Berklee today is the official alumni publication of Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts. It is a forum for contemporary music and musicians.
Issue link: http://berkleetoday.epubxp.com/i/132141
Ron Lyon Fun. Behind the Board From the left: Pawel Sek '00, Jeff Bhasker, and Andrew Dawson '01 (not pictured, Ken Lewis '91) When Jeff Bhasker was working on the Some Nights album for Fun., he tapped trusted colleagues Andrew Dawson '01, Pawel Sek '00, and Ken Lewis '91 to help him get the job done. Dawson, an MP&E major at Berklee, has engineering credits on more than half the songs on the disc. He worked much of the time at his Hollywood studio SoundEQ. "Fun.'s budget was not huge," Dawson says. "That's part of the reason why we recorded a lot of it in our own studios rather than in bigger places." Dawson arrived in Los Angeles in 2008 after working as an assistant engineer for Sony Music in New York for several years. So far, Dawson's work has netted him three Grammys and other accolades. The roster of artists he's worked with includes Kanye West, Beyoncé, Drake, Lil Wayne, Alicia Keys, Pet Shop Boys, and many others. Pawel Sek helped engineer seven cuts on Fun.'s album. He worked alongside Bhasker at the producer's studio where he has also assisted Bhasker on albums by Taylor Swift, Dido, Pink, and others. Sek's frst gig in Los Angeles was preparing tracks for a Lady Gaga tour for which Bhasker was the music director. The Przemysi, Poland, native also has extensive jingle, TV, and movie credits. Ken Lewis created the big drum sound on the hit "We Are Young." An L.A. studio veteran for more than 20 years, Lewis works with such artists as Danity Kane, Usher, Kanye West, Jay-Z, Alicia Keys, and others. 16 Berklee today Even though a lot of the songs were pretty complete, you were still given songwriter credits. Yeah. I'd add a part or something. In hip-hop the producer is the musician. He gets credit for the music and the rapper gets credit for the lyrics. That's the tradition I come from. In the rock tradition, the band has the songs and the producer helps to make the record. Maybe the producer will help write a song or two and get some publishing. With Fun., we met in the middle. Generally it's words and melody in publishing. But if you use the drumbeat to Queen's "We Will Rock You," they get publishing [royalties]. If you use the drumbeat from Billy Squier's "The Big Beat," Billy gets publishing. I used that beat for "Girl on Fire" with Alicia Keyes. But even though we changed the rhythm a little and made our own drum sounds, Billy still got paid. There is a precedent for drums and other distinctive musical parts being part of the publishing of a song. So with Fun., we defned what the publishing [rights] involved. You created a distinctive military beat for the end of the song "Some Nights." That was something I programmed. It's amazing how successful that song was. We loved the music, but the band didn't pick that as a single. After we won the Grammy, it was played on the radio, became popular, and was released as a single. The song has a great hook but doesn't ft the mold for a radio single. I'm really proud that our music made an impact on how music of this era sounds. For me as a producer, there was a long time when everyone wanted to make a dance song. Mumford and Sons, Miguel, Gotye, and Fun. have made an impact with different sounds. It's kind of exciting to be part of that. What was your take on working with the Rolling Stones? They were awesome to work with—so vibrant. I soaked up a little of what they are all about. They called the work I did "radio mixes," but I went into the studio while they were tracking with Don Was, the album's main producer. We took the fles and worked with Mick and Keith separately on how we could modernize the music without it sounding like a remix. To me the "radio mix" of "Doom and Gloom" has all the Stones' energy and sounds like it is part of music of this era. There is a little stylization to it. They don't wear the clothes they wore back in their early days, so why should they have a production style like that from their early days? They wear clothes that are cool now, and I took that approach to their music. Being a producer is similar to being a fashion designer. Clothes should make you look and feel good, be the ultimate you. The production should be hip, contemporary, and speak to the times now. How many album projects do you do in a year? I try to be productive, but I also try to limit my work to things I really believe in. Last year I worked on tracks for Taylor Swift, Bruno Mars, and Pink. We squeezed a lot in. This year is more about fnishing my album and picking another artist that I think could be special or different. I don't want to have a quota or anything like that. I value quality over quantity. Now that so many people are asking you to produce their music, do you just pick the best of what's offered? It's not always about the best, it's about what clicks. The guys in Fun. and I just clicked. I look for things that will ignite the best in both the artist and me. I try to make it easy on myself by fnding someone with a vision who knows what they want to do and needs help in making it all come to life. My job as a producer is to help them realize their wildest dreams. Anyone can make a song, but it's about creating magic. You don't always create it, but you have to keep trying. I want to work with artists, writers, and producers that can push me and that I will learn from. In life, you want to be around people who will push you to set the bar higher. Can you talk about your upcoming solo album? I record and sing all of my own demos and that's how my solo project came about. I started writing songs under the alias Billy Kraven so that I'd have an alter ego. I like projects to have a point or a concept. Naming a song is very important. It provides a catch phrase and sets the tone for the song. So having the name Billy Kraven gave me a tone and concept. Is it true that you will offer the album for free? I will probably post it online. A lot of music acts have taken advantage of the Internet as an access point. People get excited if something is good and offered for free, they will often end up buying it and then other stuff that you are creating. Lana Del Rey, The Weekend, and Odd Future were all put out on the Internet. The good stuff rises to the top. For me, it's more about getting people to hear it. I've had some of these songs for a while and I've gotten good feedback about them. It will be fun to release my songs with me singing. It will be a more pure vision of what my emotion for the music is. I've heard that you're playing all the instruments on the album too. Will you put a tour together for it? Playing live is an important part of being a musician and promoting a record. It's a different visceral experience having people react to your music right in front of you. As a producer making records, you can get isolated in the studio. I always try to keep a connection between live music and the record. The music should translate to a live performance. I like to put things on the record that people will react to in a live show. It was cool playing live with Kanye and creating the show, and entertaining the people. You want people to leave your concert breathless. I'm looking forward to putting together everything I've learned—the lighting and the whole presentation for my project. I will probably start out in 100-seat halls, but you still have to put on a show and build from there. That's exciting to me. Do you envision your future more as an artist or a producer? It's not like I'm going solo, I'm just making another musical statement that happens to have me singing. So I'll have to do some different jobs that I'm not used to doing. But it's fun to be nervous or scared about music after getting into a groove producing or writing. It keeps you alive when you challenge yourself. This record is also an opportunity to express myself without an artist or another producer. I get to control the whole vision.