Greg Wells has worked with everyone who’s anyone in the world of music — but nothing could prepare him for mixing a film soundtrack!
Greg Wells has nearly 30 years of top-level experience as a musician, songwriter, engineer, mixer and producer. He works in a wide range of genres, and plays drums, keyboards, guitar, and several other instruments, with A-list credits including Elton John, Katy Perry, Adele, Timbaland, Pharrell Williams, Celine Dion, Pink, Dua Lipa and many more. However, until he began work on the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack for The Greatest Showman, Greg Wells had never worked on a movie before. The experience would force him to completely change a production approach developed over decades, and left his cherished collection of vintage outboard gathering dust.
“In the middle of 2016,” says Wells, talking from his Rocket Carousel Studio in Los Angeles, “I had a meeting with film director Michael Gracey, here in my control room. I believe I got on his radar because he was a fan of my work, and he felt that what I did musically corresponded with the visual aesthetic he was pursuing with the movie, which was to make a modern contemporary movie about events that happened in the mid-1800s. It had to look like a period piece, yet they also wanted it to be fresh. He acknowledged it’s potentially a dangerous concoction, because it’s easy to be goofy and ridiculous when you have modern choreography and pop songs in a movie set in 1850.
“According to Michael, the things I do as a record producer pay homage to the classics, but they also are fresh and contemporary, without being gimmicky. This is indeed important to me. I’ve never gone for gimmicky sounds that are going to be dated in two years from now. Following the fickle trends of fashion, whether in clothing, music, or whatever, has never really interested me. Things date well when you try not to follow that stuff. Instead I just try and present music in the most vital, true way, and Michael liked that about my approach. While he was here, he stood in front of his small laptop and acted out the entire movie for me in two hours, orating the lines of the different characters. It was an amazing, crazy meeting, and I was completely sold. I loved it, and him!”
For almost a year, however, Wells heard nothing more. Eventually, after a brief hold-up to finish another project, he received the Pro Tools session for a song called ‘From Now On’, which he produced and mixed using his established way of working, incorporating the enormous amount of classic analogue gear in his studio and his Eric Valentine-designed 24-channel valve Undertone Audio desk. It was at this point that things began to get more complicated...
“20th Century Fox had hired several very talented music producers, who were all at the top of their game, but the movie producers found that as much as they loved what these people had done, they did not end up with the choices and changes that were required. From my end, I have a wide range of experience as a musician, playing in symphony orchestras, punk bands, weddings, and so on. I recall once, when I was 19, driving 10 hours north of Toronto to perform with a Dixieland band playing at the opening of a take-out French Fries counter. I was dressed in a goofy tuxedo and had a guy dancing next to me in a French Fry costume. Naturally, people my age were walking by shaking their heads. But I loved it!
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