How long have you been working as a producer/mixer?
I’ve been involved in music since I was a little kid, but I’ve been making an earning off capturing vibrations in the air for only a couple of years.
How did you become a producer/mixer?
I started very young, maybe 8 or something. I think what started it off properly was finding an old Home Alone Talk Boy Dictaphone I had, I’d go around making noises and recording weird things.
In my teens, I got hold of two cassette decks and a Laney bass amp speaker that had a stereo RCA inputs. I’d record on one deck, then play it out the speaker, and overdub onto the other deck. I always wanted to record my music; there must be a label out there looking for crappy teenage tape recordings? Could be the next thing?
I think where it got serious was at university (LIPA), where all of a sudden I was challenged to make bigger and better sounds. I really broke my balls over staying up and learning new things, I’d read Behind The Glass over and over. I wasn’t amazing at the theory, I even re-sat exams, but I really loved being hands on. Sennheiser awarded me with the Studio Excellence Award when I graduated, which included a neat Neumann TLM 102 as the prize. At the same time, I’d work as a runner or assistant for a few inspiring producers and mixers like Markus Dravs (Arcade Fire, Coldplay) and Ruadhri Cushnan (Mumford & Sons, Ed Sheeran).
A few years after university, and I’m working with some of the UK’s most exciting new acts and I just signed to Transgressive Records management. Not sure how I made the jump from hoovering studios to producing, but I’m very happy right now.
What is your DAW (Digital audio workstation) of choice?
I use Pro Tools mostly. It’s not as free flowing as Logic in many ways but its editing functions are amazing and I’ve learned to love it. Tab to Transient is hands down one of the best functions, a life saver for speed.
Do you prefer to mix alone or with the band/artist you work with?
I try to mix alone. The artist has to be happy with the final sound, but there is a level of artistic integrity as a mixer, and I think every mixer and producer has something different to offer, everyone has their own stamp. Plus, who wants to sit in a dark room for 8 hours with me?
Are you drawn to certain projects or do you take on whatever presents itself?
A bit of both really. I can keep busy when there aren’t projects going because I also work as a songwriter and as a musician playing in Spring King.
I find working with new people very exciting. Music is probably 70% of the experience; a lot of it is hanging out and having a good time too.
Do you have a studio where you prefer to work from or do you move around?
I move around. One of the nicest, cosy, places I’ve been to recently is Press Play Studios down in London.
Andy has a lot of nice gear down there. I believe King Krule did a lot of his album, if not, all there. I like hiring spaces when there is a budget. Parish halls, churches, community centres. It’s more exciting and you can get weirder sounds. These places generally have a lot of smaller rooms surrounding a bigger room so you have a lot of variety in acoustics.
For unsigned bands heading into the studio, what are your top three pieces of advice to get a band ready for recording?
Rehearse, the more you rehearse the less you have to think about what you’re playing and the more you can feel what you’re playing. Please don’t throw up, its cheesy but it’s completely true.
Open your mind to every possibility. One little change can send things in a whole other trajectory and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Don’t worry about what everybody else is doing. As soon as you compare your record to another, you’re headed for unnecessary pressures. Be inspired by other artists but do your own thing. Cliché, but everyone has something individual that should shine, it’s just about whether or not you’re ready to release it.
If a band has no budget and can only record at home or in a rehearsal room, what’s your advice on getting the best out of DIY project?
So many options these days. Depends what you can get hold of, but at the most basic of levels you can still do loads. One microphone and a laptop, and although not the most natural, but you can record every single thing separately. Just keep overdubbing, even if you wanted, record every single drum separately. It’s a bit clinical but you’d come out with a lot more control in post-production than recording it all live with one microphone.
If your rehearsal room has a mixing desk, put everything into it, then record the stereo outputs from the desk to your computer. It may be a bit rough and un-editable but if you tweak the levels for a while, it’d be a good demo.
Should unsigned bands find a producer they trust before investing funds into a recording?
I think having a producer from early on, if you want one, is a big help. If you are on the same wavelength and it develops into a working relationship, what more could you ask for…
It’s not a bad thing when a band doesn’t know what they want their record to sound like. If anything it opens up doors to try new things at early stages. Trying producers out can really inspire a band to try new things. This might include investing funds to try them out, everyone’s gotta live.
Is there any other advice that you think unsigned bands could benefit from at all?
Good music will always stand on its own feet. A hit isn’t always 3 minutes and 30 seconds, and Arcade Fire proved this yesterday when Reflektor was leaked.
Music is meant to move you, if you aren’t excited by an idea, work on it or move on. You can come back in a year to an old idea with new head-space. Make music because you love it, or else life will bite you in ass, and if life doesn’t then the record company will.
Photo by: Szelmostwa Światłoczułe
"A native of the latter city and producer to some of the North-West’s hottest emerging acts, Tarek is proving something of a go-to-guy for that raw aesthetic so highly sought after by the young and achingly cool with production credits on records by dream-pop kids Châteaux and psych-eccentrics Stealing Sheep amongst others.” - This Is Fake DIY
Audio Pro International’s focus on the best of the industry’s young audio engineers continues this week with the latest addition to our Rising Stars section.
Where did you study?
I studied at LIPA. I was on the Sound Technology degree there, and graduated last year.
Which band/project are you currently working on?
I’m currently working with Jethro Fox, All We Are and Chateaux. I also produce music for a few bands that I’m in - Kankouran and Spring King.
Jethro, and All We Are are both Liverpool-based musicians. I’ve just finished a new single for Jethro Fox and am working on two tracks for All We Are. Chateaux, on the other hand, are Manchester musicians who do a lot of cool indie surf. We’re constantly working on stuff and hope to release something with them in the not too distant future.
Where are you based/working at the moment?
I’m based in Manchester/Liverpool at the moment; I travel between the two a lot. I work from various spaces and just load my gear from place to place as necessary. I do a lot of the stuff at home as well, which is really laid back and means I can cook for people!
Which audio console are you currently using? And how many channels?
I’m currently working in the box, with a few pieces of outboard here and there. I just tried out some Golden Age Pre 73s, which I think I will be buying. They sound great and do the trick for what I’m after. I also use a Tascam 388 Mixer and Tape machine for tracking certain things to or bouncing stuff down onto. A lot of my favourite artists use the Tascam 388; once you get your head around it it’s superb.
Do you use any outboard effects/EQ, and if so, what are they used on and why?
I use a lot of outboard delay units and reverbs. I have a RE-201 Space Echo, two Melos Echo Chambers, a JSL Echo Chamber and a custom built Spring reverb, made by a friend of mine.
I’m obsessed with surf music, and a lot of garage rock, so I find myself straying to using trashier analogue delays like the Melos, which is a very temperamental unit. You never know what it’s going to do to a signal!
I try to use them live or mix them down onto the same track as the original dry signal; it really helps with being decisive and committing to sounds.
What is your console of choice?
My console of choice would definitely be an Audient ASP 8024 or an SSL AWS 900. I really love both of those consoles.
If you could work with any band/artist who would it be?
It would be between Lee Scratch Perry, TY Segall and Seun Kuti. It’s definitely a tricky decision, those guys all have their own amazing talents. If they all toured together that’d be a dream!
Hey Tarek how did you get into producing?
I think I’ve got a long, long way to go as far as producing goes, it’s been a short history so far. My earliest memory of recording was probably when I owned a Home Alone “Talkboy” cassette recorder/Dictaphone type thing. It was great! I’d go around recording weird noises, me swearing and saying naughty words and anything in between. I used to record people shouting at other people, and then at awkward moments I’d play it back to them in front of everyone. I was only 6 or 7 so it was quite a cheeky thing to do.
After that, I owned a cassette deck which I’d record my band onto, it was a real basic setup, it was a lot of fun, and once it was all done I’d spend days duplicating cassettes and handing them out at school.
The next step was just a bit more natural; I was in bands and wanted to record them and get it out there. I’d get frustrated listening to other records and how I couldn’t get mine to sound as good, so I just kept pushing to try and get better and better results. Eventually I was buying pedals, messing with weird effects and just experimenting. Then I got into LIPA, which was a massive part of it all. I loved everything about the course. All the studio time and knowledge from my lecturers, I definitely couldn’t have got that kind of time so early on in any engineering/producing career. I was in the same halls as one of my best friends Joe Wills, we learnt a lot from each other. We we’re doing live dubs and messing around with gear from 6pm until 8am the in the morning for days on end. Sometimes to get a vibe, we’d bring in lights, a massive flag (which we’d hang up) and anything we could find to inspire us in the studio, which can sometimes be a little sterile and boring.
In between studying, I’d work for anyone I could when I had time. I was making coffees, cleaning basements, gardening, being a courier. Anything I could really, to get any tips and advice from some of the best guys in the business. Now that I’ve graduated, I’m living with fellow band member to all three bands I’m in, Peter Darlington (who also writes under the name Chipped Tooth). We basically listen to music all day, write songs or record and produce. He’ll come in with some amazing new band he’s just found online and surprise me with his great taste in music every time. It is a very healthy place for music right now for my friends and me. We’re all enjoying it 100% and sharing the advice, techniques, music, bands, everything… All is well. I’m definitely glad I got into producing when I’m surrounded by such great people.
Whereabouts are you based?
I’m based between Manchester and Liverpool. I work wherever necessary, including London from time to time when I work for other engineers like Ruadhri Cushnan. He is a fantastic engineer and I’ve been really lucky to be able to watch over him as he does his thing.
You’ve worked with, one of our favorite new acts, Jethro Fox. How did that collaboration come about?
Me and Jethro studied at the same place (LIPA), and we were in a band briefly together. We were sat around and I heard one of his demos and really liked it. I remember I had so many deadlines around that time and so did he, but I threw them all aside to record these tracks he had done. I had to. I loved them so much that I ended up side tracking a lot from my coursework for a good week or so. After that, we kept on working together, I think what helps is that we are also really good friends and he is a real laugh to be around. There is never doom and gloom in the studio, its constant fun, even at the most stressful of times we’re both very good at having a laugh and seeing through it to an end result.
How do you get from demo to finished product and is there a set method you work to?
It really depends on the nature of the project and what the aim of it is. If the band want it to be as live as possible, we might do it all live with maybe a few overdubs. If the band wants it to be really produced and polished we might record every part separately and bring it all together with edits and comping of takes etc. It all depends really. I don’t think I have a set method.
A big part of it is also how the band want to do things, how they feel most comfortable. If they don’t know how they feel comfortable, we search to find that method together and go from there.
To what extent do you feel that the choice of producer can make or break a song?
The biggest thing I’ve learnt so far in the small amount of time I’ve been doing this is that communication plays a massive role in whether the producer makes or breaks the song. If there are breaks in communication, and everyone involved doesn’t get the vibe on the same wavelength, then the project can fall to pieces quite quickly.
Choosing the right producer is always key, but these days, producers are doing all types of stuff, and its interesting to see what comes out of a project when you have a hip hop producer on a rock record or whatever. I think as long as everyone involved can see an end target or at least go along the same road together towards the unknown, then its fine. If you get a producer and band that aren’t willing to compromise, then that’s when the song can be broken. It’s all about compromise; at the end of the day it is just as much your art as it is theirs.
To what extent do you select the acts you work with and are there particular styles or genres you feel more comfortable developing?
I like to contact bands personally if I like their music, or if they contact me and I like their music I’ll say yes. Right now I’m in three bands (Kankouran, The Bodyboarders and Spring King) so producing is something that I try to do as much of when we’re not writing with the bands. I really enjoy working with bands that are interested in a vibe. Some of my favorite songs are terribly recorded but you can get away with that if the song is good. Recently I’ve been trying to get a bit grittier with my recordings so I’m edging towards bands that enjoy that sonic quality.
I’ve been working with a lot of indie, surf and garage music. For me half the battle is the band being great, the other half is making sure they’re also more interested in capturing a vibe than a technically correct recording. I try to leave in mistakes sometimes if the performance was intense and interesting. Saying that though, I also enjoy working to perfect things, and hyper-editing to the point where things sound over produced. I like everything across the spectrum, my producing career has really only just started in the grand scheme of things, so I guess in a year or so I’ll probably have different answers to this question.
Any new acts you’re working with that you think we should check out?
I’ve been in the studio recently with some really cool guys called Chateaux. They’re from the Manchester area, and are up to some great things. Super talented. Another band called Shout Timber from London, they’ve got some cool songs and their drummer is super tight! Producing a track or two for a Liverpool band called All We Are this summer as well, I’m excited to begin working with them. And as always I’ve been working with Jethro Fox as well, always an honor. He’s really quick and really open to trying anything. He dots around the room from instrument to instrument, it’s always entertaining.
In general, local acts to check out that I’ve been listening to recently:
- Mikhael Paskalev, White Bicycles, Brown Brogues, Vasco De Gama.
Jethro Fox - Blinding Light
Recorded, Mixed and Produced by Tarek Musa
Stealing Sheep - Do As You Will (Record Store Day 2013 Release)
Recorded, Mixed and Produced by Tarek Musa
The Old Silent - Ill Wind
Produced By The Old Silent
Mixed By Tarek Musa
The Old Silent - Ever You
Produced By The Old Silent
Mixed By Tarek Musa