Lee House is a Music Producer and Engineer with a wide and unique range of experience and knowledge. It was a real pleasure to interview Lee, not least because he's a very good friend and I've had the opportunity to collaborate with him on a number of projects!
I highly recommend visiting his website (linked below) to hear his work, and to check out the fantastic testimonials provided by a variety of highly regarded artists, producers and industry professionals.
Who is Lee House?
For any LearnMusicTech readers who may not have heard about you before, could you provide a bit of background on yourself and your services?
I’m a full time music producer based in Cardiff, UK, currently working with up-and-coming artists on mostly electronic-based pop music, and acoustic artists with electronic crossover elements. I also work in other genres, as musically I am open to lots of styles.
However, I feel that my strength predominantly lies in music that involves synthesisers with beat-based production.
Most of my projects involve me fulfilling the producer role, however I also provide recording and mixing services, drawing experience gained from years working at a reputable Cardiff-based studio called ‘Acapela’.
How long have you been producing music?
I’ve been producing music full-time since mid-2015. Before that I was working full-time as an audio engineer at Acapela where I occasionally had the opportunity to work on production projects.
During this time, music production was generally a side hobby that I worked on by myself or with friends, so with that definition, I would say I’ve been producing music since I got my first Yamaha keyboard (with 5 tracks of recording!) when I was about 11 years old.
Who or what are your biggest influences (music, art, business or otherwise)?
There’s a quote that I read years ago that I can’t seem to find, I think it was from a classical composer, but to paraphrase it said something along the lines of:
“Every new composition is a reinterpretation of everything you’ve ever heard.”
I’m not really the sort of person who has one huge influence that inspires me, but everything I hear musically influences me in some way. My creativity in production is a combination of music that my brain has reinterpreted, ranging from progressive metal and euphoric dance, to film composition and pop chart hits.
Going back 10 years ago, though, I did have one particular huge influence that helped re-adjust my musical path: Prince. Before discovering the genius of Prince, I was still listening to metal music day in, day out. After thirteen Prince albums I gradually transitioned out of metal music and into pop music, which set a new course towards what I’m doing today.
Who are you listening to right now?
At the moment I’m listening to current artists such as Banks, Lapsley, The Japanese House, Emilie Nicolas, iamamiwhoami, SOHN and FKA Twigs etc. Generally electronica-based artists that err a little on the side of commercial pop.
My most played albums over the past few months are Blue from iamamiwhoami and Pop Up by Yelle. Having answered this question I have just noticed a trend of preferring female artists and voices (excluding SOHN of course).
Can you describe your biggest production breakthrough (no matter how simple!)?
I think my biggest breakthrough was teaching myself to be able to be creative at will.
Before I left my engineering job to become a music producer full-time, music production was something that just happened on the occasions that I felt a creative spurt. If I forced myself to sit down and produce something without that uncontrollable burst of creativity, then I would generally spend hours in front of my computer and walk away with nothing.
When it became my job, then I really just had no choice but to force myself to find steps that I could take that would inspire creativity from nothing. Otherwise I’d end up getting nothing done and therefore be unable to pay my bills at the end of the month (avoiding homelessness is always a great incentive!).
Part of the process involves using certain go-to soft synths and drum banks. The other part is the psychological issue that I needed to overcome of being too precious with my creative ideas. Rather than obsessing over the details as I lay ideas down, I literally just throw things down that come to mind, without trying to make decisions about their worth. I then leave the final decision making process until after the creative splatter on the musical canvas.
If you could give one piece of advice to improve a mix, what would it be?
Make the last mix tweaks on fresh ears. If you think you’re 95% done, then leave that other 5% for the next day.
You’ll likely sit down, play it through, and the most obvious mix issues will present themselves. These will be problems that you didn’t notice the day before because you may have spent 6 hours on the mix, ended up with ear fatigue, and not even noticed glaringly obvious mix issues because your ears and mind were just too saturated.
Do you have any tips or advice that other people may find surprising, controversial or that perhaps contradict general convention?
I guess I’d say it's ok to contradict general convention if it sounds good. I’m sure there are plenty of things in my project files that other engineers would cringe at, but it gives me the result I’m after, so I’m really not concerned about how other people do it. It’s important to note the difference between finding your own method that works for you and being too stubborn to try something new though. If someone else has an idea that might make something better, then try it, and if it IS better, scrap your old method!
You have to be willing to adapt to better methods.
However if someone is making a fuss about the order of your chain of compressors, EQ’s and FX because what you are doing is considered ‘unconventional’, then as long as you are truly happy with the end result, just roll with it and ignore convention.
I think one particular thing that I do that is probably considered quite controversial is mixing my tracks into a mastering chain. I don’t do it right from the start of the track, but once I feel that I’ve got my mix balanced and sounding how I want it, then I usually insert my mastering chain on the output, give it a master, and then re-tweak mix levels and EQ into the chain.
A lot of my clients give me very detailed notes about levels, and if they gave me these notes based on a mixdown I could spend a lot of time tweaking and mastering the track. Then they would likely have a bunch of new notes because of the way the mastering process has brought out different sounds and changed the perceived level of track elements ever so slightly.
Therefore I like to master a track before sending it to clients for mix notes, and I just find it easier to tweak and find the balance between mix and master adjustments when the mastering chain is in the same project, rather than splitting it up into a new project. Having a computer with a good enough CPU to handle those projects is another issue though!
What’s the one part of your setup that you couldn’t be without?
I don’t really have any fancy hardware or outboard gear, since I studied engineering during the time where laptops and desktops were just about powerful enough to do everything inside the box (circa 2007). I never really had access to fancy pro studio setups, so I learned to do all my mixing and production digitally inside the box.
I can only dream of having a studio full of synths and gear like Junkie XL, but for now I’m still quite happy with the convenience of working on everything inside my computer. For those reasons, the most boring but obvious part of my setup that I couldn't live without is my Mac.
What are your three favourite plugins (stock or third party)?
As a Logic user, I can honestly say that I love the stock compressor more than any other third party compressors that I have, particularly since they updated it with new skins and model types. Having these models and distortion options within one compressor gives me all of the options of tonal colour and control that I want from a single compressor.
The next one is Valhalla Vintage Verb. This reverb just makes everything sound smooth and beautiful. I particularly love the default preset with varying adjustments to mix level and decay time.
Lastly, I’d say the Waves Kramer Tape plugin. It just has a nice smoothing effect on sharp transients, adds a slight colour, and using the tape distortion subtly (flux) can really help bring life to a mix. On certain projects I’ve been known to use it on almost every track!
Are there any free tools that you would recommend?
One of my favourite and most used free plugins is Cableguys Pancake 2. It's just a simple panning modulation plugin that can provide constant stereo movement. There are plenty of times where I start to feel that a production is too static and end up using this on one or two elements to add movement to the track.
Also, sometimes I struggle to make space for an idea in the stereo spectrum as there may already be other elements competing for the same space. I then use Pancake to keep it moving so it's never on top of anything else.
What do you do to stay inspired and motivated?
A really obvious answer, but I just look for and listen to new music, and hearing something new gets me excited to go and work on my own productions. I find it strange, and a little bit upsetting, that older music is still played more on radio than new music, and that reflects the mentality of the majority of music consumers. They just feel happier and more comfortable hearing a song they’ve heard a hundred times, rather than trying to embrace something new with an open mind.
Don’t get me wrong, I was brought up on 50s rock n roll, 80s rock & pop and 90s R&B which I still love, but I listen to those old songs for the enjoyment of nostalgia rather than defining myself as someone who ‘doesn't like modern music because it isn’t music anymore.’ Or some rubbish like that 😛 Rant over.
What is the biggest challenge that you have faced so far in your career (music, business or otherwise)?
My biggest challenge, on a personal and professional level, is time management. It is my biggest weakness.
Being just a one-man business with multiple clients and projects going at a time is very hard. It's hard to find a balance between recording new material in the studio with new artists and trying to find time to get cracking with the post production on something I recorded the previous week with a different artist.
This often means that it can take me a few weeks after recording a song to get the post production done. It's partly down to my poor time estimation (I’m often way too optimistic about what I can achieve in a fixed amount of time, and even after years I still haven’t learned). It’s also partly down to working on the sort of productions that don't have specific formulas.
For example, if I was a rock producer, I’d know that I have a drum kit, electric bass, electric guitars and a vocal to deal with. With the exception of some potential little details that could be added, that’s the extent of what I’d have to work on. After working on a certain number of projects like that, I’d probably have a good idea of how much time future productions would take.
However, since my productions are an empty canvas and I’m usually working on synth influenced pop with only a vocal to start with, then there is no particular set of rules as to how many instruments, synths or drum patterns and sounds that can be used; the options are endless and I just have to spend time finding the combination that works for that one particular song, so I can't generally use channel strip presets from previous projects and no single artist has the same formula per song. Therefore it's very hard to estimate the amount of time needed per track.
What’s been your biggest achievement to date?
Since I don’t have a top 10 chart production yet (:P), I’d say my biggest achievement is actually just sustaining a full time self employed job as a music producer, I manage my own time, work mostly at home and have a job doing what I love with consistent work coming in, so I’d say that's an achievement in itself.
What resource/method/philosophy has had the biggest impact on your workflow?
I think this can relate back to the ‘biggest production breakthrough’ question, I once would have considered myself very fussy and precious about my music and production ideas, and I would find this sense of preciousness would hinder my ability to allow creativity to flow and my ability to actually finish tracks.
So my philosophy is; don’t be too precious with any one idea, be willing to try something new and keep your mind open to change.
Don’t obsess too much over the tiniest of details, get it done and move on and accept that you will still probably listen back in a year's time and think ‘hmm that guitar could have been a tiny bit quieter’ and therefore, could spend forever chasing perfection.
Are there any resources that you recommend?
To be honest, it's hard to not sound pretentious saying this, but I’ve never read a book, very rarely read a website nor attended a course on music production (my degree was in Audio Engineering, so lacked the creative production element). I’ve learned by just doing. Every track I’ve ever worked on has raised multiple problems that I’ve done my best to solve by just playing around.
Obviously my background in audio engineering gave me the basic knowledge on how to use compressors, EQ etc and therefore I had some foundation on how to solve those problems, but I very rarely search the internet for help unless it's something that I really can't figure out myself.
I think the subject I’ve spent more time reading about (only a few articles) is mastering as it is such a delicate process that you can't really just take the ‘wing it’ approach with. I’ve been following a new page on Facebook called LearnMusicTech though and the posts seem pretty useful! 🙂
However it's probably worth noting that I would perhaps be doing what I’m doing now at a younger age if I learned from the best via books and courses. There are people out there doing better things who are 10 years younger, but my life journey in music has never exceeded my mental and emotional development as a person. It's only since around 26 years old that my understanding of music was good enough for me to produce music for other people as a career.
Can you tell us more about your services?
I’m always looking for good artists with similar tastes to mine to make music with, in the hopes of achieving recognition and success. My specialty is synth pop and electronica, and in the future I hope to be a go-to guy for that sound, so if you think that relates to you, then get in touch! 🙂
What are your main goals for the future?
Every year seems to be bringing new clients who are getting closer to reaching success in the industry, and I just hope that, in time, one of my productions will be an artist's breakthrough success. I am a patient person though and a believer of organic growth (I try not to force things), so perhaps it will be 1 year, perhaps it will be 10, who knows? Either way, I love my job and even if I can't ever break through into the chart market, I will still be happy just working on good music until I’m old and deaf 🙂
What is currently in the pipeline?
Other things I have in the pipeline at the moment include my first composition project for the BBC in the form of a children’s programme, and I am also looking to be collaborating with the recently signed Mau5Trap artist (and friend) Dom Kane on his loops and presets company Kane Audio.
Lastly, I should hopefully be releasing my own music for the first time in years as a solo artist under the name of ‘Modulo’, so watch this space!
Find out more
To find out more about Lee House, check out his productions or for any enquiries, you can visit his website here.
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