Three Takeaways from Studio Summit: A Conversation Between Tucker Martine, Jim James and Colin Meloy

This Thursday, the Pacific Northwest Chapter of the Recording Academy (Grammys) brought together a few of today’s biggest musical influencers to discuss the state of music production, the importance of trying new things and how sometimes “music needs a beard.”

Taking place at Tucker Martine’s local studio space, Flora Recording & Playback, in Portland, Oregon, the roundtable discussion featured producer Martine (Modest Mouse, Laura Viers, Sufjan Stevens), My Morning Jacket’s frontman Jim James, who Skyped in live, and Colin Meloy of the Decemberists.

The first portion of the evening saw Martine and James discuss recording in the digital age and the need to mix recording styles up.

“Never buy into that there’s one right way to do it. When you think that there is, shake it up,” Martine said, telling stories of searching for underwater caves to record in or using the sound of ripping tape up off the floor as an instrument during production. Not everything is going to be realistic (like the caves), but it doesn’t hurt to think about it or try anyway.

Another element that has been useful in their collaboration is a willingness to embrace technology to best suit a songwriter’s workflow. This was particularly true for James’ songwriting technique -- which he said is often fragmented.

“One things that’s cool about computers is being able to take these fragments and smash them together,” James said. “We’re just getting more options than ever.”

In the second half of the summit, Martine and Meloy -- who have worked on five albums together -- discussed the challenge of recording live and letting go of control.

“Part of the job is to be mindful and broach the difficult subject that just because you’re in the room, doesn’t mean you always have to be playing,” Martine said.

Here are three other takeaways we gathered from the Studio Summit:

1. Try doing things differently.

 “Try things differently. Try weird pieces of gear. Try recording in unconventional places,” Martine said. From recording in caves to different studios to a field out in the boonies, a willingness to wing it is critical. “Bring what you need. Grab your favorite gear, and then you just embrace the limitations.”

2. Keep in mind the spirit of your surroundings

“You always want to dive into it with the spirit intact,” Meloy said, citing The Decemberists’ decision to record their 2011 album, The King is Dead in a barn at Pendarvis Farm -- an album where, at times, you can literally hear horses naying in the background of the recordings.  “The surroundings became a part of the story.”

3. Producers should try to find a way to meet in the middle between mindfulness and intuition.

According to Martine, being willing to give input and listen with open ears are two important elements to keep in mind when producing music. Equally important: to find a project that you’re enthusiastic about.

Meloy also gave his input about what makes a good producer, saying that it “isn’t necessarily their gear or their ears. But having a sort of bedside manner is huge.” This includes being able to work with different egos and in different social structures.  

What has been your experience recording in unusual places? Comment or share your answers to

Posted on June 26, 2015 and filed under Music.