Interview with RYAN GREENE, producer/engineer for NOFX (US gold) - Feb 5, 2001
“In punk rock the bands want to keep their integrity, but at the same time you try to take the project to the next level, make it more exciting …”Ryan Greene has a solid background as producer and has worked with many successful acts, including NOFX, Patti LaBelle and Gladys Knight. He also has a broad experience in dealing with different kind of record labels from the majors to the independents.
What was your first contact with the music business?
I started out doing live sound when I was fifteen for bands in town. After that I went to Troubadour Studios where I also recorded live sound. I used to play drums as well, but I knew I was never going to make it on drums. I had a friend who played drums better than me, so I figured that if one of us was going to make it would be him. Besides, I was never the one who wanted to be in the limelight. I'm more the quiet type.
What qualities belong to a successful producer and set him apart from a semi-professional?
You have to be able to really listen to the band and be able to collaborate with them. Nowadays young producers tend to want to have their own way, but you have to keep your mind open so you can get the best of two worlds.
In punk rock the bands want to keep their integrity, but at the same time you try to take the project to the next level, make it more exciting. I push things to the limit, and get people’s best. And I can simply because people trust me.
How do you find work, or does work find you?
It's been such a long time since I’ve had to approach people for work. I was a chief engineer at EMI Publishing, and I worked closely with Desmond Child and Glenn Ballard. Once you’ve worked with a successful act, as I did with NOFX, people know your work, they know what you stand for and so they come to you, I'm booked until April 2001.
I also receive a lot of material from unsigned bands that want to work with me. And I do that sometimes, if I think they’re good. But I won't be used as a stepping stone for people who just want a record deal. I've built relationships with people over the years, which I don't want to endanger over a band. I might contact a label if the band is amazing but that won't be the labels and people I'm closest to. I like things to be straight. I want people to come to me because they like what I do, not because they think I can get them a record deal.
How did you get to produce NOFX?
That's actually a funny story. I was working at EMI as the chief engineer. Fred from Bad Religion had a publishing deal with EMI and he came in. We did three songs together in a day, one of which was 'Stronger'. I gave him the master and he left. He went to his car, where he played the songs, and he came straight back. He said it sounded amazing and he asked me if I was interested in working for an outside label called Epitaph, because NOFX needed a producer.
So, not that much later I found myself in the studio with NOFX. I had never met them before and we just started recording. It went really well - it was an overwhelming experience. And now we are already four albums down the line.
What does a recording plan look like with NOFX?
We basically have two weeks to do an album. Fat Mike writes all their songs, and when the band come in for recording, the foundation for the songs is already there. And then we take it from there. We get rid of stuff. You need to work really fast. I keep wanting to do something different with the sounds, but in the end we mostly fall back into the same thing. They have their sound as a band and don't really want change. But then working on these projects is all about giving and taking.
What latest discovery in the studio has made your sounds and productions improve?
We just recently built a new studio. We’ve got a nice 64 SSL. So then it takes a lot of time getting used to how everything works and how to use the new equipment. And then you start putting things together and use them like you're not supposed to. I've found a way to make drum sounds sound like samples. Completely by accident!
Can you offer some words of advice for unsigned artists?
Before you even start sending your demos to record companies, make sure you’ve really worked on your songs. You need good songs with substance to them. When I used to work with Glenn Ballard and Desmond Child on a day-to-day basis, I learned a valuable lesson: take time to write a good song. Don't rush. Rehearse, know your instruments. Play shows, sell your CDs at the shows. Don't be a follower, but be a trendsetter. Most importantly, be prepared!
How important is it for a band to have knowledge of the music business?
'It's very important! You have to know everything: how point systems work, how publishing works. There are so many examples of people who had 'the bad manager'. Learn from that. It's the classic mistake. Knowledge is power!
Secondly, do some proper research before you approach a label. Look at the album credits from you favourite band, what label are they on, who do they work with? Don't just believe word of mouth. And get yourself a proper lawyer. That might cost you a little more in the beginning but it's definitely worth it.'
What would you recommend, from your own experience, for someone to develop as a producer?
Know your equipment and keep up to date with the latest. Listen to different types of music. Good production is not supposed to cover up a bad song, which is what it’s being used a lot for today. Focus on a good song. You need good songs and then the production can compliment the song. And work hard!
If you could dramatically change some aspect of the music business, what would that be?
The cost of CDs. The market is so saturated. There is so much crap out there. There are so many kids downloading and copying CDs. It's terrible. I hope there's going to be a way to regulate the downloads. Maybe people can put snippets on the Internet to get people interested, and then when people like the album they can go out and buy it.
I had a band in the studio who told me their master got stolen from their van. The next day it was all over the Internet. Now their album sales are down and so they've lost a lot of money. It's sad. In the end they won't even be able to pay their own recording costs. To be honest, I don't even want to think about it that much, because it worries me a great deal.
What are the differences between working with a major record company and an independent?
A small label has little money to spend. Therefore they think about the project that they want to do. They think about the commitment that they’re going to make. Therefore you have more quality control. A major label would sign an act, maybe it isn't great, but it could work. They throw out a dozen albums a year. They have money to play with, because they mostly have big acts who bring in the money and they have other companies who back them up financially. They sit back and wait. Maybe they'll get lucky and have a hit.
If the album doesn't work they drop the artist, which makes me angry because a lot of people don't seem to understand that they are actually ruining someone’s life. Music is the artist’s life. They trust you as a record company to look out for their best interests. A contract is a commitment that is to be taken seriously, so it makes me very angry that bands just get disposed of that quickly. There are very few people who actually develop a band. It's a big shame.
What is the difference between producing punk rock and hip-hop, for instance?
First I'd like to say that I've worked with many different types of music. I've worked with Patti La Belle, Gladys Knight, Cheap Trick, Curtis Blow, JoJo, Adina Howard. I don't really have a specific field of music that I work with. And above everything, I love to hear a singer sing! So I've worked on pop, rap, hip-hop, alternative rock, rock, and I'm doing a lot of punk rock.
Like I said, the budgets with punk rock are very tight. Plus the music is so incredibly fast. It's really hard to do. So that's the big challenge. And that sort of routine comes in handy when doing other things as well.
What will you be doing in 5-10 years?
I've been doing this for 15 years and I always say, "Every day in the studio is a nice day!" It's all about just loving what you do, and I love what I do!
interviewed by Marlene Smits
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