HOMEBirdhouse Records

by Clinton Tibbets, Musicians Weekly

I recently had a chance to sit down and speak to David Plum Phd of Birdhouse Records about his approach to producing bands in the studio. David Plum has been producing and writing music for almost thirty years. David Plum holds degrees in Musicology, Religion, and Animal Physiology.

Clinton Tibbets: Hi David, I'm glad that you were able to find time in your busy schedule to talk to us.
  David Plum, Phd: It's my pleasure to be here Clinton, I'm never too busy when given the opportunity to impart my musical acumen on the next potential generation of great music producers.
 CT: Your approach to producing has been talked about in the industry for years, and some would say that you have a reputation for being difficult to work with in the studio. How have you responded to this criticism and do
you feel that it's justified in any way?
  DP: If by "difficult" people mean a perfectionist, I agree. If you're a mediocre bunch of musicians that want to put a CD out so there friends will idolize them, then maybe I'm not the guy you want to work with in the studio. But if you're looking to take your music to the next level, and you're willing to check your ego at the door, then maybe I can help you externalize your dreams.
 CT: Can you takes us through your process for working with a band in the studio?
  DP: Before we ever pick up an instrument, I like to get to know the band on a more spiritual level; what are their likes and dislikes, what is their favorite time of day, what bands do they listen to. I may bring the band in two or three times for these pre-sessions. Once I feel like I have the psyche of the band mapped out it's time to get to work and figure out how to realize perfection from potentially a number of misguided preconceptions the band may have about what they think the album should sound like.
 CT: That seems a bit rigid, shouldn't you be taking what they already have and "polishing" it?
  DP: I don't think so. I mean that's the way a lot of producers work these days but I have a very different view about what my role is in the creative process. The problem is that bands can become so bogged down in their "sound" that they sometimes can't see the forest through the trees. What I bring is an open mind, and soul, with my only intention being to make something that kicks ass.
 CT: Please continue talking about your methods in the studio.
  DP: The next step is I sit down with the band in front of a big whiteboard and have them write down the album title at the top, in large letters and underlined. Then under this I have them write down all of the song titles in their preferred order. I'll then spend the next couple of hours rearranging the order of the song titles. It's also not uncommon for me to make some modifications to the album or song title names.
 CT: How is the band participating with you during this step?
  DP: I usually ask that they remain in the room, but also remain silent. I like to get a stream of consciousness thing going and any outside distractions tend to block me. Once the songs are in the most optimal order I can start to try to visualize the album as a whole, how it should flow thematically. At this point were ready to start working on the music.
 CT: So do you have the band play you the songs live or do they bring demo tapes? Do you prefer acoustic or electric when hearing the songs for the first time?
  DP: Oh, it's nothing like that. Remember that I'm approaching this thing from a much higher plain. What I'll typically do at this point is I'll pull out a guitar, and yes I do prefer acoustic, and I'll play the band my interpretation of what the songs should sound like.
 CT: How can you possible do that if you haven't heard the songs yet?
  DP: I'm pretty much improvising as I go along. I mean not all of it's written in stone but I can pretty reliably nail them the first time through.
 CT: How do the bands typically respond to this? I would imagine that many musicians might take offense to a complete stranger telling them how their songs should sound. I mean how can you possibly write lyrics that might be representative of the kind of messages the band wants to communicate?
  DP: Don't forget that I spent a lot of time with the band prior to this getting to know them. After working in the business for all these years I guess you just get a feel for things, and how they should sound. I mean it's not as if I'm telling the band to throw away their original versions, I'm just giving them an alternative view. But believe me, more often than not we end up using the versions that I came up with.
 CT: So the bands don't mind giving up their creative control on this point?
  DP: We may disagree on which version is the best, but I can usually wear them down and get my way. I mean I AM the producer.
 CT: What about the recording sessions, what recording techniques do you employ and how do you utilize the band in the studio. Is it a relaxed fun environment that promotes creativity, or are you more structured in your approach?
  DP: I can't really tell you much as far as mic placement, the kind of mics, instruments, or amps that we used. I mean I wouldn't know the difference between a U87 or SM57. I leave all of that crap up to the engineer, and I only work with the best. I've recently been working with Timothy Corn on a project. He's kind of a legend here at Birdhouse Records. My concern, and area of expertise, is to get the band in the right frame of mind to make a masterpiece. I don't want them relaxed like it's their day off, I want their mentality to be tuned to their inner rock-n-roll self. Because of this I have a number of non-negotiable rules. The first one is that all band members are required to dress like they would for any major gig. If somebody shows up in shorts, t-shirt, and sandals, they get sent home to change. Secondly, I've found that to get that "live" energy, a band has to recreate that feel in a controlled environment. Because of this the Birdhouse studio is outfitted with a full complement of stage lighting and smoke machines. We experimented with pyrotechnics, but we found that with the noise, as well as the fire hazard, it was just impossible.
 CT: How do you interact with the individual band members as you work on a specific instrument. Do you ever use studio musicians, and if so does that cause problems with the band?
  DP: I don't think about the individual when I work on a project. For me the only names I use in the studio are "drummer", "guitar player", "singer", etc. If I'm working on a particular song then it's pretty much point and say "You're the drummer", "You're the guitarist". That might be a band member, or it might be a session guy that's hanging around. The songs usually dictate who's gonna play what. There have been times when I end up using session musicians on all of the tracks, even the vocals.
CT: So what your saying is that their might be songs on the album that you write and record with a completely different set of musicians than the band?
  DP: If that's what it takes to get it right, sure!
CT: What about your musical likes and dislikes. What are some of your favorite bands?
  DP: I actually don't really listen to music much. I never have. To me music is something that I'm trying to externalize. I want to draw it out of my being. Listening to music means taking it all in to yourself, giving yourself preconceptions about what things should sound like, how they should feel. It's too limiting.
CT: Well thanks again for taking the time with us, it was very informative.
  DP: Cheers!
 (©2007 Musicians Weekly)