Max Schwartz

Session Musician and Engineer

Max Schwartz on SoundBetter

Versatile and willing to go the extra mile to help make something unique. Played with Grammy Award-winning bluegrass artists such as Laurie Lewis, as well as jazz musicians such as John Daversa. Banjoist, bassist, guitarist, arranger, composer and mixing engineer.

Max Schwartz is a multi-genre instrumentalist and composer from Boston, now based in Miami, FL, and is highly-acclaimed as both a bluegrass and jazz musician. He has been called “an acoustic master” by the Freight & Salvage Coffeehouse, has won Downbeat Awards for both performance and composition, is a two-time member of the GRAMMY® Jazz Combo, and was the winner of the 2019 Rockygrass Banjo Competition.

He first appeared with Grammy Award-winning bluegrass artist Laurie Lewis and the Right Hands at age 16, and toured with Lewis for three years throughout the country. Some highlights of their time together include the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in San Francisco, Rockygrass Bluegrass Festival in Colorado, a live taping of NPR music broadcast “Mountain Stage” in Elkins, West Virginia, and the IBMA Hall of Fame Induction of Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard in Raleigh, North Carolina. Additionally, he has played in groups with Keith Little, Bill Evans, Nate Lee, Kenny Smith, Tatiana Hargreaves, Tashina Clarridge, Carolyn Kendrick, Jake Howard, Chad Manning and Molly Tuttle, and recently he played bass on John Reischman’s new recordings of “Suzanne’s Journey” and “Salt Spring.”

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Interview with Max Schwartz

  1. Q: What's the biggest misconception about what you do?

  2. A: In the various circles I'm in, people think that whatever I'm doing that day is all I do. I like to say that I aspire to be a "musical Swiss army knife" because I'm a different tool every hour at home.

  3. Q: Tell us about a project you worked on you are especially proud of and why. What was your role?

  4. A: I copied this from my website, but I thought it was a good story of making a record: "Back in September 2019, I flew up to Nashville for a couple of days to rehearse and record an EP for Carolyn Kendrick’s new solo project. Although I record fairly often in Miami for student projects, including my own once in a while, it is very special to know that when you are playing on somebody else’s record, you are trying to realize their artistic vision, and that they thought you were the best available to help facilitate drawing that vision out from the cosmos into something tangible. You can feel it in the room, that electricity and emotion in the music that will inevitably transfer onto the recording. It is a very humbling thing to be in the sideman position on recordings, and to experience the duality that many supporting cast musicians feel; you know that you are there because your individualism is valued, but also that the self-confidence that comes from being chosen for a project will allow you to relax, not feel pressure to prove yourself, and realize that you are there to channel energy into something that is greater than the sum of its parts. Carolyn and I played for a few years in a band called the Page Turners, which she formed with mandolinist Jake Howard back in 2015. We all recorded an EP in September 2016 with Sam Leslie on guitar. Since then, Carolyn moved to Nashville and has been writing music and to further develop her artistic personality. I really think her new EP captures this new personality in a hip way, through great production and musicianship. Other musicians on the record include Nashville guitarist and vocalist Megan McCormick, LA-based session drummer Eli Hludzik, piano and organ master Mike Rojas, Crooked Still and “Live From Here” house fiddler Brittany Haas, and others. Producer Matt Combs kept it moving and grooving so that we were finished tracking all six songs in just over five hours. The very last song of the session was a cover of “Silver Dagger,” a song with origins dating back to the 1820s (WOW!) covered by everyone from Dylan to Joan Baez to the Fleet Foxes. We got a vibe for what Carolyn and Matt envisioned and gave it our best shot. After one take, we went out to listen, and I believe Megan said “I don’t think we should touch that.” It is beautiful and pure, and I think it’s going to be one of the favorites on the recording. I hope you stay on the lookout for the new album’s release in February or March, and keep up with Carolyn on her website:" I played bass on this record and helped Carolyn with some arrangements. It turned out great, and I was real proud of Carolyn for all the hard work she put in. I was glad to help with little dynamic production bits here and there to further dimensionalize the record and I think it's evident. One of my favorite projects I've ever been a part of.

  5. Q: What are you working on at the moment?

  6. A: Preparing for the Freshgrass Band Competition coming up in September, working on some jazz originals and some bluegrass/americana stuff for my bands in Miami, and doing some recording work for people on Airgigs and whatnot! Real different every day.

  7. Q: Is there anyone on SoundBetter you know and would recommend to your clients?

  8. A: Eric England does some great work. Fairly new here so not sure who else, but I'll sure keep it in mind.

  9. Q: Analog or digital and why?

  10. A: I mean..... both! Digital is the way of the future, but you really have to spend some time with the analog stuff to get the digital stuff sounding as good as it can. Get to be buddies with your sound engineers .... I play tennis with mine now :)

  11. Q: What's your 'promise' to your clients?

  12. A: I will never leave a client feeling cheated or lied to. I'm very upfront before I take a job and I am as honest as can be about my schedule when I take a job because I want expectations to be clear for a client.

  13. Q: What do you like most about your job?

  14. A: I like helping people realize their music to the fullest degree possible, because the only way somebody really learns the process is by soaking it up along the way and really getting to the end of a project with pride. I like helping people along the way because I see how rewarding it is for them at the end.

  15. Q: What advice do you have for a customer looking to hire a provider like you?

  16. A: Make sure you always, always ask for stems or sessions or both. If you paid somebody to record for you, then you have essentially "bought" their talent to put on your music. Make sure that's clear as well before you all agree to give someone the job. Write a work-for-hire contract if necessary. Above all, be nice and respect the time and rates of the people you hire.

  17. Q: What was your career path? How long have you been doing this?

  18. A: I got hired as a sub for Laurie Lewis's band back in July 2014. At the time I was about 16. She's a Grammy-winning bluegrass artist and I'm some kid at the time. She gave me a chance and I tried to do right by her, and I ended up playing with her for about three or four years before I moved to South Florida. Fast forward a couple years, I've played at the Grammy's twice, the IBMA Awards with Laurie, I'm playing bass with the best bluegrass artists in Northern California, and at the same time, I'm trying to up my game as a jazz bass player in school and out. I end up going to the University of Miami on a full scholarship for jazz while I'm flying making records and taking gigs at the same time. Now I'm a Master's student at UM as a TA to the jazz bass professor, and I'm working on getting some of my own projects off the ground.

  19. Q: Which artist would you like to work with and why?

  20. A: Kacey Musgraves. The production on Golden Hour was a masterpiece and I just want to be in the room next time she's working on a record.

  21. Q: Can you share one music production tip?

  22. A: Be a subtractor, not an adder when it comes to EQ!!! Get rid of anything you don't want in your track out of the EQ before you put it through anything else.

  23. Q: What type of music do you usually work on?

  24. A: I write a lot of jazz and bluegrass/americana stuff on my own, but I do a lot of stuff. I've been the sound guy for a CCM band for about three years, and I host a lot of jazz mixing sessions at my place to show friends how they can mix themselves. I travel to play upright bass on some records once in a while.

  25. Q: What's your strongest skill?

  26. A: Versatility and hearing the whole of the music instead of the sum of its parts.

  27. Q: What do you bring to a song?

  28. A: I think I have more unique experiences and fresh takes on how to write parts for instruments than a lot of cats. I'm always trying to share my knowledge with people I work with. If I hear something that may not serve the song the best, I'll share my opinion with a client and say "Hey, are you open to a suggestion?" If they are, I'll say "I ask because you might want to consider doing ____." I'm not the kind of person who just takes the money and walks away. I will always do whatever I can to make the work as good as it can be.

  29. Q: What's your typical work process?

  30. A: When it comes to mixing, I like to work from the ground up (low instruments to high ones). I usually try to get a lot of info from the artist ahead of time in the form of reference tracks. That way the artist knows I'm trying to serve their tastes and that I'm not going to be stubborn about how things ought to sound. I like to talk on the phone with a client before I take a job, if I can, so I can hear them explain what they're going for, how I can support them, and what their timeline is. Then I walk them through how I expect I can meet their goals, and what communication I'll need throughout (mix rounds, lyric sheets, etc).

  31. Q: Tell us about your studio setup.

  32. A: I have a UA Apollo Twin QUAD with some Focusrite Pres hooked in via ADAT. I like collecting unique mics (not too pricey if I can avoid it) in order to get some interesting sounds. A couple of faves that I use are my WA-87, a Golden Age R1 Ribbon Mic (great on banjo, arco bass, and more) and some cool mics from 12Gauge (I use Green12s as an extra condenser from time to time). I mix on Genelec 8010a's and Adam Audio T8V's.

  33. Q: What other musicians or music production professionals inspire you?

  34. A: Simon Lunche, Tim Watson, Mike Robinson, Geoff Saunders, Sasha Berliner.

  35. Q: Describe the most common type of work you do for your clients.

  36. A: Remote recording, mixing, and arranging work. Often times I get called as a producer/advisor to friends and colleagues who are having trouble finding direction in completing a song or album.

Gear Highlights
  • Fender Telecaster w/ B-Bender built for Gerry McGee bought from Norm's Rare Guitars in LA. Deering John Hartford Banjo
  • Upright Bass with C-extension. G&L L-2500 Five String Electric
  • Fender Fretless J-Bass
  • Nechville Zeus Banjo. Apollo Twin QUAD.
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