Students from all disciplines at BIMM Brighton attended a masterclass with Jamiroquai keyboardist and producer Matt Johnson earlier this month, which featured insider knowledge and expert tips on subjects such as studio musicianship, songwriting approaches, and the importance of collaboration.
Hosted by BIMM Brighton’s Head Of Guitar, Damien Morris, the masterclass took an in-depth look at the key traits of successful session musicians and producers, who, in Matt’s opinion, should always be thinking of what is right for the song, rather than indulging in overly complex ideas.
For many young musicians, a key focus during their development is on their technical proficiency. But, for a seasoned pro like Matt, it’s all about getting the ‘right sounds for the right situation’. Of course, you need to be able to deliver complicated parts when needed, but his advice is not to volunteer for it, as most producers get turned off when the song gets too complicated. Keep it simple and be ready to deliver more if you’re asked for it.
“A producer’s job is to bring out the best of the artist in their framework.” Said Matt.
“The best thing to do is to make them feel at ease. Listen to some music. Find some common ground. You have to be a leader and analyst. The artist will relax as soon as they realise you’re on their side. People like Jay from Jamiroquai don’t seem insecure, but before we wrote the last album ‘Automaton’, Jay didn’t write for 6 years and wasn’t sure if he had something left to give. Eventually, he came up with some melodies which he was mumbling down. I played around with those ideas and we just repeated that process until Jay got his confidence back.”
As a general rule, Matt will only call in other session musicians once the key band members have a good idea of what’s required for the track. Matt would sketch out most of the instrumental parts on his keyboard, then invite the other musicians to give it a personal touch.
Matt emphasised that you should always try to write a commercially successful song the first time you write with someone, instead of writing a ‘6 minute long single’, purely to indulge their creative abilities.
“You have to write 50 songs or more, then maybe one out of those 50 is successful. Although some writers never write a successful song.” Said Matt.
“You’re waiting for that moment where it all comes together and it almost happens through you, that’s the time to make sure you capture (record) what’s happening really well. Recapturing is a nightmare, use the best recording equipment that you have, don’t let equipment and environment hold you back and keep you from the moment. Be ready with all of it. Record and capture everything in a recording session, especially the vocals.”
Matt concluded the masterclass by taking some questions from students, one of the most telling of which was ‘what advice would you offer your younger teenage self?’, to which Matt responded:
“Give people what they want, figure out how you can give them what they need best. Also, don’t kid yourself about things, put your ego aside and call it a day if something doesn’t work or bring it where it needs to be.”
Once the masterclass had drawn to a close, some students took the time to express their most valuable insights from the event.
“The best part of the masterclass was the in-depth look into Matt’s mixing work. What’s his mindset? How is he working, etc.” – Michele Brivio, BA1 Vocals.
“The advice he gave for session players was great. To put the emphasis on vocals in a writing and recording session was really inspiring.” – Martin Escobar, BA2 Guitar.
If you’re interested in studying Songwriting or Music Production and gaining access to our masterclass program, why not come along to an Open Day to tour the facilities, meet the tutors and begin your journey to a life in music.