Photo by Michael PA/michaelpa.com
When you look at all that Atlanta-based mixer/engineer Miles Walker has accomplished in the decade-plus since he graduated with honors from Berklee College of Music’s prestigious Music Production and Engineering program, it’s no surprise that he is viewed as one of their school’s more prestigious recent alumni, asked to come back to speak to students, and continuing to deal with the school on various levels. To wit: He’s shared Grammys for his work on albums or singles by Beyoncé, Rihanna and Usher, and also done engineering and/or mixing for such acts as Katy Perry, Britney Spears, Pussycat Dolls, Usher, Wiz Khalifa, Ludacris and many more. These days, he is concentrating mostly (but not exclusively) on mixing, and though he is based out of a room in Atlanta’s Silent Sound Studios, he does so much work with the hit-making Norwegian production team known as Stargate (Tor Hermansen and Mikkel Eriksen) that he’s as likely to be found in studios in New York or L.A.
A native Southerner, he attended the North Carolina School of the Arts High School as a highly promising classical double-bassist, while devoting many of his free hours to being a DJ in bands, influenced by such groups as Incubus and Linkin Park. By the time he shipped off to Berklee in Boston, however, he’d decided to concentrate on engineering, “because I knew that it was a very tough gig to be a professional musician. Once I got into recording, I figured as long as people want to make music, they’re going to need somebody to help them record it. So I thought it was a better opportunity for employment.” He still kept up his DJ chops in college, and later helped Berklee establish its turntable course.
A school-sponsored spring-break trip to visit Nashville studios influenced his post-college path: “I instantly fell in love with the city,” he says. “I saw all the great studios, but I thought, ‘I’m not crazy about country music.’ That was okay. I moved down there and adapted. I loved the technical challenge of making country music. I worked as an assistant at a place called the Hum Depot—which was a great, vibey studio owned by a couple of session players, Tony Harrell and Greg Morrow. It was a house with a Neve in the living room; we recorded acoustic guitar in the bedroom, and if we did horn overdubs in the kitchen you had to shut off the ice maker. But everybody loved it. I worked on some SHeDAISY stuff, Tim McGraw, and Peter Cetera was a big client.” More to Walker’s liking, though, was the contemporary R&B and rap coming out of Atlanta—specifically Patchwerk Studios, where Ludacris and T.I. had been working—so he packed up his things and took an unpaid job as a runner at Patchwerk for a year, eventually landing an assistant engineering gig there with noted producer and mixer Leslie Brathwaite, whose credit list covers just about everyone who’s anyone in urban music over the past two decades. “It was a great honor to spend that time with him and be so close to his process,” says Walker.
His next career move was an engineering gig with Usher, working at his fabulously equipped Atlanta home studio (“one of the best I’ve heard in my whole life,” Walker says), tracking projects with Usher, his brother (James Lackey), songwriter/producer Rico Love and an R&B group called One Chance. At the time, Usher was starting a record label, but it never quite got off the ground, so none of the work Walker did during that period ever came out. “I guess it’s all sitting on a hard drive somewhere,” he says philosophically, “but it was still a great experience.”
After his time with Usher, Walker started working with the mega-popular songwriter/producer Sean Garrett, who had written a few songs for Usher. “It was a no-brainer for me,” Walker says. “Sean was looking for an engineer, because he was writing records for everyone on the planet. The fact that he had hits was great, but really I was focused on the fact that he worked with so many people and had a lot of releases. Sean always preferred to work at Silent Sound Studios in Atlanta, so that began my relationship with them. We set up a heavy residency at Silent Sound for about three years. We probably spent a third of our time in Atlanta; most of the rest was in L.A., New York or Miami.
“Sean was writing a lot of R&B and urban records,” he continues, “but at that time, pop music was first getting a touch of urban flair; it hadn’t gone full ‘dance’ yet, like it is now. So Sean was a great gateway drug into the pop world for me. We did a lot with Britney, who was as pop as they come, but she also loved the rhythmic urban melodies Sean would come up with. After a while I started to really like working on the pop more than the urban and R&B.”
His association with Stargate began five years ago and has evolved into a full creative partnership in which he both travels to work with them and does mixing work at his room at Silent Sound. “My room there is a dream-come-true,” he says. “It’s very small—it’s just a mix room—but it’s been great for me. I’m really comfortable there, and because the cost of living is lower in Atlanta, it’s allowed me to take on a variety of projects, some of which might have smaller budgets. I get to do so much interesting work.”