Industry Types – S//S//N Talks to Tarek Musa

 

Hey Tarek how did you get into producing?

I think I’ve got a long, long way to go as far as producing goes, it’s been a short history so far. My earliest memory of recording was probably when I owned a Home Alone “Talkboy” cassette recorder/Dictaphone type thing. It was great! I’d go around recording weird noises, me swearing and saying naughty words and anything in between. I used to record people shouting at other people, and then at awkward moments I’d play it back to them in front of everyone. I was only 6 or 7 so it was quite a cheeky thing to do.

After that, I owned a cassette deck which I’d record my band onto, it was a real basic setup, it was a lot of fun, and once it was all done I’d spend days duplicating cassettes and handing them out at school.

The next step was just a bit more natural; I was in bands and wanted to record them and get it out there. I’d get frustrated listening to other records and how I couldn’t get mine to sound as good, so I just kept pushing to try and get better and better results. Eventually I was buying pedals, messing with weird effects and just experimenting. Then I got into LIPA, which was a massive part of it all. I loved everything about the course. All the studio time and knowledge from my lecturers, I definitely couldn’t have got that kind of time so early on in any engineering/producing career. I was in the same halls as one of my best friends Joe Wills, we learnt a lot from each other. We we’re doing live dubs and messing around with gear from 6pm until 8am the in the morning for days on end. Sometimes to get a vibe, we’d bring in lights, a massive flag (which we’d hang up) and anything we could find to inspire us in the studio, which can sometimes be a little sterile and boring.

In between studying, I’d work for anyone I could when I had time. I was making coffees, cleaning basements, gardening, being a courier. Anything I could really, to get any tips and advice from some of the best guys in the business. Now that I’ve graduated, I’m living with fellow band member to all three bands I’m in, Peter Darlington (who also writes under the name Chipped Tooth). We basically listen to music all day, write songs or record and produce. He’ll come in with some amazing new band he’s just found online and surprise me with his great taste in music every time. It is a very healthy place for music right now for my friends and me. We’re all enjoying it 100% and sharing the advice, techniques, music, bands, everything… All is well. I’m definitely glad I got into producing when I’m surrounded by such great people.

Whereabouts are you based?

I’m based between Manchester and Liverpool. I work wherever necessary, including London from time to time when I work for other engineers like Ruadhri Cushnan. He is a fantastic engineer and I’ve been really lucky to be able to watch over him as he does his thing.

You’ve worked with, one of our favorite new acts, Jethro Fox. How did that collaboration come about?

 Me and Jethro studied at the same place (LIPA), and we were in a band briefly together. We were sat around and I heard one of his demos and really liked it. I remember I had so many deadlines around that time and so did he, but I threw them all aside to record these tracks he had done. I had to. I loved them so much that I ended up side tracking a lot from my coursework for a good week or so. After that, we kept on working together, I think what helps is that we are also really good friends and he is a real laugh to be around. There is never doom and gloom in the studio, its constant fun, even at the most stressful of times we’re both very good at having a laugh and seeing through it to an end result.

How do you get from demo to finished product and is there a set method you work to?

 It really depends on the nature of the project and what the aim of it is. If the band want it to be as live as possible, we might do it all live with maybe a few overdubs. If the band wants it to be really produced and polished we might record every part separately and bring it all together with edits and comping of takes etc. It all depends really. I don’t think I have a set method.

A big part of it is also how the band want to do things, how they feel most comfortable. If they don’t know how they feel comfortable, we search to find that method together and go from there.

To what extent do you feel that the choice of producer can make or break a song?

 The biggest thing I’ve learnt so far in the small amount of time I’ve been doing this is that communication plays a massive role in whether the producer makes or breaks the song. If there are breaks in communication, and everyone involved doesn’t get the vibe on the same wavelength, then the project can fall to pieces quite quickly.

Choosing the right producer is always key, but these days, producers are doing all types of stuff, and its interesting to see what comes out of a project when you have a hip hop producer on a rock record or whatever. I think as long as everyone involved can see an end target or at least go along the same road together towards the unknown, then its fine. If you get a producer and band that aren’t willing to compromise, then that’s when the song can be broken. It’s all about compromise; at the end of the day it is just as much your art as it is theirs.

To what extent do you select the acts you work with and are there particular styles or genres you feel more comfortable developing?

I like to contact bands personally if I like their music, or if they contact me and I like their music I’ll say yes. Right now I’m in three bands (Kankouran, The Bodyboarders and Spring King) so producing is something that I try to do as much of when we’re not writing with the bands. I really enjoy working with bands that are interested in a vibe. Some of my favorite songs are terribly recorded but you can get away with that if the song is good. Recently I’ve been trying to get a bit grittier with my recordings so I’m edging towards bands that enjoy that sonic quality.

I’ve been working with a lot of indie, surf and garage music. For me half the battle is the band being great, the other half is making sure they’re also more interested in capturing a vibe than a technically correct recording. I try to leave in mistakes sometimes if the performance was intense and interesting. Saying that though, I also enjoy working to perfect things, and hyper-editing to the point where things sound over produced. I like everything across the spectrum, my producing career has really only just started in the grand scheme of things, so I guess in a year or so I’ll probably have different answers to this question.

Any new acts you’re working with that you think we should check out?

 I’ve been in the studio recently with some really cool guys called Chateaux. They’re from the Manchester area, and are up to some great things. Super talented. Another band called Shout Timber from London, they’ve got some cool songs and their drummer is super tight! Producing a track or two for a Liverpool band called All We Are this summer as well, I’m excited to begin working with them. And as always I’ve been working with Jethro Fox as well, always an honor. He’s really quick and really open to trying anything. He dots around the room from instrument to instrument, it’s always entertaining.

In general, local acts to check out that I’ve been listening to recently:

– Mikhael Paskalev, White Bicycles, Brown Brogues, Vasco De Gama.

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