Beats and Brews Guest Writer
Bill Watson, like most of us has dreams and aspirations to do something special with his life, to leave a legacy he could be proud of. Many of us never pull the trigger and follow through with chasing our dreams. Most of us get stuck in living in the daily routine and before we know it, our life has passed us by. Recently, I had the pleasure of interviewing Bill, whom after years of struggling with the decision, in 2004 decided to move to Nashville, Tennessee to pursue his dream of succeeding in the music and entertainment industry. Bill Watson grew up in a small town in Western Pennsylvania with the goal of being a working musician. After years of pondering over the risk, he made the decision to invest in himself and follow his dreams. Unlike where he grew up, one out of three people work in the industry in Nashville. Many have tried, but failed to make it. Bill is determined to not become a statistic of failure, but rather one of success. Below is my interview with producer and musician, Bill Watson.
How did you get started in the music and entertainment industry?
I heard a song by John Denver on the radio, “Back Home Again”, thought it was cool and decided to learn to play it on my Dad’s guitar. That led to entering a church talent show and it took off from there.
I needed good session quality musicians for my business to work. There are good musicians and singers worldwide but usually in very isolated pockets, there is no place on earth that has such a high concentration of talent in such a small area as Nashville. Definitely the largest concentration of session quality players on the planet.
Tell me about Nashville Trax. When did you open?
I started doing demos for clients with my ex-wife Rhonda who sang and played keyboards when I lived in Pennsylvania. It was very much part time but made money and I enjoyed it.
I thought maybe if I made the move it might be even more successful but my wife hated the idea of moving . After Rho and I divorced in 2002 she encouraged me saying that I was now free to chase my dream and if I was ever going to do it, that was the time to execute. So I sold two houses I owned and started looking for property in the Music City area. I opened Nashville Trax and created NashvilleTrax.com in 2004.
How many projects have you worked on and who are some of the biggest acts you’ve worked with?
Slightly 0ver 3,000 projects. The Swansons whose recent single “Valentine” went #1 regionally. Danny Thompson a country act from Canada who first broke on the BBC Radio Network in the U.K. and that was the catalyst for huge word wide radio airplay. In Christian Music, The Greatest Gift, a three piece singing trio that hit #1 on the Southern Gospel charts. As far as musicians: world renowned guitarist Brent Mason. Fiddlist Jenee Fleenor of Blake Shelton’s band and regular on The Voice; and drummers Jim Riley of Rascal Flatts as well as David Northrup of Boz Scaggs band are all on my team.
What are some of the biggest transformations you’ve seen in the music industry?
Home recording gear increasing in quality. And digital replacing analog, especially in the editing area. .
What would be the major reasons to go into a professional studio over a home-recording set-up?
In terms of the actual recording medium, none, digital is digital. But a designed-for-a-specific-purpose room and super expensive outboard gear such as $1,000 and up microphones, $3,000 preamps, etc, may be beyond the budget of a home recording enthusiast. But the biggest reason is to get a professional engineer and/or producer involved who has experience as well as access to tools and talent the amateur lacks. I produce meaning I take the rough a client gives me and make every decision that moves the project from the client’s initial rendering to a professional recording.
Does the room make a difference?
Absolutely. A room can have too much natural reverb or it may sound boxy, etc. and those are things not easy or maybe impossible to fix in the mix. Home recording folks try to build vocal booths and such but lacking budget, experience and know how usually end up with flutter echo and other issues that make their work sound worse instead of better. Our drum room and iso booths at Nashville Trax are designed for specific purposes, The walls are not parallel, there are angles and bows designed into the walls to reflect sound in a certain direction, we have bass large, expensive bass traps correctly positioned to tighten up the low end, etc.
What could a great-sounding recording do for an artist’s career?
It is the bargaining chip that gets you to the table. If you don’t have that you don’t really have a legit shot. If you have a great sounding recording and do everything else right in terms of marketing and promotion then a great sounding recording will launch your career.
Do artists benefit from networking?
Generally, yes. One contact leads to another and often leads to your next producer, radio promo guy, or an A&R person deciding to give your music a listen.
The cream rises. If you believe your act and your music product are the cream let people know about it. Especially in a town like Nashville where a huge percentage of people make their living from music. You just never know who you’re talking to. The person that waits on your table at a restaurant may well have a close relative in the business or may even work full time at a music publishing company daytime, waiting tables at night. Give them a business card and friend them on Facebook or somewhere they might hear your music and become a fan, who knows what it may lead to.
How many of the artists you work with are able to match live what they’ve done in the studio? Is this the norm?
These days most can get very close because of “flying in tracks” which means that the drummer plays to a click track and music tracks imported from the recording session are “flown in” as .wav or .mp3 files and mixed with the live-played instruments. A band like The Swansons gives me a specific list of the tracks they need to make that happen: “We are playing an awards show next weekend, please export and load all fiddle, background vocal, steel guitar and percussion tracks on songs X, X and X for a live performance.” Nearly everyone is doing it.
In your opinion, what classifies as a good mix and a good master?
A good mix has a depth and a balance between the instruments and vocals that translates well across all mediums: on computer speakers to big studio monitors and most important, on radio. If a mix is really good the mastering is nearly transparent in terms of how the mix sounds and mainly adds some compression and imparts maximum loudness. If the mix is lacking them mastering also becomes about making the recording sound better in a specific bandwidth, more clarity in the upper midrange for example,
How has this changed with the introduction of digital music and MP3’s?
It’s kind of crazy, Joe, the more technology has advanced the more people are listening to music in the mp3 format, delivered on cell phones and tiny, cheap computer speakers. So we record on expensive digital software like Pro Tools HD then mix on super expensive studio monitors but the end product is played back over the cheapest system available. Knowing this, there is a trend to tailor extra specific mixes specifically for that medium.