RSR049 – Steve Walsh – Producing In Prague - Recording Studio Rockstars

RSR049 – Steve Walsh – Producing In Prague

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RSR007 - David Glenn - The Mix Academy

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RSR049 - Steve Walsh - Producing in Prague

My guest today is Steve Walsh, an award winning songwriter, engineer, and executive producer of BANG Europe. Steve has been writing and recording for over three decades and has scored music for countless commercials, film, and TV receiving awards from Lions, Clios, AICP, D&AD and even a Czech, Anděl award.

A Berklee College of Music graduate, Steve was born in Boston and has lived in NYC, Nashville and now, Prague, Czechoslovakia with his family, where Steve says he is reminded daily that speaking Czech is infinitely more difficult than making a living as a musician.

He continues to play guitar, record, and tour with his own band. And his latest album, "Daily Specials", was released on the acclaimed Czech label, Animal Music.

When back in NYC he regularly performs with The Brooklyn Boogaloo Blowout along with Grammy-nominated bassist/ composer, Viktor Krauss.

Steve’s song and production credits include creating the #1 song in Denmark, a "Top 10" in the UK, and a "Top 20” in the US. And more recently his song, “Stars In My Eyes” was released on legendary singer, Judy Collins’ 2015 all-star duet release, Strangers Again.

Production/ writing / engineering credits include, Erasure, One Republic, Fil Eisler, O`Shea, Anna K featuring REEF and Spotify’s SxSW concert series.

I think the biggest lesson I learned in Nashville is...

Music is Made Best by Committee

Always get someone who’s going to do that particular part better than you and collaborate with those people.

Steve Walsh

Working in TV and Film 

I got a job through a friend of mine composing and helping him at a music company in New York. Learning how to work in the commercial and television music world really gets your ProTools and studio chops together so fast because the workflow is very different from a recording studio in the sense that everything just moves so quickly. Sometimes you’re working on stuff you’re passionately involved in and sometimes maybe less passionately involved in, but sometimes that’s the ideal place to get your skills together because you can really focus on learning the tools. 

Why is Music Better by Committee?

When I was in NYC it was so often that we’d have teams of rhythm sections much like the way we would have in Nashville except it was less common to be playing together in a studio in New York then it is in Nashville even to this day. So often you’d be working with a songwriter or artist and making contributions to their music, and then you’d get to the recording studio and it would be an overdub situation, one at a time. The truth is still to this day in Nashville there are more groups of human beings playing the same song at the same time than anywhere else on planet earth. You can waste so much time when you’re doing everything by yourself or your micromanaging other people then if you just get everyone together and start playing.

What Do You Think about Mixing or Producing by Committee?

I think mixing is a little different. Once you get to the mixing stage, if you’re together in the room and there’s a common vision for what you’re trying to do and people are relatively self aware of what the actual goal is, maybe there are better odds of it being a good experience.

I think the real trick we’re all faced with is how do you make something sound like a record? The truth is this starts at the beginning of the production process, you need to figure out what the scope of the project is going to be and how to best get there in order to make it sound and have the experience feel you want it to feel. The truth is mixing starts at the very first meeting between a producer and the artist and slowly focusing the whole process. It’s trying to make it feel just on the edge of being a little out of reach, but not pushing too far where someone starts to become stressed

Making Records in Prague

It’s interesting making records here. There is an incredible group of musicians here. Now Prague is famous for film recording with orchestras, there’s lots of great studios for that. Classically before world war II, the Prague film industry was very big and sometimes you hear people refer to Prague as a small Paris and before the war it very well was! There were so many famous painters, poets, critical thinkers, and musicians, probably the most famous Czech composer is Dvorjak. There was a thriving film business in the 30s and 40s which lead to really, really great orchestras and recording music for film which was reinvigorated in the 90s and because it was less expensive to record an orchestra than maybe in LA or London a lot of projects started to come to the Czech Republic. Now the Czech Republic and Slovakia are divided and people are very proud of this fact. But basically there’s three or four great studios here and there’s three or four great orchestras that can make up various sized studio groups and on a daily basis there are all sorts of international film orchestral projects going on here.

The music scene has become a little more homogenized unfortunately, but the thing that is really interesting to me is the passion people have with their bands. To have a band, especially if you’re singing in Czech or Slovak, there are some large bands that make careers, but it’s definitely not like if you were a European based band playing all over Europe. The thing that's most fascinating to me is when I first came here, I had a buddy who introduced me to his buddies and these guys love everything British and american classic rock n roll. They revered it so much and it was so difficult for them to get access to it before the revolution, that people here build the most incredible instruments or do the most incredible repair work and they know everything vintage Fender and Gibson instruments and amps. So for instance, my vintage tube amps that I brought over here from the states are playing as well if not better then when I had them in the states because the guys that worked on them revered them so much! They’ve never even seen some of these things, but they’d pull out their schematic that they’ve got on the black market in the 80s and they know everything about it and say, “I can’t believe I’m seeing one of these!” Back in the day they were so hopped up about finding pallets of photocopiers to smash to take out the chips to build tubescreamer because they’be never seen one, but heard it through a random Stevie Ray Vaughan album or whatever.

“Bluegrass is very, very popular [in Prague]” - Steve Walsh

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Stereo Bus Mix Tips

Before I even go to bus I try to have groups before the mix bus to simplify it. So maybe having all my drums to a pair, sending all my music to a bus, and sending all my vocals to a bus. That way I can control them independently from one another, especially with compressors the vocals won’t affect the whole track. Right now I’m at a point where I’m playing around with different things, but generally I’ll have an EQ and a compressor. Now that the delay compensation has gotten so good in ProTools, I’m also able to print stems that as closely as possible recombine the actual mix because the archiving of projects is becoming essential. What I suggest to people, especially composers. If you don’t do this it’s a wasted opportunity. When you finish anything, print the stems. I print each instrument with effects plus the mix and I create a new session which I import these things back in: markers, tempo, any pertinent information. I also always keep any midi tracks because you can always go back in and edit the midi. Anyone can go in and create a new version because you spent that extra time at the end to archive the track and as artists our work is our only asset we have.

“Experience is what you get when you don’t get what you want” - Steve Walsh

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Jam Session 

Q- What was holding you back at the start?
A -I was lucky to get into this when computers were taking off. As soon as I saw the Digi001 I got excited because I really wanted to get into recording, but things like mixing boards and doing sessions on adats, or recording in a studio on a tape machine really freaked me out! Even today people ask me to engineer something and I get butterflies. I get so nervous with these things because I like how easy it is to use ProTools.

“Don’t overcommit” - Steve Walsh

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Q- What was some of the best advice you got early on?
A -I was really lucky to study with an amazing jazz improvisation teacher in New England, Charlie Banacos. Charlie used to say, “It can either take ten minutes or ten years.” And I think what he meant by that is it’s up to you. If you want to learn about something do the work and get involved, don’t wait.

Q- Share with us a recording tip, hack, or secret sauce.
A -Preparation is everything. Know something about who you’re going to be working with. Ask your friends, use google, do whatever you have to do. Know what you’re getting yourself into, know what you’re going to need, have some anticipation of what you're going to do when you try to record. Create an environment where the person you’re working with feels inspired. Make your studio work for you, but also make it work for the people who come there.

“The truth is mixing starts at the very first meeting between a producer and the artist” - Steve Walsh

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Q - Share a favorite hardware tool for the studio
 Moving to another country changes a lot of stuff. I always love having old guitars. I have a great old 68 Paisley Telecaster. The biggest game changer in the last 6 all our control rooms we having standing desks. So basically I got those isoacoustic stands they are making, and then I saw these in a guitar center in Alabama. Just being able to stand and be moving has been great for me.

Q -Share a favorite software tool for the studio
 Learn the tools you have. The best software tools are less is more and knowing what you’re using and getting the most out of it.

“Reaching down to turn a knob or plug something in is different than mousing around" - Steve Walsh

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Q -Share with us a tip for the business side of the recording studio

A - I hate e-mail. I was able to keep my head above water for so long, but I’m dealing with so many people and so many countries. So things I use all the time is BaseCamp, which is a project management software tool. It’s incredible because you can deal with your clients, you can deal with teams, you can put all your files in it, you can link to google docs. It’s been very good to us.

Q -If you had to start over what gear would you need? How would you find people to record? And how would you make ends meet while you got started?

A - As you said, I am the test case! I thought about this question from two angles. But aside from either angle the first thing you have to do is become part of the scene and you have to add some value to the existing scene. So let's look at it from two ways.. If you can afford a simple set up, cool. But the other way to do it is to get yourself in the door, in any door, and the key here is you need to make yourself irreplaceable at whatever it is. Look at studios wherever you are moving to and start working for them for free. Just start showing up trying to help. In Prague there’s a lot of blues and jazz. The first thing I did is started going out and hanging at people’s gigs, supporting the local music, and slowly getting to know people and finding ways you can help them. Within 6 months to a year, you’re going to start to find a place for yourself. As far as making money, it’s always better if it’s on another stream.

“As artists our work is our only asset we have” - Steve Walsh

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Q - What is the single most important thing a listener can do to become a rockstar of the recording studio?

A -You just have to do it. Don’t stop! Just keep that beginner's mind and dedicate yourself to mastery. Watch, learn, ask questions, don’t be a jerk, and keep doing it and doing it and something eventually is bound to happen. 

Twitter - @SteveWalshMusic

Big Thanks to Merissa Marx for this week's episode!!