Producer/Engineer Comes Back from L.A.

“In L.A., there’s always that possibility of meeting somebody who changes your life,” says producer/engineer John Fields. “The first record I did in L.A. was Switchfoot’s The Beautiful Letdown, which sold a couple million copies.”

Fields—whose long and varied resume also includes Soul Asylum, Pink, Miley Cyrus and the Jonas Brothers—is back in Minneapolis, however, after living and working in Los Angeles for 14 years. He first moved to Minneapolis from Boston in 1988, to begin a music career with the help of his uncle, Steven Greenberg, who’s best known as the artist, songwriter and producer behind Lipps Inc.’s Number One smash “Funkytown.”

“As a young kid, I had this example of this amazing feat: That song was Number One for four weeks,” Fields recalls. “As soon as I could I moved to be near him, and we eventually started a string of studios together.”

By 2001, Greenberg was less involved in the music business, and Fields found himself traveling to L.A. frequently for major-label projects. “We sold our studio building and I brought everything I had out West. I felt it was necessary for me to get out and play in the big leagues.”

Related: The Jonas Brothers Adapt to Working in a Rolling Studio, by Elianne Halbersberg, March 1, 2008

Fields’ time in California was enormously productive, but the pendulum swings both ways; a couple of years ago, he and his family returned to the Midwest. He cites school choice for his daughter, as well as a job offer for his wife.

Mix Regional: Midwest, June 2018, John Fields at Creation Studios, Minneapolis

Now back in his adopted hometown, Fields has settled into Studio B at Steve Wiese’s Creation Audio. “This studio opened in 1916 as a vaudeville-type theater,” Fields says. “It became a movie theater in the ’20s, and then in 1954, Bruce Swedien turned it into a recording studio and worked here until 1958 when he took off to Chicago. In the ’60s, it was Kay Bank Studios; the biggest song ever cut in this building was probably ‘Surfin Bird’ by The Trashmen [1963].”

In its current iteration, Creation—which is situated in a popular restaurant and entertainment district—contains three owner-operated studios. “This studio was remodeled in 1984 and it certainly looks like it!” Fields says. “But it’s really well built, with a live room, piano booth, vocal booth and a great control room.”

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Fields calls his studio a “musicians’ playground,” with a vast collection of instruments wired up to his hybrid recording rig. “I’ve been collecting traditional instruments and synths for years. Plus, my uncle gave me a lot of his vintage gear; I have his two original Vocoders, which were the key element in ‘Funkytown.’

“My recording rig is a couple 24-space racks of mic pre’s and compressors going through Aurora Lynx converters into Pro Tools Ultimate. I have no console and no patchbay; I hard-patch all of my inputs. I’m also always inspired and intrigued by new gear. I have vintage Neumann mics, but I’m constantly buying new things as well.”

Since returning to Minneapolis, Fields has been hosting and mixing bands from outside the Twin Cities, as well as local artists. “There’s a huge music scene in this area, but it’s not an industry,” he says. “There aren’t people trying to get publishing deals and doing co-writes. It’s real gigging musicians, and one of the cool things about coming back here is that I get to help these bands get exposure and just make better records.”