We've all heard of Rick Rubin, Quincy Jones or Dr. Dre, but have you ever wondered what music producers actually do? We decided to go straight to the source and chatted to the fast-rising British producer Jolyon Thomas to find out. 

Jolyon Thomas has recently celebrated the release of his first No. 1 album How Did We Get So Dark? with Royal Blood. This release is the latest achievement in an impressive discography for Jolyon, who has produced, mixed, engineered, co-written and played with the likes of U2, Slaves, Daughter and many others. 

Here, he tells us what it takes to be a good music producer and what it's like to produce a record from start to finish.


The basics 

What it actually means to be a producer is different for everyone. Although the job has some constants, it's a role which you adapt for, for each individual artist. People might imagine a producer sitting in the same room every day leaning over a big mixing desk. This really isn’t my experience.

Ultimately my job is to keep the creative energy on a recording session flowing. Making a record is not a perfect science so the producer is usually equipped with a mindset that allows him or her to navigate the journey of a record whilst remaining sympathetic to what the artist is trying to achieve. Being a good listener, part-time psychiatrist and musician is also helpful.



"Being a good listener, part-time psychiatrist and musician is helpful"



The producer is in charge of seeing the music through to fruition; usually from the rehearsal level, sometimes the songwriting stage, right through to arrangements, instrumentation, lyrics, recording, mixing and mastering. I’m kind of the responsible one.



Personally, I’m interested in crafting the song so that lyrics would be at the top the list. Although I don't usually get too involved in writing them, I would certainly attempt to question anything questionable.



The arrangement would be one of the most important things, assuming the core of the song has been written. Although establishing an obvious beginning, middle and end is a good place to start.

Probably something you'd consider putting at the end of the thought process is "space". This is of course part of arrangement but I find myself constantly removing elements in search for the "best-feeling" part. Often if you’ve got ten guitars playing at the same time it’s because you haven’t got one amazing guitar part.



"This might sound like the ramblings of a crazy person if you’ve never spent a day in a recording studio, but anything goes"



It's about being bold, deleting things and asking someone to not play for a while (which is easier said than done) which can leave space for something to happen. Sometimes nothing, sometimes magic. Sometimes nothing is magic.



Again it's something you might think about putting at the end but the balance of a mix can change everything very quickly. For example, if you're dealing with a vocal that's really dry, loud and personal, you can put a massive reverb on it and then the meaning of the song changes.

It becomes more abstract, it sounds like the words are coming from the back of the room rather than right next to you, it makes the other instruments sound closer. Mixing helps me find the song.



I’m always aware of tuning, timing, melody, harmony. This might sound totally obvious but being able to identify a melody is a big part of producing for me. Maybe the keyboard melody is better than the vocal melody and what if they swapped, for example? 

This might sound like the ramblings of a crazy person if you’ve never spent a day in a recording studio, but anything goes. I am constantly playing musically with these things on whatever instrument is on hand.



Patterns are an important part of life and are evident in music everywhere in many forms, most obvious is the drum pattern. However, the pattern I’m really aware of in the studio is the musician’s pattern. I think if someone, myself included, gets too comfortable, they don't challenge themselves.

Often things become mediocre, a lot of the studio dynamic for me is about pushing someone to get the best out of them. This could be as simple as changing the mix or physically changing the room; keeping the creativity flowing.


Finishing the record 

That's a big part of my job. It’s easy to carry on (and on) recording, especially in the world of laptops. Being able to live in that moment at that time and make a song is an amazing feeling. Sometimes it can be stressful also, especially from the artist's point of view. So ending the process can be difficult but I also think the recording will have a new life of its own through the listener.



"When the moment comes along, I’m there to capture it"



Most of the time I’m just trying to find that one moment where the music really gets you. It’s the emotions and humanity which are the really important elements for me. These processes and tricks of the trade are merely a way of making sure when the moment comes along, I’m there to capture it, I try not to let the skills overtake the instinct.


The versatility 

The job changes often and that suits my creativity. Travelling, using different studios and working with new people is part of the journey. I've worked with many colourful and interesting people. I have fond memories of (almost!) everyone. This is a huge part of my life and I don't consider it a job. 

Every album is a challenge—it’s quite a big emotional commitment so I really have to believe in it and get sucked into the world of that record and the artist.

To be honest, I’m proud of everything I’ve worked on, so picking a favourite album is a bit like having a favourite child. Of course, Royal Blood's How Did We Get So Dark? hitting the number 1 spot was fantastic. As we all know just because an artist is number 1 it doesn't mean they're guaranteed longevity. Royal Blood, however, are a killer band making a big impact around the world and I’m glad the fans have reacted so enthusiastically to that record.


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