Industry Profile – Producer Kevin Beamish
Interviewed by Keith McDonald
Beamish may not be a household name. But if you have any REO Speedwagon,
Y&T or Saxon albums you may find his name on the credits for the
album. He’s the person who produces the albums that you love to play
so much. It’s not an easy job. You have to deal with deadlines, egos
and budget restraints, not an easy thing to do. But in the end you
sometimes get a finished product that turns into a masterpiece that
lives on forever. I recently had the opportunity to speak with Kevin who
gave me some insight into the world of a producer.
How did you get started in the music business? How did you learn
to work in a recording studio?
I was classically trained as a child on clarinet and woodwind
instruments, growing up in the New York City and New Jersey areas. At
age twelve my family moved to California and I took up the guitar.
Inspired by the Beatles and English Invasion bands of the 1960’s I
played in several bands during high school in Modesto (CA), one of
which, The Weathervane, was good enough to be signed to a small label in
Los Angeles, where at age 16, my band recorded a single that was
released regionally in central California. This was my first time in a
recording studio and I was hooked for life. It was all I ever wanted to
do and from then on became my focus, and luckily for me I can say I was
blessed to be able to spend my whole career making music in studios.
Modesto was 75 miles East of San Francisco, so all during my high
school years in the mid ‘60’s I would go up to the Bay area every
weekend I could to check out the music scene that was flourishing there,
with the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane and many more. It was in San
Francisco that I got a musical education seeing Jimi Hendrix (several
times), Cream, Led Zeppelin, Santana, etc. I recall vividly one
particular show in 1967 that was the last performance of Janis Joplin
with her band Big Brother & The Holding Company. Middle on the bill
was a new SF band that had just released their first album – Santana.
And third was a band making their first West Coast tour – CTA (Chicago
Transit Authority), later shortened to Chicago. The whole scene twisted
my head around and galvanized my desire to someday work in the music
I enrolled at the University of California Berkeley, where I studied
Math and Music Theory and continued to play in bands. After graduating
in 1973, I moved to Los Angeles with $60 in my pocket and all I owned in
my car to try to get in the music business. At that time there were
about 250 studios in LA. I wrote a letter to each and every one of them
and got two responses: one was not interested, and the other from
Crystal Recording Studio, which asked me to come in for an interview.
Although I had a college degree in Mathematics with a minor in Music
Theory, I had no real studio – engineering experience, and at that
time there was no organized education like Full Sail SAE, or LA
Recording Workshop. Nonetheless, Crystal hired me as a trainee. I would
work 40 hours answering phones and cleaning toilets, but would actually
spend every other waking hour learning studio engineering “by fire”
– bringing in friend’s bands and recording them on weekends or off
hours. In the ‘70’s, Crystal Studio was one of the very cool
independent studios in Hollywood. The first album done there was Jackson
Browne’s “Saturate Before Using”, then James Taylor’s “Mud
Slide Slim”. Stevie Wonder did three albums there, including “Inner
Visions”, “Talking Book”, and “Songs in The Key of Life”..
From middle ’73 t0 1978, the majority of the work that we did there
was R&B stuff. Motown Records had moved from Detroit to LA, but they
hadn’t built a studio yet. I received a wonderful education in musical
soul, as it was a Motown factory going through there, with Diana Ross,
Jackson 5, Temptations, and the Miracles.
In 1975 I engineered and mixed the Miracles’ “Love Machine (Part
1)”, which was a huge international hit and was Number 1 in just about
every country that had a pop chart. On the strength of that hit, I
commanded production credit on the Miracles’ next two releases, “The
Power of Music” (1976), and “Love Crazy” (1977). It was always a
situation where I wasn’t just a technical engineer – I was a
creative, musical one. It was just a matter of opportunity meeting
circumstance to tie things together.
In 1977 I left Crystal to try my luck as an independent
engineer/producer. On of my first projects as an independent was Eric
Carmen’s “Boats Against The Current”. I hooked up with the English
producer Gus Dudgeon, who had produced all the Elton John records. He
became a good friend of mine and we worked together for a couple of
years. (Unfortunately, Gus was killed in July of this year in a car
crash in England).
The turning point in my young production career came in 1979, when I
hooked up with the rock band REO Speedwagon, producing, engineering, and
mixing four albums with them, including 1981’s “Hi Infidelity”
which sold over 15 million records worldwide, and spawned two Number 1
singles, “Keep On Loving You” and “Take It On The Run”. I had
made the transition to producer/engineer as opposed to the other way
In the eighties I produced notable albums such as Jefferson
Starship’s “Winds of Change” (1982), Saxon’s “Crusader”
(1984), and Y&T’s “Contagious” and “Summertime Girls”
(1987). I started doing heavier rock like Keel, Leatherwolf, D’Molls,
and into the nineties with Contraband and Michael Schenker Group.
In 1994 my house in the Woodland Hills suburb of Los Angeles was
destroyed by the Northridge earthquake, so I moved with my wife and kids
to Nashville, where I started mixing records for big-time country music
stars. In the past 7 years I have mixed more that 35 number one singles
that have sold tens of millions of records with many of the biggest
stars of country such as Clint Black, Reba McEntire, Brook and Dunn,
Kenny Chesney, etc.
How did On The Green Productions start? Do you have any
artists/projects that you would like to plug?
I was mixing so many country music albums that I felt it necessary to
form On The Green Productions (1995) as an outlet to find and develop
new talent in the rock and pop field, and to guard against burning out
solely mixing acts which I did not produce.
I have signed, developed, and produced albums on several new artists,
but two really stick out as very special :
FACEPLANT is a heavy rap-rock band from Houston that is funky like
Red Hot Chili Peppers, artsy like 311, and heavy as Korn or Limp Bizkit.
BRIAN BENNETT is an incredible singer/songwriter from Southern
California currently living in Nashville. He’s pure pop like a modern
version of Richard Marx.
What are the different responsibilities of a Producer, Engineer
A producer is responsible for the overall outcome of the record. He
would pick the songs, hire the musicians and be the one to ensure that
the best possible performance of the artist is captured. He would have
the additional burden of watching the recording budget to make sure that
costs were kept from exceeding the budget. But being a producer really
is a creative position similar to what a Director is to a film.
An engineer is responsible for getting the music recorded to tape or
hard disk. He would be involved with choosing a studio for the project.
Setting up the microphones, getting the cool sounds and making sure it
all gets recorded properly complicated, important, and not easy to do
under the pressure of time and money, artists egos, and dealing with
inevitable problems that occur.
A mixer is responsible for the final and overall sound of the record.
Similar to a Master Chef, who chooses how much and what mixture of
ingredients goes into his great meal, a mixer uses the different
instruments in differing amounts to balance his cake, adding sugar
(reverb) and spice (chorus, delays, etc) to finalize the sound. This is
the top of the food chain in the engineering field. All great engineers
are not necessarily good mixers, because mixing requires the ability to
do two totally opposite actions simultaneously. He must be able to
hyper-focus when necessary – to be able to concentrate solely on the
bass drum pattern or what the rhythm guitar is doing while the whole
band is playing - while at the same time being able to hear the overall
sound of the mix and to coin a phrase, to be able to “see the chorus
for the trees’.
What percentage does a producer make?
A producer makes from 3 to 4 points on an album, with some high
profile producers able to command 5 points. One point is one percent of
the retail-selling prices of the CD. Of course if there are multiple
producers or co-producers on the record, the points will be divided.
Collecting royalties from major record companies is usually not a
problem. I have had problems collecting from smaller independent labels,
but the ever-existing problem is ensuring that you are being paid on all
records sold – like in film, there are many ways to hide money and
What has been your most successful album / heavy rock album to
REO Speedwagon’s “Hi Infidelity” (1981) sold 15 million albums.
Saxon’s “Crusader” (1984) sold 2 million Y&T’s
“Summertime Girls” was number one rock single in 1987
What advise do you have for aspiring producer/engineer?
Be as musical as you are technical (Engineer) Don’t wait around for
your phone to ring. Go find the next big band and get completely
involved with them early in their career. (Producer/Engineer) Be
trustworthy at all times – to be successful you must have the trust of
your artist. Always do your best – never settle for less than 100% -
never, ever give up and always remember: “Quality has no fear of time.”
What advise do you have for up and coming band/artist?
Be original. Don’t copy any other band. Set your goals high and
never, ever give up. Find a good producer or engineer to help you
develop your music. Make sure to have integrity and honesty in all your
dealings. Look at your band from a business point of view and act
accordingly without ego getting in the way. I know of many cool talented
bands that will never make it because of ego problems, bad attitudes, or
lack of serious motivation.
Do you feel that you have to baby-sit some of the artists?
Each artist, each band, each project is unique and different. Being a
producer is a job requiring the wearing of many hats. At the same time,
the producer needs to be the artist’s trusted confidant, yet be a
motivator, and many times a psychologist, to get through the very
difficult game of making something beautiful literally out of air.
Artists tend to be insecure and egotistical, but both of these traits
needs to be left outside the studio door, or the result will be
disappointing. In my career I’ve worked with some difficult artists,
but I choose to let this be a challenge to make myself a better
motivator than I thought I was. I have had to baby – sit artists
through hard times and difficult situations borne of the creative
process, but again I choose to let these times make me a better friend
and a stronger person.
What’s the future for you?
I can honestly say that although I’ve been making records for
almost 30 years, every day when I wake up I can’t wait to get to the
studio. It’s the only job I’ve ever known, and I feel blessed that
I’ve been able to spend my life doing what I love and loving what I
do. I feel that I learn something new every day in whatever small way,
and I’m convinced that I’m a better mixer and producer now than I
was then – I truly think I continue to improve every day. My future is
my past – continue to do creative work in the Big Leagues, try as hard
as I can, and never, ever give up.