AP: How and when did you first get involved with producing/engineering? Your answer to the previous question may answer this, but what did you start with first, and how did you then adapt to the other?
DB: I first got started as a producer on my first record Adrenalin in 1979. I was making the record and my producer’s wife decided to divorce him while we were in the middle of the recording. He came into the studio and told me he was getting on a plane that night to go back to London. It was like being thrown into the ocean in a storm. I had to learn what to do practically overnight. It was another month of hell. I learned the hard way; I was 19.
AP: What projects have you been working on lately, and what all do you have coming up?
DB: Recently I have been doing many different types of music, which is my new mantra. I have produced and mixed Paramore, then mixed some Blood Simple, then worked with singer Serena Ryder from Canada. Now I am producing a few songs with Dark New Day, and next I will be doing Your Vegas from Leeds UK. On deck is working with Fred from TBS [Taking Back Sunday] on an EP.
AP: Did you go to school for either producing or engineering? If not, how did you learn to produce a record/engineer?
DB: I was very lucky to have worked out of a great studio in Toronto called Phase One in the 80s. The two main producers there were Bob Ezrin and Jack Richardson. They had so much knowledge of making great records. I guess I became a second level producer there and had the pleasure of working with Garth Richardson, Randy Staub, Scott Humphrey and Bill Kennedy; all have gone on to make great records. All these “assistants” were a great crew to be around. It was a great environment to work in with so much talent in one building. I learned how to cut tape, align machines and make great coffee. I guess I had no real formal training just a lot of great people surrounding me to watch and learn from. I also learned a lot from working at home in my studio on a portable studio 4 track--bouncing was fun!!!
AP: When a band comes to work with you, do you consider yourself a “fifth Beatle” of sorts, where you contribute to the sound, direction, and give your input on chords/progressions/melodies/rhythms/song structures et, or do you take the Steve Albini approach, where you just try to capture the sonic vision the band is looking for?
DB: While I feel it's great to be a “vibe” guy, I also feel that it's very important to understand the arrangements and actual chords being played. I would have to say that both these ways of making records is relevant to recording, however, I much more lean towards the George Martin method, as it seems so much more musical to my ears. Most of the guys I aspire to be are all musicians and writers and arrangers, not engineers.
AP: What do you feel is the most important job of the producer? Shaping the sound of the record? Getting the best performances? Something else?
DB: Good question. Because every record is different, it goes either way. Some bands and artists are higher maintenance. My job is always to keep the music on an even keel and keep the artists in a place where they feel creative and comfortable. The most important job of a producer however is to deliver the songs to their highest potential rhythmically, musically and make sure all the kids are delivered with fingers and toes at the end of the session.
AP: If you could, please take us through a typical recording session with you, starting with when the band/label contacts you, pre-production, tracking, etc., all the way up through when you send off the final masters.
DB: It’s interesting--again, every record is different. Usually I am contacted by the band or label. Then there are usually 3-4 other producers in the running for the record. Bands make decisions based usually on the “DNA” between them and the producer. If the band chooses me we usually spend about 2 weeks in pre production recording and working on arrangements. Then we move on to tracking the songs for about 4-7 weeks and then I usually mix a song a day for about 14 days. After this Ted Jensen, my mastering guy, makes it really, really loud. Then you guys all download it for free and the musicians starve and the band breaks up, unless of course they have the right haircut. This process is usually a long 9-11 week time period including pre pro and mixing.
AP: How do you prepare to work with a band? Do you listen to previous recordings? See them live? What if they’re a small band with no previous demos, doesn’t play shows, etc.?
DB: I never work with a band I have not seen before. That has to be the biggest mistake a producer could make. If you can see a live show in front of people, even better. If it’s a smaller band, I like to go to rehearsal and hang out with them. MySpace sometimes saves me a lot of time! And YouTube really saves time!!! I always like to hear the band's favorite records; that really helps me in determining their roots.
AP: How do you set the right tone for a session?
DB: I love to talk to the bands about what is important to them. After all, it is their record we are making. I love to talk about gear, guitars, amps, drums and I always like to know about their lives, families and background. Every band usually has baggage, we all do. I always need to know what is going on their lives and what is the inspiration for their music. Other helpers are incense, low lighting, and lots of electrical outlets, lots of food, water coolers, and a BBQ that works in the winter.
AP: In working with a really powerful live band like Paramore, how do you successfully capture that vibe and feel on the record?
DB: That’s a good question. They are a young band, a lot of energy. Basically you have to harness Niagara Falls and put it in a bottle. Many different takes and performances and a lot of pre production to get the best performance possible. It's kind of like waiting for the sun to be in the right place to get that perfect snapshot. This band is very tough on themselves, they have high standards and are very picky. Hayley is very tough on her performance and she really knows when she doesn’t like something. Zac just works really hard on being a solid rock drummer and Josh is a guitar fiend. He listens to a lot of other bands and is really into the sonics of it all. They are all very creative and so young in that band; it’s really hard to believe. The most striking thing about that band however was their ability to listen and learn. Some bands practice their mistakes until they are perfect! Paramore does not.
AP: What’s the best way for bands to get in touch with you? Will you work with unsigned bands?
DB: I usually refer everyone to my manager Bennett Kaufmann at BK Entertainment, as he has my booking schedule. He also gives me input sometimes as to what artists I should be paying attention to. I have to admit I do not record many unsigned artists. I am sure that there are a lot out there that I have missed working with. I wish I had more time!!
AP: Which band that you produced, set the precedent in which you KNEW that were now where you wanted to be as a producer—the point where you sat back and felt “I have arrived.”?
DB: That has not happened in my productions yet. I have a long way to go. I feel this way especially when I hear the records I adore and know how far I need to take my music to a better place. I think my mixing on The Almost, Paramore and Red Jumpsuit Apparatus are radio-worthy. It is hard competing with the big boys with three names in mixing. They do it everyday and have for years; I am the new kid on the block.
AP: What software do you use? Why did you choose it over all the other programs out there?
DB: I use Nuendo to record and Pro tools to do pre–pro. I rarely use any plug-ins--usually all analog gear and no tape ever. I like Nuendo because of the editing features. Having said that, working with my team of Dan Korneff, John Bender and Kato Khwandala has spoiled me rotten, they are all geniuses with computers and blow me away everyday.
AP: Vocal mic of choice? Do you use it for all vocals, or does it depend on the singer?
DB: Every singer of course is different. I love to use old tube mics: U47 is a fave and Rode Classic Mark 2 is a recent winner for me.
AP: Which monitors do you use?
DB: I use Yamaha NS 10s and Tannoy D12s. I also have been experimenting with iPod speakers and mixing to mp3 and listening. My best monitor system is my car, it never lies, and I know it well.
AP: What’s the one piece of equipment you can’t live without?
DB: No question, my SSL G+ console, and My ADR Compex limiter.
AP: Have you ever used a POD or other amp-modeling device? What’s your take on those?
DB: They have a unique way of making everyone sound exactly THE SAME. Good for pre pro though.
AP: I was reading an interview a while back in Tape Op where a producer mentioned that he’s often had to bring in studio musicians (many times late at night, behind the band’s back) because some of the bands he’s worked with were utterly incompetent at their instruments. Is this a decision that you’ve had to face? If so, how do you break the news to the musician?
DB: That’s cheating. If a musician needs work we either get that done in pre pro or it usually does not happen on the session. I spend time with people that are only serious about practicing and learning their craft. I am not going to “fake it “ with a computer for anyone. Most people leave my room a little beaten up and always a better musician.
AP: What’s your take on the use of auto-tune in recordings? When or why will you use it (or not use it)? Is it just another tool (like tuning a guitar)?
DB: What a set up question!! You guys are funny. I use Melodyne over easy. I like to use a vocal coach and a big warp up every day a lot more!! That’s my unique formula. You would be shocked as to what can be done if you spend some time with artists helping them to achieve their dreams. They can sing, they just need the technique.
AP: What studio tricks have you developed over the years?
DB: I have learned to shut my mouth a lot more and let artists do their thing until they either work things out or need me desperately. I have also learned not to tell everyone all my secrets.
AP: What’s your take on analog vs. digital?
DB: Digital 96k recording all the way. You can't find good half inch tape anymore and I don’t need half my budget to go to bad batches of 2” tape. TAPE IS OVER!
AP: How much impact does a producer have on a band's "sound" on the album? Is it the producer or the engineer that would be most responsible?
DB: The band is responsible for their sound. The producer and engineer are responsible to understand the band's vision and execute it emotionally and sonically.
AP: Do you have to like the band’s music to work on their project?
DB: Yes on producing. Mixing is different. I will mix anything like most mixers.
AP: What advice do you have for people who are interested in getting involved in engineering and producing? Do you recommend reading any books, going to school, or things like that, or should one just get their hands dirty and try experimenting?
DB: I recommend going to schools like Berklee In Boston, Fanshawe College in Canada, or Five Towns in New York, and learning from people who really know what they are doing, then experimenting on their own at home or in the studio.
AP: Have you ever chased a band down and invited them to come record with you?
DB: Many times. I am still trying to get Mute Math in my studio, but they never reply to me. They are a very busy band. I love that band, I love their music and I love their videos.
AP: What pieces of gear would you recommend for a beginner to get started with (hardware/software/mics/etc)?
DB: Windows and Nuendo, or Mac and Pro Tools, or a Digi 002 and a good compressor.
AP: How does one learn to become a “producer”?
They listen to the greats like Arif Mardin, Quincy Jones and George Martin and pray they have enough talent. Or keep doing it until they find their "sound.” It takes years. It’s a never-ending process. The art of making records these days is mostly lost. Thank god for Aaron Sprinkle, Matt Squire and all the young producers and mixers making a huge contribution to the sound of today!
AP: When someone says an album suffers from "overproduction" what does you, as a producer, think?
DB: That there are too many instruments being played at the same time, bad arrangements, bad mixing, but, it is usually just bad songs.
AP: Can you explain the difference between auto-tune, pitch correction, and vocoder for us?
DB: Auto tune is pitch correction. A vocoder is a plug-in or keyboard that follows the voice with a tone or sound.
AP: What’s currently in your stereo/playing on your iPod?
DB: Miles Davis, Bitches Brew, Pat Metheny, and Jeff Beck, as well as Mute Math, U2, The Police, Underoath, Panic! at the Disco and Taking back Sunday.
AP: What are some of your favorite albums, production-wise? If you had to choose a favorite, what one album would it be, production wise?
DB: Wow, hard. There is not one. I love Scritti Polliti's Cupid and Pysche, Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon, and Earth Wind and Fire's Greatest Hits. I have a lot of respect for The Beatles' White album, Off the Wall Michael Jackson and anything Trevor Horn gets his hands on--he is OUTRAGEOUS.
AP: What is your favorite album of all time?
DB: Miles Davis' Bitches Brew because it blended rock and jazz for the first time and opened the music up to everyone. I am old, deal with it.
AP: What bands would you like to produce? What albums do you wish you had the chance to have produced, and why?
DB: U2, New Years Day, The Police Greatest Hits, Jeff Beck, Blow by Blow and the Sex Pistols. Not in that order.
AP: Some of our users have noticed you on the AP.net forums; how’d you first find the site, and why are your posts so hilarious?
DB: I loved the way everyone was slamming everyone. I had never heard about the site until Hawthorne Heights turned me onto it. It just seemed really funny to hear all these outrageous opinions and it really intrigued me. I have learned a lot about music and what young people really want from this site. It reminds me of Downbeat magazine in 1973; everyone is an expert. And everyone knows the “coolest” band. I chimed in because I wanted to call some people out, they deserved it, they are MEAN!
AP: What's one thing you want to tell "scene kids" that you doubt they want to hear?
DB: Learn to play your instruments, study hard,and commit to your craft in every way, there are sacrifices to be made. Never think you’re too hot, or too cold, be humble and remember it’s a long road to the top of the mountain. Most people never see the other side.
Sometimes you might be in the unique position to learn something extremely valuable about your music, your life and your career. If you are lucky enough, then sit yourself down, and shut the fuck up and learn something.
I have had that opportunity, and I thank my mentors, Bob Ezrin, Arif Mardin, Billy Cobham and my late Father Basil every day. There is no shortcut to success, just commitment and knowledge.
I admit it, I did.....do I get the 2 million sales now?
hahaha, you did a great job too. They're a guilty pleasure. I'll just say I'm a fan of David Bendeth. My band needs you to harness our energy too. Matt Halpern said our record doesn't capture it. And I thought today about, before reading this, and realized its because the dude who recorded us hadn't seen us live. He didn't care to. I should've known it was a problem when he was surprised by our set AFTER we recorded. Then, here in this interview is was reinstated in a huge way. Crazy.