What it’s like to take a song from concept to Billboard’s top charts? Music producer Chuck Ainlay gives us a look behind the scenes of the recording studio, and shares his personal experiences working with artists like Mark Knopfler, Lee Ann Womack, George Strait and Taylor Swift. Read on to learn more about a day in the life of Grammy-award winning music producer.
Q: What inspired you to be a music producer?
Ainlay: I remember looking at the credits on the back of album covers as a young boy and thinking how cool it would be to help create that music. Can you imagine how incredible it would feel to be George Martin and say that you produced The Beatles?
Q: What’s a typical day like for an audio engineer?
Ainlay: There really is no typical day, which is what I love about it. Tracking with a roomful of musicians and hearing a song come together is what I live for, but some days can be very mundane and technical. Mixing is another area where you can get lost in the music. Sometimes, after mixing all day long, it can take literally hours to get back to reality.
Q: What’s your favorite record that you’ve produced?
Ainlay: My favorite is always the last one I produced — George Strait’s “Cold Beer Conversation.” But it’s difficult to pick one favorite. Some records have had enormous commercial success and that’s great, but then there are those records that maybe no one will ever hear that are amazing as well. It’s awesome when you get to work with people who come into the recording studio and just completely blow you away.
Q: Any specific examples?
Ainlay: One particular moment that comes to mind was when I worked on Lee Ann Womack’s album a few years back. The band was practicing the first song of the album when she showed up at the studio. As soon as she stepped into the vocal booth and started singing, I got goosebumps all over. The band fed off of her energy, and that whole week was magical. That album was “The Way I’m Living” and was nominated for a Grammy for Best Country Album as well as Best Engineered Non-Classical Album.
Q: What’s it like seeing artists create their music?
Ainlay: I’ll never forget my first time working with Dire Straits and Mark Knopfler doing guitar overdubs from the control room. I was thinking at the time that Mark is probably one of the greatest guitar players ever, and he’s sitting right next to me playing this amazing solo.
Q: Do you prefer to work with big names or newcomers?
Ainlay: Both. You know you’ve made it when you get asked to do an album with an established artist, but the lifeblood of what we do is with new undiscovered artists. I remember working on Taylor Swift’s first album when she was like 16. I came home and told my wife that this young girl was going to be huge. It’s albums like that that establish you and keep your career going.
Q: What was it like winning your first Grammy?
Ainlay: I’ll never forget how I felt the moment I found out that I’d won the Grammy for Best Surround Sound Album. I was in Utah on a snow skiing trip with a bunch of my buddies. It was the end of the day, and we were hanging out in the Jacuzzi when I got a call from a friend at the show telling me the good news. I was the coolest dude in the Jacuzzi that evening.
Q: What’s special about High-Resolution Audio?
Ainlay: With High-Resolution Audio, consumers can now download music at home or listen to it on a portable device, and it’ll sound exactly the way it’s heard in the studio. Gone is the lifeless quality of data-compressed MP3s! And with the high sample rate and bit depth, it’s just like being there when the recording was made.
Q: What’s currently on your playlist?
Ainlay: I’ve been buying some old school albums and reliving my past, listening to Santana and Jackson Browne, but I’m also buying new music like Beck’s Grammy-winning Album of the Year “Morning Phase.” I love my High-Resolution Audio player because at the end of the day, I can bring home the mix that I’m working on and listen to it on my stereo. For the first time, it sounds like what I actually mixed — every nuance and every detail — way more so than when I used to bring my mixes home on CDs.