Name: Jordan Brooke Hamlin
Title: Multi-Instrumentalist / Writer / Producer
Artists Worked With: Indigo Girls / Lucy Wainwright Roche / Missy Higgins / Katie Herzig
FEMMUSIC: How did you get started in studio production?
JBH: I had been touring as a multi-instrumentailst for years and along the way had a couple of friends ask me to produce various projects for them, but I didn’t know what I was doing. I still don’t I guess, but at least now I’m aware of it. 😉 One day one of my favorite artists (and people), Lucy Wainwright Roche, asked me to produce her record. Since the details of record making were largely abstract to me growing up, I don’t know that I could have told you what a music producer did when I was young and learning to play. But, I think that record may have been the first time where I had the epiphany that all of these things I loved (music, psychology, spreadsheets, ideation, arranging, understanding the unique qualities of something/someone and building the best compliments to go around them) were all threads that, when traced, lead straight to music production. Like most things in my life, it has often taken the nudging of an outside perspective or friend for me to perceive what later seemed obvious.
FEMMUSIC: What are the biggest lessons you’ve learned doing your job? What do you wish you knew before you started?
JBH: There are such different types of producers, but for whatever reason, I’m really drawn to the psychological aspects of production. So, lessons I’ve learned would definitely include learning the “language” that the artist (or player…or human) is speaking. By which I mean…what makes one artist feel comfortable or inspired could make another feel threatened or deflated. I so prefer a collaborative spirit in the studio. I often need to have time alone to hole up and find the thread, but when everyone’s done their homework and it comes time to actually make the music, it can be such a magical experience to let that go and experience the thrill of that sort of “call and response”.
FEMMUSIC: What do you look for in a project?
JBH: I suppose my only real criteria for knowing if I would be a good fit with a given project is whether or not I can see the “glowing heart” as I call it. I’m still a huge music fan…unashamedly. I still get that same feeling I got as a 12 year old with headphones listening to the same song on repeat endlessly. So, I suppose I’m looking for that on some level. If I can “echolocate” the place that feeling is coming from in a song or artist, then I’m all in. And while this may seem secondary to musicianship, I’d argue that attitude is SUCH a high value when deciding who to work with. Whether it’s picking a side person for a tour, a player for a record, or accepting a position in a band or studio, I can’t count the number of times people have gotten the gig because they were a good hang. Of course, you’re wanting a great player as well, but once that’s a given, I think it’s a particularly important time to go the extra mile to try and be a considerate and reasonable human. It’s not always easy.
FEMMUSIC: What project are you most proud of & why?
JBH: That’s a tough one. Each project has had its own journey and has felt like a hard-won source of pride after it’s done. But, I suppose getting to produce a record for the Indigo Girls (of whom I was and am a huge fan) would have to be up there. I learned so much about doing your best to rise to the occasion even when a big part of you feels unworthy of being in the room. Both Amy and Emily are so generous and inclusive that it’s easy to forget that they are immeasurably seasoned and each a total BOSS. When they asked me to produce their record, I remember reminding them how few records I had produced at that point and event went so far as to tell Amy that I wondered if it was too risky to bring me in. I had a deep affection and respect for their records and didn’t want to diminish that for them. But Amy replied confidently and casually, “Nah. I’ve got good instincts.” and that was that. I’m so thankful she pushed me though any trepidation or insecurity and I’m proud of what we came up with together in the end.
FEMMUSIC: What challenges do you see for women in studio production?
JBH: Thankfully, I keep seeing more and more women producers popping up on my radar. I love that! While we’re still a tiny portion of the industry, I feel that shifting in some ways. Watching some amazing women here in Nashville start these great organizations like Girls Up Loud, She’s A Rebel, Southern Girls Rock n’ Roll Camp and YEAH! (Youth Empowerment Through Arts & Humanities), has been inspirational. They’re laying some profound groundwork for the next generation by connecting young girls with a variety of women in various roles and approaches in the industry. But, I think we’re creatures of habit. Decisions can get made about choosing someone for a project based on a momentum of who others are using or what’s worked in the past. And because historically, there have been fewer women out there in a lot of these roles, sometimes it can take some re-imagining and maybe some risk taking. But, that is only getting better as we do as Kevin Spacey advises (that wise old sage) “If you’ve done well, it’s your obligation to spend a good portion of your time sending the elevator back down”. I know I’ve benefitted immeasurably from that generosity in others.
FEMMUSIC: What mentors did you have when learning?
JBH: Well, I’m not just saying this, but I’m still learning so much with every project! Seriously. There are too many to name. Each record I’ve done, I’ve looked back and thought, “Ah. I think I could do that better now.” or “I might approach that in this other way now”. In some ways that could get discouraging, but I think it’s easy to get so hard on yourself that you edit before you create. Instead, trying to make the best thing for exactly where you are feels so much more freeing. I think my mentors have been not just musicians, but teachers and parents and peers who have encouraged curiosity. I love learning, so having people early on who stoked those fires has been really shaping. Throughout my life, I’ve been the youngest or least experienced person in the room consistently and it has been an invaluable education.
FEMMUSIC: Are women in studio production treated differently than men? How do you see this?
JBH: I’m only around maybe a handful of women in studio production, actually. Most of the women producers I know are artists who produce their own music. I do think women are treated differently than men, but mainly because they are different. And I think that can be great. Not to harp on my love for “appropriate” instead of “right or wrong”, but that’s the name of the game for me. To that point, I think women have a unique perspective and move through the world in a way that is a result of their collected experience. While there is a danger here in getting into stereotypes or making sweeping generalizations, I’ll say I do appreciate the perceptiveness I’ve experienced in working with women. I know a lot of women who feel like they need to work twice as hard to be taken seriously and maybe that’s a part of that. Not only do you need to be good at your craft, you need to be able to read the room. Women don’t necessarily have the market cornered on that trait by any means, but I appreciate it any place I find it.
FEMMUSIC: What advice do you give to women wanting to go into studio work?
JBH: Be really great at what you do. Don’t rely on or expect anyone to give you a platform or a space to learn in…just make your own. Do whatever you can to get your hands on some tools and then hole up with the gear, Youtube, a mentor, peers…whatever it takes and get great at it in your own unique way. Sometimes you’re going to walk into rooms and get behind a sound board and you immediately encounter presumptions that you probably don’t know what you’re talking about quite as much as the dude next to you. One of the biggest pieces of ammunition you can bring is to try and be undeniable – work hard and get so good at your craft that gender or any other bias becomes irrelevant. Lots of bias floats around out there and lots of people try and say it doesn’t exist, but just as easily, it can also become a crutch. Just keep your head down and do the work so that neither will keep you from where you need to be.
FEMMUSIC: What one thing would you change about the music industry?
JBH: I think the industry has and IS changing so much now. One thing that is simultaneously scary and wonderful is that once long-cemented ways of making music, touring, promotion, artist discovery…everything…are no longer sacred. While that can feel overwhelming, it’s also the Wild West in the best way. It’s pretty exciting to see people coming up with new and innovative ways to connect with their fans, book shows, handle their business. I actually co-founded a startup launching soon called Check 123 for that purpose. Twenty years ago, you had “gate keepers” telling artists “Don’t worry about all that yucky business stuff, you just make the music.” Sometimes that was a flourishing and symbiotic relationship and sometimes not. But now, all of a sudden, you have an economic environment where many artists can only make their careers work if they themselves are doing the majority of the work once done by a label or manager. While not 100% of artists are of an abstract penchant, many are. So, we are asking “creative” thinkers to have high creative output as well as high-performing sequential thinking and business savvy. (It rarely works the other way. Maybe we should require analysts to regularly complete compelling works of art to stay financially viable? ;)) I know it can be discouraging to find that the old way of doing business isn’t there for us in the same ways, but I must say, I’ve been pretty elated watching people dream up new paths.