What questions do you ask prospective clients?
I like to know the sample rate and bit rate (i.e. 44.1 and 24 bit). Then I need to know some general information, where is the instrument(s) required, is there a lead break, are there any specific 'no play' areas etc. Any info the client feels like giving is always welcome, it's their project.
Tell us about a project you worked on you are especially proud of and why. What was your role?
I'm pretty proud of the Hayseed Dixie album, 'Hair down to my grass'. I did some nice banjo picking' on that album, there's some technical stuff going on there.
It was recorded 'live' ensemble....we used a converted barn in Cumbria, sat around in a circle and went for it. The fiddle was added later and the whole thing was mixed and mastered in Nashville.
What are you working on at the moment?
This bloody interview! Doh!
Is there anyone on SoundBetter you know and would recommend to your clients?
Nope, not yet.
Analog or digital and why?
These days most studios are digital, I am digital......at the moment but that could change. Digital is compact, convenient and modern, but for acoustic instruments and vocals I prefer analogue every time. Analogue is an all round warmer sound, it has character. Yes its bigger, heavier, uses more cabling......but you only get out what you put in.
What's your 'promise' to your clients?
To 'get it right'
What do you like most about your job?
I get to sprinkle fairy dust on somebody else's work, and make them smile. :-)
What questions do customers most commonly ask you? What's your answer?
Can you do it any cheaper?
What's the biggest misconception about what you do?
Banjo music isn't all 'hillbilly, redneck cliches. In the same way as a fiddle can get people hooting and hollering and dancing a jig, it can play sweet lullaby by Brahms but is then called a violin....same instrument but totally different styles, and voicings.
What advice do you have for a customer looking to hire a provider like you?
Be careful! Look at the face.....ask yourself 'would you buy a used car from this man?'
If you were on a desert island and could take just 5 pieces of gear, what would they be?
a map, a compass, a fishing rod, a water purifier and a yacht. (you didn't say it has to be music related).
What was your career path? How long have you been doing this?
I started playing banjo when I was 9 years old (1973). I started goofing around with a guitar at 14, and started picking telecaster when I was 15 and joined my first band. The rest is a long story....(fiddle and mandolin were picked up when I was about 18)
How would you describe your style?
Varied, on all instruments. Ive done session work since I was 16 and learned early on, that the more styles you can play the more work you could get :-)
Seriously though, I love anything with a bounce, jazz, swing, big band, 50s rock and roll, but then I also love real syncopated beats.....''I don't 'fit' in any one box''.
Which artist would you like to work with and why?
The late Bill Keith, a life long friend, mentor and 5 string banjo innovator. Bill founded the 'melodic style' of 3 finger banjo playing. Bill's 'melodic style' allows for intricate melodies to be played note perfect (Irish fiddle tunes to Classical works) whilst utilizing the complex picking techniques akin to Earl Scruggs bluegrass style.
Bill is also the inventor of the banjo 'D-tuner'. A tuning peg which allowed the player to detune and retune while picking, thanks to and 'upper and lower stop' and some internal mechanicals based loosely on a planetary transmission
Can you share one music production tip?
It sounds obvious, but you will only get out what you put in. Your end product is the result of your preparation. Its like painting a car. If the surface to be painted is rusted, uneven or rough, then the end result will be a painted version of what you started with. ''We'll fix it in the mix'' is not a phrase I use.
What type of music do you usually work on?
Wow! Well, In 2016 Ive recorded country, bluegrass, swing, folk, techno, afrikaans, rock, pop.....it goes on. The banjo in particular is being discovered by many different genres now, we're in exciting times. A lot of musicians are totally unaware of the potential of a banjo to really bring something to a track, be it, Cajun, Ska or Metal.
What's your strongest skill?
Hmmm..To listen, really listen. Hear what is going on in the track, whats the overall message? the style? My job is to fit, to empathize with the track.
What do you bring to a song?
It depends on the song really. I mean you don't want me to bring energy and drive to a slow love ballad. But essentially, I can bring the character to a song, that subtle flurry of notes or a powerful, energetic lead break. Every track is different, each track needs to be heard and felt, before I record anything, otherwise Im just going through the motions.
What's your typical work process?
First thing I do when I receive a track is fill out a track sheet, with the client's details, track name, and notes for whats required. Then I listen to the track all the way through to get a feel for whats going on. Then I listen again and chart it out (Nashville number system). Then the fun begins!
All tracks are sent, 'dry', flat Eq. unless otherwise specified.
Tell us about your studio setup.
I have Cubase, Pro Tools and Logic Pro. My everyday choice is Logic Pro. I have a simple but inclusive set up.
Mics; Shure SM57 and SM58, Studio Projects B3, AKG C414, AKG Perception, Neumann TLM103. Audio interface is Focusrite.
What other musicians or music production professionals inspire you?
I take inspiration from various genres and artists, from Danny Gatton (telecaster player) through Banco De Gaia, to Beethoven. I like traditional melodies but I also like something new, a challenge, like putting banjo to a techno track, or using a phaser pedal, or wah pedal for the more eclectic/progressive stuff.
Describe the most common type of work you do for your clients.
Banjo session work is what I get asked for most, as banjo is my first instrument, but I do a lot of fiddle, guitar and mandolin work. It could be for a radio jingle, TV advertisement, or for an artists album/track. Ive worked on everything from country songs to techno music.