Saturday, March 21, 2020

Interview with UK Music Producer Neil Hudson by Kelly Tee

Interview with Neil Hudson, UK Music Producer

We metalheads are inclined to throw our headphones on, turn the volume up and bang our heads as much as we can. And being the over thinker I was born to be, this dissonant, dark and violently wonderful sound flooding my ears and smashing my sensory system often pushes other thoughts upon me. Thoughts such as, what went into pulling all this savagery together? The writing process, how their compositions were created, what drove their aggression and the time, sweat and effort they put into continually give us brutal listening pleasure.
I was speaking with Neil Hudson, the vocalist & guitarist for the UK based extreme metal band Krysthla, who also happens to be a production engineer. It got me thinking (because that’s what I do), who are these men and women working in the background mixing and mastering the metal injection for our souls? How important are they to the bands, the metal scene and the metal industry in general?
This prompted me to have a more in-depth conversation with Neil, who is also the founder and owner of Initiate Audio and Media about his role as a production engineer, the challenges he faces overseeing and managing the recording and production for various bands, and the personal reward he feels with his roles and responsibilities throughout the production process.

Hi Neil, Thank you for your time. What was the driving force that took you on a path toward music production?
You're very welcome! It's nice to get to chat about this stuff... I can talk for hours, so be warned.
I've always been interested in how music differed from band to band or genre to genre. My Father loved big band swing and Nat King Cole while my Mother loved Barry Manilow. Very different sounding due to the recording techniques and technologies of their time, but very vibe driven and centered around great songwriting and arrangement which is key for any music fundamentally. My sisters listened to 80's pop; a lot of Michael Jackson, A-HA, Duran Duran etc. I loved all their music choices but realized early on they all sounded different. It wasn't until a new next door neighbour moved in and woke me with loud guitars one Saturday morning that my world was truly rocked, however! This was back in the early '90s. After sitting watching him play for an hour or so I convinced my Mother I NEEDED a guitar. One trip to the car boot sale and £5 later and I was the proud owner of my first acoustic guitar! It was then I started delving into recording myself to write material. I'd record myself into the pinhole mic on an old tape recorder, play the tape back through my slightly bigger stereo (much louder) and record onto another tape jamming over the top! It sounded awful but I had so much fun creating something from nothing. It was the biggest spark I'd ever experienced in my life and made me determined to figure out how to record properly. A few years later I started a new band called Violation and the other guitarist had a Yamaha four-track tape recorder. That was the moment I'd been waiting for. I learned how to mix, use loops, add layers and mix down so I could add more layers. Then in 2005/2006, I had my first laptop with real music software and the rest is history! A whirlwind learning curve that's still happening 26 years later. I still own my first acoustic guitar.

In addition to owning Initiate Audio and Media, you are the vocalist and guitarist in the extreme metal band Krysthla. Has your experience as a Music Producer helped you grow and improve as a musician? And vice versa? And if so, how?
Very much so. You have to be efficient with your playing, learning to record on tape. No editing or undo buttons. It's made me a much tighter player which makes recording much quicker and more enjoyable. I try and push everyone I work with to get it right at the source. So much more character in the takes which has a huge cumulative effect on the record as a whole. If everyone is crushing their takes the energy is undeniable. Not everyone is a great player (always comes to light when recording, unfortunately). But over the years of learning about recording techniques, you pick up a few tricks to help things along if it's not all going to plan, let's say.

Go back to the start and tell me when and how you started Initiate Audio Media? And how has your growth as a Music Producer evolved from then to now?
I quit my job back in 2013 to go full time with the music. It was a real leap of faith, which started when a friend recorded his band's EP with a local engineer at the time and they weren't happy with the results. He asked me out of the blue if I could remix it as he knew I did my stuff but it wasn't recorded too well so we did it from scratch. I'd only recorded my stuff before that so I was straight in at the deep end working with new people who were expecting instant results! Luckily it turned out pretty good. Immediately after that, the studio where the engineer worked was looking to get someone new in, so I met them and started renting the studio space at the local rehearsal rooms and recorded a bunch of bands over the next year or so. I moved out and relocated to Krysthla HQ where I'm still based today. The rehearsal rooms weren't the best place to have a studio, unfortunately. The main thing I learned from then until now is how to manage the relationships between each member and me. A five-piece band plus I are thirty different relationships interacting during the whole recording process. Some people are funny, some are quiet, and some have all the talent but sit at the back saying nothing while the gobby asshole tries to steamroll everything but contributes nothing! Figuring out how to manage all those personalities harmoniously while keeping the schedule moving is probably the hardest part. It only takes one person to start struggling with a section and you see their real personality VERY quickly (smile). Vst's, eq, compression. Anyone can do that stuff. Again, no undo button when guys start yelling at each other.

Aside from managing the sound recording and the production of a band's performance music, what else might Music Producers become involved in that we might not be aware of? Co-writing? Coaching? Etc.
I try not to get my paws too grubby with the music if I can help it. I hear about a lot of guys trying to rewrite stuff when it doesn't need it, or even deleting sections when everyone has gone home for the night. I let the band do their thing mostly. Unless there's a section which REALLY sucks of course, then I'll grab the guitar. In cases like that the band is normally already aware that section needs work and are open to a fresh idea or two. I do try to push the players to the limits of their tightness so occasionally I'll suggest a change of style or to try a different pick/stick for a section here and there. You learn a lot about your playing when you're under scrutiny, that's for sure. To be honest my main role is Chief Councillor!! Haha. When the days start to drag and everyone starts getting reflective you hear all sorts of life stories. Some funny, some sad. There are some moments where members open up about things. We stick the kettle on and talk it out. Settles some guy’s nerves. They come in the next day and smash it out of the park!! I need to add a life coach to my business card.......

What is your production process? From Sound recording, mixing and audio mastering? Walk us through it.
This can change from band to band. I work with some super prepared guys! They have MIDI drums ready and scratch track guide guitar so anyone can go first! But as a rule, it's drums first, then record drum samples. Rhythm guitars next then the bass. Clean guitar and lead after bass. Give the lead guys a chance to warm up and make sure they know their stuff while the bass is being tracked. Then vocals last. Occasionally I'll track one bass track then do a vocal, and repeat for the rest of the record. Some vocalists are good for a couple of hours max before they hit the wall so breaking up the session between bass and vox gives them a breather. I kinda mix as I go most of the time. You can hear what needs to go whereas it's going down and you can get the vibe of the band that way. I much prefer that. If I mix at home, occasionally I'll find myself down the rabbit hole. Too many eq moves a bit more of this and that. Maybe one more nudge there. And you can easily find yourself miles away from what the original vibe was on the day. It gets a little surgical too. Less organic sounding. I always have a reference track in the session so I can keep checking my levels and the extreme low/high end of things. Your ears get tired without you noticing. After 8/10 hours sat in the chair you can make some TRULY awful decisions, haha! Mastering I like to do a few days after mixing. Give the ears a rest and double-check everything with a fresh outlook. I try not to get too carried away with the loudness war with mastering, although it's less of a thing than it was a few years ago. Some stuff works well slammed to hell and some with more dynamics.

How far do your production capabilities stretch? I.e. do you dive deeper into the entrepreneur role and manage the band's budgets, schedules, hiring studio engineers, etc?
Once the dates are booked that's pretty much it. I'm the sole engineer and I set the schedule so it's pretty straightforward, most of the time (smile).

The Music Producer can often wear many hats as a competent arranger, composer, programmer, musician or songwriter who can bring fresh ideas to a project. Have there been projects where you have had to wear all those hats? And how was this for you?
Yes. Many! Even though, as I said earlier, I don't like to get my paws too grubby with the riffs unless it's necessary. There are times where the guys are so stuck on a riff, and we've wasted way too much time on it already so I'll just rip it out in a couple of takes and we can move on. It's a last resort scenario, but if the schedule is taking a battering it's my job to keep us on track. I do enjoy thinking a few steps ahead while we're tracking through. Hearing ways of lifting choruses or giving more menace to a vocal as they're going down can add new life to a track, making it bigger than the band originally imagined it? Again, I don't do it all the time, just tastefully. It's awesome when it clicks though and everyone is like "Yeahhhhh that's fucking sick mate". Kinda reminds me how I used to feel tracking my first guitar on the crappy tape recorder and I thought I did something wicked!! haha

What do you look for in a band and their music when you are considering working with them? And what deters you from working with certain bands?
To be honest, I'll work with pretty much anybody. I'd be gutted if I thought someone didn't want to work with me, for whatever reason. Music is something we all love and take pride in. Even if you know you're not very good you still enjoy making music, and it's my job to find a way to make your music come to life and to make it something you're proud of! As long as you're passionate about your music, so am I.

How important are Music Producers to the metal industry?
I think with so many subgenres in metal these days it's easy to lose sight of a good song (totally subjective of course). Super technical bands blasting at 300bpm are awesome, and so are doomy bands holding a chord for six minutes, but the crazier it gets the smaller your audience becomes maybe? There will always be fans of mega extreme music which is great, but as a producer, I want everyone I work with to be as successful as possible. If I hear a little 'something' that could turn a super brutal track into a freak radio hit? I'll suggest looking at making it work. As I said, I don't go crazy with suggestions but it's a producer's job to make the songs as good as possible.

In your opinion, who are some of the most influential music producers in history? And what makes them so influential?
I don't follow many producers as such. I'm too busy concentrating on my work haha. Andy Wallace, though, without a doubt. He's done some unbelievable work with a huge range of clients from Jeff Buckley to Sepultura, etc. Colin Richardson, Russ Russell, and Andy Sneap too. All masters of modern metal!

Tell me about multitrack recording and how this changed the way for music production?
Being able to EQ and manipulate the sound of each input/track opened up a huge opportunity to improve the quality of recordings. Especially then moving up to digital format with no loss of quality with each bounced mix. Total game changer. For me, it introduced a much easier way to build ideas without having to have the whole piece written or even need an entire band! In my early days just learning how to balance frequencies was so much easier being able to solo instruments.

Given that some forms of metal thrive for an under-produced sound and mystery to their music through rough distortion, do you find you are approached by a specific genre of metal more than others? And why do you think this is?
I mostly work with death/groove/thrash metal. Everyone expects a certain standard with those genres of music so I'm kept pretty busy there. I'd LOVE to work with more black metal bands as there aren't that many in my area, unfortunately. I did an album with an electronic black metal band called Denigrata a few years ago. THAT was a challenge but one of my favourite records I've ever worked on. Lots of atmospheres, electronic blast/breakbeats with soprano and wailing screaming vocals!

Technology aside, how have you seen the music production industry evolve over the years? Is it evolving in the right direction?
It's certainly made recording easier, that's for sure! But it's definitely taking a lot of the human element out of the process. A lot of bands don't even bother recording real drums anymore which is bad news for studios and producers in general. The only saving grace is the best producers/engineers will rise to the top and the best bands will want their talents for arrangements and songwriting etc. The main downside, unfortunately, is everything being streamed for free means bands don't have the budget anymore that they can recoup through sales of CDs, etc. It's a vicious circle.

To bands who are considering engaging a music producer, what advice would you give them? What should bands gravitate toward and avoid when finding a good music producer?
Word of mouth is key. Talk to other bands who have worked with the studio/engineer you're interested in. A quick Facebook message will do. If they had a good time there and only have good things to say that's worth its weight in gold! Reputation is earned by being good at what you do and not being an asshole! Also, check out their work online. You can check real quickly if their sound is what you're after, and even if it's not quite your vibe you can still go for a chat and a cup of tea! Take a bunch of CDs with you and see if (after you've pointed out the finer details) it's something achievable at that studio! You never know, you might end up best mates (smile)!!

Lastly, please tell us about your Music Production business Initiate Audio and Media. Where can people find you, social media? Website? etc.
You can find me on Facebook,, and to check out a little about me and my work go to the official website,
Feel free to drop me a message for any mixing or mastering enquiries. Be great to hear from you guys!
Lastly, I'd like to wish everyone in Australia all the love and luck in the world. Can't begin to imagine what you're all going through right now. Stay safe.

-Kelly Tee

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