This week I decided to take a new route, I have always been interested in the behind the scenes when it comes to making a great album and what else goes into the artistic process when it comes to recording. No one seems to think about the sound engineers that help bands make a record sound as great it does when it gets into your hot little hands. So as luck would have it, I have been a fan for a few years of what a certain sound engineer has churned out and he and his business partner were willing to take the time out of their insanely busy schedule to answer some questions for BBB.
The sound engineer I speak of is Scott Coslett, and he has recently opened his own studio with business partner, Todd Bergman. When I first met Scott he was the sound engineer behind 100 Monkeys, The Kissing Club, Mechanical People (amongst numerous others) and has since been working with Barnaby Saints, Rags to Radio, The Absolute, etc, etc. But long before I knew him, Scott worked with a multitude of insane talent, as has Todd. There hasn’t been a single project these guys have been involved in that hasn’t sounded absolutely phenomenal. So for all you bands out there, take note of Repro-Ductions and also of all the other artistic ventures these talented guys are involved in!
Read on to find out more about Scott and Todd’s history in music, how they go about picking their projects, how much time goes into a single song, advice they have for musicians, and how they deal with possibly not seeing eye to eye on songs with an artist!
How did you get into being an audio engineer?
Scott: I started out making Hip Hop in 1993 then I stopped making music around 1998 for a variety of reasons at that time. I moved to Lake Tahoe in 1999 and decided to go to college in 2000, once I did that I realized I needed a computer so I decided to pick up a music program and start making beats again, out of necessity I decided to start engineering my own music. In 2006 I moved to Los Angeles after having done all that I could do in Tahoe. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do when I moved to LA because I was set on making beats for a living but I had to meet people so I went to the Los Angeles Recording School and found that I had more of a passion for mixing songs than for beat making. It was there that I received an internship at Threshold Sound and Vision. I worked under Peter Barker who is an exceptional engineer and studio owner, he taught me how to be a professional and that lead me to where I am today, Thanks Pete. I would also like to say do not waist your money on a Recording School everything that I learned at the time was from my internship, you are better off going to an actual college that offers audio programs and getting yourself an internship at a local studio, all it takes is a little bit of research to contact the studio manager in your area. You can also skip going to school all together and just offer yourself up to a local studio for free. In this business real world experience is all that matters and the only way to get that is by doing it not sitting in a classroom theorizing about it while they charge you outrageous money. Do not go to those money pits all they do is prey on people wanting to be part of this industry, also an actual college is much cheaper. Every job I have gotten came from real world experience not a piece of paper that said I completed some program.
Todd: I started playing drums right before I turned 16 and ended up in a band with a very serious, motivated songwriter. We decided we wanted to start recording some of our rehearsals and song ideas so we put together a small recording rig at our practice space. No one really knew what they were doing on the recording end of things at the time, nor did they really want to, so I decided to step up and figure it out. As the band progressed so did I. I would read all trade magazines front to back multiple times trying to figure out what people in the professional audio world were using to make records.
I was interested with the concept of recording music. It spoke to me in this way that is indescribable. I knew within a short amount of time that this was going to become my career.
Eventually we got to the point where we could afford to hire professionals to help us define our sound and capture our performances. Whenever we would work with pro engineers I would always ask questions and try and figure out what they were doing. I’m sure I bugged the crap out of them the whole time…haha!
Long story short I started to “engineer” my life to revolve around music production and became very thirsty for knowledge and experience in the trade. I started taking classes at local community colleges and apprenticed under some local engineer producer types and began an internship with Geffen Records/Universal Music. I started saving money and bought Pro Tools as soon as I could afford it on the most basic level. A few years later I met one of the owners of Threshold Sound & Vision Studios (www.thresholdsound.com) completely by chance while working behind the counter at Starbucks. We hit it off, and the next week I was the newest intern at Threshold.
How long have you been doing it?
S: I have been making music since 1993 and professionally engineering since 2007.
T: I have been playing music for close to 10 years, but I’ve been making my living exclusively through music production since around 2007 when I was given a staff position at Threshold.
How do you go about picking the projects that you decide to work on/ produce?
S: It varies, most people hire me and we go from there. Once in a great while I will meet a band or someone will play something that blows me away and then I will invest my time in that band or artist. If I’m going to invest my time they have to be beyond great because investments like that tend to be a labor of love and don’t usually yield much capital at first or ever possibly. It takes time to build buzz for a band so you have to understand that you’re getting in on the ground up and it’s going to take time for that investment to pay off. Right now the two bands that we have on our roster are Barnaby Saints and Rags to Radio, they are both very talented and worth the time that we put into them. I feel big things will be happening for both of these artists in the near future. I met Rags through my good friend Rob Frith owner of Neptoon Records in Vancouver, he told me about them when I was up there on tour. They had opened up for 100 Monkeys and those guys blew me away, now we are putting out a full-length album together for Rags. I also plan to do a lot more work with Rob’s label in the near future so be on the lookout for Neptoon releases. I met Barnaby through my business partner Todd, he played me a demo and that was it. I knew what an amazing talent he was right away and agreed to work with him immediately. Like I said before, most people hire me so they choose me most of the time.
T: I’m always asking people for music and receive a lot of submissions through social media and friends. I really try not to be one of those guys that throw demos out without giving them a chance. I try to listen to everything for at least 30 seconds. When I hear something that really truly inspires me I usually know right away. It has to stir something in me on a very emotional level. When Barnaby Saints played his very first demo for me which was “Bones” I knew I had to make a record with him.
How many hours would you say goes into mixing & mastering one song? A whole album?
S: It varies. Sometimes you can mix a song or two in a day but I prefer it to be over a couple days if budget and time allow because fresh ears and fresh perspective always make a huge difference. I can master a song in 35 minutes to an hour at this point, after I get the first one it tends to be even quicker for the rest if the person who mixed the songs keeps things consistent. An album can take a couple weeks to a month depending on how prepared the artist is when they come in. We can work quicker if need be but quality is our first priority over quantity any day, we are not McEngineers if you know what I mean. The unfortunate thing nowadays is there are a lot of McEngineers out there and I feel the quality of music has suffered because of this trend of untrained Engineers buying programs and calling themselves studios. I never charged anyone to engineer until I worked in a big studio and was trained properly.
T: It’s kind of an open-ended question. There are a lot of factors that go into making a song, it really depends on the context of the music, the production (how many parts/individual audio tracks) and how well the musicians played those parts. Budgets are also a determining factor. Sometimes artists just can’t afford to spend days in the studio so we have to do everything as quickly as possible to cut down on cost.
On average we prefer to spend a day and a half on mixing, and a few hours in the mastering for one song.
For a 10 Song LP I would say average mix and mastering time would be about two weeks. Maybe more, maybe less.
How do you deal with possibly not seeing eye to eye with an artist/band on a song? (Say they hear it sounding one way, and you feel you can make it better in a different way).
S: If they are paying me, as far as I’m concerned they are always right even if the song suffers in my opinion. If the band is happy that’s all that matters at the end of the day. I will make my suggestions or take it in the direction I think it should go but it’s all about the artist’s end vision and if I achieve that then I did my job. We all have different takes on things and at the end of the day who’s to say what’s right and wrong. Music is subjective and can be interpreted in a million different ways. If I am investing or producing then it’s a different story I will give the artist plenty of leeway but my opinion will be part of the process and I will stand firm if I think I can do something better than what’s already there. If an artist does something that I really don’t like then I will ask them not to credit me for my work because I don’t want to be represented that way and yes I have had to do that before even with friends because it’s my reputation that’s on the line and I don’t want to tarnish that for someone else’s bad decision making (if you’re reading this right now you know who you are).
T: The record business is first and foremost a service industry. In a way, running a recording studio is like running a hotel or a restaurant. The only difference is the product. At Repro, we take this very seriously and our philosophy is the customer is always right. Even with artists we invest in, we pay a lot of attention to their vision after all we decided to sign them because we like what they do in the first place.
Is it difficult to decide where to draw the line between professional and personal relationships when working with an artist/band?
S: No, you can be great friends with the band and that makes it even better in my opinion. I love working with new people as well because it gives you a chance to make new friends. The only line as far as I’m concerned that should be drawn is that you should not have any sort of physical relationship with your client no matter what the circumstance, keep it professional and everything will be good. The only danger of having artist as friends is if you have a personal fallout, that can effect your ability to work together but it’s a chance I’m willing to take because I would rather have a potentially great friend instead of never knowing because I wanted to keep it strictly a studio relationship. People come and go in our lives all the time that’s just the nature of the universe. I feel that I am better off without some of the people I once called friends as well, sometimes they are the people holding you back and the universe gets rid of them for you whether you wanted them to go or not. I also find that I can be more honest about my opinion with friends as opposed to someone who is strictly a client.
T: Yes and No. Music being a service industry is very much a people business. Learning how to draw those lines is something you develop in response to folks crossing them. Experience plays a huge role in drawing lines with people.
Biggest opportunity so far in your career?
S: My job that I had at Threshold and meeting Peter Barker. Also building my current studio with my partner Todd Bergman because it allows us to create opportunity for ourselves now instead of hoping something great happens. We control our future and that is the biggest opportunity that anyone could have as far as I’m concerned. Don’t leave it in the hands of others because you will always be disappointed in their actions, trust me I know.
T: Without a doubt the opportunity to work for Threshold. All of my real world studio experience came from working my way up the ranks at Threshold and I would never have met Scott or Peter Barker (our mutual mentor). None of the things I’m doing now or have done since would be possible without that one opportunity.
Now, you have also toured a bit and done sound at venues, what are the major differences between tracking in a studio vs. doing live sound at a venue?
S: You have to be fast at both in order to be successful but in the studio you can take a little more time to get things dialed in and there tends to be more microphones involved. Once you have the sound in the studio and the band is happy with their headphone mix, it’s pretty much cruise control after that unless some unknown problem arises. Live is a whole different beast, you have to get sounds really quick and if you have to share the board with the house engineer and he’s mixing the opening bands then all the work you did during sound check is gone and you have to figure it out on the fly. Also bands tend to be really stoked to be in the studio and bands tend to be fairly stressed before a show but that’s not always the case. When you work with a band in the studio they go home at the end of the night but when you are on the road you basically live with the band and unless the band is getting along it’s not all that fun to live with them.
T: The show must go on. Any technical difficulties have to be solved before the band takes the stage. Live is always more stressful for us.
What projects are you working on now and what can we expect from Repro-Ductions, LLC. in the next year or two?
S: We are working on a full-length record with Rags to Radio and we are going to continue to make new songs with Barnaby Saints. We are also getting very booked up so that’s a good thing. In the next year we plan on growing the company substantially and in the next two to three we plan on being a major outlet of music and a variety of other creative projects such as the street art/graph scene that we have been exposed to recently. Thanks to all of the guys who came and did such great artwork in our studio especially to Armondo Villa aka Sefer and our good friend Cyrus One. We hope to be collaborating with some of them on a street art documentary over the next year. We are all about people creatively expressing themselves and we plan on exposing as many people as we can to all of the great artists we know. We will also be looking for new bands to invest in but for now we just want to focus on Barnaby Saints and Rags to Radio because we really believe in those guys and we feel like they could make great records that will make lots of people happy. The other goal is to bring happiness to mass amounts of people through music and art.
T: We’re very excited for the future of our company. Things seem to be growing very rapidly. We’re just about booked solid for the rest of 2012 with work still coming in.
Right now we are finishing post production for the debut full length LP by Rags to Radio. You can also expect a lot of new material from Barnaby Saints to be release towards the end of the year. We are planning for a 4 song acoustic EP to be released as a free download as well as two new fully produced singles for sale.
We’re working closely with our friends Jerad Anderson and Kristi Falcone to produce a series of live events featuring Repro artists and friends both new and old. We’re very excited to be a part of the Indie Music Cares benefit concert as well as the Formosa Cafe Music Night in Hollywood, CA.
As the company grows you can expect us to continue to do what we do best, finding, developing, and promoting quality art and talent. We plan to acquire new artists in a multitude of music genres as well as expand into various forms of multimedia including a possible street art/graffiti documentary.
How would you like your art to be remembered?
S: I want to evoke feelings in people well after I’m gone from this earth. I hope what we do in our lifetime is remembered long after we are gone and it inspires some kid to pick up a guitar and start making music. Some people spend their time trying to make the next American Idol, I would like to create the next American Icon and I’m not looking for someone who wants their 15 minutes of fame. I want an artist who is in it for the long haul. I want my artist to last as long as bands like the Rolling Stones this is about making a lifetime of great music not “hits today” and “has beens” tomorrow. I also want to help bring back good full-length albums and get out of this fast food music industry that we seem to be stuck in. I want the artist that I work with to be good role models not like these self centered artist that promote bad behavior or use shock tactics to get you to pay attention to them and to divert the fact that they are not as talented as people think. I want to be remembered as one of the guys who helped bring great real music to the world and really made a difference. I also want to be remembered as a person who helped create music and artistic jobs for people and was able to provide them the opportunity to achieve their dreams.
T: To me this life is all about the legacy you leave behind. I want to be remembered as someone who dared to be different. Someone who dared to change the model, throw caution to the wind and follow their dreams. Someone who dared to value quality over quantity and push the envelopes of our craft. Someone who dared to inspire greatness in others. Really I want to change the world for the better. It’s not about money for us, we want to foster a community of open and free creativity.
If you could change one thing about the music industry, what would it be?
S: Auto tune. If you can’t sing take lessons or do more takes but don’t call yourself a singer if you have to rely on that. Just because a person looks good doesn’t mean they should be a musical artist. Ability should trump all when it comes to being a musician. People used to become famous for being great at something now they become famous for no good reason other than someone had the money to promote them and to shove it down your throat till you buy into it or they make a sex tape. I also wish the labels would stop putting out the same thing recycled over and over again how many songs can possibly have the same four on the floor kick drum pattern and be considered original. That’s the problem when business men run the industry instead of people who truly love music. The people who love it will do it with or without the massive profits that can come from success in this business and they will always find better artist than what people have to choose from today.
T: Bring back the old model in a new and exciting age. It’s no secret that the music industry as a whole has sort of shot itself in the foot on more than one level. We want to bring back the days when the industry revolved around talent not “youtube” hits and “facebook” likes. The music industry is focused on what they can turn around and sell tomorrow. We’re not necessarily concerned with that. Sure we want to be successful and generating revenue is part of that, but for us it’s about leaving a legacy of quality for generations to come. The major labels see a diminishing market share due to the advent of file sharing and MP3s. We see opportunity to reach more people and create a better product with fewer resources.
What is some advice you can give to musicians?
S: This is a tough business if you’re in it for the wrong reasons get out now. You better have thick skin and take rejection well because 90 percent of the time or more you will get rejected but that 10 percent could change your life so believe in yourself and keep moving forward. If you are in a band try to get along while on the road it will make things much better and you will have a much higher chance at success. Also appreciate your time out there because not everyone gets to do this so don’t take it for granted and act like it’s your god given right just because some people show up to watch you perform. I have traveled with people who have acted like that and I can tell you it won’t end well, fortunately for me I just keep on moving forward with or without you (hey isn’t that a U2 song).
T: Don’t give up, work harder than the next man, be creative, and have principles to stand by.
What are you listening to right now?
S: Alabama Shakes as much as possible. Jack White everything he does is greatness, our only true Rock and Roll legend from the modern era. Dr Dog, don’t sleep on those guys they make great records that will stand the test of time. Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings so damn funky. Jack Johnson, such great happy songs and the Engineering on those records is unreal. Old Jay Z not the new stuff, The Black Album is the greatest hip hop record front to back of all time. Lots of Rags to Radio and more Barnaby Saints then you can shake stick at. Then of course the classics, The Beatles lots of Zepplin, Hendrix and Bob Marley. I could go on and on but we will leave it at that.
T: Rags to Radio! We’re deep in the mixing phase right now and that’s just about all I’m listening to.
Other than that, Talk Radio.
Seriously, I’m all over the place with music. Chances are there’s something I like in just about every genre. From hardcore Gangsta Rap to Classical, Metal, Pop Music, Indie Rock, Folk, Blues, almost anything. I’ve also been listening to a lot more independent and college radio these days.
More specifically I’m a fan of just about anything Jack White. He really is a great model for modern independent music. I also love the RX Bandits, they get tons of play in my car. Local Natives are a great band as well and I’ve always loved Bloc Party, Silent Alarm is one of the best “Indie Rock” albums ever made in my opinion.
Scott, how did you get the nickname ‘The Scientist’? Do you still get called that?
S: When I was making Hip Hop music one of my artist started calling me that because of the way I would break down a song and it just kind of stuck. I do still get called that but I prefer to be credited on work that I do as myself. Just plain old Scott Coslett or if you want to get really technical John Scott Coslett Jr, yes my first name is John just like my Dad.
If you could have worked with one band from ANY time in history, who would it have been/be?
S: Jack White hands down, he’s put out some of my favorite music for over a decade now.
T: Jimi Hendrix!!!
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