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Douglas Floyd-Douglass: Finding Undiscovered Talent

Interview | Music Production (Production Lines) By Sue Sillitoe
Published February 1995

What happens to the many talented musicians in the UK who never get a chance to be heard by a wider audience because the music they make isn't what major record companies want to sign? Discovering new talent and helping to bring it to the fore has always been the producer's dream. But now producer Douglas Floyd‑Douglass is launching a new project to do just that...

There are literally thousands of extremely talented and gifted musicians in the UK who are not being heard because the current trend amongst many record companies is to work on a high cash‑flow basis, one that is heavily influenced by tight accounting budgets. What they should be doing is looking at long‑term investment in artist development, which would increase the role of the producer rather than diminishing it. There are plenty of one‑hit wonders and remixes, but the truth is that very little time or money is being spent on real artist development.

For this reason, I've founded Ear Productions, a mobile music production facility where the emphasis is on the quality of the room acoustics and natural sound production. It has long been an ambition of mine to record an album with a real feel for London, so the first project Ear Productions is undertaking is Sounds From The Underground, an album featuring unsigned artists, where the only stipulation is that the composition is original and the musical accompaniment is predominantly acoustic. We're looking for new talent to work with on this project, and I really don't care what instrument people play, provided they have a real passion for music. I do feel that the music industry currently places more emphasis on the way people look than on the way they sound. I don't care how people look, provided they can make real music. If a tramp walked in off the street and showed he had that ability, I'd be more inclined to give him a bath than throw him out.

We are working with new Digital Binaural recording techniques which enable us to achieve high levels of sound quality. All artists' acoustic arrangements will be recorded using the HEAD Acoustic HRSII binaural recording system, and all final masters will be mixed using a binaural mixing console. This will enable the engineer to move the performance and/or instruments in real time during post production.

In making this album, the bottom line is that we want to re‑embody the creative function of the artist/producer relationship whilst capitalising on, and exploiting, current technology — for example, 8‑track, ADAT‑based recording. Coming, as I do, from a classical music background, I want to get away from the vast range of EQ and outboard equipment on the market and get back to producing acoustic‑based music that aurally and emotionally excites the listener. With Digital Binaural Recording, I feel we have found a system that captures the level of excitement and resonance needed to reflect this philosophy.

I think a swing back to acoustic‑based music requires us to make some pretty fundamental changes in the way we record. By using Digital Binaural Recording ,we are already re‑thinking the technology, but we will also have to address the fact that many people working in recording studios no longer have the audio skills to, say, mic up a drum kit properly, or even choose the right mic for a particular sound. These are not necessarily new skills, but they will have to be rediscovered and re‑learned. To that end, we should be paying a lot more attention to the way in which we train our future engineers, so that they get a chance to learn the basics.

If the music industry wants to progress, we really do need to work harder at building relationships between producers and artists, because that is the only way we can achieve artist development. These days, there is far too much compromise. Producers are often so anxious for work that they will work with almost anyone rather than holding out for a project they believe in. Likewise, artists are often too easily swayed by a producer's last hit. They rarely stick with the same production team long enough to develop into something classic.

What we need is a more cohesive chain — a music industry dating agency, if you like — where people with similar ideas can get together and work towards something more satisfying and long‑term. We should be pooling resources and bringing different skills together so that we can get that elusive buzz back.

We also need to develop the relationship between accountants and producers so that financial responsibility can meet creative needs, and the industry can stop being so compartmentalised. As a producer, I don't think we should dismiss the role record companies play in terms of marketing artists; if anything, I feel we have a lot to learn from their skills. But I do think that if we want to make music that is exciting, different and of lasting value, the industry as a whole will have to start taking a few more chances. Only by taking risks do we ensure development and growth alongside technology so that technology doesn't overtake us.

I'm convinced that there is room in this business for far more variety, and I'm sure that if we could get people talking to each other we would achieve far more interesting results. My own experiences, as a result of setting up Ear Productions and Sounds From The Underground, has so far been very positive. I have had marvellous support from Re‑Pro, the producers' Guild, and I'm now hopeful that I can raise enough sponsorship to get this project off the ground. All the proceeds from this album will be going to various charities, particularly those helping homeless children, and for that reason alone I'm keen to see it succeed.

Douglas Floyd‑Douglass has a diverse background which includes five years at Sounds of Africa studios in Africa in the early to mid '80s, when the studio was a platform for politically disadvantaged writers and artists. During that time he produced recordings for a number of successful artists, including Jacob Mokhele, the MbaQanga Rhythm Saints and Pantsula Blues. After a period in New York's Greenwich Village, producing audiophile demo CDs and working with a variety of musicians, he now works in London, where he is concentrating on new recording formats and undertaking Digital Binaural recordings of classical and contemporary works. His present project is Sounds from the Underground.

Douglas is interested in receiving demos for consideration for the new project. Readers should note however, that he's looking for music which is predominantly acoustic based and demonstrates songwriting talent. Tapes should be sent to: PO Box 117, Sevenoaks, Kent.