Pay Attention to the People Behind the Music - Producer Week
ADDITIONAL CONTRIBUTORS BTR Editorial

Written by DJ Jake

As a special treat for Producer Week at BTR, we asked Mr. Jason of Old School Studios (and BTR’s Planet Beet, Funk & Soul Hour, and more), and Serious Business’ Travis Harrison (and of course, Serious Business Records) a few questions to try to learn more about the job, pleasures and pains of the music production trade.

Mr. Jason, Founder of Old School Studios

BTR: What goes into planning out a production job, and what are the steps start-to-finish when you’re on a project?

Mr. Jason: Excerpt: “… Most of the people I record now are people that keep coming back to work with me again and again, so they know what to expect and I know what to expect. They know that there are going to be certain kinds sounds that my brain and ears are going to naturally go for, and if it doesn’t suit them they probably wouldn’t come to me in the first place…”

Listen to the full response on BTR SoundCloud

BTR: What programs do you use and have you used in the past, and how have they affected your production style?

Mr. Jason: Excerpt: “… I tend to sort out all the problems at the source rather than later on using plug-ins and other ways of wrestling things back, so the software isn’t that relevant to me… I try and keep things as simple as possible without compromising the sound…”

Full response to question 2

BTR: Do you have the sound you want in your head or on paper before you go in, or does it flow out, trial-and-error style?

Mr. Jason: Excerpt: “… I’ve been doing this for over 20 years, so I’ve got all the trial and error out the way. I pretty much know what mics sound like what, what mics sound best on certain instruments, what mic positions do to the sound…. If a band comes in and I’ve never heard them before, I’ll listen to them setting up to get a good idea of what techniques will suit them well. If it’s an awesome, old school funk, soul, or jazz drummer, I’ll try to get away with using one mic on the kit if I can, and let him (or her) balance his own sound because he knows what he’s doing…”

Full response to question 3

BTR: Are you cognizant of your influences during production (and if so what are the main ones)?

Mr. Jason: Excerpt: “… I tend to go with what my ears want to hear. Even if I start heading somewhere thinking, ‘Oh it’d be great to do this record similar to a Budos Band record,’ I could watch their video, see how they laid everything out, but it’s gonna sound different when a band comes in and they play differently… I tend to just listen to what’s happening in the room and do the best that I can…”

Full response to question 4

BTR: In your case, how hands-on are you about what comes in and what goes out in terms of the sound/styles that Old School Studios wants to showcase?

Mr. Jason: Excerpt: “… (for Live at Old School Radio Sessions) Style doesn’t really come into it that much. When they come into my studio to do a radio session, they’re basically going to work the way that I tell them to work, and they don’t expect anything else – they’re not paying for it, and they’re pleased to get the exposure from the radio show and get a decent quality recording out of it… Most of recording is sort of psychology – getting good takes out of people and making them feel calm and comfortable in the studio…”

Full response to question 5

Travis Harrison, Co-Founder and President of Serious Business Records

BTR: What goes into planning out a production job, and what are the steps start-to-finish when you’re on a project?

Travis: The answers to many questions begin with “it depends.” It really does depend on many variables. How are the songs? What kind of musicians are you working with? What kind of time frame and budget are you working with? Once you’ve got a sense of the answers to those questions you can answer questions like these: Tempo? Key? Arrangement? Parts? Sounds? Gear? Who’s playing too much? Everyone? How do you tell them? Should you mention anything? Is there a vibe happening? Should you risk ruining it to “make it better?” yes or no? Do you have time to scrap it and start over? Why? Oh no. Let’s move on to the next song.  Sometimes it is fun to purely wing it. Don’t plan anything. That’s how you run into frustrating problems though. Oh shit I should have planned. You gotta have fun doing it or else you should just stop. This is a large question. Make the most out of every situation. Maybe I’ll just move on. Mm’kay.

BTR: What programs do you use and have you used in the past, and how have they affected your production style?

Travis: I am a Pro Tools man. It is an extension of my brain and body at this point. I also record to my 2″ tape machine a lot.

BTR: Do you have the sound you want in your head or on paper before you go in, or does it flow out, trial-and-error style?

Travis: Again, not to dodge the question but it really does depend on what and whom you are working with. Yes indeed sometimes a very clearly formulated production vision accompanies the genesis of a song. The smaller the core creative team, the easier it is to follow a specific vision. But indeed this type of clarity can be elusive if not rare so you wind up drawing upon the tools and resources you have available to you to create something awesome in the heat of the moment.

BTR: Are you cognizant of your influences (and if so what are the main ones)?

Travis: Too many to list. I draw from a very wide platform of sounds, styles, artists and genres of recorded popular music I’m familiar with, moved by, and ultimately influenced by. I’m a psycho collector and consumer of records. I’ve been ceaselessly consuming music since I was 9. I like trivia. I love music. It’s important to me to be able to sit down with anyone and find common ground. As a producer I’m often working in a purely collaborative role. The more control I get over a project the more I want it to sound like James Murphy working with Pink Flag era Wire in Bob Pollard’s basement. Wait, and Bowie and the RZA are there too. And I’m seeing Rick Danko. That makes no sense actually. I dunno. This is my brain. I love music.

BTR: In your case, how hands-on are you about what comes in and what goes out in terms of the sound/styles that Serious Business wants to showcase?

Travis: Serious Business is 2 things: the recording studio and the tiny record label. On the studio side I’m a professional. On the label side we are doing song-y things. I’m extremely hands on because I have no choice. My hands are touching everything that comes in and out. Hahaha.

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