Digging into the creative process, Byta speaks with artists, musicians, producers, DJs and anyone involved with music creation. A conversation about how they create, collaborate and share music. From studio setups to routines, and the first person to hear about the next 'big' work.
Where are you based?
I live in Atlantic Canada, specifically Nova Scotia, in an old farmhouse, on a dirt road, in the middle of somewhere quiet.
How, when and where did you start making music? Are you primarily a musician or a producer, or do something else?
I’m a solo artist and I started writing songs and recording when I was 20 and living in Austin, TX. I’m both a musician and a producer (my music and music videos). My main instrument is my voice, but I also play rhythm acoustic and electric guitar. I use the piano as a tool for songwriting, but you won’t catch me playing piano in front of anyone. When I was a child my parents put me into piano lessons, but I quit and opted for sports after a few years. It wasn’t until I experienced a pretty low period in my life at the age of 19 that I left Atlantic Canada and ventured off to Austin and Germany and discovered a love for singing, songwriting, and performing with other musicians.
Who would you consider some of your biggest influences when it comes to your “sound”?
I have an old friend Jason Silverberg (The Lennings) who I originally learned how to play rhythm guitar from, and otherwise, I’m betting that I learned how to sing initially from imitating all the artists that I loved. I can’t possibly list them all, but as far as the female singers go, I sure do love Annie Lennox, Whitney Houston, Tori Amos, Tina Turner, Cyndi Lauper, Chrissie Hynde, Celine Dion, Shawn Colvin, Jann Arden, Patty Griffin, and Nana Mouskouri. In terms of songwriting, perhaps Tom Petty, Paul Westerberg, Neil Finn, Shawn Colvin, Tori Amos. I loved a lot of male vocalists and bands as well, like Roy Orbison, Bruce Springsteen, Bryan Adams, The Jayhawks, Depeche Mode, David Bowie, Queen… I’m sure I’m leaving out a bunch. I dreamed of having a stellar live band like Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers or Fleetwood Mac, and to be able to move freely around the stage singing and connecting with the audience like Tina Turner or Cyndi Lauper.
Explain your creative process. Do you have a routine?
Once upon a time I would read and write every morning for at least 3-4 hours. Now this has become seasonal for me. I might pick up this routine about 1-2 years after a new album has run its course. I don’t have a manager, so I have to do a lot independently just to keep the momentum going.
Travelling has always given me fuel to eventually complete a song. I also am more successful writing music when I can be alone. Since we’ve been home-bound with the pandemic, apart from finishing up songs for my new album Storm, I’ve not felt overly inspired to write new music. Plus, it’s been busy just trying to stay afloat. But on tour, I’ll collect snippets of rhythms, melodies or short lyrics on my cell phone as they arise, email them to myself, then when I’m home I set aside time to organise the ideas and listen back. Sometimes the ideas don’t spark anything further and end up in the trash can, and other times it leads to a song.
It’s not always the case, but often I work quickly with mapping out the song structure, melodies, notes on song treatment, and chord changes. I’ll include lyrics if I have some, but often it’s just embarrassing lines until the music is complete. I can take a day, or an hour, or maybe years to finish a song. I don’t stress over it, but I don’t label a song ‘finished’ until it’s recorded and really fleshed out.
A dream day routine for me involves:
- Waking up at 6am. Meditate.
- Exercise (run, bike ride, yoga) by 8am
- Reading and songwriting 2-3 hours
- Break for lunch
- Rehearsal 2-4 hours (in my dreams!)
- Answer emails and project planning or meetings with team (tours, music videos, album stuff, collaborations)
- 5pm call it quits and make dinner
- Beach walk
What is your “studio” setup?
This is where I do all my songwriting, brainstorming, yoga and team meetings.
We do have a home recording studio, but for my new album Storm, we tracked in different venues during the pandemic. My partner Dale Murray, who co-produced and engineered the album, is seen in this next picture with me at a Church in Halifax, NS where we recorded piano. Dale moved his entire studio setup to the venue.
Photo by Sarah Jamer
We also moved the home studio to the Oxford Capitol Theatre, about 10 minutes from our home in Cumberland County, Nova Scotia. We recorded all the bed tracks at this location, and some guitars and vocals.
Photo by Alex Bell
What is your process when working with other people? How is collaboration different in the studio vs working remotely?
When it comes to recording or writing songs, I don’t do a lot of remote work. I mostly write my songs alone, and I prefer working in person with musicians when it comes to recording music. We will usually rehearse the song to find the right groove, and that’s usually where the magic starts to happen. I’ve never tried to do that remotely, and I don’t know if I want to. That’s just how I’ve always done it, but I supposed if it wasn’t possible then I would try remote work. I have on occasion recorded my vocals remotely for other projects, and that’s gone well, but it’s always nice to have the session leader in-person to direct. I’m a bit old fashioned that way perhaps.
At what point(s) are you comfortable letting other people hear what you are working on?
If I’m hiring musicians to perform on a song, I don’t mind sending them a rough demo. Everyone else can wait until the song is mastered. I’m not usually looking for outside feedback, apart from a co-producer or engineer. That being said, I have shared early snippets with my Patreon followers on occasion.
Do you share your work in progress with anybody?
I do not!
How do you know when a track/album is finished?
I base my decision on whether I’m happy with it or not. There’s a sense that the song isn’t calling for anything more, and I have no more feedback. It’s mostly based on a feeling that it’s done, and that adding or removing anything else would fuck it up.
How do you listen to the final mixes/mastered work?
I listen in our home studio with and without headphones, and I also listen on my computer and phone with headphones, and in the car.
How important is pre-release security when sharing new work?
Pre-release security isn’t a massive issue for me, but I wouldn’t love it if an unmastered song or demo was leaked. I don’t consider those ‘finished’. But after it’s mastered, if something leaks, that’s a head start on getting the 7.9 billion people on our planet to listen. I share all my music videos and new songs first on Patreon followers and nobody has ever spoiled a release for me.
Who on your team gets to hear the final versions first and why, what formats do they each need?
The musicians, and my creative team (artwork, music videos), then my publicists and booking agents get to hear the final versions first because it’s important for them to wrap their heads around the music. Then, close to the launch, I’ll share with my Patreon followers before it goes public. Usually, I’m sharing WAV versions of my new music.
Outside of your inner circle who are the people that will need to hear the new tracks next?
I keep them close to home but my label and publicist will of course get to hear what we have planned.