Written by Imogen Cresswell
2020 has been difficult for many businesses, in which COVID-19 has sabotaged the music industry within the UK. However, deep in the heart of Leicester, musicians, venue owners, promoters and others are committed to keeping the scene alive. Amongst Government grants and crowdfunding to support well-loved venues such as The Shed and The Soundhouse, Leicester’s music scene has kept active through social media and streaming so that the people of Leicester can still appreciate the talent within this vibrant city.
During the pandemic, businesses have been impacted in which some of these businesses are integral to the Leicester music scene. In this article, Producer Joey Whelan and Sound Engineer Ollie Petch discuss how they have been impacted by the unexpected turn of 2020.
Introducing the producers
Joey Whelan became a full-time producer three years ago, in which he has earned his role in the Leicester music scene by committing to two degrees in music (performance) gigging as a musician himself. His interest in recording began from a young age when he recorded his own album at the age of fifteen. Joey works closely with various Leicester-based bands: Earls, Graves, Voidwalker, One Still Standing and Unnatural Causes are only a small handful of Joey’s clients.
Ollie Petch is a freelance live sound engineer with a career stretching over twenty years, from working at Leicester venues such as The Shed and Firebug to currently working at The Soundhouse. His passions evolved from being a teenager who had a love for live music and a radio show at sixteen. Over time, Ollie expanded his business by running a total of three recording studios since 2008, between his work and personal life. He uses his time as a producer as downtime for when he is not touring and expresses his enjoyment for producing as “seeing an acorn grow into a tree”. Ollie has toured alongside artists such as Bay City Rollers and has done mixing work for several other bands.
“How would you describe your experience as a producer?”
Joey stated that when working with clients, he works “within their goals” to accurately produce his client’s vision. He sees himself as a flexible producer with a broad music taste, who is considerate towards his client’s needs when developing their music. He encourages various genres of artists to work with him and often attends live shows to scout out new bands to work with. This has resulted in a successful career, with many clients returning to his business. Joey “under-promises and over-delivers” as part of his service, and he has confidence in his own suggestions on how a track should sound and be mixed.
Ollie has toured many places as a sound engineer/producer and had previously been touring Canada shortly before the first lockdown was announced in the UK. Since the first lockdown, Ollie returned to live sound-engineering during the relaxing of restrictions when bands in Leicester were permitted to play live once more. Ollie has used his producing skills in multiple ways, including the recent Soundhouse live streams, in which he records, mixes and masters live footage of musicians during their performance. He believes it is a good experience and is grateful to have copious amounts of support from Leicester music venues.
2020 – looking back
“How has COVID-19 affected your business?”
“It has gone two ways for me”, explains Joey. “A big part of my income was gigging. It was cut overnight”. Although this had halted, he believes his time during lockdown was perfect to “take risks” with his production work. Joey has stayed strong with his current career and pushed for clients while he has had free time. He also claims he has done more mixing and mastering than recording, as clients are now taking advantage of home recording. This means Joey must now adjust to mixing recordings done with techniques Joey may not prefer or be comfortable with, as he usually follows his own procedures when recording musicians. This includes adding effects after recording, handling MIDI drums, and requesting re-recordings due to instruments falling out of tune as well as other contributions to an imperfect recording. Joey has had to design a new way of communicating with clients, in which he is required to be more social online in order to keep consistent with a project.
Ollie states “people don’t have any expendable cash anymore”, in which people cannot pay for the services that support Ollie’s career. As well as this, Ollie emphasises that it’s “a difficult situation”, but strongly sympathises for those who may be in a worse position than him. But with resilience, Ollie has found new ways to utilise his skills, including a weekly live-streamed teaching session of live sound-engineering. He stated, “I just did it to do something”, and admits he has been lucky to have received sponsors from Leicester music venues, including The Soundhouse and Firebug. He has noticed that musicians have grown less enthusiastic as time has gone on and believes this is a product of music facilities in and around Leicester being closed. This is a concern at most, however, Ollie is pushing for musicians to step up and participate in what they can.
Should producers be threatened by COVID-19 as more home recording is becoming popularised?”
Joey agrees that, although home recording is the best it has ever been in the last 10 years, it is not competition. He believes that throughout his time as a musician, he has been training upwards for eighteen years in which all that experience combines into what he puts in as a producer. This includes performances, song arrangements, songwriting and more. Mixing and mastering is a skill that “you can’t learn overnight”, in which this justifies why being a producer is such a valuable skill in any music scene, and that people should appreciate the distinct difference between music made by a producer, and music recorded at home. Joey returns to the public what he put in throughout the development of his career.
Ollie agrees with Joey that producers need not be threatened. He emphasises that home recording has existed for many years and has always been a ‘cheaper alternative’. He explains “I see producing as a person that takes an artist who has a vision and progresses that”. He believes that if a musician cannot both write a good track and produce it well, then they may struggle with their music, so having a producer to use their skills to adapt that vision is essential for an artist’s growth and development. He also sees the current climate as an opportunity for people online to connect, collaborate and add something more into the Leicester music community. “There’s only so much you can do at home”, he states. Ollie elaborates that home recording can reach a cap that can only be extended through a producer.
“Why should people go to a producer rather than do DIY recordings?”
Joey states that producers become important when musicians want more than just to make music. “Some bands become too attached to their songs”, he explains. He suggests that if a band wants to achieve certain goals with a professional product, then they should go to a professional to make it. Attachment to their songs could be the very limitation that inhibits the progress of a given track. Joey emphasises that he has studied deeply into what he is passionate about even outside of university and that working with a producer is an experience worth gaining.
Ollie explains that his skills lay more so within the production/engineering aspect of music, whereas some musicians may be more integrated into the writing aspect. He believes one skill may override the other and that one should appreciate the work of a producer to create a piece of art at a high quality. Ollie values his work hugely and shows plenty of respect to those he has worked with before and knows when there is potential for their art to take that extra step up in production. He postulates that any music released under a label should achieve a certain grade of quality that is usually sought after through producers. If the songwriter wishes to gain more than a recorded song, then they would be encouraged to put in what they want out of it.
“How do you think 2021 will pan out for your business and the Leicester music scene?”
The obvious answer from Joey was “hopefully better than 2020”. Although it had not started out great, he hopes that 2020 has shown people how much of an influence live music has on the public and that they are missing music events, music venues and the music community. He also hopes that he can work with more bands, including returning bands, and continue to develop his career as a producer. Joey believes that live music venues and rehearsal studios such as Stayfree can be taken for granted and this should show the public to be more supportive to the local Leicester scene.
Ollie does not wish to plan much for his business; however, he is hopeful for upcoming tours, one being in Japan. He explains that all those with a career in the music industry must develop a strong bond and trust between one another, due to the frequent lockdowns that may arise and cause cancellation of events. It will be a new way of working, in which Ollie is prepared to reflect this when he begins touring and working in the venues of Leicester again. People need to continue being considerate, such as consuming alcohol at gigs and respecting any distancing needed to be in place. Venues earn most of their money from bar sales, so the compromise must be held securely. This will allow more freedom at local gigs and will open up the doors of Leicester’s music venues for longer.
You can find links to Joey Whelan’s business here:
You can find links to Ollie Petch’s business here: