The Other Side with The Buddy Project Recording Studio's Kieran Kelly
The Buddy Project Recording Studio founder Kieran Kelly divulges recording advice, explains why DIY culture is taking over the music industry, and sheds a little light on his past with Sujfan Stevens in this week's Other Side.
Born in the French Quarter of New Orleans, musician and producer Kieran Kelly was raised by his father in Flint, Michigan, a place where Kelly notes, “the sky is grey and General Motors is no longer building cars.” As a child, The Beatles, New Wave, and Punk steadily channeled through Kelly’s headphones. He explains, “When I heard the sounds on records like The White Album or Revolver, which by design are very intimate, I thought to myself, ‘This is great...it’s like I am right next to [these legendary] musicians!’
As he grew older, the ingrained ethics of DIY culture rooted in New Wave and Punk inspired Kelly to, “use whatever means possible to make something cool. That message has and always will inspire me.” Kelly made his way back to New Orleans to work in the field of production before heading to San Francisco in the early ‘90s to join forces with Moth Macabre. The band fizzled out shortly after signing with Interscope Records, causing Kelly to rethink his plan of action. In 1997, Kelly arrived in New York City, a place he has called home ever since.
In 2002, Lee Keizer and Kieran Kelly formed The Buddy Project Recording Studio with a simple goal in mind, “To have a place that was solely used for making music, with the best tools we could muster up, in order to make records for the [musicians] we admire. I wanted The Buddy Project to be the marriage of the coziness of a home studio with the professional tools found in a ‘real’ studio.” Since then, Kelly has had the pleasure of working with dozens of artists, from Sufjan Stevens and the Old 97's frontman Rhett Miller, to Wilco's John Stirratt and Better Than Ezra.
We were able to pull Kieran Kelly out of The Buddy Project Studio long enough to tell us what it’s like to be on The Other Side:
Green Light Go: You’re a producer and engineer who has been operating The Buddy Project Studio since 2002. How has the process of producing changed over the years and what has helped you to become so successful?
Kieran Kelly: The process has changed in the last 10 years in so many ways. While technology has brought the cost of many tools down dramatically, a fair amount of experience is required to avoid ‘sameness,’ or having a record sound [just like the next record] being made. The ease of use in terms of recording at this point means that people are arguably not listening as deeply [during the recording process]. As early as the mid ‘90s, going into the studio was like a religious experience for many people who had the honor of working in a traditional recording environment. Now, because the barrier for entry is nearly nonexistent, I think people are not as invested in the idea of recording, so the process is not as special.
Another thing to consider is being resourceful and doing less with more. It is important to have a stable of good friends that you can trust to think creatively and help push a project forward without economic profit being the chief motivator.
GLG: What advice might you offer to an independent artist that is going into the studio for the first time?
KK: Make sure those songs are fully realized! Also, unless you can sell 1,000 copies in the first month of a release, start with an EP. Pick your strongest material and test it out on people that you trust. Get honest feedback before you press the record button.
GLG: Over the past few years, you’ve worked on albums with Sufjan Stevens, Rhett Miller, Ari Hest, Better Than Ezra, and Angus & Julia Stone. What bands are you currently working with now and who would you like to work with in the future?
KK: I am currently working with Pipe Villaran from Lima, Peru (best known in Latin America as the singer of Los Fuckin Sombreros), a NYC based singer/songwriter named Nate Campany, a Cape Town, South African duo signed to Universal called Digby and Roochi, and I am doing some tracking for Julia Stone's next project.
I would love to work with Christina Aguilera, because I think she has not made a record worthy of her gift of a voice. I’d also like to work with James Hall, a New Orleans-based artist I discovered when I was down there. He is something special.
GLG: As an engineer, I’m sure you come in contact with a countless number of independent artists each week. What characteristics or qualities separates the artists who are “just another indie band” from those you’d love to work with?
KK: Great singing, songs that I feel an emotional attachment to, and nice people.
GLG: How do you know that you are a good match for a band? What things do you have to keep in mind before agreeing to work with an artist?
KK: I think there are three main things: a complementary vision for the project, trust, and mutual respect. It seems so often that engineers are like, ‘This is my rate…if you pay me, I will show up.’ I think that logic is pretty flawed.
From an artist’s perspective, bands might erroneously [look for recording studios based on] name recognition and price, as opposed to sitting down and chatting with a producer to see if their personalities fit with the person they are looking to work with.
GLG: What are some of the perks and challenges that you face as a producer?
KK: The perk, first and foremost, is the finished product. In the same way that certain songs bond with a listener, it is pretty rad to be able to form a [potentially lifelong] bond with musicians as a producer. The challenges include money, focus, and creative energy.
GLG: So, what have you been listening to lately?
KK: I love the new David Bazan record, Strange Negotiations, Ra Ra Riot's The Orchard, and PJ Harvey’s Let England Shake.
GLG: Any last words?
KK: Support the music and the musicians you love, especially the ones who are still developing a fan base. Send them notes, spread the word about them to others who might enjoy them, and make a financial commitment to their projects, whether that be via live shows, purchasing their music, or giving them a tip. It’s hard making music, so independent artists need all of the help they can get. Those bands sacrifice more than most people will ever know just to bring music to the listener’s ears.
This week’s Other Side is brought to you by: Lauren Mercury Roberts