Industry Focus [INTERVIEW] with... producer Steffan Pringle

Steffan Pringle: "I enjoy bringing the best out of the bands I work with"

"When a band come in with their song, you can tell straight away if they can play. Sometimes your job is to remind them that they are good. You don’t always have to go in and work up the songs or make them sound more radio friendly. I am a big believer in sitting back some of the time. I am not just about jumping in because of ego pride, with a 'I am a producer so you must listen to me' kind of attitude. It is about the band at the end of the day but if I feel it is not working out then I will happily jump in and help them with song parts when there is a need."  

Through his work as a producer, mixer, engineer and bassist in Estrons, Steffan Pringle has established himself in the music industry and built a reputation of the one of the most trusted and acclaimed British producers of his generation.   

"I think producing is more of an art than a science, I definitely believe that. You know and understand the technicalities, know how it all works, so you can start making music but it is all very much part of the same thing and to start separating the two is not necessarily something you want to to be doing."   

Effectively managing the time spent with Estrons and the time dedicated to producing records for bands can be a tricky one. With Estrons looking set to get gradually busier as 2018 draws to an end, there is an ever increasing need to balance the workloads but luckily Steffan is able to enjoy the benefits of having a manager. 

Titled You Say I'm Too Much, I say You're Not Enough the band debuted three tracks off their forthcoming album on their BBC Radio 1 Annie Mac Live session a couple of weeks ago. Adding to that, from Monday, the band are due to kick off a string of live dates supporting Pussy Riot at Summerhall in Edinburgh. Shortly after that they will continue on a longer period of touring starting out with some European dates and then embark on a full UK tour lasting well into the New Year. The band's recent single release Lilac is out already and it is an absolutely stunning piece of guitar music.  

Up until this point in time Steffan's role as a producer, work and client bookings have been generated in a natural, word gets around, sort of way. 

Based in Cardiff but often working remotely, Steffan has collaborated with numerous bands in some of the most prestigious recording studios the UK has to offer, the versatile, multi-disciplinary recording specialist has dealt with a number of scenarios, he knows how to respond, be constructive and come up with effective solutions to a wide range of situations or issues. 

Steffan has sound engineered a diverse range of artists representing different styles and genres  but guitar music is his specialism and main style. When his career in producing and mixing took off he started to build his area of expertise and client base in this area.

Some of the producer credits include guitar bands such as four piece Himalayas, Adwaith, indie risers The Pitchforks and Jack Perrett, London based alt-rock trio Berries, Future Of The Left, not forgetting his own band four piece Estrons. 

Some engineering credits include Boy Azooga and Steffan was an assistant engineer on releases by 2016 Mercury Prize nominee Seth Lakeman, Simple Minds, Charlotte Church and Graveltones. 

Estrons recently announced the news of their debut album release date (5 Oct on Goford Records), they also have a string of live dates scheduled in for the remainder of the year. It is very busy so far and it is inevitably going to take a fair bit of juggling to work around everything. It is hectic but doable. 

"The last couple of months I just haven't stopped. We finished the Estrons album a few weeks back. It has been a massive wait so it is a huge weight off our shoulders. I have been doing the mixing but it is all done now and that is really great." 

"I have never made some kind of marketing strategy like 'I am going to sort out my business now'. I remember once I wrote this email I was going to send out as a blanket message to several bands on a list I have been given but I remember thinking 'no way, I am not going to do it'. I suppose I didn't want to do it, I didn't want to cold call people."

"The bands contact me that is usually how it works. Maybe I should be more proactive, do a record for a band and then someone hears and they like the sound of it. Or when the bands get more success on the radio or Spotify then you know about that and they will get in touch. It is an interesting one; how do I get the work when my name is not plastered everywhere. At the time of working with a band you just focus on making it sound good and hope that people like it."   
Things are going well for the producer and one of his fairly recent recordings has taken off in a way no one could possibly have been able to imagine, let alone predict.

Himalayas' music streaming success story related to the song Thank God I'm Not You, which Steffan produced, now looks set to reach more than 7 million hits on Spotify and the other day the band announced that the song is this season's new sound of FA Wales. As if that is not enough the video is available on YouTube and it has had more than 100,600 views.

"Thank God I'm Not You is a really good song and the numbers are going up and up. It is a really immediate song and the boys have done great with it. I am doing their debut album with them. It is cool it continues to do so well"

Speaking to Mike Griffiths and Joe Williams of Himalayas, in an interview written and published by It's All Indie earlier this week, the band provided some fascinating insight into their working relationship with the producer. Up until now Steffan has recorded all the band's releases, when asked about his contribution and if they were hoping to continue the collaboration they said:

Mike: I really hope so. There is a mutual element of trust. I think we are in a position where we know whatever we give Steffan he is going to do a good job with it and we expect it. Equally, he will expect us to give him good stuff to work with. We are such good friends with him as well, it is just a really nice dynamic to have with a producer. I don't want to produce with someone where you turn up for a couple of weeks, do your thing and then never talk to that person ever again. It is not the way that kind of relationship should work, it should be similar to how I would interact with Joe or anyone else.

Joe: That is the thing with our whole team really, you can just pick up the phone. It has got to be a personal thing rather than just 'I am doing this because it is my job'. I think Steffan is really good at what he does, he pushes you too. It is like you have a box of what you think it is going to be like and he pushes you outside of that box and then you sort of go 'oh really, this is something I should have thought of before."  
The roots to Steffan's career go further back. Starting out as an assistant engineer at Monnow Valley Studio, one of the UK's premier recording studio destinations, the skills and knowledge Steffan takes from that period played a key role in his development and progression to the sophisticated producer and mixer he is today. One of the early bands he worked with was Future Of The Left and it continues to be one of the milestones of his career. 

"Being only 21 and getting to work with certain local bands you are absolutely over the moon. It was the first time I worked with Future Of The Left. I was a massive fan of the band and they had been around for ages. I did a lot for them, I even mixed the live album and that was really good fun because it was like mixing the songs I had already heard and knew and as I was into their music it was really cool to be involved in that."

Nevertheless, it was in fact having a go at playing music as a child that made him discover the magic of working with sound, being able to do things to alter and change it in various ways. 

"When I was a kid, every day after school I would just go home and play guitar, drums and bass and all that. My dad told me about this software that you could plug a guitar into and the fact that you could do things like that just completely blew my mind. I would just record school bands in a rehearsal just with a mic."

The young aspiring engineer would continue to record bands from his school although getting excited about things would occasionally bring slight disappointment when noticing  imperfections including his own band at school. 

I remember the first time we recorded our band at school, I was really excited thinking 'oh we are going to release an album.' We were in my bedroom recording it but when we listened back I thought 'this sounds awful', nothing like my favourite records.' But then it would develop into making the recordings sound good." 

"The moment when somebody at school told me there is a course where you can learn how to record music was a big one. I needed five Cs to get in. I started revising like mad, I was determined to get in and so I left school to do music technology at college. More often than not I would use the facilities and I would record bands for free all the time up to the point where they wanted to work with me and pay me. The way it worked for me was year by year I got busier until it became my job." 

Since those early days things just kept progressing for Steffan. Natually, the job does come with its own challenges but the ability to adapt to situations and continue to view things from a fresh perspective clearly is there and is handled with ease. 

"There is always a conscious effort with some recordings, especially when you don't want the last record to sound just like the one you are working on. Particularly, when you are mixing as well, it is quite meditative, you start and then suddenly six hours have gone by and you can't even explain exactly what you have done but you know that it sounds really good, if it suddenly sounds really bad then you have got to start all over again, that does sometimes happen."   
"In some way it is all down to the band, if the drummer is amazing and the drum kit is not but the drummer can get a really good sound of it. Even when you can't really explain what you did. When a band are really good then it is my job to enhance that sounds as much as I can."

 Things are going really well for Steffan and although he enjoys new challenges he does not want to change his setup too much and he sees his future in Cardiff. He wants to keep doing what he does so well.

"I like to live in Cardiff. There are some really good studios here, around half of the price of what you would pay in London so it is better for bands to come here, it is cheap. I get around anyway, whether it is with Estrons or as a producer. The ambition of moving somewhere else at the present moment in time is not there. I am going to stay. It is really chilled out, that is the best way to describe it." 

"I enjoy bringing the best out of the bands I work with, I want to help them make the best records they can. I am still convinced I will never master this craft one hundred percent. There is so much to do with it and I am just focused on getting better at doing things. I suppose I should be putting more energy into spreading my wings around but I really just want to continue doing what I do, it suits me fine. I just enjoy making music, I like deadlines and projects. There is always some pressure in this sector but problems are relative, it is all good really."

But the job as a producer is not full of glitz and glamour.

"The job as a producer can be a bit geeky, it is easy to think it is all glitzy and glamorous but it is not. Whenever you meet someone else who does it for a living or a hobby you can just talk for hours about compressors, records or anything and people always say in conversations that they think you are making up a language. I genuinely think it is always good to find like-minded people, whether it is mentors or friends who are just partly into it because of how geeky it sometimes becomes."

 "For anyone who wants to get into this kind of thing, the industry is going through a bit of a difficult time. In the 'golden years' there was loads and loads of money floating around constantly but anyone who wants to get into it can do it, it is about loving the hard work."

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