It’s not every day you get to hear from the producers and engineers who work with the likes of Dear Rouge, Arkells, and Mother Mother
The sixth annual JUNO: Stories from the Studio panel featured JUNO Award-nominated and winning recording engineers and producers discussing the stories behind their work in the recording studio.
Fanshawe College’s downtown campus for the School of Information Technology and the School of Tourism, Hospitality, and Culinary Arts saw a full house of music fans and Music Industry Arts students learning the ins and outs of music production. The sold-out event even had some attendees watching the discussion from the top of the auditorium’s stairs.
MIA alumni and singer-songwriter Emm Gryner moderated the panel. She has 10 albums and three JUNO nominations under her belt. She also performed in David Bowie’s touring band.
As stories and laughs were shared during the afternoon, the panel presented important takeaways for aspiring music producers and engineers. The advice could also apply to any creative career.
A Unique Blueprint for each music project
Since the list of music genres and musicians is ever growing, each song and album needs to be treated differently.
Mike Wise worked with bülow, who earned the 2019 JUNO for Breakthrough Artist of the Year. There was a lot of room for experimentation for her music, since she was fairly new to the scene. The experience taught him the producer’s job is framing the artist and capturing what makes them unique.
In contrast, producer Ben Kaplan said singer and producer Ryan Guldemond was “musically on top of everything” when working on Mother Mother’s Dance and Cry. A somewhat dark time in the musician’s life inspired the album, but Kaplan encouraged him to write a hopeful song called “It’s Alright.”
The audio production experience can differ from artist to artist, regardless of who you are as a producer.
2019 JUNO Jack Richardson Producer of the Year Eric Ratz earned the award for his work with the Arkells’ Rally Cry album. He said working with the band is unique from his usual work because of the pace.
Instead of getting multiple tracks at once, he would often have to work with a vocal and single instrumental track. Frontman Max Kerman would send him a verse, pre-chorus, and chorus at a time. Ratz would stay up until 4 A.M. to polish the music, and the album took about 10 months to complete.
That approach clearly paid off, as the Arkells won the Group of the Year JUNO and Rally Cry nabbed the award for Rock Album of the Year.
Diving in with an open mind, but also settling for nothing but the best
Keeping an open mind when working behind the scenes was another recurring theme.
Kaplan thought he knew everything upon graduating Fanshawe’s MIA program. Then, he worked with London’s own Kittie for their album Spit. The experience taught him a lot, including how to create a stellar record, all in the span of nine days.
Before The Greatest Showman, Greg Wells avoided working in the film industry because of a potential lack of control of the sound. Once he learned the movie musical’s narrative, Wells agreed to produce the music.
The team predicted the film would flop, but the success grew over time. The soundtrack became 2018’s biggest album, even leading the charts into 2019. It also earned the Best Compilation Soundtrack to Visual Media Grammy.
“You just have to believe in what you are doing,” he said.
Another point to keep in mind as a producer is that the team as a whole can influence how you work, so it’s better to work with the best.
Wells said he was eager to take whatever job was available when he first started his producing career, but now that’s not the case.
“If I didn’t like the taste of that food,” he said. “I shouldn’t take that job.”
Kiana ‘Rookz’ Eastmond, the executive director of Toronto contemporary art program Manifesto, was the only one on the panel who wasn’t an engineer or producer. As an artist, however, she prefers working with producers and engineers constantly gaining more skills and knowledge during their time in the industry.
“I know that’s a constant thing for me,” she said. “As an employer.”
The panel also discussed growing with your team and records that changed their life.
Giving back to the community
Proceeds from the panel and other JUNO Week events were donated to MusiCounts, a charity providing music education to children across Canada. So far, the programs and donations helped more than 800,000 children, including those in the Forest City.
London Girls Rock Camp got $25,000 worth of new guitars and equipment because of MusicCounts.
The 49th JUNO Awards will be in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan’s SaskTel Centre on March 15, 2020. It will be the city’s second time hosting, and even more interesting behind the scenes tales will be told at the next Stories from the Studio.