Interview conducted July 31, 2004.
Originally published at http://www.theartofmusicproduction.com/Linda_Perry_Interview.html
What do you look for when evaluating a potential project?
I need to have a connection with the artist, a feeling in my heart that our collaboration will be special. It is the artist that inspires the creativity, so it is very important to have a mutual respect. Even if the artist does not take part in the writing process, it is still them that is inspiring it.
I see that you credit yourself as engineer on several recordings. How did you get your engineering experience?
I have always taken an interest in the recording process. It was upon working with Bill Bottrell on my solo effort In-flight when my education kicked in. Bill is my mentor. I find his production and understanding of music to be so thought provoking, gentle, beautiful and unique. I learned so much working with him. When I didn’t understand what a Fairchild compressor was, he would explain; when I didn’t understand the difference [between] EQs and mic placement, he would show me. Bill told me once, when discussing EQs, “There is no right or wrong when it comes to recording; turn the knobs until it sounds right to your ear.” Those words I live by till this day.
Do you prefer to engineer your own productions?
I don’t see how I couldn’t engineer my own productions. A major part of being a producer, for me, is getting sounds that blend well with the artist and, most of all, the song. While writing the song, I start to hear the production as well. I already have such a strong sense of what microphones I will use on the drums, what bass amp, what kind of guitar sound I will go for, or maybe [the] complete opposite — it might just be all synths and programs. Still, it’s in my head and I could not trust another to unscramble the information.
Do you produce things that you do not write?
I do produce songs I did not write. I prefer it. Sometimes with your own songs you can get lost [and] stuck on emotions. Coming from your heart isn’t always the best emotion for a song. Your heart can trick you, leave you stagnating because you’re too close to it. With someone else’s song, you can help the artist find their vision of it, bring in a fresh perspective. I really listen to the song, and make sure I’m not just doing things “just because.” If I am not making the song better I will be the first to express it to the artist and suggest a producer that I think would be perfect for this particular song.
Do you find most A&R people to be helpful and knowledgeable?
Dealing with A&R can be somewhat challenging. In the music “business” we are dealing with a matter of opinion. Everyone’s opinion is more than valid. There are some making their opinion more important than the artist, which will deflate the session, and then there are some who have made creative suggestions that elevated it. What a producer deals with is trying to make both parties happy. And, frankly, what a fuckin’ relief it is when you succeed.
Do you have any insight as to why there a so few female producers?
I would assume it’s the same reason there are few females running major record labels, networks, and most executive positions. If this question was asked in the late 1800’s, I might have had a good reply. But [it] being 2004, well, I’m a little stumped.
I noticed you have produced a lot of female artist such as Pink, Christina Aguilera, Courtney Love, Gwen Stefani. Is this something you consciously choose or prefer to do, or are these just the projects that came your way?
Pink and Courtney found me. Christina And Gwen I went after. All four of these women are incredibly talented in so many ways. How they turned up in my life doesn’t even come into the question. I just know I’m lucky that they did.
Do you think that a female producer brings a different quality to a project than a male producer, or do you think that the differences are producer to producer and largely gender neutral?
As an artist, I have worked with many male producers, three of them completely free of ego, open to my suggestion, very creative and we collaborated well, which made for a wonderful experience because it was equal. Four of them [were] completely full of themselves, made me feel less, never heard a word I said, not open to suggestion, and very disrespectful. Basically intimidated and threaten[ed] by my presence. Obviously not a healthy creative environment. I have come to realize that the reason why I had a good experience with the three, is that our characters made a connection. The four others, we had no connection, which caused friction. As a female producer I feel I bring in all qualities mentioned, but ultimately it comes down to the connection with the artist.
Do you prefer to produce whole albums or individual tracks?
I [would] rather produce whole albums. It allows me more freedom. To create a body of work from start to finish feels more solid, consistent. Writing a hit single is one thing but writing great album tracks to support that single, to me, is as important.
What made you want to produce?
I just love music and felt I had something to offer. Being a producer has made me more understanding, patient, sensitive, and a wonderful collaborator. As an artist I had none of these qualities. I wake up every morning and still can’t believe that I get to go into a studio and create music all day long. And that people actually call me and pay me to do that.
When did you first realize that you wanted to produce?
I was in a band called 4 Non Blondes. I had wrote this song, “What’s Up”. We recorded it and I practically started to cry. It was nowhere near the song I had wrote. The vision the producer had was so far off the mark, it left me very concerned. He had put a solo in it, a marching drum thing, wanted me to change lyrics; to me [it became] a production that had nothing to do with the meaning behind the song. So I took the band to The Plant studios and rerecorded the song the way it was supposed to be. With the engineer’s help, I got the sounds that I found fitting, and we [re]recorded “What’s Up”. The producer showed up, we mixed the song, and that is the recording that made it onto radio. Of course, the producer took all credit but it didn’t matter to me because I knew what I had done. Since that day I never took my eyes off the console.
What would you recommend that other people do who are trying to break into producing?
“There is no right or wrong when recording; turn the knobs until it sounds right to your ear” — Bill Bottrell, 1996.
Do you mostly mix your own productions or does someone else mix them?
I am a horrible mixer. Mixing is another art form, a very important one. I oversee the mixes. Dave Pensado is my mixer. He is incredible. He understands what I’m trying to accomplish in the production, then drives it home on the mix. Dave experiments a lot with the mixes. He knows I don’t want the same [old] tricks. We work really good together.
Do you like to record digitally or analog?
I record both. Say I’m recording drums, I go thru 8078 console into tape at 30 ips — sometimes 15 [ips], depends on song — then into Protools. So that way I get tape and digital. There’s been times where I prefer the snare from Protools instead. I keep everything sync[ed] so I can have more options. For me, having options is the key to my productions.
Which recording systems do you use?
Right now I’m in 8078 Neve console, Studer, Hd system 6.1
Is that your favorite system?
My favorite is what fits the song the best.
Has or is technology changing the way you work?
Of course. Protools? You can make a piece of shit sound good. I have a love/hate relationship going with technology. I don’t like how clean recordings sound nowadays. What happened to the bleed through from the drums that caused that cool delay on Robert Plant’s voice? Or, the person talking while tape was rolling, and you forgot to erase it, and it accidentally showed up in the mix? I love that stuff. I miss it.
Is technology making the process easier or more difficult in your opinion?
My opinion is both. For drums, I think it’s great, because if you have a great vibe going but there is one flubber and not a cool flubber, you can shift the drums to make it sit better. On the other hand, it can take away how creative we used to be when you only had 24 tracks to work with. Now we have endless tracks which sometimes can be over used “just because”.