Neilson Hubbard on Music Production
Record producer and all around badass, Neilson Hubbard, is the founder of Mr. Lemons Recording Studio in Nashville, TN. His capacities diversify from being a talented multi-instrumentalist, to songwriting, to producing records. He has been a member of bands such as This Living Hand and Strays Don’t Sleep; has written songs for his own solo albums, in collaboration with other songwriters and for other artists; and has produced records for several of Split Lip’s favorite artists such as Garrison Starr, Matthew Ryan, Glen Phillips and Matthew Perryman Jones. He was kind enough to candidly chat with Split Lip’s editor J. Scott Bugher about the producer’s roll in making records and his own creative process as a producer.
So, I want to make a record. I have songs, a decent sense of rhythm and have been told I have a stellar voice. All I need is a microphone and a tape recorder, right?
Ha! Well, uh— Possibly if you’re Dylan or Springsteen. Well, the good side of the [self-recording] business is that you don’t have to wait on a label to make music. On the downside, the songs aren’t ready to be on a record. That’s where the producer comes in and you don’t want to think of a producer as someone there to take over and tell the artist what they’re going to sound like. A producer frames the artist. They might want to do something their way, but I’ll tell them, “Well, try this. This is how I would do it.” And it [the process] is different from record to record. For example, we started a record for Garrison Starr with a series of drum loops for each song, but with one of Glen Phillips’ records, we began with voice.
What, in general, are the roles of a producer?
It ranges from putting a budget together to overseeing the record to completion. Basically, it’s like the role of a movie director. In other words, it’s the artist’s bus, but I’m the one driving it. As we drive, they might want to stop and see everything, but I have to be the one to tell them we can’t.
Do you have any specific goals in mind when producing a record?
I think the first goal is to capture the essence of the artist: what they do, what they sound like. When the final record is listened to, I want the listener to feel that the music and voice are believable and honest.
How about some favorite producers? Do you model your work after anybody or, in better words, do any particular producers influence you?
I like Jon Brion. He did records for Fiona Apple, Aimee Mann, Kanye West and several movie soundtracks. There’s Quincy Jones and his work with Michael Jackson. I love his arrangements and the use of space on his records. I love the sound of old records, stuff like Ray Charles where the focus is on the songs and an amazing vocal performances. The cool thing is that the sounds of vintage records are making a comeback. Artists are no longer trying to sound perfect by using a metronome grid and vocal tuning. We’re returning to real sounds and listeners are adjusting to it, which is great since people are liking those types of sounds again.
What’s been going on lately? Anything in queue?
A new record I produced for Kim Richey will be coming out on Yep Roc Records (Fountains of Wayne) this April 16th. Another artist I’ve worked with, Amy Spearce, has a record to be released soon by Tone Tree Records (Civil Wars). Other artists like Ryan Culwell and The Farewell Drifters should have records coming out this summer.
Neison, I appreciate you spending some time with Split Lip. We can’t wait to hear your forthcoming productions.
Cool. Thanks for having me.