Knowledge Bank

news category created 21 May 2009 written by Mick Glossop

Steve Levine interview in Music Week

May 16 2009

By Christopher Barrett

Steve LevineGrammy-winning producer Steve Levine has come a long way since the late Seventies when he worked with The Clash as a trainee at CBS Studios.

But it is blindingly obvious that for him life does not get any sweeter than when he is in his studio at the end of his Fulham garden fiddling with consoles and faders.

Throughout his long career as a producer Levine had worked with a vast array of artists across a variety of genres, from Culture Club to Gary Moore, Louise to Motorhead and his small yet perfectly-formed studio is clad with gold and platinum discs that honour his impressive career.

One of the first producers to embrace digital recording, Levine has remained at the forefront of music production and his passion for the trade shows so sign of diminishing – so much so that along with being a member of the Musicians’ Union executive committee he makes time to be a director of PRS, MCPS and Basca.

Now the Music Producers Guild (MPG) is hoping to harness Levine’s energy after appointing him as chairman of the organisation, following the recent departure of Mike Howlett.

Levine is yet to attend his first MPG board meeting, which is scheduled for May 14 at PRS headquarters, but one of his first goals as MPG chairman is to increase the organisation’s membership from its current base of 300.

“Raising the awareness of the MPG is vital, because I think we could almost treble our membership without too much effort. I think we have far too few members,” says Levine, clad casually in Converse trainers, jeans and a checked lumberjack shirt.

While the MPG currently has full, student and corporate membership options, Levine is looking to build on that to encourage membership among the younger generation of producers. “There is a whole generation of these engineer first, producer second, people that are working within the MySpace community and we need to attract them,” says Levine, who points to the considerable success that PRS for Music has achieved in growing its numbers after it launched a new membership category aimed at new writers. “A large number of those writers didn’t even know who PRS was. Similarly a lot of young producers haven’t heard of the MPG and that’s something we are looking to change.”

There is no doubting Levine’s passionate belief in the importance of the role of the producer. A current and ongoing Levine production is the BBC radio documentary show The Record Producers: now in its third series it finds Levine focusing on the art of hitmaking from the perspective of producers and has featured the likes of Tony Visconti, Trevor Horn, Nile Rodgers and Stock, Aitken & Waterman.

Much work is already being done at the MPG to encourage fledgling producers via networking events, technical forums and the Joint Audio Media Education Service (James). Launched in partnership with the APRS, James is an industry accreditation body that approves colleges and courses around the UK and aims to make sure that the new wave of producers has the chance to learn from the years of professional experience gained by the production establishment.

Emphasising that the Guild is open to everyone involved in the business of music production – from producers and engineers to mastering professionals – Levine is convinced that with a stronger membership base the MPGcan carry more weight within the music industry. With this he believes its members can push to be recognised better both financially and in terms of the importance of the work that they do.

“There is strength in numbers,” explains Levine. “Most producers are exploited in some way, unless you are Mark Ronson and they are so fucking desperate for you that they will pay whatever figure you say.”

But Levine believes there are only around five producers in that category at the moment, with 95% of producers “scraping a living the best they can”. He adds, “We need to protect the new batch of producers that are coming through, because so many people expect producers to do everything as a favour and the moment you do that people don’t perceive a value in what you’re doing.”

At the MPG Levine will be working closely with the Producer Managers Group, an arm of the MMF, and the PPLwhich categorises producers as “performing producers”, which means that for works created after 2001 producers are entitled to a non-featured artist royalty share equivalent to a session musician.

Levine will be liaising with these organisations in an attempt to establish new ways for producers to be remunerated for their work. He believes that key to a producer’s progress is the ability to monetise their skill set. “It’s not a hobby, but at times it feels like a hobby. I have to put food on the table and clothe my kids. Sometimes you do a job and getting paid proves just impossible – that has got to stop because we are all tiny contractors. If we have a greater collective then maybe we can put some pressure on individuals.

“The record industry wants its records to be as cheap as possible for them to make as much money as possible – by virtue of what they deliver they are like Tesco and we are the farmers. But on the other hand we as producers need to make sure our product is in stock and to continue to do that we need to be innovative.”

Levine is arriving at a time of considerable momentum for MPG, in terms of both increased awareness and membership of the body, following the inaugural MPG Awards which took place at London’s Café De Paris in February.

A collaboration with the BPI meant that the winner of the MPG’s Producer of the Year Award also received a Brit Award for Best Producer with both awards being presented at the MPG’s ceremony one week before The Brit Awards.

“It was great to see the BPI reinstate the Brit Award,” says Levine. “Having Tony Wadsworth as chairman of theBPI is fantastic because he is a man that really understands the creative side of the business.”

Now the veteran producer is already looking forward to next year to build on the success of that event and hopes they can soon emulate other, more established, industry honours.

“The dream for the MPG Awards is that they will be as big as the Ivors,” he enthuses, adding that one area of obvious improvement will be to see if the element that is inserted into the Brits can be made slightly bigger in 2010.

Far from being concerned by the workload his involvement in so many trade bodies presents, Levine feels his other commitments can be a huge advantage to the MPG and will enable him to amplify the concerns of the production community and help it to speak in a unified voice.

He adds, “The idea is to formulate a view, much like [UK Music chief executive] Feargal [Sharkey], that we can then take to Government that covers the wish-list of the MPG. That’s what you need to get now, a wish-list that everyone signs up to.”