. Maybe this is just

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me almost being 40, maybe this is why I feel this way, but I just

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feel like you can kind of skip some of these basic

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understanding of how to build these things. And you can get away

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with it, but you can still be successful. So I don't know if it's a

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good thing or a bad thing. I don't know. Do you have an opinion? Whatever

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works. If it causes them to make better music, then cool. Then

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whatever ways of doing any one thing. There's so many ways of

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getting a cool synth sound. You can do it by

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scratch and reset everything. And dial it in your

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way. Yeah, it's cool for some people. Other people, they'll find

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a preset, and they're very good at that. And they're good at matching that

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preset with the part, with the song. And it's great, and

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it's cool. And I've worked with many artists that that's how they work,

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and it's great. So, yeah, it's just, for

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me, if we were in a room together, and it's like, okay, let's get a

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synth sound. I would probably just walk over to the synth. And just start dialing

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something in for me. That's quicker than to just be flipping through

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the presets. I don't know. That's just me. Do you have any weird

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tips? Like, the most unorthodox shit that you did on accident or

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you thought wouldn't work. That has become like. Well, I guess you're always changing

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things. But is there anything super weird. That you can share with people that you

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like? I mean, I love a lot of late eighty s and

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early 90s digital multi effects processors.

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I feel like they're so

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shitty that they're really good. Yeah, they

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have an interesting profile. They're

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just different than. Let's say it's a reverb or

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whatever. They're just different than a nicer

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reverb. And they're definitely different than a plug in

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reverb. It's just a different thing. So there's a few

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that I really love. And I use quite a bit. And they're

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cheap. Nice. What else? I use lots of

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pedals for various things.

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I'll record a bunch of stuff, and I'll use pedals.

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Yeah. But then I'll also run things through pedals to go even

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further. Cool. And have a bit more control. Like, once it's been

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recorded, I can be more aggressive with what I'm doing.

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But, yeah, there's a bunch of kind of junkie pedals that I

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love. That are just cheap junkie pedals that just do

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something cool. There's certain gear. And I learned this early

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on when I was an intern at a studio years ago. But I

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would basically run drums or whatever through

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outboard gear. And I would distort the input of the gear. So

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there's certain gear that I just like, analog and

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digital. I just like how it distorts. And I'll use that for certain things.

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And it's different than distorting with decapitator or some

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plugin, some distortion plugin. It's a very different thing.

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Oh, I was going to ask you about distortion and saturation, actually. Because when I

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think of a lot of the records that I've listened to that you've

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made, your distortion and saturation stuff is so good. It's

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not brittle and harsh the way it can be. Is that anything you're doing

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after the fact? Can you elaborate on that? Or is it really just

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understanding what distorts how. And then choosing the

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right thing for the right thing? Thank you. I'm glad you noticed. Because I

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put a lot of thought into the grit, basically.

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Yeah. If it's something that I'm producing. Yeah.

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I call it grit versus distortion. Because when I think of distortion,

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I think of more of, like, a saturated sound. And I don't

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necessarily want that. I don't want it to be

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distorted or oversaturated and that sort of thing.

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That wouldn't be quite right. I want it to have a grit

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to it. Kind of like an early stones record. Like the

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early Motown records, where things are kind of breaking.

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But it's very satisfying. Yeah. So, yeah, a lot of

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that. If it's something that I'm producing, then, yeah, we're getting

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that. We're trying to get that however we can. So, again, it's by

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overloading a preamp. Where it's enough to. Where it's kind

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of breaking up. Or it's adding a little bit of hair to the

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thing, to the sound. And then I may go even further. Then when I go

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to mix it, I might go even further with additional

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grit. And it's usually not a lot that I'm adding.

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It's just I'm adding little bits on a lot of things. And so it

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adds up in a certain way. And I don't like to use the

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same grit on everything. I think that's also

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important. Yeah. Because they all have different

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colors. Some are going to emphasize the low

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end. Some are going to be better on the mid. Some are better on the

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top. So just not using the same

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plugin. If it's a plugin, not using that same thing on everything. And if it's

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outboard, not using that same pedal or piece of gear for

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each time I'm trying to overload something. Yeah, you definitely

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understand the character of these things. When you were. You probably don't do this now,

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but years ago, if time allowed. Did you do a lot

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of comparison when you were mixing? Like, what's this sound like compared to that?

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Okay, I like the way that this pushes the low mids. This isn't working here.

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Or have you just accumulated it over the decades of making

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records? How do you mean? Comparison to what? I guess

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taken a second to shoot out. Like, before choosing to. We'll use plugins,

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for example, because it's easier. So before just throwing decapitator on, did you

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ever try retro color next to decapitator next to Saturn

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and be like, okay, Saturn is what I want to use because of this? Yeah,

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for sure. I mean, before the plugins. Yeah, we would shoot

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things out just to see. We try maybe between one

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and three options. We would know that one of these will be cool.

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They might even all be a little similar, but there's going to be something that's

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going to pop out of the speakers. It'll tell us. So, yeah, we

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would definitely shoot it out. And I still do that. If I'm mixing something, let's

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say maybe something that I didn't produce, something that someone else produced,

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but they sent to me to mix, and I'm trying to get

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that grit, which maybe they didn't do that when they were capturing

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everything. I'm trying to find different ways to creep that grit in

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there to not have things sound too clean. I'll

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try different ways of doing that because sometimes the

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plugin, decapitator, whatever it is, Saturn's

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great. Whatever it is, it may be great on that last

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project, but it's not working the same way on the same instrument

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for this next project. I don't know why that is, but it is what it

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is. Sometimes you have to just do a

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quick check just to make sure you can't just blindly

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do the thing. Like, well, I always do this on my drums. There are

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things that I do use a lot for drums or bass or

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whatever, but I am checking, and I may not use

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the thing that I always use. There are occasions where it's not

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right, and so I swap out for something else. But,

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yeah, you have to constantly check that. Yeah. A hard tangent

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here. Before we close. I was meant to ask you this earlier. I feel like

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you've made a lot of records that are both commercially successful

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and highly respected. By musicians in the music community,

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which we both know is not always easy to do.

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What happens when you're straddling that line of what the

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artist wants, staying true to that, versus bringing in some of what the

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label might expect or some of what the radio is looking for? Do you have

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to live in that world at all or do you just make a record and

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it resonates and it works? I mean, I'm always on the artist side. I feel

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like that's the place to be, helping

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them create the vision they have

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for the songs. Me coming in and amplifying that

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vision, that's what I like to do sometimes. Yes,

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labels, if they're signed to a label, then, yeah, it's

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possible the label will have some input on that. For the

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most part, the majority of the projects that I've worked on, everyone has

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been on the same page. It's been very rare. I'd have to

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really think back as to a time where the

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artist is doing one thing and the label is talking about

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some other thing, and there's usually a

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parody. The label signed them for a reason, so

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they have an understanding. Now, sometimes when you get into the third

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or fourth or 6th or 7th album, there can be a thing

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where now there's some expectations. The label is

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expecting a single or a certain thing of a certain way. Yes. They'd

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probably love to have whatever the first big single was that did really well. They

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would love a version. Two of that, of course. But usually that's not going to

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happen because the artist doesn't want to do that. They've

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already done that. And I'm like, with the

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artist, why don't we make a single that's really good,

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but that's something new and has all the strengths that the artist is

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known for and encompasses all of the other cool stuff that

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everyone likes and that the artist likes to do. And I feel like that's how

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you get the good stuff. But chasing something,

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it's just never worked for me. Chasing the charts or chasing

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some trend in music that is really popular now. The music

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that we're making now is going to come out maybe in six months, and that

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is going to be done. That trend will be definitely done.

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You're like a sitting duck. Like, no one's going to be interested

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in this thing. And frankly, I think the

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artist needs to stand in their own

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area away from other artists, not be a copycat or

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not sound anything like other artists. Yeah.

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For the most part, the artists that I love that are big

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to me, they're all very unique. They have a very unique

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presentation. All aspects, from the sound, their

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look, the packaging, everything. It's all very

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unique. And I think that's where it's at. Trying to chase

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something that is already successful, it's very difficult.

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I agree. I have a lot of experience doing songwriting sessions for years

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and years and years. And the times that everybody came

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in with the intention of writing something that sounded like something

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else, it was always an average day. And when people

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just came in and just didn't have to write for an artist, and they

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just pulled up a piano or whatever and just wrote, those were

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always the better songs and probably the ones that got cut and that other stack

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of shit that was, like, trying to sound like whatever's hot right now, it just

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stays on the hard drive. Yeah. So I completely agree with you.

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Okay, so before we hit our closing questions, I've got reports

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from an outside source of a remote controlled airplane that may have

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been taking off of Sunset sound. And I was told to ask if you knew

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anything about this. Yeah, I may know of something about that,

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actually. Now, there's actually. Are we talking Sunset

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sound or sound factory? It could be either. The

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roofs of both of those studios have been used for

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Runway access. Yeah.

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Okay. All right. I know so many people that work with you.

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I know that you're really good at keeping the vibe in the room going and

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breaking it up. But then, like you said earlier, you've got your targets. How

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do you hit your targets and still make sure everybody's having a great time? You

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know what it is? No. I mean, when people are productive and

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when they're producing. I don't mean producing as a record producer, but producing

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a product. Producing the product of being

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a guitar take coming up with a synth part. That would be the product

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of that moment when people are making things,

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creating stuff, they feel good, and they

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kind of keep momentum going. And morale is good.

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When it becomes a slog and you're just spending

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so much time in the minutiae of one

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little sound of whatever going down a rabbit hole

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and not really having much movement with it, people

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get tired and unmotivated. So

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I think, for me, what's worked for me is just keeping things

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moving and just

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having agility, moving fast, not getting bogged down on things.

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And then you've got time to go fly airplanes off the roof of a

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studio. Perfect. Tony, this has been great.

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I've got two questions I ask everybody at the. You know, we kind of touched

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on a little bit of this as we went but has there ever been a

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time in your career that you chose to redefine what success

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meant for you? I mean, I'm always trying to

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have songs and artists do

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well. And I think early on, like, early,

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early on, success for me was being able to work

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in a recording studio, like, to make music in a recording

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studio. So if there were a day that I could

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actually go into a studio and work with an artist in a

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studio for one day, that was a huge

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success for me, even. It was for, like, 1 hour.

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Yeah. And then obviously that changed. So then when

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you do that enough, then you want to do a full album in a

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studio, and that was a big thing. So, yeah, it's evolved over the

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years. It's always evolving. But I think, really, the main thing for me is I

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like it when people hear music that I work on. It is success for me

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when the artist is doing well. It's success for me when

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randomly I'm out somewhere at a restaurant or whatever, and

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then a song comes on or it's in a movie that I didn't know

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it was in. I like that. It definitely

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feels good. And again, it means that people like the

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artist. They like the music that we did, and, yeah, that

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defines success. Yeah, I think that's huge. When you're

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a kid, you listen to a record and song will have such an impact. And

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I think, for me, I resonate with that a lot. That's one of the things

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that really gets me going, is when something does well, and you're

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like, some kid out here, out there is being affected by

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this song the way that I was affected by that song 25 years ago or

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whatever. And I think that's huge. I think that's why so many people just keep

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doing this, just to give people that thing that they had when they were a

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kid. Yeah, there was an artist that I worked with

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where a fan had reached out to the artist. The album had just

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come out, and the fan's younger

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brother was, I think, deaf or hard of hearing,

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and her brother had some kind of treatment done

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to his ears to where he was going to be able to hear. And the

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first music that he was going to hear was going to be a song off

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this album. And they told somehow this information got to the

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manager, and then it got to the band. And I just thought, man,

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that is a. Is that the first thing that you want

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to hear? Maybe, I don't know, the Beatles or prince. I don't

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know. It's cool. But I thought it's just really cool. That

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obviously this music hit this girl in such a way to where she

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felt her brother needed to hear it. And I thought that was really cool. And,

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yeah, when people tattoo the lyrics on their

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bodies, personally, I don't think that's a smart idea,

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but the point is, somehow something about this song

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caused some emotion in that

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fan, and it caused them to react and to do that

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where that song really became a part of their lives. And I love that.

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Yeah, I think it's huge. That's a good story. I'm glad I didn't break

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into tears or anything now that this is a video show as well. All right,

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so the last question is, what is your current biggest goal that you can share

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with people? What's the next smallest step you're going to take to go towards that

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goal? Biggest goal? I've got a lot of

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really big goals, and some of them, they're not necessarily

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music related, but I would say the biggest

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goal. There's certain artists that I would love to work with.

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That would be a goal. And the step is I'm trying

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to connect with those artists by any means necessary.

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So either through a connection I have or through

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my manager or some other way, but it's cool.

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Goals are a big thing for me, just even in the day

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to day of making records. Like, I'm setting daily targets and

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goals. It's just how I operate. It makes it

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easier for me to get through a day, basically, and to have something to show

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for that day, but so I'm always very goal

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oriented, and I try to write them down once or

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twice a day, in the morning and at night. I don't always have the

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time, but I do try to. And then those goals, they're always

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changing as well. Yeah. There's a lot to writing them down,

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visualizing them, telling them to your partner

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or your friend. It's something about, like, you just feel, like, more accountable to them

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when they're down on a piece of paper or whatever. Yeah. It makes them

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more real. Yeah. And I put them in the present tense, like,

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I am doing this, I have this, they're

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present. Not like I want to do this or I hope to do.

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It's like, I am doing this, I have this, and I've done that for years.

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And it's funny because just randomly, there'll be things that I write about.

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I kid you not. And then, let's say if it's working with an

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artist, a few months later, this artist will reach out.

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This has happened with so many things, and I don't even know how to

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explain it. And it just happened recently with something with an

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artist who I just had lunch with the other day, but someone who I

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wanted to work with. And then they read an interview that I

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did in tape op magazine and then

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they reached out to me. Most bizarre thing. And I was just trying to think,

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like, how can I connect with this artist? And I was being a little slow

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at doing it. And, like, I don't know, it's kind of

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going back and forth on doing it or not. And then they

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reached out. So it's just really bizarre. Yeah, I feel like

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a lot of people, at least I believe that you kind of find

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what you're looking for. It's like if you're looking for

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a positive experience walking into the studio, then you're going to have a positive

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experience. And I think that applies to what you're talking about. It's like you're looking

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to work with these people. You're going to somehow find your way to that space.

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And I guess right before we go, last question. It sounds like

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you're not afraid to reach out to somebody that you are passionate about that you

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want to work with. Can you speak to that and tell younger kids, like,

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hey, reach out to people that you want to work with? I guess the fact

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that you're doing it should be an example enough that it's okay to reach out

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and say, hey, I love your music. Is there any chance we can work together?

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Yeah, I mean, I've done that for years before social

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media and before the Internet,

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many years ago. That's awesome. If there was someone that I've liked and

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wanted to collaborate with, I would just try to hit him up. And

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often it's led to really cool things and sometimes it's not an

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immediate thing that happens. Yeah. There was one artist,

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this artist, Sandra Lurke, a norwegian artist

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who I heard his first album and just

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loved his album. And I reached out and

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through know somehow I was able to connect and we

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connected and I said, man, I'd love your music. It's really cool. I'd

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love to work with you someday if you ever are in LA or whatever. He

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was based in Norway at the time and I think

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two or three years later we ended up doing a record together

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and we made a really cool album. It may not be an

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immediate thing and it has to be the right communication as well because you don't

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want to bother people, but you want to be

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enthusiastic and you want to be intentional with what you're wanting

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to do. But not waste people's time. So I'm also mindful of that.

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Yeah, it can't be about money. It's got to be about

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art. Well, yeah, it definitely can't be about the money. I just think some people

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are like, how am I going to get gigs? I'm going to email everybody I

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know. And that's not like, reaching out to people that you don't actually want to

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work with just because you think they'll pay you is a horrible idea. This job,

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and it's hard to call it a job, honestly, because working on music

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doesn't feel like a job. There's other jobs. Working on a roof

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would be a job in the summer. That would be a very hard job. I

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would not be good at that. If you're doing it for the money, I feel

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like it's harder. It's harder for stuff to flow to you.

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When I started off, yeah, I needed to get paid, but I wasn't doing

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it for the money. I was doing it because I wanted to work on music,

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and that's still what I do. I take projects all the time

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that are not necessarily. Some will be very low budget

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projects. I just love it so much. Got to do it.

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Yeah, I just want to work with the artist. So

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sometimes, if you can really have it be

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about the music, I think things will flow to you.

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You may not make a lot of money at first, but it will

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cause the money to come. It'll cause the projects to

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come. But I think really it's building up an abundance of really good

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projects to show people and to get out there. And that's

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basically what I did early on. I was just working on lots of stuff and

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try to find cool stuff to work on. Not just anything, but stuff

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that could hopefully get people's attention. And I was doing a lot of it for

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no money. But one of those projects, the drummer that

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worked with me on that project, he ended up becoming the drummer

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for a french band called Air. And then he played the stuff that we did.

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I didn't get paid for it. They gave me literally pizza, like lunch

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and dinner, and I was cool with it. I loved it. We're working on

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cool music. I got to work on a trident, a range, which I'd never

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used before. It was great, nice. But he played it for air, and then that

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caused me to work with air, and then that caused me to work

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with a lot of british artists. I guess

Speaker:

all I'm saying is just, you never know. It should definitely be all about the

Speaker:

creativity. Hopefully the money will come,

Speaker:

hopefully. That's awesome. Please share

Speaker:

with people anything you want to share. If there's a project that you're really

Speaker:

passionate about, if you have management that they can reach out to, I don't know

Speaker:

if there's anything you want to share. This is a little spot for you. Yeah.

Speaker:

I mean, people can hit me up however they want to find me.

Speaker:

Instagram, I have a website. They can find me there. They can reach

Speaker:

out to me. Know. Awesome. Tony, this has been so much fun.

Speaker:

I'm glad we got to connect. Like I said, we know so many people, same

Speaker:

people. And I've listened to so much music you've made. So thanks for making all

Speaker:

my music. Thank you so much. Yeah. Appreciate it. Yeah. Loved it.

Speaker:

Thank you.

Show artwork for Progressions: Success in the Music Industry

About the Podcast

Progressions: Success in the Music Industry
Host Travis Ference chats with music producers, engineers, mixers, artists, musicians, and songwriters about the tips, tricks, mindsets, and ideas that helped them define their careers.
Insightful conversations about building and maintaining a fulfilling and successful career in the music industry. Music producers, engineers, mixers, artists, songwriters, musicians, composers and various other audio professionals sit down and share the tips, tricks, mindsets and ideas that helped them define their careers.

Created and hosted by Grammy nominated recording and mixing engineer Travis Ference, Progressions: Success in the Music Industry is inspired by the journey of his career so far. Travis is determined to set the next generation of music creators up with the tools they need to define their own success and live a happy, healthy, and prosperous career in the music business.

Don’t wait for luck. Start building your future now.

Join us on YouTube for extra content: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCwsSYXoW9AXB3TdJPXO02Gw

Get in on our conversations on The Complete Producer Network: https://www.completeproducer.net/share/z_LJhc8M_GtKZ1OX?utm_source=manual
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About your host

Profile picture for Travis Ference

Travis Ference

Travis Ference is a Grammy nominated mixer, producer, and recording engineer based out of Los Angeles, CA. With over a decade of experience in the music business he has worked on multiple #1 albums, several top 10's, numerous RIAA platinum and gold certified records, as well as hit TV shows and blockbuster films. His work can be heard on more than 15 million albums sold and billions streams worldwide.

The inspiration for his podcast came from his journey over the last 5 years to redefine what success is for him, to take control of his time, and to ultimately live the life he wants while making the records he loves.