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Interview with JAY BAUMGARDNER, producer/mixer for Evanescence, Papa Roach, Limp Bizkit, Alien Ant Farm - Apr 25, 2005

“I will always continue to work with bands that don’t have a record deal”,

picture … says Jay Baumgardner, producer and/or mixer for Evanescence, Alien Ant Farm, Drowning Pool, Korn, Limp Bizkit, Seether, New Found Glory, Hoobastank and Slipknot. He also found Papa Roach and produced their worldwide breakthrough single “Last Resort”.

Jay is the owner of one of Hollywood’s most successful recording studios and runs his own label. Read his success story, how he works with new artists and why he thinks that a producer must find his own work and not rely on a manager.

“I started my music career playing keyboard in different rock bands. Before that I played the saxophone in high school”, says Jay. “None of the bands I was in achieved much success, but I made their demos, and people were telling me that they liked the demos better than the actual bands playing on them. So that’s how I got involved in the production side of things. From then on my studio just got bigger and bigger.”

His label NRG has a deal with Columbia. Jay says: “I get loads of demos. It’s a great way for bands and artists to get noticed. The more people hear your stuff, the better…” He continues: “If you suck, don’t send it - wait until you don’t suck anymore. But if you feel you’re a great artist, by all means send your stuff to me.”

How he got together with Papa Roach

“Before the label deal, whenever I received great demos I’d hand them on to friends at labels. Or else I’d decide to work with them. That’s how I got to work with Papa Roach. They wanted to work with me and had sent me their demo.”

“At first I wasn’t really convinced that it would work out. But then I saw a video of them performing at a club. I saw all these kids going wild, knowing the songs by heart. That’s when I realized that they definitely had potential. I decided to go and see them on stage and meet them.”

Jay decided that he wanted to work with the band, and made a demo with them with the aid of a small amount of money that the band had received through a development deal with Warner Brothers. But Warner Brothers wasn’t interested. After showing the material to other labels the band finally got a deal with Dreamworks. He went on to produce the band’s album, and both have had a great career because of it.

Working with bands without a record deal

“I’ve always worked with bands that I thought were great, but who didn’t have a record deal, and I’ll continue to do so. So when I get a great demo, I’ll go out and see the band or the artist play. Or, if they’re too far away, I’ll ask them to send a video of a performance. I am looking for amazing talent, great song-writing, and passion.”

“But I’m a real gut-feeling person; I don’t think you should over-analyze things, because analysis can tell you that something is right when it’s really wrong, or the other way around. I just concentrate on the music. Then I sit down with the band and try to find out where they want to go musically, and what their expectations are.”

‘Patience, stupidity, tenaciousness, persistence and naivety’ are key elements to becoming a successful producer, according to Jay. “It’s a silly occupation really, working with rock musicians. It’s not like working with doctors, or something, since you’re a person caught in the middle of all kinds of politics. The label, the artists and the managers… you have to make sure that everybody is happy with what you are doing.”

“It’s important to have patience, because you have to spend a lot of time trying to get things right. And you have to be patient with people. Sometimes a label will send a band over, and they really like the demo that the band had to begin with… the band isn’t sure what it is they really want, and as the producer you have your own ideas of how you think it should turn out…”

“So in fact you also need to be a really good salesperson and get the band into trying different things. I’ll say; ‘let’s just try this and see how it sounds; if you don’t like it, we’ll do something else’. In the end you need to have a product that everybody is happy with. But probably the most important thing is to not take yourself too seriously”, concludes Jay. “You have to be able to put your ego aside. I’ve had experiences where I think I’ve caused problems because I was too stubborn. Now I try to listen better to find out what it is that people want.”

Does being a good salesperson mean that you are also good at promoting yourself?

“Yes. You need to be out there, meeting bands, making friends at labels. That’s how people get to know you, so if there’s ever a project that’s suitable for you, they’ll know where to find you. I have a manager, who is also the manager of Evanescence, but he basically deals with all the legal stuff, contracts and things. He’s not out there getting me work.”

Does that mean that you wouldn’t recommend aspiring producers to start looking for a manager, hoping that they will get them projects to produce?

“As a producer you have to find your own work. You might as well get used to that from the start. The best thing is to attach yourself to an unsigned band that you think rocks. Then you work from there, because if someone picks the band up and signs them, you’ll get recognition for your work as well. That’s how you’ll get the ball rolling. A manager is a great help at a later stage, to make sure all the paperwork is in order, all the contracts are sound, etc.”

What is the actual production process like?

“It is mostly the labels that contact me to work with a certain band or artist. What I’ll do is sit down and listen to the material first. Then I sit down with the artists and find out what direction they are looking for. Then you start preproduction and go into recording, if you all agree to it.”

“There are rare cases when I say no to a project. When I do, it’s mostly because of logistical reasons. I said no to someone lately, because it meant I had to work in another state for some time, far away, and I couldn’t do it because my schedule was already full. And it wasn’t a fun state to be cooped up in. But basically I would have to think that the music wasn’t good or interesting in order to say no to a project.”

Producing vs. mixing

“Producing and mixing is very different. As a producer you start from the beginning of the recording process and as a mixer you come in at the end to fine-tune stuff. Not every good producer is a good mixer. It’s extremely difficult, and I know very few people who do it well. I guess you need very old ears to be good at it. But I enjoy both.”

“Obviously mixing takes up much less time than producing. So basically that’s what I fill my time with, when I’m not producing. This year I’ve produced about half a dozen records already. I’ve been mixing a new album for Alien Ant Farm, and I’ve been working on Gavin Rossdale’s new project. Then I did a project with DJ Z-Trip. So I’m in the studio every day. I try to stay as busy as possible.”

Moving from rock to hip hop

Jay has mostly been involved with producing and mixing rock music, but he doesn’t feel that he’s stuck to the rock genre. He says: “People sort of know you from the stuff you’ve done before, and before you know it, that’s the label you get. But I’ve done things that cross-over to pop like Jewel and hip hop like DJ Z-Trip with Chuck D from Public Enemy. I’ll work with anybody who wants to work with me, as long as they’re good. That’s my philosophy.”

As a producer you depend on your studio. How important is it to have expensive high-quality equipment?

“Of course it helps to have nice gear. When I started out, I spent all the money I made directly on my studio. And I wasn’t making a lot of money in the beginning, so sometimes it was kind of hard. But it’s not all about gear. A great band recording on lesser-quality equipment will still sound better than a bad band working with great gear. In the end it all boils down to finding great artists with great songs.”

“The music business has changed a lot. It’s shrunk dramatically. There are less people working in it, selling less products, and the people at the top mostly decide which artists they want to sign. However, the Indie labels are expanding, because it’s become cheaper to get into the game. So I think that that’s actually a great way for a band to get started.”

“It’s easier to get a deal with an Indie label. If you’re good, the majors will pick up on it eventually. A lot of people have been complaining about the music business over the last couple of years, but nobody seems to have a real idea of how to solve the difficulties. I think in the end it comes down to the survival of the fittest”, concludes Jay.

Interviewed by Marlene Smits

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