Meredith Brooks Redefines A&R

May 1, 2004 12:00 PM, By Heather Johnson


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With the record industry seemingly more interested in fat bottom lines than long-term career development, many artists stopped grabbing at the “major-label record deal” brass ring long ago and began taking a more proactive role in their business affairs. In addition to writing great songs and playing them live, many take-charge artists, such as the multifaceted artist/songwriter/producer Meredith Brooks, also run their own labels, promote their own “product” and operate their own studios with respectable profit.

For her 2000 release, Bad Bad One, the self-reliant Brooks either wrote or co-wrote all 12 songs, played rhythm and lead guitars, edited and programmed much of the album, and co-produced and engineered with David Darling. Now, Brooks has enough confidence in her technical abilities to go it alone.

“Now I pretty much don't even use an engineer,” says the self-taught Brooks, who works on a Pro Tools — equipped Apple Power Mac G4 and a Mackie HUI controller. She owns minimal outboard gear (though she often rents Neve modules and LA-2As), but works with signal processors such as Warp Factory and Filter Factory, a solid mic collection and, as a reflection of her guitar-wielding beginnings, ample six-strings and guitar amplifiers. “I don't do any direct or Amp Farm,” she says. “That helps keep it real, because you can get bogged down in the whole Pro Tools thing.”

Brooks also mixes both her own work and the tracks she produces for other acts. “It's actually blowing my mind, because the mixes sound great to me,” she says. “It's really freeing that I don't have to wait for somebody to mix and then be unhappy with it afterward. I can just noodle on it for a couple of hours, let it sit and come back to it later.”

Brooks recently put her mixing, producing, engineering, songwriting and guitar-playing skills to use with Bec Hollcraft, a 14-year-old singer/songwriter whom Brooks is developing. As the old music industry model crumbles, Brooks sees ways for non-Britney — level artists to succeed. “I view myself as the new A&R,” she says. “I've gotten hundreds of CDs [from new acts] over the past several months, and they're all looking for a way to get their music out there. Because I own my own studio, I'm able to keep my costs low, so when I do find an artist, I can just go to one of the majors for a co-venture.”

In this respect, Brooks says that she's okay with the machinery of the industry, even though, as we all know, it's got to change. “They're spending a million dollars on one record, and that's not even for promo. There's something seriously wrong with all that! You can't keep that going. Artists have to sell millions of records for anybody to make money off of those bloated budgets.”

Ironically, Brooks wrote and produced “Party Up” for Platinum-selling starlet Hilary Duff's album, Metamorphosis, and the album BareNaked from another TV star-turned-pop singer, Jennifer Love Hewitt. Though Hewitt's album was mostly mixed at Can-Am Recorders in Tarzana, Calif., Brooks does almost all of her work these days at her own studio. Even for recording drum tracks — which is when many project studio — owning producer/engineers venture to larger commercial facilities — Brooks now stays in the home environment. “I'm using a lot of drummers now — two in particular, Russ Miller and Dorian Crozier — who have their own Pro Tools studios with drums set up, and I just bring the files and we record there and it sounds great. For mixing, [big studios] are still a great way to go, but I mixed my record at Phil Kaffel's home studio, mixed and did additional recording on two of Bec's songs at my friend Rob Daiker's studio and the rest here.”

While Brooks uses session musicians as often as possible, not every artist does, which hurts both the players and the studios they work in. “I feel the worst for musicians who don't have studio work,” Brooks says. “Some artists are in there making records in the big studios, using [drummer] Kenny Aronoff and the big boys, and that still works for them and that's great. But when you don't have the budget or you'd rather see that budget go to your next piece of gear, why spend it on somebody else's studio? You'll spend it on your own.”

As an artist with the talent, skills and equipment to create an album from start to finish entirely on her own, and one who can play multiple roles for the acts that she produces, Brooks keeps her calendar (and studio) booked with a variety of projects. Had she remained bound by the traditional recording artist model, many of these opportunities might have passed her by. “I've been able to transition and flow and change,” she says. “If you can't, you're going to get stuck, and then you're going to be out of work — unless you've got an amazing fan base and can tour forever, if that's what you want to do. Frankly, I don't want to. I'm not into living in a bus forever. Even if it did have Pro Tools in it!”

Heather Johnson is a Mix editorial assistant.

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