Mark Morrow - Producer
It's a known, that self produced Songwriters and Producers can shut the world out, lock the doors and immerse themselves in their own wee darkened rooms or studios, valiantly tweaking the pots on stems or tracks, which they've spent days or weeks working on, only to appear on some odd occasions, to come out and eat once in a while, sometimes disheveled and devoid of any awareness of time, day or week, then only to disappear back into the forest and only to be seen randomly, when more coffee or food is required. Time really is the enemy of a Producer. Sleep ?! pah, who needs that !
Whist that may be the case when starting out for most, Music Producer Mark Morrow, dedicated to his art and clients, tells us more about managing his studio time efficiently and effectively, balancing life with work and also how he works with clients and discusses his gear, which he has used to record and produce a multitude of artists/bands over a 10 year period in music production.
Q: What’s your musical background, which led to you be able to work in a professional capacity - What got you started ?
"I started playing guitar in a band in high school with some friends, probably aged 13-14. We used to play at our school’s rock night and booked our own gigs at venues in Edinburgh. We probably started writing our own music as a band around age 16. We were lucky enough to have a very small but usable recording studio at our school – so I would sit for ages trying to record our own songs. I would also try and recreate songs that I liked and tried to get them sounding as close as I could to the original – this is what really got me into music production. The band then started getting a little more serious and the songs that I had recorded (now having a small studio setup in my parent’s front room), started getting played on some of the bigger radio stations (Radio One, BBC Scotland, BBC 6 Music). This was pre Spotify, so this was great exposure for both my band and my recording work. We had a lot of friends that played in bands too, and we met lots when touring and a lot of them asked where we recorded. I then started recording friends bands, who started to do well themselves, and then their friends bands and it just went on from there."
Q: Was it a natural progression of skills acquired and events which led you to becoming Pro ?
"I’ve always recorded bands since high school really! I was lucky that I could try things out on my own band first before, so I got the hang of things in a more relaxed atmosphere. I also spent A LOT of time by myself recording music and building up full productions from things I could do myself. Whether that was recording a ‘drum loop’ by playing each drum separately and then programming them how I wanted them, or using pre-existing loops to build upon. I guess I started ‘professionally’ when I was around 24."
Q: Your DAW is Pro-Tools. Is that what you trained on i.e.(college/Uni/SAE course) or is it by choice and why ?
"I’ve always used Pro-Tools since day one. It has its flaws, but I just know the software so well that it would take me ages to switch to something else now. I studied Audio Technology with Electronics at Glasgow Caledonian University. We did some classes in Pro-Tools there, but I mainly learned ‘on the job’ by just using it."
Editors Note: Once you've chosen your DAW, or it's chosen you rather, stick with it an learn what you can, as you go. Changing your DAW to something else is difficult, if you've used one for some amount of time. You have invested time in it, so stick with it and only change if you are prepared to learn from scratch (not the recording techniques, the menus, how to's within the DAW), or if you need to change to gain greater production skills or results. Start as you mean to go. Chose your DAW wisely. It can be daunting to begin with, but like learning to ride a bike, the more you're on it, the better you become.
Q: You clearly have a love of analogue gear, do you use many plugins/vst’s/samples in the digital realm - Would you say your studio is very hybrid, or are you more Digital ?
"I have a few nice pieces but I’m working mainly in the box. I have lots and lots of guitar amps, cabs, synths, pedals etc etc but I’m up for using anything that can make an interesting sound. I hardly every commit to compression or EQ on the way in (for a few reasons), but mainly because I like having the choice to alter this as the production builds. I generally move quite quickly through a track so I want to just capture everything as I hear it in that moment, but that might not be the right sound at the end of the mix."
Q: How long is a normal day for you - are you married/partner - If so, how do they put up with the long hours ?
"I try to keep sessions to ‘office hours’, but with music, it can be a bit unpredictable. I am married, yes – We’ve been together since high school so I guess she knew what she was getting herself into! But in all seriousness, I try to come away from the studio at a decent hour – it’s not healthy to work long days / 7 days a week and you start to fall out of love of the job."
Q: When a client comes to you, what’s the procedure - chat, make them feel at ease, discuss their aims with the song / music / album – how does it progress throughout the day ? (A day in the life of a Music Producer, of you will)
"There’s usually a few emails back and forth, and possibly a meet up, if scheduling allows it. I’ll usually hear things the band has done before, or any demos they may have of the tracks we are going to record, so I can get the vibe of the band. I like to not think about the track too much before the start of the day, as I like to act on impulse (to a certain extent) but know what kind of direction the band would like to go in. We would start by laying a guide track down (a very quick once over the song on the main instrument – usually guitar and vocal). Then track drums to this (or program drums if I’m working with a pop act), then work up from there (bass, guitars, keys, vocals, backing vocals, extras). By the end of the session, we’ll have a full production recorded, semi-edited (I do this as I go) and un-mixed. The band will get a quick export of the song at this stage and leave, I’ll then work on the mix over the next few weeks and send them back the first mix."
Q: You’ve worked with a multitude of artists,/bands, from different genres/styles. What were the most challenging and what music has given you the most satisfaction, producing and recording ?
"I’m lucky enough now that I can pick and chose the bands I work with – So if I’m working on the tracks – I already like the band. I really enjoy working on pop music, because there really are no barriers or walls to keep you to a certain sound – it really is anything goes! I work with lots of indie / rock bands who intertwine with pop production, which is also fun."
Q: Do you write/compose your own music - If so, does the amount of clients and variety of music you produce/record have an impact on your own music ? (Some self produced songwriters cant listen to other music, in the middle of recording/producing their own…for fear of it affecting their own)
"Yes – I write and perform in my current band ‘folda’. I guess it has an impact, because we don’t get a lot of time to work on this as my calendar is pretty much jam packed 6-7 months in advance and any free time I do get, I want to spend out of the studio and switching my ears off! I probably steal ideas off other bands I work with all the time, unconsciously of course."
Q: What are your fav plugins, what’s your "Go To" for vocals, guitars, drums etc ?
"I guess this changes depending on the source and the vibe we are going for. But I guess plug-ins I couldn’t like without would be: Waves CLA2A (probably my go to for vocal compression), Waves C4 Multiband Compressor (probably over use this on everything, including the mix bus), Serum (my go to synth now), Massive (second go to synth), and That Sound drum sample packs (great for augmenting or programming pop stuff!)."
Q: Fav hardware (compressors, FX, Amps etc) ?
"I actually don’t own a lot of hardware units for recording on the way in – but I do love my Kemper Profiling Amp. I have it set up to record a DI at all times, which means I can go back and change the sound at any point when working quickly. They also sound great and are SUPER quick."
Q: What’s the best advice you can give to Bands/Artists who enlist the services of a Producer to help them achieve their aims ?
"Just be a nice person - I always try and make the band feel as relaxed as possible, to try and ensure we get the best result. My studio feels like a living room to a certain extent, so I want people to feel at home. Take advice and don’t be scared to try different ideas."
Q: What’s the best advice you can give to aspiring Producers ?
"Always put 100% into everything you do."
Q: Which genres/styles are you most comfortable with ?
"Pop / Rock / Indie"
Q: Music Production / Recording / Mixing / Mastering – All stages of the process, but which is your favourite ?
"I like it all! I love seeing a production right through from recording to mastering. I know it’s not always done (but it’s possibly becoming more the norm now), but I think having the same person through the whole process unifies everything and ensures the vibe is kept throughout."
Q: MASTERING - The dark art – Why is this important for final versions of songs/albums and is Mastering as hard to do/learn as they say - How did you learn how to do it ?
"Mastering is a hard one. I actually had a few sleepless nights a few weeks ago worrying about sending masters out at different loudness levels for different streaming services (sad, I know). It’s hard to try and get a ‘one size fits all’ master for streaming / radio / CD (do people still do these?) / anything else. I guess I just try and get it to sound good on my systems, my car, laptop, different earphones and try have it hit quite hard so it’s always exciting and in your face."
Q: Lastly, who inspired you as a musician and also as an Engineer and Producer – what songs/Engineers/Producers inspired you to do what you now do ?
"Band wise – I love Jimmy Eat World, Death Cab for Cutie, Bombay Bicycle Club, Bon Iver and the production that comes with them. I’ve always wanted to mix rock music with a pop production and sneak ‘different’ instruments in where they maybe shouldn’t be heard. This is becoming more normal now, but I’ve always loved doing that."
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Wishing Mark continued success in 2020 and beyond
Mark Morrow Audio
Mark produced The Eve's new single "Smalltown Boy"
By Pete Carroll (March 2020)