It’s a simple formula: hire a talented artist, team them with a seasoned engineer, and you’ve got yourself, hands down, the makings of a timeless record. Or at least that’s how it used to be…
It’s true that a lot has changed since the glory days of legendary producers Phil Spector and George Martin, and the timeless, life-changing records they created. But with the help of Marc Bell and Jean-Sebastien Giard, as well as a team of talent staff, Montreal’s Troublemakers Studio is ready to pick up where they left off.
In a humble loft at the heart of Mile-Ex sit two studios: the album recording-focused Studio A, featuring a more ‘live’ atmosphere and all Marc’s prized possessions—“it’s all my old analogue stuff that I like”—and Studio B, which prides itself on voice-over, songwriting, post-production, overdub film, TV mixing, and multimedia projects. From these two studios, Troublemakers does it all: music production, scoring (film, TV, games, multimedia, albums), mixing, sound design and SFX, publishing, and artist management. Marc has his hands in everything — whether it be co-producing Kroy’s forthcoming album, mixing Nomadic Massive’s latest hip-hop album, or “sound design for everything from a Superbowl thing to a casino game,” every day is a new challenge. “It’s always really varied,” Marc says.
In recent years, however, Marc has switched gears a bit, working more on TV shows and film scoring. This change in focus is in part due to the challenging state of the music industry: “I want to put more energy into that because I really enjoy it. I’m on my own, there’s no compromises like there is when making a record.” Also, although he continues to put a major part of his efforts into the music recording side of things, he’s cognizant of the time and resources that go into recording a remarkable album.
“It’s important to take your time, but then to do so, you need other aspects of your business to be more lucrative, sadly,” explains Marc, “so at one point I decided that if I want to keep making great records, I needed to do something else.”
But as we sit in the heart of the studio, it doesn’t take long for conversation to steer back to the music production side of things. “I realized early on when I started the studio that you could be the best engineer, but you’re never going to find work if the artists don’t feel good around you,” explains Marc. “The most important thing is how you make people feel in the room, even if you’re not saying anything, because they’re there to express a lot of deep things. I prefer taking two hours of talking and then being stuck with only one hour of recording, because I’m sure I’m going to get more out of the artist than if I take five minutes to talk with them. So I think for me, more than anything else, it’s not the sound, it’s the mood and the energy that’s more important than anything else. That’s my biggest asset.”
What sets Troublemakers apart from the rest is their ability to be at the forefront with imaginative minds, teeming with groundbreaking concepts rather than dollar signs. “I never stick to a certain format; I always like do things that I’ve never tried,” Marc states. You can see the cogs turning in his head as he continues excitedly: “I always re-mic the drum differently and I ask myself why I always do this—because I could use things that I’ve learned on my own—but I keep listening to things, and keep reading stuff about other engineers and being like, ‘I have to try that too!’”
Breaking the rules and taking risks is what it takes to push the envelope in the music industry these days, and thankfully, that’s where Marc thrives.“I take a lot of risks in that sense,” he continues, “then I build and evolve around those tricks. Out of four, or five new things that I try on a production, maybe only three will be really cool and then I’ll put it in my trick bag. I think if I’m too comfortable, I’m at my worst.”
Marc’s come full circle and reverted back to a recipe that’s tried and true. As he explains, it was the band that took the reins back in the day, with the producer acting as a so-called mentor instead, eschewing full control in exchange for a less imposing presence. “The job has changed. Back in the Phil Spector days, or Rick Rubin, they had a talk-back microphone, and that’s all they did, but they had great ideas. Nowadays, we can’t do that. You need to be a musician, you need to be an engineer, you need to have many hats because there’s less money, but the job is the same. Probably the best thing you can do is shut up and let them play— it’s to know when to speak and when not to, and to not feel bad about not saying anything.”
As we end our interview, Marc addresses the harsh reality of today’s recording industry, one which is too often overly-obsessed with calculated precision: “[The Beatles’ producer] George Martin gave guys the space to let things happen. He let things be recorded on an album that were really awkward and weird. He removed his engineering hat. I believe this makes things more magical and fresh and I think that’s something we’re missing these days. As a producer, if you have the best musician for the job, 30% is done, and then it’s the energy in the studio, and then it’s the sound.” Marc explains, “I want to go back as much as I can to those days, because I truly believe that soon they will come back.”
Sure, the sound might not have been as high tech, but that palpable energy and spontaneous magic was undoubtedly there. And above all else, that is what Troublemakers hopes to capture the most.
For more information on Montreal’s Troublemakers Studios, check out their website.