“Recording Is Just A Really Big Ego Stroke” – Matt Wheatley On Recording And his Roots
Wheatley may only be a student, but he’s no stranger the recording industry as he discusses dealing with the divas and looks back on his own influences.
In a cosy room belonging to Academy of Contemporary Music’s (ACM) production student – and Leeds College of Music (LCoM) alumni, Matt Wheatley, I sit and admire the posters covering as much wall as humanly possible. They show his eclectic taste in music and film so I find myself not knowing where to look. I turn from staring at the Rolling Stones’ logo and Back To The Future to focus on the ginger-haired cheeky Yorkshire ‘kid’ (he definitely does not look 18).
Chuckling whilst attempting to sit cross-legged on the bed in black skinny jeans – with varying levels of success – he tells me one of his funnier studio experiences. “I recorded a band who insisted on doing backing vocals, I let them add these questionable vocals and once they finished up I let them take the recording home,” Matt says, already stifling a laugh. “I mixed and mastered their song with these backing vocals on but for my own portfolio I took them out –as any mix-master engineer would as they weren’t great. Later, my work got showcased when I wasn’t there…in front of the band – and it was the version without the backing vocals on there.”
After figuring out how to sit, the conversation deepens as Matt talks me through his ultimate goals. “If anything I’d want to open my own venue like have a pub or a club that’s music-oriented and mine. I’d get to say who plays there and who doesn’t.” You certainly can’t knock him for his ambition – he’s keeping himself busy whether it be music or not, “I quite like to read sort of non-fiction or biographical books,” with both of us being self-confessed nerds, it’s difficult to not relate to his Netflix habits. “I could just binge watch shows in two days and just move on to the next one.”
Despite being far from his Leeds home for uni and often hidden away on the favourite streaming service, he definitely hasn’t forgotten his roots, “when I was younger, I started listening to any sort of music that my dad listened to, the next year I begged him to get me a guitar for Christmas and I got a really tiny little electric guitar.” His favourite stories from home generally involve one family member in particular, “my dad was a drummer in the 90s and the early 2000s, we did a weekend out in Liverpool and saw a Beatles tribute band and he got to go on stage to play…after a couple of drinks though so he maybe wasn’t in the best state to.” His eyes lit up as he continued, “he’s always been musical, and probably who inspires me most.”
Delving into the ins and outs or recording, Mr Wheatley expresses the importance of the team behind the scenes, “it’s more than just pressing a few buttons and hoping it sounds good – recording can make an artist’s career, it takes one song and then you’re set for life…if you can get the right sort of people behind you,” he insists whilst leaning in, “if the song falls into the right hands it can be huge. I mean just look at Despacito, even before Justin Bieber did his like English, very bad version of it, Despacito had already exploded.”
After recording multiple bands himself, Matt knows talent when he sees it, “People who I’ve recorded and sounded good live I can probably count on two hands,” he chuckles, “there was a drummer, Josh Prescott (The Velveteens), I recorded him with another band, I’ve seen a couple gigs where they played that particular song and probably played it better live than the recorded version I’ve got, really good drummer.”
With so many divas and generally ‘aggy’ musicians to deal with on a regular basis, it was intriguing to find out how ‘techies’ cope, “in the studio you’ve got to have a really good smile, the best way to do it – especially at uni is to make them a cup of tea,” he says trying to look serious. Sweet-talking musicians started to sound easy, “you make it seem like it’s their idea, you suggest everything but then say ‘so you’d do this’ and ‘you’d do that’ and then they’re like ‘yeah I would’ and you’re like ‘great idea’”. All with a cup of tea.
“Recording is just a really big ego stroke, making sure everyone is comfortable in the studio.” Matt’s face turns more serious, a change from the more giddy-side I’ve just been exchanging conversation with, “musicians don’t always understand the studio side and how easy it is for something to go wrong. One muted string in one chord in a three and a half minute song could be noticeable throughout out the entire song. So, even though it’s easy to mess up, the consequences are greater and you’ve got to sort of prepare and make sure everything is correct”.
Discussing the ideal candidate to record, Matt insists it’s all about personality, “It’s good to record someone who doesn’t take themselves too seriously – you’re spending hours on end in one room with no windows and no decent air con,” he laughs, “It’s very easy to get distracted in the studio. You’ll go in wanting to record one guitar part and you’ll end up recording three different guitar parts, trumpets and harmonies and then the day is gone and you haven’t finished – so focus is key.”
Working for someone else in the production world is apparently quite different to having yourself be the commander in chief, “with someone else’s idea you feel a lot more restricted but you’ll put more effort in as you want to capture their sound.” However, you can still be just as tough on yourself, “I will be very self-critical and agonise over the smallest things for hours on end but I produce music because I enjoy producing music, not because I enjoy releasing it at the end. I’ll listen and take feedback into consideration but I want to make music I like and I’m happy with.”
Ending with quite a fitting speech, Matt pushes that people wherever in the industry should try to feel at ease no matter the task, “it’s music so there’s no point stressing over it, getting really worked up. Don’t let yourself ruin whatever song you’re listening to or working on because at the end of the day it’s music so enjoy it.”
Words by Megan Duce