The BIG Über Rock Interview: Joey Sturgis Print E-mail
Written by Linzi A   
Sunday, 28 May 2017 04:30

Joey Sturgis first garnered attention back in 2006, when he produced ‘Dear Love: A Beautiful Discord’, the debut album by metalcore mob The Devil Wears Prada. In the intervening decade or so, he has become the producer of choice of TDWP and many of their genre counterparts, including Of Mice And Men, Asking Alexandria, Emmure and many more… I caught up with the mixmaster supreme in a rare moment of downtime to talk about his storied career to date, his production technique, the role of a producer and loads of other technical stuff.


Joey Strugis 1


I started off by asking him how he first got involved in the music industry and how first came to be a producer…


Did you have to work your way up to where you are now?


Absolutely! I got started in the music industry in high school the same way most musicians do - finding other musicians that like the same type of music and started writing music together. I had a friend with a studio in his garage, so when the time came to make a record with one of my bands, we wanted to use his studio.


At the time, nobody in the band had any real insight into how to record, so I started learning all I could about recording and how to make things sound good.


After that I was hooked. A lot of other bands started to hear how the music I recorded sounded, and it all grew very naturally from there. It wasn’t long before I started working with The Devil Wears Prada, which led to connecting with Rise Records and the rest is history.


It took a lot of trial and error learning how to record in the early years, but I learned right away to trust my ears and instincts. If it sounded good, I went with it; I didn’t have time for worrying about what was right, just what sounded good. That instinct led me to where I am today.


What services do you provide as a producer?


As a producer, I facilitate the artist’s vision for their music.


A lot of the bands I work with now know what they’re looking for, and they’re spending a lot of time and money with me because they know I can help them get there. I won’t say that everything that comes into my studio is 100% written and ready to go, but the majority of the music comes from a band’s pre-production before they ever get to me.


A producer role passes back and forth between really involved and really hands off. It comes back to that same instinct I mentioned before. If a song sounds great, a good producer will be mindful of that and do everything they can to draw out the best performances.


That pendulum swings the other way too - a producer should be able to jump in and verbalize what’s not working when a song just isn’t coming together.


Why do you think bands come to you for your services, is it all about the name or do you offer great package deals?



Bands come to me because of my reputation and because they know what to expect from my past work.


There’s definitely a Joey Sturgis sound to everything I do, just like there’s a Chris Lord-Alge (Rise Against, Rob Zombie, Seether) sound to everything he does. I think it’s important to realize that “sound” doesn’t mean every band/album/song is going to sound the same, just that what I think sounds good is subjective and is likely to sound good in other situations too.


I create the comic book character version of my artists and bring those characters to life through the songs and production.


Bands know this, and the ones I work with know they’re getting the full package when they work with me. I wouldn’t want to be associated with something I don’t think sounds 100 per cent, and I think most artists share that same mindset.


Do you prep bands/artists when they go into the studio, as studio time must be valuable? Do artists have to stick to a schedule/time scale for all the different parts they need to record?


Yes! I wish the budgets for making music were as large as they were decades ago. Have you ever heard of bands going into the studio for months at a time? They literally used to go in with NOTHING written, and do the whole album from scratch.


That’s crazy!


Unfortunately, time is a luxury that most bands don’t have anymore. For the majority of bands, if they’re not touring, they’re not making money.


I try to vet bands I work with so they know exactly what they’re getting into well ahead of time. Bands know they need to have their songs at least 95 per cent of the way finished, because by the time we’re pressing record, the structure needs to be solid.


With that said, there’s still a lot of fun that goes into recording in the studio. We get to experiment with sounds and ideas that aren’t as easy to try out until after you’ve got something captured.


So while there’s definitely a schedule we need to stick to, the name of the game is always creativity, and anything that can be done to nurture that in the studio should be taken advantage of.


You have mixed and produced albums for some incredible names over the years, The Devil Wears Prada, My Children My Bride, Emmure, Attack Attack, Asking Alexandria just to name a few, who has been your most memorable to work with and why?



Every band I’ve worked with has led to some incredible friendships over the years, which is what makes working in the music industry so cool. Most of the bands you’ve listed have come back to me for multiple albums, so probably the most memorable aspect of it is watching each of them grow from album to album.


It must have been a great sense of achievement when Asking Alexandria's single 'The Final Episode', which you produced, earned a RIAA certified gold record: what runs through your mind when something like this happens?


It’s great reassurance that what I’m working on has an impact. Honestly, it’s so easy to get caught up in the “what’s next” with all of the projects I’m involved in, so it’s a good way to step back and reflect on what’s behind me.


I bet!


The work never stops though, and I’m a pretty competitive person (especially against myself). If anything, the Gold certification motivated me to work harder to set and achieve personal goals. It helped nudge me toward building my own businesses to show others how they can create records that could also be at that level. That’s guidance I never had when getting my start, and guidance that I think every producer can benefit from.


When producing work for bands you must also feel like a music arranger, composer and songwriter in a way helping put everything together. If something doesn't sound right or fit musically how do you approach the bands about changing things?


I’ve actually done a lot of composition and writing going all the way back to the beginning. A lot of the early stuff I did called for orchestral parts that metal bands just couldn’t play. I stepped in to help them realize those sounds using virtual instruments, and the writing just kind of grew from there.


Joey Sturgis 2


When the puzzle pieces aren’t fitting together, the band usually sees it the same time I do. If I’m producing, I’ll ask them what they think of a part and feel out their reactions. If it’s something the band is absolutely set on, I start thinking of ways to make it sound the way I’d like without changing the entire thing.


At the end of the day, we’re all after what sounds best for each song. If a complete restructure needs to happen, I let the band make that decision and do what I can to move the music along. Again, it’s all about facilitating creativity in the studio.


Does it help recording in the right surroundings, would you say a band should take this into account where they record to get the best outcome and quality? Is using a professional studio more important for the end result, and would you say a better sounding record impacts for a better result for the band for them to pursue opportunities career wise to have a good sounding album to pitch to labels or festivals?


I think surroundings definitely come into play when you’re dealing with anything creative. You want to be inspired by the settings around you.


For some, that inspiration might be thousands of dollars in recording equipment everywhere you look, but for most, that’s not going to be realistic (read, expensive). For me, it’s all about disconnecting from the world for a bit so you can focus in on the work. It’s why my studio is out in the middle of the woods - you’re free from distraction out there.


You can make a great sounding record with basic recording equipment if you take the time to learn how to use it. For a lot of bands now, they’re recording straight into their laptops with nearly identical results to what’s coming out of the big studios.


If you learn your software and basic recording techniques, there’s no reason to need a professional studio for a demo.


Do you find when helping produce an album a large percent of responsibility is on your shoulders to ensure the band’s CD is of best quality and the way the band/artist envisioned?


I feel like the standards are set pretty high, but I won’t say the responsibility is all on me. Bands take ownership and pride in their music, as they should. They know their fan base and have a responsibility to deliver music that appeals to their fans.


My goal with every production is to make sure the sound quality is up to par with my standards, and to help the band realize the end goal they’re looking for. Once I’ve done those two things, the fans get to decide how well it performs.


Having been in the music industry a while how have you seen it change over the years any positives or negatives?


I entered the industry while the change was already happening. While major labels are complaining about album sales declining, I’m over here watching some of the best free marketing to hit the music industry appear with social media.


It’s insane to see how much influence an artist (or even company for that matter) can have through platforms like Facebook, and I think this is just the beginning of it.


I think the long term change we’ll continue to see is more musicians sharing their music online, with more variety than ever. While touring is still huge for bands to get their name out there, the Internet is giving them a way to connect with their audience on a more frequent basis at little to no cost.


The major labels will need to keep up with the independents, and that’s a very interesting thing to watch happen.


Is there any band/artist you have particularly enjoyed working with?


Some of my favourite recent projects have actually come from my plugin company, Joey Sturgis Tones.


Really can you tell us a little more about this?


We have a series of virtual guitar amps called Toneforge made to simplify guitar tones for producers. A big part of that collection lately has come from collaboration with actual guitarists.


The first artist series release was Toneforge: Ben Bruce, in which we recreated some of Asking Alexandria’s best guitar tones from the ground up. By the time we were done, we actually had a sound so good that we used it on the next record on songs like “I Won’t Give In”.



In January, we partnered with Jason Richardson (Chelsea Grin, Born of Osiris) and his producer Taylor Larson (Periphery, From First to Last, Veil of Maya) to release Toneforge: Jason Richardson, which comes loaded with all of the tonal variations from his recent solo record, ‘I’.


I think these projects have been fun because they’ve helped me stretch into different directions than I would traditionally get to as a producer and flex more of my creative and technical muscles.


Are you working on anything at the moment?


More than I can possibly talk about without taking the rest of your day up!


I still have some production work in progress, but a lot of my focus really has shifted over to helping my peers and the next generation of producers learn the ins and outs of a good sounding record.


In addition to Joey Sturgis Tones, I co-founded an online audio academy that teaches how to record, mix, edit, etc. One of our biggest services that teach how to mix is called Nail The Mix. As part of Nail the Mix, we provide a new song to download as multi tracks every month to give people a chance to mix professional-level projects. At the end of the month, we broadcast a live stream of the actual engineer mixing the song from beginning to end - every single move and why. Since music and mixing is always evolving, our service evolves with it to keep our students on the most cutting edge of mixing.


We’ve been fortunate to have some really amazing engineers fill guest spots each month, and have had everything from rock and metal to country and pop punk on the show at this point. It’s definitely a resource that I take a lot of pride in producing, and it’s full of information I wish I had access to when I was first getting started.


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