- 03 Oct 10
Hosted by Peter Murphy, the panel for this discussion included Steve Lillywhite, producer for top acts like U2, 30 Seconds to Mars and Peter Gabriel; Mick Glossop, producer for Van Morrisson, Frank Zappa and more; and singer/orchestrator/producer extraordinaire Julie Feeney.
The producers spoke first of what they looked for from an artist, and what makes them want to work with an act. Glossop said he looks for “a passion, a realness, something within the music. You need commitment from the artist.” And for Lillywhite, it’s all about the voice.
“I love singers, the voice is the thing for me. I can listen to a song for five times and hate it until the fifth listening. I’m not consistent with my feelings towards songs. Like with Coldplay, I didn’t get what people were talking about, I was like ‘that song Yellow is alright, I guess.’ I thought they were kind of boring, slow songs, but then it all slotted into place, and I realized that they were phenomenal songs. But if I love a voice, that never changes. If I don’t love a voice, I will never want to work with them.”
For Feeney, her experience as a producer has been a unique one, producing her own records, and she contradicted the assumption that this independent venture was a simple one. “It’s not easy! You need more time, you need to listen to it then go away. On my last album we brought in an orchestra but because of the time spent working with them I had a lot less time for the vocals.”
But she is adamant you can’t do it all completely solo. “I have three friends I share everything with, I play my stuff for them and ask their honest opinion, so they kind of play the role of the producer. You need that opinion, you can’t be an island.”
Though of course working with people does present challenges, and the panel discussed how they work to establish a trusting, respectful relationship with their artists.
Feeney, who worked with an entire orchestra on her album Pages, says that first impressions are vital. “I know that you decide within the first 30 seconds if you think someone’s going to be crap or not. I think the best thing you can do is be as good as you can, and earn respect through the music. People have got to be happy, and have to be into it, whether it’s a concert or an album. If it’s not fulfilling, not an enjoyable experience, there’s no point in doing it.”
And if the artist and producer have major problems, Lillyswhite is ready to take the blame. “It’s always the producer’s fault, because we haven’t earned the respect of the artist and they don’t trust us. You have to establish that connection.”
The panel then moved on to discuss the recording process, and how the studio experience has changed in recent times. “When I was working with the Rolling Stones, a comment was made like ‘You know what ruined music? The Beatles!’ It was controversial, but I knew what they meant. Sgt.Pepper was the first album that people went into a studio and fiddled around. Before Sgt. Pepper, people never spent more than two weeks on an album, they went in knowing exactly what every song was going to be and just did it, like ‘House of the Rising Sun’ was recorded in fifteen minutes. Given the financial situation now, that mentality may come back.”
“Yeah, tight budget means work quickly!” quips Glossop, as Feeney agrees that excessive studio time and luxury doesn’t mean artists perform better.
“In Bach’s time composers were under huge pressure to churn out music every week for mass or whatever, and they made genius music. People say ‘the ideal situation is to have loads of money,’ but that’s not necessarily true. Strife is not a bad thing, there is a place in your music making that will not change, and that should always come out.”
Glossop knows from experience that even with extensive studio time and a clear vision, recording processes can still fall apart. After spending months with Sinead O Connor recording The Lion and The Cobra, the album was scrapped, to be re-recorded with another producer later.
“We had a discussion about how she the album, and she had drums and a bass and a guitar. We recorded the whole album as a singer acoustic album and were three quarters through recording when alarms were raised, that this wasn’t the particular kind of album she wanted. She then re-recorded it. But I maintain she needed to go through that process, and I believe that we produced the album that she wanted at the time.”
Finally the panel discussed how vital the role of the producer is, given that anyone with enough money can have their own home studio and produce their own music.
“Julie’s doing it to great extent, so yeah – we’re fucked!” joked Lillywhite. But Glossop was more optimistic about the role of the producer. “Very few artists can self-produce, you need that objective view and opinion.”
He advised aspiring artist not to worry about producing a perfectly recorded album, but to work on their own material. “Trying to find what you’re trying to achieve, like mood and identity is important. You have to find out what’s special about you and do that to the max. Don’t worry about technical stuff, just worry about emotional connection.”
Lillywhite agreed, saying that producers bring talented acts to a higher, competitive level. “I think my strong point is that artists say ‘I never felt so much like a musician.’ Producers allow an artist to get to that place that’s just a little bit better than other artists, and it’s that edge that can get them somewhere.”