Updated: Nov 4, 2019
There are many things that you can expect to find in the English countryside. Cows. Hills. Farms... That's about it, actually. Trees?
What you wouldn't expect to find is a fully-kitted, professional recording studio that even comes with its own accomodation. Welcome, then, to Shredder Live Lounge studios (often shortened simply to SLL). Built from the ground up by the founder and onsite producer Jay Shredder, it's become a huge success, providing production, mixing, mastering and more for tons of artists. To find out how all this came about, I sat down with Jay to find out more about the studios and what drives him as a producer.
Hi Jay, thank you for doing this interview.
First question, it's only a fun one. Jay Shredder: is it your real name?
It is not, no, my parents weren't that cool (laughs). It's a bit of a trade secret. It started off as a bit of a joke; I was a guitarist in my first band, and the drummer thought it would be funny to start calling me different names and that one eventually stuck. More people now know me by that name than any other!
If my Maths is correct, you started at a very young age. How did producing come about?
Yeah, I was about 13/14. I've been in bands since I was about 10, my friend and I were into the same kinds of bands so we set one up, he played drums, I played guitar. Neither of us really sung but I gave it a go. We played a couple of shows but we had no idea where to find a recording studio, this was back before Google really took off, so we kinda just decided to make our own, buy some equipment, see if it worked and try to figure it out.
Did you have any training at that point?
No, the first training I had was when I joined Kidderminster College at 16, and by that point I'd already recorded countless albums, EPs, videos. I was live engineering a few times a week at a local venue, so I'd already gotten the experience. A few months in, I dropped out, tried again in South Wales, and found that I was teaching my classmates more than the lecturers. Again, I dropped out after about six months.
Why did you decide to set up SLL Studios out in the Worcestershire countryside?
This is actually my family home; I've lived here about 20 years. Again, back when we had the band we didn't know where to find a rehearsal room, we were pretty dumb kids really (laughs). So we just built one. Once the band split up, other bands and musicians wanted to come up and use it, and from there it just expanded and exploded. (Do you often get phone calls from lost clients looking for directions?) All the time, but we've got accomodation here as well. We had a band recently who stayed here, popped off to the shops but couldn't find their way back, and it was like "okay, I'll come out and find you." But for the bands travelling here, it's ideal that they can stay here because it's not like we're in the middle of Birmingham, where's it busy and noisy. It's dead quiet, and you can be inspired by these sorts of surroundings. Mike Oldfield, who's a huge inspiration for me, did his piece inspired by the landscape of Hergest Ridge. I know loads of studios who are in the countryside for that very reason.
You're known to be quite a fast worker. Of course, you have years of experience at this point, but how did you develop that speed?
When I first started taking this seriously as a career, it could take me, like, a week to mix a song. I'd spend ages and ages editing, ever longer mixing, tweaking, fiddling. But I did a lot of research, and there's this guy called Chris Lord-Alge (Prince, Green Day, Joe Cocker). He's really cut-throat, loves his rock, the kind of guy that big labels go to if they want bands to break. His approach is that you commit, go 110% and trust your instincts. That kind of hit home a little bit with me, and I gave it a go. I screwed up loads of recording sessions and messed up loads of drum takes trying to commit, but eventually I just got the hang of it. So now I always have an idea of what compression I'll use, what EQ I'll use etc. My presets are always expanding; one day I might take a vocal effect I've used in a previous session and apply it to a snare. For me, it's about mindset; if you go in with the right mindset and priorities, you'll do a good job.
When working with bands and artists, how would you define your role in the process of music creation?
I tend to judge it on the client that I'm working with. Each project is tailored differently; there are certain bands who'll just want a guiding hand and my opinions on how to improve their stuff, and at the other end of the spectrum, I'll have bands that come in and I'll be writing the songs and melodies. (Do you do much songwriting?) Not much for myself anymore, but plenty for bands. There's quite a few artists now who know me for my sound, my style and approach. I'll always take the basis of a song and as a friend of mine once said to me, "Jay, you take what we do and feed it steroids and set it on fire." I'll take what they originally come with, and my aim is to make it bigger. Not as commercial-sounding as possible, but as appeasing as possible. Whether that be a death metal band, a classic rock or modern rock band.
Do you work closely with the bands?
A lot of the time, it starts even before we've stepped in the studio. I'll have meetings with clients, sit in on rehearsal sessions, and I always ask for demos. I like to keep 90-95% of the changes I'm gonna make in the session, while the artists are here with me, because the vibe's going, we've got the communication, it's a case of "what do you feel about this?". And then, because I've come up with this idea, the bassist might come up with another idea off of that, so there's a big vibe going. Not only that, but it speeds up the process; if I'm making changes once the band's left, and they don't like it, it's never as easy through e-mails and whatnot. But saying that, once I'm mixing, sometimes there's ideas that just pop into my head that I think "oh, that'll sound killer", and nine times out of ten I'll send it to the bands and they're like "yeah, wicked". My target is that when artists go away, they always feel like they've learnt something and bettered themselves through their experience.
How involved are you in the music industry?
I keep a close eye on what's going on. I'm involved quite closely with a lot of bands, Gin Annie, Straight for the Sun, Black Water Fiend. There's a good friend of mine, Alice Clarke, who's just started a new project, I worked with her on her old project and I'm also working on her solo stuff as well. So it goes a lot further than just the recording and the producing side, I talk to a lot of these people every day. I've done, like, twelve to fifteen tours with Gin Annie as their front-of-house engineer, so the relationships don't end in the studio. Music's a very personal experience for me, I like to get hands-on. Going back to Chris Lord-Alge, he always says "the musicians are my friends, the songs are my family" and I follow that. That's part of the reason we ask for demos; if I don't enjoy the music, I'm not gonna do them or their songs justice, as opposed to working with songs I absolutely love, when the passion will come through because I'm enjoying the stuff as much as the band is.
More and more people are self-producing in their bedrooms. Has it been difficult to keep up the workload and bring in artists to work with?
Not really. It's a good question, I've talked to other producers about it before as well, but I don't find it harder to bring in clients really, because it's not even about the extra gear I've got, but the ear. I've seen guys, and I'm not gonna mention any names, that have all the gear, but absolutely no idea. You don't need thousands and thousands of pounds to make a number one record, you need passion, drive and creativity. Look at the old Black Sabbath and AC/DC recordings, the productions weren't great, but a good song is a good song and if you're creative about it, you can make it work. For me, I want to make a song where the listener still gets excited whether they're listening to it for the first time or the hundredth time.
You've pretty much answered my next question anyway, but I was going to ask what the advantages are of using an actual studio and producer.
Yeah, I've found that a lot of people come just for a new set of ears. A lot of the bands I work with are either established and they've gone through album after album and they kinda know what they want, or these emerging artists who might have only written twenty songs in their career. I've worked on twenty songs in the last five days, so I can see where they make mistakes and can help them makes the right moves in order to better their career. It's always cool working with a new band, but what's even cooler is when they come back and you see their evolution into something better. (The producer can be a big part of that if you get the right person in.) Absolutely, it's all about creating teams. My assistant, Ryan Jordan, who owns a studio in Hereford, as well as Luke from the band Crows and Crosses, Dan who I think is from Redditch, as well as John Lucas from LA, we all work together, vibe off each other, and what is one person's strong point might be another's weakness, and some of the best projects I've worked on are the ones where more people are involved. Working in a room full of eight creative brains will always be better and more powerful than working alone.
Have you got any further ambitions going forward?
Not massively, I love what I do and just want to continue with it. I've got absolutely no plans of slowing down or stopping, I think the next thing for me is...I'd like to do some orchestra stuff, more classical stuff. 70% of the stuff I do is rock and metal, the rest is pop or solo artists, plus a little bit of voiceover stuff here and there, but classical is a huge influence in where I come from as a musician, and as a producer I guess. Apart from that, get bigger, more gear, more mics, more amps (laughs).
Who are your favourite producers and why?
So there's Chris Lord-Alge, who I mentioned before. There's a cool guy over in Nashville called Billy Decker (Billy Ray Cyrus, Rodney Atkins, Dustin Lynch), whom I've had the pleasure of talking to. It always inspires me how he has his vocals sit in the track; he does a lot of Country and Pop work, but I've noticed he's started doing a few rockier projects, and it's cool seeing how that carries over. I find he's got a very signature drum sound; usually I can tell if it's his mix. There's also Romesh Dodangoda (Motörhead, Bring Me The Horizon, Bullet For My Valentine), who I recently started working with. He's a really cool guy, he's taught me ridiculous amounts in no time at all. He's a living legend and I'm lucky that we've shared some projects together. It's crazy hearing what I had and what he's managed to do with it, it's just like...woah (laughs). But yeah, cool guys, really cool guys.
Do you have a personal favourite work of your own?
"The songs are my family" (laughs, pauses to think for a long time). Yeah, I don't think there's a favourite, but I worked with a band called Signs of Fire, in about 2016/17 I think. Really good bunch of guys, all groove, all blues, vocals were killer. We were working on an album but unfortunately the band split before we managed to finish it. I hear they're coming back for a couple of shows, which would be killer. It's just such a shame that that music never saw the light of day, we had one single come out and it did really well, but we were sat on a whole bunch of gems. Obviously I work really closely with Gin Annie as well, any time I work with them is crazy and we always have a really good time, be it in the studio or on the road. Alice as well, working with her bands over the years has been wicked. Like, it's hard to pick one, for me it's like picking a favourite child!
Do you have any advice for young producers looking to break into the industry?
Don't do it! (laughs) No, I mean the thing for me is just look forward and go for it, take those chances if that's your dream. Business is all about taking chances and if you wanna turn that hobby into a career, you've got to be prepared to go a thousand miles further than the guy behind you. There's this guy I talked to from California, and he said that when he started, he printed off something like 10,000 copies of his portfolio, and he went round every festival, every show, handing them out, and by the end of the night he'd just see loads on the floor, but whatever, you know, he'd do whatever it takes and he said "99.9% of the people that have dreams idolise the idea of a dream more than the reality of it", and again that hit home. Unless you're prepared to go through all the human levels and work for it, to achieve that dream, it will always be a dream. But it is possible, 100%.
And finally, you don't have to name any names, but what is the worst producing experience you've ever had?
Oh, God! (laughs) I had a band once who were booked in for a mini-album, and by the time we'd finished recording, we were about 50+ hours over what I'd originally quoted, so they were paying through the roof, but they weren't the strongest musicians and they really weren't digging the sound of the vocals and I had literally every mic out of the locker trying them and testing them and they weren't having any of it. So finally we managed to get to the mixing stage and they still weren't happy with the vocals; they were very, very out of tune when we tracked them, so I tuned them, to which I got an e-mail saying "the vocals sound really tuned", and it was just a head-in-hands moment. So then they decided to book a couple of days with another studio, re-track the vocals, and I then had a phone call with that producer, who I actually now work with, and he'd had the exact same experience; the recording ran hours and hours over the allotted time, and it turns out they were even worse than what I'd managed to record. Anyway, the band split up and we've never heard from them since, job's a good 'un (laughs). It was a tricky one, because I didn't want to upset them, and it was quite early in my career. There are always the odd clients that aren't suited, when their way of working doesn't work well with mine. I mean, I've got close friends in bands that I don't work with. But, having said that, it's been a while since I've had a real problem, but I'm always wary and want to make sure everyone goes home happy.
Thank you Jay, we're just about done here.
Cool, nice one, cheers.
Jay Shredder is a music producer based in the rural countryside of Worcestershire, UK. His studios are fully equipped and he offers onside accomodation for any artists looking to work with him. More information can be found at https://www.shredderlivelounge.co.uk/.