I have to admit, I felt like I was a 16-year-old boy again, which was about the age I last did work experience. Having spent the past nine months studying an MA in Audio Production at the University of Westminster my first year of the two year part-time course had come to an end so I felt I should get some industry experience somehow. Steve Dub, who was one of the guest speakers that came in to speak to us and has worked with the Chemical Brothers almost since day one, said that there were work placements available at the Miloco group of studios so I felt I should make the most of the opportunity. I got in touch and ended up having a three-week work experience placement confirmed, starting the week after my course finished in May.
I was placed in Assault & Battery in Willesden, London which houses two world-class producers in Alan Moulder and Flood. As I travelled in on my first day, I went through the usual mix of neuroses, paranoia and nerves that you get when starting any job (or is that just me?!). This was amplified by the fact that I was going to be sharing an environment with producers who have album credits including U2, Smashing Pumpkins, Arctic Monkeys etc. and that they could potentially offer an opening into their world – if I could make the tea and coffee to a sufficient standard of course.
Today’s award-winning producers had to be prepared to make tea and empty the bins as well. Indeed, Flood reportedly earned his nickname from being a particularly good teaboy/runner. I imagine his fellow runner at the time – nicknamed Drought due to his ineptitude and can't-do attitude – probably didn’t get to mix any million selling albums! So I knew I couldn’t afford to be too proud. Most potential producers also start out not being able to afford to live, or indeed be able to conduct a relationship for large chunks of the week. But that's the way most producers start their careers, at the bottom, making tea for the people sitting in the chair they one day want to inhabit behind the truck-sized mixing desk.
I imagined that meeting bands and artists wouldn’t be a problem as I’m used to doing it when I interview them for features so I felt fairly comfortable on that front. Offering drinks to bands and artists you may or may not recognise/admire would surely be easy? If you can handle that then it’s at least a start I thought.
So how did I get on?
Day one: I arrive outside the huge metal gates of Assault & Battery and ring nearly every button to get in (aside from the one marked ‘Flood’ – I don’t want to upset him on day one by interrupting a session now do I?). Eventually I send a text to the person who had arranged the placement and she assures me there is somebody there and will call and get them to let me in.
Flood’s assistant, Drew, opens the gate and tells me he didn’t hear the buzzer as he was having a shower – he’d slept in the studio that night. This is apparently par for the course and his record of not going home stood at a month. I admire his commitment but it also scares me a bit – does he ever get to go out or form meaningful relationships? He says he has a very understanding girlfriend.
Drew gives me a quick tour and shows me the ropes and tells me it’s down to me to show initiative and commitment and to make myself busy. So tea making is done for anyone coming in the door, the TV is put on a music channel (MTV Classic as I hoped it would show vaguely rock related videos) and I monitor the kitchen area to make sure anything left in the sink is transferred to the dishwasher.
So, I end up making drinks for quiet but friendly duo Big Pink, who are in Assault & Battery 1 (A&B1) with Alan Moulder working on their latest album, and a female solo artist (unknown to me) and fellow musicians upstairs in A&B2 (Flood’s studio but he’s not in). I also meet other studio residents, the enigmatic French producer Dimitri Tikovoi (credits Placebo, The Horrors, Sophie Ellis-Bextor) and Steve Rhodes, who’s says he’s a writer when I ask him what he’s working on at the moment. When reception is really crowded and Alan is there, Ricky Martin starts blaring out of the TV – I wait for the area to clear (which unsurprisingly happens quite quickly) and switch the TV off. Damn you MTV Classic.
I go out to get lunches for Alan, his two assistants and Big Pink – jacket spuds and Chinese soups all round if you're really interested - and get myself an exciting Sainsburys sandwich. I chat with one of Alan’s assistants and he tells me he has just been taken on having done two work experience stints and won Alan over by cooking for him (being a former sous chef). I wonder what hidden talent I can offer to get myself noticed but draw a blank – unless Alan wants his biography written by me which I doubt.
After lunch I get sent to pick up an iLok (a USB license key) so that a certain software plug-in will work for the female solo singer and her musicians upstairs. I look up the address of where I have to go to buy the iLok on Google Maps and it says it’s in 'Hammersmith'. I do wonder why they don’t have a supplier based somewhere closer to the studio but think no more of it.
I head to Hammersmith on the tube having got my wife (who has an internal tube map hardwired into her brain) to check which route is best. When I get there, I realise that Drew told me to get the bus TOWARDS Hammersmith, not TO Hammersmith and that Google Maps has sold me short (or are both Willesden and Hammersmith in erm Hammersmith which must surely make it the biggest borough in London?). By this point I am convinced I've ruined the band's session in A&B2 and decide I shouldn't come back in tomorrow as even if I stick around for the full three weeks I will need to stick around a damn sight longer (with no pay) to get any meaningful studio experience. I knew this at the start to an extent – but studying an MA and getting into thousands of pounds of debt means I need to get money as soon as I can when I complete the course.
Anyway, I return to the studio having taken two-and-a-half hours to do a half-hour job but while Drew is miffed at how I could get so lost he says they continued working on ideas while I was AWOL and that it didn’t cause a major issue.
I leave the studio at 6.30pm vowing to make tomorrow a better day and to be less of a klutz. Commitment and long-hours are the catchphrases of the day and the mantra that you won't get anywhere unless you prove through personal sacrifice that you desperately want this. Do I? Perhaps I’ll have a better idea by the end of tomorrow.
Originally posted on http://blog.ianroullier.com on 4 June 2011.