Music Insight Series // Stephen Antonelli
I often hear from new musicians who are wary of the music industry - it can be tough to find good folks who have your best interest at heart, who are trustworthy and - above all - who believe in your music. Today, it's a joy to introduce you guys to Stephen Antonelli. As I've met new people in the industry, I continue to marvel at the music he's producing, and the ways he's built trust with indie musicians. Enjoy learning from Stephen & who knows - maybe he'll even become a part of your journey!
1. How did you get your start in the music industry? I started playing guitar at a young age then started recording at about 13 years old with the Tascam 4-track recorder. I was hooked. I love the idea of building different sounds and then trying to get the best mixes I could to listen in the car (yes, on tapes!). I had no formal training until about 20 years later when I moved to New York City and interned with some great producers/engineers. I spent 10 years in Nashville, 4 years in New York City and bounced around the other cities while playing music and being in studios. I never really committed to being a producer until about 2003.
2. What inspired you to become a producer & how did you decide to go for it? I remember living in Annapolis, Maryland for a year while my wife was getting her masters and being sick of playing live but still waiting to play music. It should have occurred to me earlier but I decided I would rather produce and be in a confined, controlled environment to create music and still work with musicians. Of course over the years I've had my fair share of influences in regards to producers. A very big influence on me in the 90s and early 2000s is John Leventhal who produced multiple Shawn Colvin records. I always wanted to get to the same level as that guy.
3. What led you to found Songbuilder Studios? To be honest I really never wanted to be a studio owner. I always rented space from other Studio or producers. I wanted to walk in, have some gear, do live drums, maybe lay down real B3 and then walk out and mix on my own rig. SongBuilder Studios came about because, after moving back to Maryland from New York City, I rented a house and it just so happened that the owner of that house under Studio. I ended up renting a room in his facility and then sort of was forced to develop a brand in order to get clients. Baltimore offers a lot of music but a lot of it is urban and rap which I wasn't really trained in. So in order to keep things going I had to adapt and develop something that could compete on a brand level in the city. Just putting your name out as the producer doesn't quite cut it, especially in smaller markets.
4. What types of bands does your team produce? Any band names/albums you can tell us about? We produce multiple projects , mostly in the very broad pop spectrum. We have done Alt/college rock as well as some straight up bubble gum pop. I've recorded hundreds of singles. A lot of the artists I work worth are super talented however it's a competitive world and when you're in a small market it's difficult for those projects to see the light of
day. One of the projects I'm most proud of is working with it artist name Karissa Laren. The name of the record is We Are The Sounds. I had that mix by Jeff Juliano who mixed and worked with John Mayer and Jason Mraz on their early stuff. But we work with multiple bands in town that are super rad like fives, sunbathers, Sweet Leda, etc.
5. How do you typically connect with new bands? Do you find them, or do they
find you? Typically clients come from referrals but also people see us on the net. We try to have a pretty good reach when it comes to social media and Google listings. But mostly it really comes down to people liking what we do. We really do put a good product and I think it speaks for itself. We have a bar below us and when I was leaving the studio one night I heard this awesome singer by the name of Sean Lynott. He's with the band Sunbathers. I gave someone a card and we did a single, so we really do get our clients in multiple different ways.
6. What makes a good session or production? That's a good question and not to be typical, but it really depends on the vibe of the artist and me, for that matter. I've been in sessions where it started rough but ended up great and vice versa. I think at the end of the day a good session just means that we've added a layer or many layers to a song that already had good structure. If someone comes in and plays acoustic guitar and sings a melody that's the most important thing - all the other stuff is cake.
7. What are some things that can make a production session more challenging? I think one thing that makes things tough sometimes is when artist are super wishy- washy about what they want to hear. Sometimes people come in with an open mind and clean palette and they hire me for ideas. Sometimes people come in and say they want that but in reality just want to control the session. I can't decide that for them and I've come to realize that artist work different ways so I’ve realized that my job is to try to adapt to what the client needs and offers much advice and production value as I can.
8. How can artists best prepare for a session before they see you at the studio? This is super important. I believe it all starts with a song. Granted I've heard some s***** songs come in that we've made really cool but they were still s***** songs, ya know? I think what artist should do is try their very best to be honest and write the best song they can. That includes melody, instrumentation, and lyrics. All of that can be massaged and reworked but I think it's important for the artist to have a sense of artistic stability before coming to see a producer. If not, you get a product that is “manufactured”. That’s not a bad thing, God knows there is enough manufacturing in the music industry,
but it’s all fluff in the end. Makes a lot of money but it’s fluff..
9. Is there a song that stands out to you as some of your best work? If so, please tell us more. Yes there are several. Karissa Laren - “The Way I Love You”, FIVES - “Heart And Thunder” , Sunbathers, “Love Peak” and Sweet Leda’s “1 for2”
10. Were you ever part of a band? If so, please tell us more about your days in the band. I've been in many bands. I've played many shows. I was a drummer so I really don't miss lugging those things around. I also did the singer-songwriter thing and played a lot out in Nashville. I guess I sort of miss live performance but honestly I'd much rather be in the studio.
11. How do you think indie bands can set themselves apart in the music industry today? Just be honest and put out the music YOU want to put out. Write the way YOU want to. Stop trying to sound like everybody else. You just have to believe that you have something to bring to the table. When you try to sound like every other band that's exactly what you'll get. The difference is the other bands may have more money than you so they're going to have more Spotify streams and bigger crowds for the shows. So just do your thing. Don’t be a poser...
12. What advice do you have for indie bands in search of a good producer? Obviously you need someone who knows their stuff and someone who you respect when it comes to the producers real. But you also need to let go a little bit and trust that that producer has your best interest at heart. So many times I've worked with bands who come in and tell me what samples to use or guitar effects they want or how the drums should sound. Not that that's inherently bad, in fact they have every right and sometimes those ideas make the song work even better, but if you work with a producer you have to trust them. It's literally like a marriage. Okay not literally like a marriage but I think you get the point. :-)