A visit with producer Matthew Gerrard at his Santa Monica cottage studio left me amazed: so much music from such a tiny space. One of the busiest producers in town, Gerrard is also one of the most prolific — and one of the hottest — garnering Top 10 singles in pop, hot AC, jazz, contemporary Latin and Christian.
At first glance, it's classic Hollywood: In 2001, after only a year in L.A., Gerrard's career took off with “Get Over Yourself,” a Top Five tune he wrote and produced for Eden's Crush that aired on the WB Network's Popstars. He went on to help launch Hilary Duff's musical career, producing songs (including her first single, “I Can't Wait,” from the Lizzie McGuire TV soundtrack) on four of her Platinum CDs, as well as for such other cuties as Jessica Simpson, Lindsay Lohan and Nick Carter.
But overnight success it wasn't. Before Gerrard arrived in L.A., he paid mucho dues as a multitasking bass player in Toronto. The arranging, producing and engineering skills he acquired made him one of today's new breed of D.I.Y. producers who turn out music quickly, efficiently — and creatively.
“In Canada,” he relates, “I had a couple of bands who had reasonable radio success and sold some records, but not enough to keep us going. So I did everything: session work, jingles, infomercials. I had a home studio where I made dance records, swing records, rock records — with full bands! They had all-in budgets and I'd wear all the hats. I became my own engineer because I couldn't afford one. Then I became interested in how to make things sound good.”
Gerrard arrived in L.A. knowing almost no one. One of the first things he did was purchase a Pro Tools rig — in retrospect, he laughs, a good decision. “I was a musician with a cell phone and Pro Tools — I was cutting edge.” His break came when veteran producer David Foster heard a demo of Gerrard's “Get Over Yourself” and sought him out to re-produce it for Popstars.
Logic Audio 7 and Pro Tools are his studio mainstays, although during actual songwriting, he avoids computers. “For composing, I like to sit with a lyricist and a keyboard or guitar and stay as far from the computer as I can. We talk titles and concepts. When something hits me, it inspires the music and the melodies. Once I have a full song structure, I'll go to the computer.”
The demo gets recorded with Gerrard's handheld Sony IC recorder, transferred to Pro Tools as a .WAV file, then burnt onto a reference CD. “When I book a live drum session [at a commercial studio],” he explains, “I'll go through my demos, pick out some that need drums and take them to the session. I might have two songs in a session slated for an upcoming record and a few others that are demos. A lot of my demos end up being masters anyway; I might as well do them right.”
As a bass player, Gerrard's worked with enough drummers to know how to program a decent drum track in Logic on his EXS sampler. He does, however, prefer to use live musicians when possible. “Adding players adds flavors and makes recording more fun. We recently did a track that way for Jesse McCartney, with everything live but the organ.”
When it can't be live, there's the studio arsenal: “Some of the new loop things are awesome, like the Stylus RMX,” he offers. “Arturia's Minimoog 5, the Moog Modular and the Charlie Virtual retro organ all sound great.”
Vocals get recorded using a footswitch talkback system (“I can talk to the singer and edit at the same time”) and, usually, a Vipre variable-impedance tube mic preamp, an LA-2A and an Amek 9080 EQ. Mixing tends to stay in the box, both at Gerrard's studio and at the home studio of engineer Krish Sharma (The Matrix, the Rolling Stones). “The key is, we have identical systems,” Gerrard explains. “The same version of Pro Tools, the same default settings, the same plug-ins. We take mixes back and forth and get to listen in different environments.”
Fast, efficient and, “Ninety percent of the time, I'm having fun,” Gerrard concludes. “When I came to L.A., I had no idea what would happen. I allotted a certain amount of money and told myself when it was gone, I'd go back to Canada.”
There's no Canada looming: Gerrard's “Breakaway” with Kelly Clarkson hit Number One on the pop radio charts, and there's more in the pipeline, including cuts for Smash Mouth's Steve Harwell, Beu Sisters and Sara Overall.
New year, new business model. You can always rely on studio veteran Skip Saylor for a unique point of view. These days, it's about the changing role of the recording studio. After a foray into expansion at Devonshire Studios in North Hollywood, Saylor has regrouped and re-organized. Now back at his original Larchmont Village location, he's returned to his roots: producing and engineering. He's also allied with a couple of other industry vets — producer/keyboardist John Barnes (Celine Dion, Michael Jackson, Keb' Mo') and programmer/producer Chris Johnson (Evanescence, Josh Todd, Hilary Duff) — to provide multifaceted production services. And although Barnes has taken over the suite of rooms that comprises Studio B, Saylor continues to operate Larchmont's A room as a studio-for-hire.
“The real focus of my business is the work I'm doing with John and Chris: track building,” Saylor explains. “In some cases, that's programming and engineering, but it can also be producing, arranging, songwriting and/or licensing. It's project-dependent.
“For example,” he continues, “John and I are working on a jazz project with [R&B saxophonist] Ronnie Laws for HDH Records — Brian and Eddie Holland's label. John is producing and arranging, and George Clinton alumnus Larry Ferguson is working with me on recording and mixing. And Chris and I just finished five songs for Amanda and Travis Marsh, a young Christian pop act. We produced all the tracks, recorded their vocals and mixed.
“Things just kind of fell together. I called Chris to help out on a project I'd been hired to do, thinking it would just be for a day, and we've done about 10 projects together this year. John called me to help out with a project and he ended up taking over Studio B.”
Studio A now houses the 100-input SSL G+ console previously owned by Music Grinder. It still boasts a trademark Saylor wall of analog outboard gear, and its iso booth has been enlarged for more convenient recording. Black Sabbath's Geezer Butler was in recently with mixer Toby Wright, and artist/producer Butch Walker worked on a number of projects there, including Warner Bros.' American Hi-Fi (with engineer/mixer Paul Hager) and the theme song for Richard Branson's reality TV show, Rebel Billionaire.
“What I'm doing now is what I've always wanted to do,” Saylor declares. “At one point, I had five studios, an engineer management company with 15 clients and a lot of people depending on me to pull the wagon. Now I'm actively making music with a great group of people.
“A commercial studio will always be part of what I do, but the people that we're working with need more than just a studio: They need help building tracks. Everybody wants to be competitive, but they also want to keep the essence of their music. Veterans like me, John and Chris know how to keep integrity in the music. In addition to live tracking, we're dealing with all formats of DAWs and software-based music production platforms. We know how to provide the right kind of environment and how to fit all the pieces together.”
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