Sometimes seeing someone work can be entertainment in and of itself. Such is the case with engineer/producer/writer/anything-you-need-to-sound-better Tony Esterly.
Tony is head engineer at Shock City Studios, a premiere full-service studio in St. Louis. Tony has worked with incredibly talented artists such as:
Tony creates music you can feel.
I got the chance to ask Tony a few questions and his passion for music shot of the page. He also dropped some knowledge. Read on to learn more.
HHM: Tell us the story of how you became head engineer at Shock City Studios in Saint Louis.
That’s kind of a long process. I’d been playing guitar in bands around the St. Louis area from the mid 90’s on, and had always liked recording and producing but never really pursued it. Around the mid 2000’s I got my first Mac and started making beats… Really, really horrible beats!! I soon started getting more and more involved in recording (I’d studied Audio Engineering while attending Greenville College) and producing.
I met Doug and Chris (co-owners) through some mutual friends and eventually convinced them to let me play bass for some sessions. Soon I was playing guitar and doing some remixes for them and the artists they were working with, and I just kind of kept hanging around the studio learning all I could. Later on, their engineer left to go back to college, and I ended up taking over. A couple years later, the building we’re in now was completed and things kept moving!!
HHM: What’s your favorite part of the song making process, particularly when working with Rockwell Knuckles and Brian Owens?
My favorite part is producing the song!! I love taking melodies and chord structures and molding them into something new and different. I’m really thankful that I learned to play piano, bass, and guitar as a kid!! That has helped my producing in sooo many ways!!
It sounds funny, but I love working with singers or rappers that can’t play any instruments. It’s a challenge for me to find the sounds they hear in their heads and pull them out into a song.
That’s why working with Rockwell is so awesome. That dude is basically from another planet talent-wise (I mean that in a good way!!). He can mold into any track and make it sound like it was made just for him, singing, rapping.. whatever. He has some great melodies/hooks in his head, I love taking them and writing a song around them.
That’s what happened at one of our first sessions.. Here’s a video:
Brian Owens is a completely different super talented beast, but Rockwell and he are one in the same. Brian can play, knows music theory and basically has his songs 70-80% written before coming in. In that case, it’s more of my job to set the vibe for the song/album, complete the ideas, find the right parts, and capture the sounds.
And.. that job becomes even easier when you add great players to the equation. His album, Moods & Messages, was a joy to work and play on. I loved trying to bridge the gap between a modern and vintage sound, and still keep it hip and real. I think we pulled it off!!!
HHM: What piece of engineering or production advice made the largest impact on you?
There’s been several pieces I’ve picked up over the years, but the most important thing is injecting simplicity and quality into your work. That goes for all aspects of music.. Lyrics, mixing, producing, singing, and playing!
I’m a huge fan of a small amount of instruments/sounds coming together to create a musical theme underneath the vocals. But.. that theme has to support the vocal, not fight with it.
Working as a mixer has helped my production in a huge way too. I’ve mixed great and poorly produced songs over the years and have seen what makes a song work and what doesn’t.
It usually comes down to good use of the frequency range.. Too much crap hanging around the hi mid-range (500-2.5k) can really kill a track. Well.. too much of anything can kill a track, but that range is pretty picky.
If I can say anything to upcoming producers out there… USE A FREQUENCY ANALYZER!!!
HHM: What projects do you have coming down the pipeline?
Well, Brian Owens’s album Moods & Messages was released last month!! I co-produced (with Brian Owens and Chris Loesch), mixed, and played guitar on that release. Check it out on iTunes:
I recently finished mixing my good friend Thi’sl’s upcoming album Free From The Trap which is out 11.20.12. I also produced (1 co-produce) 3 tracks on that album!!
Check him out:
HHM: Where do we learn/hear more Tony Locar?
Check out my website: www.tonyesterly.com
Please be sure to thank Tony via Twitter <- it’s as easy as clicking the link.