Grammy, MOBO and Mercury Nominated Producer/Engineer in World, Folk and Jazz including Tony Allen, Dinosaur, Fatoumata Diawara, Polar Bear and Oumou Sangaré
I've worked as a producer, engineer, musician, performer, songwriter and even tour manager for over a decade now with some amazingly talented people having cut my teeth at Livingston Studios with the great Jerry Boys and Nick Gold of World Circuit Records. It was there I learned my specialism in producing music made by musicians playing real instruments live, capturing what they do and helping to realise their ideas. I've worked with almost every genre but my heart lies with folk, world music and jazz, which has taken me around the world to Cuba, Central America, Africa and Europe, and earned me multiple Grammy, Mercury and MOBO nominations for my work.
Being a musician, songwriter, and engineer makes me well positioned as a producer to understand each stage of the music making process. I don't just think about one area. Recordings have to be technically accurate but not at the expense of a great performance; mixes aren't just frequency balances, they are about listening to the essence of the song and playing to it. When I produce a project I don't just get sounds onto disc, I bring the music to life because I understand what each part of the process can do to enhance a song.
Send me a note through the contact button above.
- Fatoumata Diawara
- Oumou Sangare
- Portico Quartet
- Cheikh Lo
- Polar Bear
- Ali Farke Toure
- Baaba Maal
- Bassekou Kouyate
- BBC TV & Radio
- Buena Vista Social Club
- Dennis Bovell
- Dave Smith
- fred wesley
- Her Make Believe Band
- Ian Brodie
- Ibrahim Ferrer
- Jerry Boys
- Joe Boyd
- Joe Stilgoe
- John Martyn
- Kanye West
- Laura Jurd
- Leafcutter John
- London Afrobeat Collective
- Mark Lockheart
- Namvula Rennie
- Nick Mulvey
- Orchestra Boabab
- Orchestra Virunga
- Oren Marshall
- Orlando 'Cachaito' Lopez
- Pee Wee Ellis
- tony allen
- Toumani Diabate
- Elliot Galvin
3 ReviewsEndorse Sonny Johns
Sonny plays the studio as a musical instrument using his vast awareness and experience to maintain a clear overview of the productive process, staying focused, on point, attending to every detail both technical, musical and artistic, with his personality, humor and perfectly pitched inputs into the social dynamic at key moments serving to maintain a jovial and relaxed productive atmosphere.
Sonny is a fantastic Mixing Engineer and Producer. He is a joy to work with and effortlessly makes everything his is mixing and producing sound the best it possibly could do, bringing the music to life. His years of experience speak for themselves, but I would urge anyone who is thinking of making a record to work with Sonny, I certainly hope to work with him a lot more in the future.
Sonny is truly wonderful to work with, capturing the magic with upmost professionalism and a subtle spirit that never gets in the way - not to mention his years of experience recording a host of amazing and world-renowned artists. His creativity and understanding of a vast array of musical styles can bring any project to life. Once you've worked with Sonny, you'll want to do so again and again.
Interview with Sonny Johns
Q: What questions do you ask prospective clients?
A: What would you love to create? Then, unfortunately, what's your budget. The two don't often match (you can't always afford Abbey Road) but by understanding both elements I can get as close to both as possible. I know the tricks of the trade.
Q: Tell us about a project you worked on you are especially proud of and why. What was your role?
A: Fatoumata Diawara's first album, Fatou. I was engineer, but I did a lot of production work and music arranging. I was shown the demos by Nick the producer and fell in love with the potential there. It was an extremely satisfying project to work on.
Q: Analog or digital and why?
A: Both. Because every tool should be available to you. Everything has it's place.
Q: What's your 'promise' to your clients?
A: When you buy mixes from me, it is ONLY me who mixes. I never farm mixing out.
Q: What do you like most about your job?
A: I get to be in loads of bands each year. Being part of the record making process means you need to get involved. I love getting to know people, what they want, what they dream about and making that into sound. It's great.
Q: What's the biggest misconception about what you do?
A: I'm not doing anything. Sometimes not doing anything is what's best - leave things to work themselves out. Sometimes I might not look like I'm doing anything or paying attention, but there's always something going on in my head. That's why, often at the end of a conversation between musicians, I've done what they've agreed on before they turn to me and tell me. It's a nice surprise for them.
Q: What advice do you have for a customer looking to hire a provider like you?
A: Talk to them. Sometimes an interview like this or a credit list or website doesn't give you the full picture. It's all about relationships and understanding and you can't have any of that without talking.
Q: If you were on a desert island and could take just 5 pieces of gear, what would they be?
A: 1) My acoustic guitar - she goes nearly everywhere with me 2) U87 - the stalwart of microphones 3) Neve 1073 mic amp 4) LA-2A compressor Limiter 5) Studer A800
Q: What was your career path? How long have you been doing this?
A: I fell in love with recording when my guitar teacher lent me his 4-track tape machine when I was 12. So at 16 I left school to study Music Technology and then gained a 1st Class Degree in recording arts from SAE London. From there I set up a studio with the super-engineer Kevin Feazey as well as working at Livingston Studios under the watchful eye of Engineer Jerry Boys and Producer Nick Gold. And the rest is history. From my studio and Livingston I build amazing relationships with amazing people.
Q: How would you describe your style?
A: Creative. I like play with stuff. Follow ideas and not get stuck on things. I like working quickly, that way you keep perspective.
Q: Which artist would you like to work with and why?
A: I'd loved to have been a fly on the wall on a Beatles session. Other than that I really enjoy working with something and someone I've never worked with before. To be honest, if you are a nice person and passionate about what you are doing I'd like to work with you.
Q: Can you share one music production tip?
A: Don't fix it later. If there is something not quite right, whether that be a mix level, a mic placement, even or lyric or chord, fix if there and then before you commit it to history.
Q: What type of music do you usually work on?
A: World, Folk and Jazz. Basically stuff with musicians playing instruments in rooms. That said I make Folktronica music so electronics has it's role definitely.
Q: What's your strongest skill?
A: Seeing the bigger picture. Because I've worked in nearly every role in the process, I understand what people are going though and I never let one element get in the way of creativity. Just because I don't have this mic or that space or the other instrument, doesn't mean you can't make great records.
Q: What do you bring to a song?
A: My knowledge and experience as a musician, song-writer, performer, engineer, mixer and producers. I bring everything that I have. I think that's why people like working with me and why I've produced award nominated music.
Q: What's your typical work process?
A: It really depends on what I'm being asked to do. I like momentum though. I like working with speed so that you feel live you're getting somewhere. It helps with creativity. But there is a fine balance between speed and rushing. I never rush. That's when silly mistakes are made.
Q: Tell us about your studio setup.
A: I've got my own Pro Tools rig and some mics I love, but I like love working in different places, whether it be a pro studio, a local studio or even a bungalow. I set a studio up in a bungalow for a week once. It was great fun.
Q: What other musicians or music production professionals inspire you?
A: Musicians and artistes inspire me the most. I love to hear a demo or a rough recording of an idea that someone has had and hearing the potential in it. I'm still a fan of The Beatles in terms of production, but I don't ever feel like I follow a particular sound or another producer/engineer. I do what the music tells me to.
Q: Describe the most common type of work you do for your clients.
A: Production. Whatever I'm doing whether it be recording, mixing, playing an instrument, I've always got my producer's head on and ready to give advice when it's needed. I never impose my thoughts on other people's music, but I don't just sit there and push buttons when I can see a way I can help.