Having recently won a prestigious MPG Award, Andrew Hunt is riding a wave of success built from the ground up. We caught up with Andrew to learn more about his story progressing from a multi-instrumentalist to a talented producer and engineer.
Through sharing his journey, it’s plain to see how a real passion for music and great records is key to his success. On looking to the future of music, Andrew holds that an appreciation for the art of making records is key to retaining a strong recording industry in the years ahead…
Photo credit: Taken at Garden Studio by Mike Brydon
I’d like to start by congratulating you on your recent MPG Award for Breakthrough Producer Of The Year 2017. It must feel great to receive the recognition – how would you describe the last year for you as a producer?
I have to say that my last eighteen months have been incredible. It takes years to reach the point where you can consistently create good records, I believe, and over the last eighteen months or so, I think I’ve just about got there. Having each record commercially released — and obtaining radio play — is particularly rewarding.
The MPG Breakthrough Producer award is an amazing accolade. The MPG Awards is such a genuine awards process. There is no intervention based on politics. The voting and judging is by the UK’s finest producers and engineers. My heroes and peers judged me to be the worthy winner this year, and that’s simply remarkable.
Photo Credit: taken at The MPG Awards 2017 by Cerys Lavin
But none of this happened overnight, right? You spent some years as a maths teacher but ultimately switched career paths to follow your love of music. Can you tell us a little about that journey?
Definitely. Music has always been part of my life. I played recorder and clarinet as a boy moving on to guitar, playing in Country & Western bands in Midlands clubs with my friend and his uncle, from around 10 or 12 years old.
But it was always my hobby.
I fronted 50’s/60’s and blues covers bands through my teens and throughout art college, through fine art to graphics to art direction.
I always wanted a degree but realised that I had run my course with the art forms I’d been studying, in the short term at least. Having always had something of a gift for maths (I took my O Level aged 14) I decided to do maths as a degree. Once I’d graduated, I earned money from being a private maths tutor and from there progressed to full time teaching in a school. Although it was never a ‘chosen’ career path and music remained my ‘hobby’ throughout.
Musically, I’d moved into writing and would demo these tunes, I was offered a number of publishing & production deals at this time, but it was whilst playing session guitar on an album that I was then asked to produce it and made my move behind the glass. Once that album was finished, I knew it was what I wanted to do!
I set out a plan. It took a long time, but it seems to be falling into place! I left teaching five years ago now.
So, do you think your multi-instrumentalist background helps in the role of producer?
Without a doubt.
Not only does it give me a bigger vocabulary to communicate ideas, but it also provides me with an emotional connection to music through more than one path. It means I can fill in any gaps should the band or artist need anything from me.
I think it runs through to processing, programming, and editing too.
In these years of smaller budgets, I have to wear a lot of hats within the role of ‘producer’ and the more skills I can amass, the more I have to offer.
Clearly, the passion for playing helps, and while passion for any career path is important, the record production industry is notoriously difficult for new engineers looking to get their first break. What advice would you give to someone looking to get started?
Realise you won’t get there overnight and be prepared for the emotional roller coaster that comes with that.
Work harder than your peers.
Be braver (musically) than your peers.
Lead, don’t follow.
Find whatever way you can to build a discography with proper credits.
Something else I’ve noticed from assistants who’ve worked with me on sessions.…
If you’re assisting, don’t try to show off your skills, simply do everything you are asked to do ‘very well’! And be invisible while you do it. This will go noticed to a far greater degree. Then when someone is needed for a job, you’ll be asked, not because you’ve expressed a great knowledge of what you think production is, but because you’re the person who does jobs well.
Your chance to show off your ‘production skills’ will come but not in the early days. Certainly not on day one! The producer or engineer running the session will be experienced, so simply fit into their team quietly.
Great advice. I’d like to shift focus to your work, if I may…. As a fan of distinctive sounding music, I was drawn particularly to your work with Hazel Iris. With a classical background and influences like Kate Bush and Björk, she clearly has an eclectic mix of inspiration from which to draw. As a producer, how do you go about bringing all that together?
By taking time to understand the artist’s vision and by developing a deep level of trust.
I certainly wasn’t the first producer Hazel had been in contact with over her project. Her demos were very raw, but she demonstrated a dark and beautiful emotion in each track.
It took a lot of work to understand the complexity of her intentions, but this was essential to me being able to make the record. I was then able to translate her ideas and demos into fully formed landscapes — transforming them into ‘records’.
We used the variety as a strength. Very early on, it struck me that the songs were like cinematic episodes in different times and spaces (figuratively speaking). Hazel loved the fact that I’d observed this and we played on that musically.
I played most of the instruments on the EP, so that I could feel the records better and give them the complexities in poly-rhythm they needed, which helped with pulling them together, but the one true constant is Hazel’s amazing voice! She can deliver her lyrics in such a way that draws the listener into the story and the cinema of the record.
Are there any artists (present day or from the past) that you’d love to work with? What is it about that artist that excites you?
The most important element is the connection I have with an artist. If you don’t connect, the record won’t be great. That personal and creative connection is what excites me most. Next to that, of course, is vocal ability (the talent to deliver the lyric with the right emotion). There’s nothing better than being the first to hear a vocal performance in the studio. I can help with songwriting and vocals to entice ‘the take’ but there’s nothing like pure talent.
The list of who to work with would be endless. The obvious aside, off the top of my head…
…. Harry Nilsson – love that man’s voice.
I’m reading a Phil Spector book at the moment, and have been supporting it with the appropriate soundtrack, so Joey Ramone would probably go on the list.
…. Ray Charles.
I’d love to have made a record with the Swampers in Alabama back in the height of it all.
People I’d like to work with now….
A really new band (to me) I like are Girl Ray, I’d love to work with them. They have such an unassuming delivery. It’s great.
…. St Vincent, Laura Marling, Marika Hackman, Anna Calvi…
Alexis Taylor from Hotchip. Great voice, great songwriter.
There are so many. It changes all the time. Ask me next week and I’d probably give you different names.
I love working with Jonathon Holder at the moment. We’re just finishing an album off now and I’m also excited about a new project I have lined up, but I can’t say too much about it right now.
Photo credit: Taken at Garden Studio by Mike Brydon
As record producers work with artists across genres and styles, they often appear to leave a sonic mark of their own. Are there any consistent production techniques that run through your work from artist to artist? How would you describe your “sonic signature”?
Production wise, I always try to keep pushing myself, so I like to record in places I haven’t been before, but most of the records I make are made from my flat. I spoke to someone at the MPG Awards who was very complimentary, they’d been an Awards judge, and they said they loved my records and felt that, although they were all very different in style, there was a sonic palate that seemed to bind them together. They concluded that this was perhaps because they were all recorded at my home.
I didn’t have time to explain, that they carry a similar palette ‘in spite’ of the recording location. In fact, the work they judged was recorded at all sorts of places and studios. So I think I must have some kind of sonic signature
I try to make my records as unique as I can. I never follow or conform to sounds that are already popular at the time of making the record. I have been told that all of my records sound ‘cinematic’; even the minimal ones sound ‘big and visual,’ apparently.
Let’s go with that: ‘Cinematic!’
And finally, what trends do you foresee for music production in the years ahead?
I think the industry has almost come full circle; producers are once again finding the artist themselves, making the record, and releasing it on their own label. It’s more like the days of Sam Phillips at Sun, and people like that.
I don’t think we’ll ever get back to the glory days, as the physical product isn’t necessary anymore. We consume more music today than ever before, yet revenues are at a low. I wish the public would start seeing the worth in ‘music as an art form’ once again and start to reinvest in it — by either buying it or subscribing to a streaming service. I don’t make much money (less than I did as a teacher) but I do love my job, and I’ve worked so hard to get here. I’d like to think that if everyone starts to fully value the art of making records, then we may still have a recording industry in those years ahead! I hope we do — I think we will.
To learn more about Andrew’s work, please visit andrewhunt.info