Vibe and authenticity are everything, both in the music we finish together & in our working relationship! I am very passionate about helping make your music sound the way you wish it sounded & in keeping the collaboration vibes happy along the way. Maybe your amazing music & my decades of experience will help us create something FANTASTIC together?
Here is a bit of my path to here. Since studying music at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts and playing in countless bands as a drummer, guitarist, vocalist, or keyboardist, most of my life has been lived working in music. I have spent the last 25 years as a producer, audio engineer, and composer. During fifteen of those years, I owned and operated a recording facility in Los Angeles. My wife and I have now lived in the beautiful San Francisco Bay Area for the last several years.
I have been fortunate to have worked as an engineer or mixing engineer on records for up-and-coming as well Grammy-winning artists such as Red Hot Chili Peppers, J Dilla, Michael Buble, Mike Shinoda/Linkin Park, Mickey Hart (Grateful Dead), Zakir Hussain, Flogging Molly, Styles of Beyond, and others. I had the honor of working on records with renowned engineers and producers such as Rick Rubin, Ariel Rechtshaid, Dana Nielsen, Ryan Hewitt, and many others. I have composed music for television shows such as America’s Next Top Model, Grey’s Anatomy, Dawson’s Creek, and more.
I am here to bring out the best vibes in your record through mixing, production, or by adding live/programmed instruments to your tracks. We can meet in person or work via video. I often work in Pro Tools (HDX) or Ableton using Amphion monitoring and many other rad audio tools. Let's finish a record!
I'd love to hear about your project. Click the 'Contact' button above to get in touch.
11 ReviewsEndorse McKay Garner
I began working with McKay, of all times, during the Pandemic though - full disclosure - I've certainly known him much longer! He's been helping to rescue some tracks from a prior session as well as help us with pre-production and advisory on achieving the target sound we're after. His multi-discpiline skillset, and easy demeanor, make him a secret weapon - especially for songwriters - looking to develop their material. He's also been excellent at challenging me to not settle and to get creative, of all things, and experiment. Can't recommend McKay enough!
McKay recorded some of my vocals in his studio. He is super professional and was able to get a variety of takes from me that gave the song the perfect character we were going for. He was easy to work with and has all the right equipment for any mixing, producing, or recording you'll need. Would work with him again!
I’ve worked with McKay for nearly 20 years. He’s a great engineer and producer. His professionalism in the studio has always been top tier. He’s also really fun to work with because he allows for creativity and artistic expression, yet is also very picky and has specific ideas about how to create the vibe he is looking for.
I have had the pleasure of working with Mckay on several projects over the last 20 years and utilized his many talents for the different rolls needed. As an engineer/producer, Mckay recorded my drums for several different published albums and artists. As a mixer, Mckay brilliantly mixed an EP for another project I was doing. Mckay is a top musician, brilliant when it comes to getting sounds for an album, he is an honest, hard working, and fun guy to work with. He also knows how to pop lock.
McKay is a multi-talented, highly perceptive and insightful collaborator. I work on sonically wide ranging, multi-layered scapes and groves -- McKay handles complex musical and mix challenges gracefully, patiently and artfully. I have worked with him on all of my recent music -- having him lay down both acoustic and triggered drums, as well as production, mixing and mastering. Once I was introduced to McKay, I became an addict to his process, collaborative approach, beautifully designed recording studio, and, not the least, his friendship.
I've known McKay for years now. He's a Bay Area institution. A smart, communicative, highly-technical engineer and musician who can mold his talents to fit a broad variety of styles. He's one of those rare diamonds in the music industry who knows everything, and will share it with you gladly. If you're not sure if he can do a thing, ask him. Chances are he can, or knows someone who can. It's worth mentioning too that you'll never meet a nicer guy, and he's passionate about making your project the best it can be.
McKay is a master of the craft and can deliver exactly what you want in your mix as well as plenty that you didn't know you wanted and now can't live without. The process of mixing with him is so inspiring, and has a very productive yet easy flow. He is always excited to explain what he's doing if asked and has a quiet and surprisingly hilarious sense of humor. He's also been my teacher in music production and using Ableton. In that realm he is patient, infinitely knowledgable and explains things in a way that actually makes sense! He is my go-to for all music production help forever.
My name is Cortés Alexander and McKay produced my debut CD “SWELL”. It was critically acclaimed worldwide and a lot of fun to make. I was on a world tour singing backup for Liza Minnelli while we made it, which made it take longer to complete, but McKay was a patient and incredible producer. He played drums, bass, guitar, and even swept a broom for that perfect brush sound. I’ll work with him again in a second.
I've worked with Mckay for almost 10 years, including 3 albums, a few singles, as a producer, mixing engineer, tracking engineer, recently mastering, and also enjoy his own compositions. Super knowledgeable, but always learning. Soothing voice but knows how to give input without turning off my creative juices.
I hired McKay to help me set up my home studio and I'm so glad I did. It was about a month before the first lockdown and it was a game changer to have my vocal booth set up properly with the room treated and a run down of where my levels should be for optimal sound. Collaborators I've worked with since often remark that my vocals sound just right (even though I'm using a very inexpensive mic). McKay is very generous with his time and knowledge, has a TON of professional experience. He's also super humble - it's easy to ask questions and he was always very encouraging. Highly recommend!
McKay has worked on my music for almost two years, but it became clear early on that I found a musical brother. His passion and skill in the craft of album-making is astounding and inspiring to be around! The level of care he puts in outweighs other engineers I've worked with. His talents are only equaled by his kindheartedness. The experience has been a total blast! (Bonus: he's an incredible drummer and has an extensive network if you need session musicians, which came in handy!) I plan to do all my upcoming albums with him. If I could give a 6-out-of-5-star rating I would.
Interview with McKay Garner
Q: Tell us about a project you worked on you are especially proud of and why. What was your role?
A: There are so many that I have worked on that I love! I won't play favorites on past ones here, but I am truly excited about this new Jesse Loren Strickman record that is coming out soon! This is the first record I have worked on with Jesse and the songs are just great. We are producing this one together and I am playing drums on several tracks. I am about to mix the first single and then more will follow!. It is KILLER! Really excellent.
Q: What's your 'promise' to your clients?
A: I keep it real, but I also try to deliver alternative views to an approach with kindness and tact. I promise to keep it honest about how your music is landing to me emotionally, technically, or otherwise, when feedback is desired. I also promise to take in your perspective and see if my initial reaction can adapt to this new view, when different from my own. Sometimes looking at things differently can really set something new and rad in motion. I also promise to GO FOR IT and I hope you will, too. When playing an instrument, mixing, producing a record, or whatever, we have to put out some ideas that do not land by playing the wrong note, by botching a take, by trying something BANANAS, without fear. That is where the good stuff lives and that is where I promise to keep GOING FOR IT.
Q: What do you like most about your job?
A: Really it is that I get to listen to music all day! I feel like most of my job is either peeling back things getting in the way of the emotion coming through the speakers, or creating inspiration to further propel the emotions already there, be it in mixing, production, or if I am playing an instrument.
Q: What's the biggest misconception about what you do?
A: To non-musicians, as a producer, it may be a misconception that I either play everything on a record or don't influence anything when I do not play anything on a record. I may be heavily involved in performances and/or sounds on a record, or guide a band or artist, that already has the emotion dialed, into their best performances and arrangement. Part of being a pro is know when something is already right, be it a performance or a part. It is similar for mixing. One does not have to change the sound of every track in a mix. Rather, it can be best to decide what is featured and when, and make sure the other elements are supporting that featured emotion in tone, volume, space, etc.
Q: What are you working on at the moment?
A: Ahhh let's see! I just finished mixing a track for an orchestra in LA. I have a new dirty electronic single of my own that I just finished mastering. I mixed and mastered two songs by up-and-coming Bay Area electropop band Great Highway. I mixed a rock track for Cure for Gravity. I just finished mixing/mastering and some sound design for a new Orbital Labs track. I am co-producing a super killer indie folk pop record with the artist Jesse Loren Strickman. We should have the first single of that record out very soon. I have been playing lots of drum sessions, including on Jesse's record, for other artists as well. I get to play drums on a lot of tracks for my good friend, and recent Grammy winner, Nahuel Bronzini on records he is producing or engineering. I love how diverse my day can be. It's rad. We are in pandemic land, so upon opening my new studio last July, and finding out no one can really come through in person (crazy right?), I got set up quickly to work remotely via Zoom and the Audiomovers ListenTo plugin for high-quality monitoring over the web. It's worked so well and I, and my clients are really used to it now. I have cameras for drum tracking session from my kit and at the mix
Q: Analog or digital and why?
A: I love both equally. It's like asking me "Pizza or tacos?" haha. I have a strong love for specific analog pieces and workflows and also for digital tools that analog cannot do. I have learned to make records with sounds I love on both formats. It has been many years since I worked with analog tape, but I do have a hybrid analog/digital studio with select analog pieces in my recording and mixing chain as well as digital tools that get me places faster, or impossible in analog, in some areas.
Q: What was your career path? How long have you been doing this?
A: I guess I am about 35 years into being a professional musician and about 26 as a professional producer/engineer. I started out playing drums in high school marching band and youth orchestras, then started a funk band with friends that luckily got really popular while I was at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts studying music. I was playing classical music during the day and chasing the pocket at night haha. I ended up playing in other types of bands and eventually got signed as a singer-songwriter to a label that moved me to LA. The label helped me develop as a producer by doing demos for other artists and then producing some of their releases in studios like Westlake in LA and on the East Coast. I had learned to play keys, guitar, and bass well enough to make musical things happen on records I worked on, and I had met enough stellar musicians in LA to call when I needed something specific, or better than I could play it. After that experience, I stayed in LA and opened my first studio in Pasadena, Ca. in partnership with an artist who had asked me to produce his record. This gave me the ability to work with other artists on days that we were not working on his record. I produced several other artists there before the studio building had a fire and forced me to build another studio. That buildout was much larger and gave me 1000 sq. feet and two studios to work in. My career really developed there and we had so many great people in. This is gonna get a bit "name droppy," but it really was a time of so many well-know people coming through and pushing the energy of the place while propelling my craft forward exponentially. My good friend, famed engineer and producer Dana Nielsen, started his career renting my B room there while also working at Westlake Audio in LA. He landed a job working for Rick Rubin and recommended me for several projects. I got the honor of working on some of those records, along with engineer/producer Ryan Hewitt, super-producer/songwriter Ariel Rechtshaid, and several talented artists that are household names or should be. It was a really fun time and a hotspot in LA (Atwater Village/Silverlake). The old Beastie Boys studio was across the street. The Black Eyed Peas were on the other end of our block and crazy stuff would happen, like Sara Bareilles and a film crew stopping in randomly to shoot part of the "Bottle It Up" video in my studio. I feel like the last 5-6 years in that studio told me what level I needed to push for as both a producer and mixing engineer. Picking up my first check at Warner Brothers for mixing a record was thrilling. Subsequent milestones just made me want to keep making records even more. I was just so fueled by the talent on the indie and megastar level that were sometimes only separated by financial resources. Around 2008, the economy was crashing hard and labels were changing drastically in budget and approach to adapt to Napster and the signs of the streaming preference. I felt more portable as a mixing engineer and my wife and I were eyeing a move to somewhere new. San Francisco seemed like a beautiful and still somewhat-local-to-LA choice. The Bay Area has so much art and innovation happening all at once from the tech of Silicon Valley to the deep roots of Oakland music and SF legends, to the musical and audio boundaries being pushed at Stannford, Berkeley, Mills College, and more. We moved to SF and later Oakland, and love it here! The vibes are great and I truly think it comes from the astounding natural beauty here.
Q: What questions do you ask prospective clients?
A: What things are you most excited about with your music? What things do you want to translate emotionally better? What would you like me to add input on? Are you the producer, or who else may have the main vision on where the emotional impact is supposed to land? (and the usual...What is your deadline? And what is your budget? So that I can see how to help you get where you want to go)
Q: What advice do you have for a customer looking to hire a provider like you?
A: Working with someone on something as special as your art requires trust. Vibe on the possible relationship with someone by having a conversation or several conversations with them. Get a vibe on how committed they are to getting you where you want to go and check out their work to feel out the quality of it. Even if they do not have something that sounds exactly like you do, you may find they are the perfect match if the vibe and their experience feels right.
Q: If you were on a desert island and could take just 5 pieces of gear, what would they be?
A: Oh man, a desert island with like no buildings 'n stuff? I guess some solar panels for power first haha. Add in a good coffee maker that magically has unlimited espresso beans, some great headphones, a laptop, and satellite wifi! Some faves are: 1. Amphion monitors. Desert island stuff! 2. AEA ribbon mics 3. the Overstayer Modular Channel 8755 (so versatile and makes everything sound cooler) 4. Gretsch drums 5. Pro Tools and Ableton (ok that's 2 I know!
Q: How would you describe your style?
A: I come from a groove background, so that is often prominent, that pocket matters for some music. That said, I have lots of experimental music that is non-traditional, non grid-based, non-groove oriented. I love arranging and sound design, so the use of melody, harmony, rhythm, and timbre all intermingle in my mixing and production work.
Q: Which artist would you like to work with and why?
A: Imogen Heap. Her songcraft is excellent and her use of technology is fun.
Q: Can you share one music production tip?
A: Sometimes you have to push past what you think is too much when performing, mixing, producing, etc. That is where art often lives. Push up the fader a bit too loud, belt that vocal a little harder, get past the fear of judgment and GO FOR IT. It is often better to pull back from letting go than to try to make "beige" more exciting.
Q: What type of music do you usually work on?
A: Honestly, it depends on the record. I am fortunate to be very versatile because I have worked on and played on LOTS of styles of music, both in LA and in the Bay Area (as well as growing up). I have been lucky to work on fantastic pop, hip-hop, folk, indie, electronic, rock, soul, and other records. My current days vary between mixing pop, indie folk, rock, and electronic projects. Right now I am producing separate electronic, rock, and indie records. I have mastered several different styles this year. I have played drums on lots of pop and indie records this year as well at my own studio, or for my friend, producer/mixer Nahuel Bronzini.
Q: What's your strongest skill?
A: My strongest skill is the ability to focus on the good stuff and keep the vibes positive. I want any parts, sounds, etc. added to your song to be the good stuff, too. Sure, we have to discuss potential weak spots in conveying the intended emotion of a song, but I am all about finding a positive solution to getting there as quickly as we can. My technical and artistic skills have been built over long many and hours doing it every day, but they are just a vehicle that give me many, many options for getting somewhere authentic and impactful when working on music together.
Q: What do you bring to a song?
A: I focused on songcraft early in my career and was lucky enough to get signed as a singer/songwriter at 26. That later helped me get hundreds of placements of songs and tracks in tv and film. Over the years, I have learned to embrace traditional song formula styles and more linear explorations with enthusiasm. They are just different forms of the art to me. We discuss what you are really trying to say both lyrically and musically with the song so that I can make sure the production, mixing, or instrument performances, etc. are going down that road, on message. I bring years of experience in songcraft, arranging, sound design, and as a producer to help realize a song in its intended emotions with authenticity.
Q: What's your typical work process?
A: For mixing, playing on a track, or production, it really comes down to what the vision is. If you have a specific vision for your song, we discuss that with as much detail as possible so that I can chart a path to getting you to that emotional impact for the song. I focus on all the things that make it work, starting with AUTHENTICITY in the song, arrangement, sounds, and performance. If it feels authentic, we are on the right track! I try to make the process as easy and as comfortable as possible. For mixing, I help with the technical side of getting the files from an artist the way I need them to fulfill the vision of the sound. I often take the artist's notes about the goal and any reference tracks they may have and I create a first mix. Then, we discuss any revisions desired and tweak the mix until the artist is happy! The same is true for mastering projects. If I am playing drums for your track, or keys or whatever (guitar, bass), we discuss the feeling desired, I adjust the sounds for my instrument in tone and tuning, and off we go.
Q: Tell us about your studio setup.
A: My newest studio was completed last year and focuses on mixing and production. I am very pleased with my mixes and drum tracking sounds in this new room! The acoustics of the build were designed very careful with both mixing and tracking in mind. I use an Avid HDX2 rig mostly with Pro Tools Ultimate and Ableton Live. Outboard equipment features are from Overstayer (my modular channel is fantastic!), UREI, SCA, Midas, and more. I have a complete Aviom headphone cue system. I have a 5.1 monitoring system (speakers) from Amphion (One18's) and dual Amphion subs (BaseOne25) for stereo work. There are also a few favorite pairs of small speakers I have collected over the decades of audio work. I have great mics from AEA (pair of N8's and an R84), Advanced Audio (CM251 and cm414's), Shure, Slate, and many more. I am fully rocking remotely with multiple cameras and the AudioMovers ListenTo plug-in for both mixing, mastering, and recording at my studio or even at yours over the web via remote control of your software from here if you prefer. This has been working great.
Q: What other musicians or music production professionals inspire you?
A: Some big influences for me have been Bjork, Imogen Heap, Prince, Richard Devine, Amon Tobin, Tchad Blake, Tom Elmhirst, Steve Hodge/Jam &Lewis, Bruce Swedien
Q: Describe the most common type of work you do for your clients.
A: I do a lot of mixing, music production, drum sessions as a player, and my mastering work is getting a lot of love.