Head Atlas is a music production company operating out of Hunting Ground Studios in Moorooka, Brisbane. The combined talents of four core members, Joel Myles, Chrispy Lait, Wolfe Peterson and Michael Grabbe are what makes Head Atlas exactly what it is – a highly professional, collaborative zone for artists looking to record their next project. The philosophy and business mantra that the guys stick by is “we’re not just a recording studio, we’re song engineers,” as the entire development of a music project is important, not just the sound quality. We caught up with Joel Myles, one of Head Atlas’s core members. He is a producer, songwriter, guitarist, vocalist and mix engineer with over 20 years of experience in the music industry. Joel has studied, he’s had success as a music performer, and he’s found his home at Head Atlas working on projects they are all proud of, which have even featured on some of Australia’s and Queensland’s most prestigious radio stations Triple J, Double J, Triple M, ABC Radio and Hit 90.9fm Gold Coast.
So check out what Joel had to say about a week in his life and gain some incredible music industry insight! Read on below…
A job description in your own words
Formerly I would have described my job as a music producer, which I think these days covers a lot of areas. A producer is someone who would work with artists from a songwriting or collaborative sense, to obviously recording and engineering and mixing as well. Sometimes you’ll have a mixer and a producer and so forth but I think “music producer” tends to wrap that up pretty neatly. Within that job, you are doing a lot of organising and structuring of a project, you might even just be coordinating a lot of stuff like session artists or coordinating a timeline so that you’re on top of deadlines. So it is a coordination role as much as the rest. You might even be coordinating collaborators as well such as mastering engineers because people might be working from different Studios, but yeah there is a lot of coordinating and project management involved. I even have, because I have Head Atlas as my business, as a part of our little business mantra we consider ourselves song engineers instead of sound engineers. That’s kind of an idea or a little word that I put together and it kind of developed into even a side part of what I do, so I have another website that’s literally called Song Engineers and it’s a purely online platform to open up collaboration and working with artists all over the world. It’s not just based on coming into a physical destination studio it’s trying to open up collaborative ways to work with artists from pre-production to songwriting to all of the things you tend to do prior to getting to record. So I guess everything I do still comes under music producer but yeah, it’s a multifaceted job description these days.
A brief daily journal over a week
Typically my work week is pretty busy, which is a good thing when you’re working for yourself. Monday’s I look after my daughter and then Tuesday through Saturdays is my typical work week. I often end up working nights and Sundays as well due to project and artist availability, because everyone else has jobs and lives as well. So typically I will get into the studio as early as possible, around 8 clock is my most typical start time, and I will use those mornings because I also work with the Hunting Ground Studios owner Shane. I work with him on some things we do together as a studio, so that is kind of another side job I have as well. So I will come in and do a lot of that stuff in the morning which includes managing the bookings for the rehearsal space in studio B, and just some of the project management work I do for hunting ground live which is our YouTube channel, and just some of the basic things coming up at the studio that I might be planning. Shane is based in Melbourne so we do a lot of online chats and that sort of thing in the mornings as well. We had a songwriting workshop over the weekend and we’ve done sound engineering and mixing workshops in the past, so in the morning I will organise a lot of that stuff as well as just pull up some of my sessions that I’ve been working on and particular projects and artists and do any bits of editing and mixing. Usually I will have artists coming in at around 10 so currently I have about 9 artists/bands that I’m working with and with those 9 are all at different stages. Some of them might just be doing singles, some of them are doing EPs and I’ll even just be in the middle of an album with some of them. So yeah artists will usually rock up from 10 and do about a 10 to 4:30. That’s obviously just kind of dedicating ourselves to one song or session that we are doing. That’s kind of the cool thing when you’ve got multiple projects on at the same time, you’re not necessarily doing the same thing day in and day out. One thing at Head Atlas with myself and Chrispy, when we work with artists we like to do things quite holistically. We like to do pre-production, we like to have a hand in all of the elements of the recording process and tracking and doing the final mix and usually the only thing we outsource is mastering. So at the moment, we have alternate days which we are all working here in the studio, so he might be doing some recording at night with an artist and I might be more in the daytime, so we dovetail a little bit. That’s also to do with the project itself, if there’s more in the budget we can both be in the room together but ultimately in some cases one of us will be running certain elements at a time.
So last week I had a bunch of meetings in the morning on Tuesday and then worked with Jack Bratt for the rest of the day. Jack has a single that we’ve been working on for his album and planned to release quite soon, so we spent the next few days working on it. Thursday I started working with a new client which was really cool and we focused on pre-production and co-writing, which is something a lot of producers do offer on the table but it’s not overly talked about, it can happen organically or the artist could kind of reach out to me and say I really need help and could we do a bit of a co-write before the production process. Friday was pretty mega, I had to finish Jack’s mix, I had an artist come in, I had a meeting in the morning about our songwriting workshop and then in the afternoon, I had a Client called Hannah Ana who came in for a mixing session which went from 2 to 5:30. Her second EP is pretty much wrapped up now, so that was just kind of a final mix tweak session. I stuck around until later that night and then finally finished the final mix for Jack. We were bouncing off each other through the night and the plan was to send it to the mastering engineer that night but he wasn’t available until Monday to work on it, so I knew I had a bit more time and I just had to get it to him for Monday. Then Saturday and Sunday we had our songwriting workshop which is a hunting grounds studio thing and I was here from 8 a.m. and the sessions were a 9 until 5 intensive songwriting sessions. There were a few breaks where people went off into groups and did songwriting and Guy and I were obviously doing things in the background but I went and worked on the mix a little bit more and eventually signed off on it and sent it away. So that’s a pretty typical week here, obviously we don’t have songwriting workshops every week but that pretty much covers it.
Challenges and accomplishments in your week
Challenges… is probably the ability to make sure you give yourself enough time to rest and recuperate when you are busy and you have a lot of things that are running parallel to one another and to try and not get stressed about that. The challenge is to keep a handle on everything because it’s quite often when you’re working on multiple projects, emails will be flying in left right and centre because they are all bubbling away at the same time and the challenge is to stay focused on what’s right in front of you. So if you have got a locked-in time with an artist you’ve got to give them your full attention and you can definitely check some emails and things like that in a lunch break or in some downtime but essentially you have to bring your A-game to that artist and to that session if you’re recording or if you’re mixing; If you’re collaborating that is the primary focus and everything else just has to be switched off. Also, another challenge is just giving yourself rest and achieving a good work-life balance. It’s very easy in this industry to just work all the time but I’ve got a family and a wife I want to make sure I spend heaps of time with and make sure we’re not just ships in the night. So It’s a challenge to make sure that you can get that balance and that’s an accomplishment by the way when you do it. It’s an accomplishment when you go, “you know what I’ve just had this huge week but I still managed to achieve that work-life balance,” and some of the accomplishments, for example, this week having a deadline that became very urgent and one of the major accomplishments was to hit the deadline but also to hit the deadline with a product that was still just as good as if I had more time. Sometimes that sense of urgency just makes you turn it on and it’s just like “I have got to get this done now,” and you get really fired up and you run on adrenaline and you do make a lot of really bold choices and you’ve got to commit faster. That’s an important skill to do all of the time because it’s very easy for producers with a mixing project for you to go “hey, I don’t need to have these mixes done for a while, I might just keep chilling on it for 6 months.” So having that deadline and that real sense of urgency can help you make some pretty big and fast decisions and that felt good.
Highlights (pros of the job) and lowlights (cons of the job)
I guess the highlight of this week… finishing that track for Jack was really cool. I’m really proud of it as well and sometimes one of the things when you’re mixing and producing, typically the work that’s out there that is representing you is 6 to 9 weeks old or more. So it’s very often an artist will finish the track and the artist goes “ok I’m going to release that next year as a part of my plan,” and that’s totally cool but it’s something that you’ve done that’s current that people might not hear for a while and when they do hear it is quite old for you, and like any profession you grow and you get better and better every day. So I guess the highlight for me is listening back to that track and going “wow, I’m really proud of the mix on this, I’m really proud of what we did on the track and it’s going to be only coming out in a few weeks,” and that’s really cool. It’s something current that I know that I’m going to be able to show on the website or something which is really cool. As for lowlights I haven’t really had any real low moments. The only real thing is, for example, on Monday when I stopped working I just kind of crashed, the adrenaline finally stopped and my body was just so tired. You do just kinda have those days where it has just hit you like a tonne of bricks and you’ve got to pick up all the pieces off the ground and put yourself back together because you’ve got another week starting. But it’s not so bad when you get to do something you love every day.
Words of wisdom for people considering a job in your field
Words of wisdom, I have two different things. In this industry, it’s a long game and you’ve got to be prepared to play the long game. It’s not something that you can go “I want to get into it, I want to see a return immediately and I want to do everything I want,” by all means have a very clear picture of what you want to do with your dream and your passion in that sector of the industry, but don’t be discouraged that it might take longer than you think, because it is a long game. But when you play the long game and you know that everything you work at and everything you invest time and money in, will come back because that’s the long process of establishing yourself. So that is one thing, the other is to make it feel like you’re really moving in leaps and bounds… like, you have to bite off more than you can chew and chew like crazy! That might lead you to working a lot or being a little bit time-poor on other things. It’s not a sustainable thing to do that for like a year but there might be a week where you are like “hey here are these opportunities that have coming up and I’m just going to go for it, I’m going to say yes and I’m going to get it all done, put all my energy and time into it,” and you might end up having a day just lying in bed afterwards, but those moments will help you down the track they will come back because it’s an investment in yourself and in where you want to be. I think a lot of artists as we looked at each other you know I’m 38 I’ve been in the industry for a really long time and a lot of my friends in the music industry have stuck around. We might have all started playing in bands but some of them are running production companies right now, some of them are working for Amazon Music, they’re all working in all different facets of the music industry but we’re all still around because we’re passionate about it and because we put in the hard yards and we’ve found something that we feel right about. Doing something that’s authentic to who we are, and this particular role just feels right to me. It doesn’t mean I’m going to stop trying to write music and performing live but this just feels right as my main role.