Producing is my happy place. To me, the artist/producer relationship is sacred and beautiful. I’m always eager to work with anyone who shows up with passion. With support from my Masters degree in music production/composition + 15 years of writing/playing music of various genres, I hope to add fantasy, clarity, & cohesiveness to your music making.
I’m a Nashville based composer/producer/multi-instrumentalist. My earlier days of composing included improvising pieces for piano and writing/playing guitar/piano/drum parts & arranging songs in bands. Having also studied classical piano and been exposed to jazz, chamber music, orchestral music, etc. my whole life, I decided to pursue a Bachelors in Music—dual majoring in Music Composition/Percussion Performance at Ithaca College.
I’ve played drum set/percussion, piano/keyboards/synths, guitar/bass, as well as sung in both studio and live settings. I’ve done this from folk and jazz, to punk and electronic indie-pop. In the concert music realm, I’ve played percussion as either a soloist, or various chamber/ensemble settings, as well as in musical theater pits. I have a Master’s of Music in Commercial Music Composition and Arranging from Belmont University. My thesis, Creating Salience: Stages of Sonder, explores compositional technique, analysis, and philosophy. With this, I also wrote a 28-minute, 5-movement recorded work entitled, Stages of Sonder, I also performed all instruments (except cello) and did all engineering & mixing.
I currently work regularly as a music producer in Nashville where I take a wholistic approach. — Creative guidance, logistical awareness, mediating artists/engineers, emotional candor, & musical expertise are my specialties.
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Interview with R. Aaron Walters
Q: What was your career path? How long have you been doing this?
A: I have been composing music for over 15 years and playing music for 22 years but have been surrounded by music since birth. I started classical piano lessons when I was a child and eventually took up drums, guitar, and bass by the time I was a teenager. I studied classical and jazz and played in punk, funk/fusion, progressive rock, and contemporary indie-folk bands up to and through undergrad. In undergrad, I dual majored in percussion performance and music composition where I simultaneously learned how to be a better creator of music during the before (composition) and during (improvisation/performance) an occurrence of music. All the while, I was recording and producing records with the bands I was in and playing in various sessions. I also scored a short film during that time. After recording one of my more expansive works to date after undergrad, I moved to Nashville to begin my Master of Commercial Music with a Specialization in Media Composition and Arranging. There, I developed an even deeper set of senses to interpret the world of music. I wrote and compiled a 190-page thesis document outlining how music can be made most effective (ideally). Accompanying that was a 28-minute, single-track, cinematic, 5-movement, concept record entitled Stages of Sonder. Since then, I have been working as a freelance music producer, multi-instrumentalist, and musician for dance in Nashville, TN. I've sold my compositions around the world and done solo performances in front of large audiences. I've premiered new works multiple times a year and I play drums and piano live as often as I can.
Q: If you were on a desert island and could take just 5 pieces of gear, what would they be?
A: Assuming there's power on this desert island if I get to take gear there and that cabling is a given... Computer — MIDI Controller (Akai MPK261, Komplete Kontrol S88, etc.) — Loop Pedal (Boss RC-50, etc.) — Universal Audio Apollo 8p Interface — Townsend Labs L22 Modeling Mic. That's all I need to endlessly play, compose, and record music. The laptop speakers would have to do.
Q: What other musicians or music production professionals inspire you?
A: Tricky, but... Radiohead/Johnny Greenwood — Becca Stevens — Ben Howard — Beach Boys/Brian Wilson — George Martin — Jack Conte — Kimbra — Incubus — Local Natives — Allen Stone — Andy Shauf — Bjork — Jaga Jazzist/Lars Horntveth — Dirty Projectors — Esperanza Spalding — Haitus Kaiyote — Punch Brothers/Chris Thile — Porcupine Tree — Brad Meldau — Brian Blade — Tigran Hamasyan — Jesse Gillenwalters — Ethan Jodziewicz
Q: Describe the most common type of work you do for your clients.
A: I do what is called for but the common things are... Project management, organization, and quality control — Song Critique — Primary Instrumentation Composition (drums, keys, bass, guitar, etc.) — Lyric Assistance — Recording and performing drums, keys, guitar, bass, and computer-generated instruments — Session Management & Direction — String Composition & Arranging — Brass/Woodwind Composition & Arranging — Virtual Instrument Composition & Recording (full orchestra, synths, etc.) — Editing — Rhythmic correction — Pitch correction (multi-pitch) — Mixing — Overall personal support related to project
Q: What are you working on at the moment?
A: I'm working on this awesome project right now. It's a Greatest Hits album for an artist I'll leave unnamed. We're doing new versions of the Greatest Hits as epic cinematic/orchestral versions. It's going to be badass.
Q: Is there anyone on SoundBetter you know and would recommend to your clients?
A: I'm assuming he's on SoundBetter but I remember seeing somewhere that Jordan Perlson works for SoundBetter. He has been such an inspiration to me since I discovered Becca Steven's album Weightless. While I was studying percussion and drum set along with composition at Ithaca College, listening to his creativity and decision-making on the drum set (and beyond) had a deep effect on me. It was during one of the largest periods of growth in my life. Also, Timbre Cierpke is an amazing vocalist and harpist that I've worked with many times. She is so innovative and attentive.
Q: Analog or digital and why?
A: Analog can impart such beauty. For creativity though, I prefer working in digital. There's nothing like being able to workshop an idea as efficiently as possible with infinite options. I love working with tracks that have already been recorded analog sometimes, especially if it's the right genre. That's somewhat a "best of both worlds" scenario. Also, it's price permitting. Analog gear can be so expensive and there are plenty of in-the-box plug-ins that are copying that gear quite well.
Q: What's your 'promise' to your clients?
A: Your personal voice and/or artistic goals will always remain at the forefront. It is so important to me to not overshadow the artist. I see many producers getting excited and not reeling themselves in. Music academia is great at teaching you where to cut back on an idea and how to always be critical at every stage of an idea.
Q: What do you like most about your job?
A: Being a part of the creation of a brand new thing that is so deeply personal to the person bringing it to me. I'm honored to be let in to their personal lives and endeavors. It brings me great pleasure to lend my strengths to people who need that extra bit of help to get their project to the next level. Seeing an artist pumped about the final master is such an incredible feeling. That means I've made the right moves.
Q: What questions do customers most commonly ask you? What's your answer?
A: ??? Will you be able to affect my publicity or get me places ??? Probably not. I am not a manager, or a booking agent, or a social media marketer, or a publicist. Those people are meant to help you go places with your music and brand. You need an entourage or you need to fill all of those shoes yourself. I have opinions but my main goal as a producer is to help you arrive at the most effective and well constructed piece of art possible that allows you to express your point. Everything that goes in to making the song what it is is my job. ??? Can't I just leave the song exactly how I made it ??? Yes, but are there new foods you've never tried that could end up being your favorite? Colors you've never seen that could be the most beautiful? A person you've never met that could be your life partner? You get my drift...
Q: What's the biggest misconception about what you do?
A: I'm biased of course but I sometimes feel that the true depth and expanse of what we actually do is never fully seen by the artist. That's good though. It's my job to take as many stressors off the artist as possible to optimize their creativity. They need to be an artist. Also, the term producer has 50,000 definitions. I think some misconceptions come about because clients do not know which aspects of production they really need.
Q: What questions do you ask prospective clients?
A: Some project specific questions relate to outlining stylistic identifiers, primary instrumentation, secondary instrumentation, inspirational albums, adjectives & feelings the artist is trying to evoke, the lyrical narrative (if there are words), the mentality of the artist going in, etc. I'm trying to get a feel for if they are wholeheartedly pumped about their music and if our ideals will align. A general thing I'm trying to find out is if they are serious about digging in to not just their song, but also willing to accept new ideas and have thoughtful, honest conversations.
Q: What advice do you have for a customer looking to hire a provider like you?
A: Come to me if you: are passionate about your music, want to be held accountable to your own artistic standards, want interpretation and organization of your mismatched and blurry ideas, have ideas that you can't quite articulate, want to harness the compositional artillery that is secondary instrumentation (strings, synths, perc., etc.), want someone to care deeply about every last detail and corner of your project.
Q: How would you describe your style?
A: My production style is about looking at the building blocks of the song/composition. The actual construction of the song/composition needs to find it's apex before the fancier things can be added or even sometimes before the primary surrounding parts are written. Harmony, melody, form, dynamic intention, etc. can all originate from the seed idea. They are the root of what affects the listener. Production tricks and secondary instrumentation accentuate that.
Q: Which artist would you like to work with and why?
A: Kimbra's productions have always left me completely awestruck. There's never a 100% way to know but I just feel that she has a ton to do with the production on most of her tracks. There is so much inspiration and nuance that just seamlessly coalesce into this insanely beautiful work of art every time.
Q: What's your strongest skill?
A: Fostering cohesion and intention in every single element of a song/composition whether it be related to mixing, songwriting/composing, etc.
Q: What do you bring to a song?
A: Deep compositional knowledge — Masters thesis relating to psychological perception of musical constructs — Emotional passion and vigor for musical projects — I am a player and a composer — The ability to breakdown larger complex ideas into simpler digestible pieces — Just enough meticulousness to not be overbearing
Q: Tell us about your studio setup.
A: My studio is small. It's main purpose is for writing, mixing, and being collaborative in an intimate environment. I can record many things in house if-need-be but it's not a multi-tracking studio by any means. I go off location for that stuff, budget permitting. I always say I'm more producer than engineer. That being said, I have the Universal Audio Apollo 8p QUAD interface with a UAD-2 Satellite OCTO DSP Accelerator. I've gotten very familiar with my KRK Rokit 5 monitors. I have a full set of drum mics but my prized mic is my Townsend Labs Sphere L22 Modeling microphone (https://townsendlabs.com/products/sphere-l22/). It can do so much. I have a beautiful 1986 Marshall Artist 4203. I have a slew of drums but my main tracking kit is my ddrum Dominion made with ash and an outer ply of maple; punchy and warm. I have many toms ranging from 8" to 16" and many kicks ranging from 16" to 24". My Pearl Masters 14" x 6.5" snare is also a prized possession. I have various electric, acoustic, and bass guitars as well. Software-wise I have the entire East West Composer Cloud along with a variety of other VIs including a handful of wonderful scripts from Native Instruments. Because of my wonderful Universal Audio interface, I have some great UA plug-ins such as the Oxide Tape Recorder, Neve 1073, LA-2A, 1176, Fairchild 670, Pultec-Pro, along with others. I also have the incredible Waves Horizon bundle that comes with a ton of great stuff like the Renaissance series, Bass & Vocal Rider, the OneKnob series, the CLA series, guitar racks, the PAZ Analyzer, imaging plugins, as well as many limiters with different colors, many EQs with different transparencies, and so much more. I also have Melodyne 4 Editor which is such a beautiful program. It can just round out the edges of a performance without making it sound robotic or over tuned/quantized. Plus, the DNA function that allows you to tune within chords in a single audio file is magnificent. Worth noting, my security system is quite outfitted...
Q: Tell us about a project you worked on you are especially proud of and why. What was your role?
A: Sea of Gold: a full-length record by my band Early Bird Trio. It was a large project and I did so much. I made an entire demo of the record at my house before hitting the studio. I produced and edited most of the record along with doing some assistant mixing. I created and formatted the album art from a photo taken by a friend of someone in the band. I played acoustic guitar, vocals, banjo, ukulele, bass, B3 organ, Fender Rhodes, piano, drums, percussion. I composed and arranged a string trio fro six songs, a woodwind trio for a song, and a brass trio for a song. I conducted all of those sessions, ran the rehearsals, etc. holding everyone to a high standard. I was totally in charge of making that record as good as I could and I'm still so proud of it.
Q: Can you share one music production tip?
A: "Salience" is the center of *all* decision making. Read about it more in my graduate thesis paper that can be downloaded along with the accompanying recording at https://aaronwalters.bandcamp.com/album/stages-of-sonder. It has to do with expectation vs. deception and can apply to the simplest music as well as the most complex music.
Q: What type of music do you usually work on?
A: I know this is cliché but I don't typically marry myself to a style. I'm really interested in music with integrity. Music that cares about itself and cares about the ones who listen. Simple music, complex music, and everything in between can always care about its listener. I get passionate about music that is made by passionate and devoted people.
Q: What's your typical work process?
A: Personal (as needed) and extremely detail-oriented while also keeping track of the big picture and making sure the artist's vision is always at the forefront. • Project (Album/EP) Overview • Song Overview (per/song) • Completed Song Editing Consultation or Uncompleted Song Composition Assistance • Lyric Critique • Primary Instrument finalization • Recording anything necessary • Secondary Instrumentation finalization • Recording anything necessary • Editing • Mixing