THE wonderful Catherine Marks...
has been talking with me about her work as a producer and offering some useful insight and advice to those thinking about following her footsteps. As someone who has produced for the likes of The Amazons (she produced and mixed their debut album - it included the hit, Little Something), Palace (she produced and recorded their album, Heaven Up There); Big Moon and Sunset Sons; I was keen to learn how she came to producing and, given gender imbalance in the industry, whether she is seeing improvements.
Marks selects a few albums that are important to her; whether she has plans for 2019 already and whether there are rising producers and artists that we need to check out and follow – she ends the interview by selecting one of 2019’s best tracks.
For those new to you; can you introduce yourself, please?
Hi! My name is Catherine Marks and I’m a record producer/mixer and engineer.
What are you working on at the moment? Might we see a Catherine Marks-produced album very soon?
I have worked on several albums this year and they are all coming out in early-2019. I’m currently in Wales at an amazing residential studio working on The Amazons’ second album! It’s sounding monumental at the moment and we’re only halfway through!
How did you get into the production side of things? Was it something you always wanted to do?
I didn’t initially know that production was what I wanted to do but I always knew I wanted to work in music. Especially early on, I had no idea what production meant and also didn’t understand you couldn’t just walk into a studio and say “I’m a producer”! But, in the early days, I had a lot of doors open to me and I just made the most of those opportunities.
I’d originally studied architecture and came to London when I finished my degree. Like a lot of interns/assistants, I started working for a producer rather than studying. It was tough but I enjoyed it and so kept going. This eventually led to engineering and then producing. It’s been many years of building up experience and then it was a natural step to production.
There are more female producers coming through, but the industry still is filled with male producers. Do you think it is harder for women to be accepted - and does more need to be done to turn the tide?!
I think we are in the process of the tide changing. There is, of course, always more that can be done. Having these kinds of conversations helps. The Music Producers Guild have also done a lot to give recognition to the women who are doing well in their field and hopefully that will inspire more women to be involved. I’m looking forward to the day when this isn’t a question that needs to be asked and it’s not about being male or female - just about being awesome at your job.
But, it’s important that we keep having these conversations to raise awareness but also to highlight those who are kicking ass and doing well to encourage and inspire. It’s a tough job irrespective of gender but can be incredibly rewarding.
IN THIS PHOTO: Laura Marling/PHOTO CREDIT: Tom Oxley/NME
Which fellow female producers would you recommend to us to check out?
Do you feel D.I.Y. artists and those producing their own work encourages them to work in studios, or do you feel a lot of newer artists are going down the self-produced route?!
It varies. I like the artists who are using the D.I.Y. approach to develop who they are without the time restrictions and pressure that booking an expensive studio can often bring. But also when an artist knows it’s time to bring on another point of view, and perhaps another environment, is also important.
Your job involves a lot of different aspects and roles. What is the most rewarding part of working on an album and seeing it come to life?
The most rewarding aspect is the relationships you build in this really unique context and usually in a really concentrated period of time. Watching an artist grow confidence or seeing what they had in their head all along fully realised.
It’s usually when the plan that I’ve had in my head comes together. Just making music that everyone involved loves!
Would you have any advice to anyone looking to become a producer? How does one get started?
There are many ways, but one suggestion is getting in touch with producers who you like and ask them if they’ll let you come and make them tea...learning on the job is how I started.
Also, don’t be discouraged if your first experience working for a studio or producer is a disaster. It’s all part of the learning process. It’s a very unusual working environment. People working in close proximity where emotions are much more magnified and heightened. Be prepared for your first situation to be horrible and trust me when I say the next person you work for will be infinitely better.
Do you already have plans for 2019 - and albums you are producing?
Yes, I have plans...I have three or four albums already in the diary...and a long holiday to Australia.
Have you got a favourite memory from your time in music so far – the one that sticks in the mind?
There are so many....
But one moment in particular (because it was the first of many to come) was when I was in ICP with Wolf Alice making an E.P. and we listened back to Moaning Lisa Smile after having recorded it for the second time (it was the first track we’d recorded and we definitely did not hit a hole in one) and we all laughed and jumped around and danced because we were so happy that it sounded so amazing.
I think there was an Oscar lying around and we pretended it was a Grammy. It was the sense of relief and elation; the anxiety and tension completely dissipated. It was one of the best feelings I’ve ever experienced.
I’ve had similar since but that was the first.
Which three albums (from other albums or ones you have produced) mean the most to you would you say (and why)?
This is such a hard question as I could answer this differently another day of the week - but today...
Talk Talk - Spirit of Eden
I found the C.D. in one of the first studios I was working at as I was packing down a session. It was a late Saturday afternoon and there was no one else in the building. It was still very early in my career and I’d kind of switched off from listening to music for enjoyment and, as I was starting to learn how the magic was made, the magic had gone from my listening experience.
This changed that. I put it on and it made me stop. There was a little stream of sunshine coming through the window and I lay on the floor where the sun landed, closed my eyes, and listened to it all the way through. It changed everything.
The Stone Roses - The Stone Roses
This album represents a series coincidences and serendipitous moments for me. I didn’t discover this album until 2002. This was a few years before I decided to move to London. It reminds me of the band I played with in Melbourne who introduced me to music other than what was on commercial radio.
And I have ended up doing most of the albums at the studio where it was recorded.
Paul Simon - Graceland
Mum and Dad had it vinyl. I still have it on vinyl. I still love it!
As Christmas is coming up; if you had to ask for one present what would it be?
IN THIS PHOTO: YAK
Do you get much time to chill away from producing? How do you unwind?
The past eighteen months have not left much time for ‘chilling’ but mostly lots of naps...and then after I’ve sufficiently napped. I catch up with friends...engage with the world outside the studio.
Finally, and for being a good sport; you can choose a song and I’ll play it here (not any of your music - I will do that).
Comeback Kid - Sharon Von Etten
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