Interview: Producer Michael Beinhorn (Ozzy/Soundgarden/ More)

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We got to chat with a man who has done tons of great things in the music industry as well as still pushing new ideas and projects to help artists and their careers. His name is Michael Beinhorn and it was an honor having him do this with us. Read below about his work with some legendary acts, views on the current state of rock, and his new endeavors. 

First of all, we want to thank you for your time to chat with us today. We are honored to have you with us!

It’s my pleasure.  

Kicking it all off here, you have accomplished so much through your career and could probably stop right now if you wanted to. What is currently driving you to keep pushing and being innovative in the music industry?

That’s very kind of you to say, but stopping isn’t an option for me. One motivating factor is this ideal– that music producers possess a very specialized, rarefied skill set and serve an important function in driving music creation. However, over the past twenty years, music production and its application to music creation has become irrelevant to a large degree because the idea of what music production is and what it potentially offers to creative artists has drastically shifted. I’m seeing how this shift has affected the way people approach music production, as well as the expectations artists have from music producers regarding what they bring to the table (which is compounded by the fact that most people now believe they can make a recording without creative assistance). As long as this imbalance exists, there will always be work for me to do.
 To follow up, many people from big artists to smaller writers like us all experience burnout. Despite the main driver to push forward from what we discussed previously, how do you manage burnout?

The answer to that is threefold. First, it’s important to be conscious of where the point is when you have reached the end of your ability to perform your work well. Often, this comes about when you start feeling uncomfortable about the work you’re doing and start second-guessing it. Next is maintenance- establishing the specific things you can do to sustain and regulate yourself (such as eating properly, getting adequate rest, etc) so you can perform optimally over long periods without burring out. Finally, is to recognize when you’ve actually hit a wall and feel confident that you can choose to stop working- hopefully for as long as it takes until you feel your faculties return. 
Soundgarden was one of the bands you have a credit in working with. Over the last few years, the music industry has become very open with mental health awareness and we have tragically lost some important people such as Chris Cornell. What has been your observations through your career with artists back then who may have dealt with these issues in secret vs now where it seems more encouraging to open up about not being ok?

While there is a greater overall awareness now regarding mental health issues, I think the support system for most artists to open up about their personal suffering is still at somewhat nonexistent. Unfortunately, there has always been a very misinformed preconception regarding artists and how their art comes from suffering and this bias is still pervasive- even in the minds of artists themselves. As for Chris, apart from displaying some occasional darkness, whatever motivated him to take the road he inevitably took was not immediately evident to me when I worked with him (and if was an issue, it was never openly discussed by his bandmates). I have worked with many people who have woven their personal issues into the fabric of their creative output, but that is generally as far as it goes. Even now, it seems that there is a certain stigma- even an indication of weakness- in the industry, for an artist at that level to be forthcoming about his personal suffering. Again, it seems to go back to this myth that great art is the product of suffering, therefore, it’s natural for artists to exist in some kind of perpetual existential torment. 
There is such a diverse group of artists to your name in which you have produced, where do you see the current state of rock now and do you feel like in a way it is dying out with records selling less and these non-mainstream acts not being able to keep up? Where do you see the future of rock music going when the Manson’s and the Korn‘s of the world are gone?

I don’t see rock music dying at all- not by a long shot. In fact, I’d say that the field is open and clear for anyone who makes rock music that is truly exciting, expressive and unique to make an extraordinary statement- right now. It’s completely up to fearless, driven, expressive nonconformist artists who are able to tap into the Zeitgeist in a unique way- to see an opening and just go for it full bore. The idea that records are selling less is a PR scam brought to you by music industry people who are watching trends rather than taking responsibility for what audiences have placed in front of them and who choose to offer them quality instead of rubbish. The fact is, that there are artists that still sell album-length recordings of their work- and who are doing ok. These are the exceptions, but they do exist and it’s pretty clear that if there is a movement of artists who start making really good full length recordings, there will be an audience for them. 
Transitioning off of that about niche bands, you are actually offering a new service to help indie artists succeed. Tell us about that and what brought this idea on?

First off, my services revolve around the concept that pre-production is a cornerstone to record making but it is increasingly being left out of the record making process. This came about from two observations (kind of a reiteration of what I stated earlier)- first, more and more artists have no idea what pre-production is and second, more and more artists have no idea what a producer is supposed to be doing for them. In the former case, artists often go straight into recording their music without getting spending any time hashing it out or getting any serious input from objective outsiders regarding how to improve it. In the latter case, many artists are looking at their producer as if he’s glorified engineer who gets the sounds they want but doesn’t contribute in any other way and whose creative opinion is pretty much moot. Since my own experience has repeatedly demonstrated that pre-production vastly improves the quality of recordings, I felt that things were heading in the wrong direction and wanted to do something positive about it. I’d like to point out that this service is not only for indie artists- I’m currently working with artists who are very established with major label affiliations. 
Where do you see this taking bands say 20 years from now in an era now where it’s all about Spotify and streaming, the landscape then will even look a ton different than now. How does one utilize your tools to be a long-lasting staple should a band reach that level?

Honestly, I think the only way this era is mainly about Spotify and streaming if you’re looking at the music business strictly from the perspective of revenue and satisfying music consumers. The truth is, Spotify is nothing more than a music delivery system- it’s a service that doesn’t generate music and, as always, the onus is still on artists to come up with the goods. On the other hand, my service is mainly about providing artists at every level with an opportunity to make their music as good as it can possibly be with no compromises. Frankly  no one has offered something like this to artists for decades and they certainly aren’t doing it now. A service like that can coexist in any business ecosystem, alongside whatever music delivery system or business strategy that happens to be dominating the music industry at any point since it only has to do with improving the quality of music that is going to be exploited. And the fact is, artists shouldn’t have to worry about how an audience gets to hear their music, they should be thinking about how good it is and how to make it even better so an audience will want to hear it.

About the modern-day landscape of production, it seems tons of artists are trying to be TOO perfect in the studio vs allowing the studio to showcase what is done live on a record. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE a clean record but what are your thoughts on these new bands making music they may not be able to pull off live but in the studio sounds impeccable? 
People have been trying to overproduce recordings for many years, so this isn’t new. The only way Def Leppard could reproduce “Hysteria” live was with a stack of backing tracks and that was in 1987. As far as I’m concerned, whatever way anyone makes a recording is their business. If it’s a truly great recording, that’s wonderful. If they can somehow pull it off live, that’s even better. Personally, I’ve never worried about that when I’ve produced an album, I figure that if the band compose the music, they’ve already figured out how they’re going to present and perform it. If they can’t play what they’ve written or pull it off live, they’re going to have to deal with it at some point and hopefully, the experience will help make them better at their jobs. 

How have you yourself evolved and adapted as a producer through the years with technology changing literally almost every 6 months? Do you stick with something that works for 10 years or so or keep up with the new gizmos and gadgets? Also, has new technology made it TOO easy for anyone to make a record these days and is the thought of going to a producer where anyone can now do it becoming a lost art?
I’m fascinated with technology and its ability to free us as creative individuals by breaking down barriers that we never even imagined could possibly be surmounted. With that said, I’m also aware that there’s a line that’s easily crossed where usage of technology becomes overuse, overuse becomes reliance and the comfort that reliance affords us often makes us lazy- sometimes to the point where it defines what kind of music we’re making- even what genre. What technology has done for us in terms of music production is extraordinary, however, it has also redefined so many aspects of music production to the extent where people now believe that (as you’ve indicated) anyone can produce music. Ease in anything is important, however there has to be a way to define what we mean by “ease” and its relative value. In this case, does ease mean that one can perform a specialized task fluently because he possesses unique and specialized skills or does it mean that he requires virtually no skills or knowledge (and nothing more than a few devices that anyone else can acquire) to perform a very specialized task? 
So we have to ask these so forgive us on these (laughs).
We see some pretty crazy names on your discography list so who has been the most interesting/fun band you have had come through and made a record with?
Oh, man- there have been so many different levels of interesting (and even fun) that I can’t single out one project as leading the pack. 

Do you think Ozzy will ever actually stop touring, one last time? (Laughs)
I honestly don’t think I can answer that question. At this point, Ozzy certainly doesn’t need to tour, so if he keeps on doing it, there must be something there that’s making him happy. Or, the habit is so ingrained that he can’t- or won’t- break it. No one’s keeping him from touring and people are still coming to see him, so- why not?
Again, we thank you for your time and look forward to this new roll out of yours!


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About Author

Since 2014, Trenton has been a journalist for Soundlink Magazine. He specializes in interviewing bands for both video and podcasting formats while writing various pieces.

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