Dean Stairs

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Dean Stairs is an award winning musician with a top tier record of Production Engineering and Musicianship.

Dean Stairs

He has worked in the Music Industry for over 30 years and has established a reputation as a collaborative force through effective networks and a strong clear vision. Together with his wife Stevie, Dean co-owns The Citadel House, an independent record company which has been awarded Company of the Year and Industry Professional of the Year.

"The Music Producer"

How did you start producing and what gave you the motivation to stay with it?

I started working as an engineer/producer with some of the early bands that I was part of. A lot of the production was being done prior to going into the studio at that time in the industry as the studio time itself was so expensive. So I would engineer the pre-production “demos” in order for the band to be able to get the arrangements and basic tones well-established before heading into the “real studio” to get the final tracks on tape.

How have you been educated in production? Do you think official education is necessary?

I spent several years learning “on the job” basically working as an assistant to the main engineer before working the console on my own. I think official education can be helpful and probably shortens the learning curve somewhat. However, as in most education choices, it comes down to how far along the curve the school actually puts you. Nothing beats hands-on experience and even a formal education does not replace the 10,000 hours of experience needed to master a craft.

What pre-production work would you normally do with an artist before entering the studio for tracking?

Items I consider prior to beginning the tracking are as follows:
• The song structure
• The choice of instruments
• The choice of musicians.
• The overall budget for the song and/or project.
• How each song fits into the context of the whole project.
Throughout this process I will start to think of mic choices as well as general mic placement choices.

In regards to pre-production, how do you suggest changes to the arrangement of a composition without upsetting the composer?

I generally ask how the song is intended to fit within the whole project. Is this a single? Is it intended for radio? If it is intended for radio then it needs to fit within certain radio parameters. Most artists recognize that the format has a pre-defined structure and are willing to make changes to accommodate that format. If the song is radio ready, I usually try and get a quick recording of the song prior to “rolling tape” and let the artist hear the song the way I’m hearing it. I find it is easier to discuss changes when the song is being listened to outside of the artist’s “idea” of the song. Somehow having it “on tape” seems to remove it just enough that the artist is not quite as “precious” about it. The longer an artist works in the business the easier this becomes.

How involved should the artist be in the recording and post-production stages?

For the recording I try and have the artistic decisions agreed to before we start tracking, so the artist knows that they are still in charge of the vision. During post production I try and get a full mix done before I send it to the artist for proofing. I then go through a series of revisions. The process rarely goes past 2 revisions which are usually minor. If it gets past 3 revisions, I usually ask the artist to come back into the studio and we go through the revisions together. Otherwise it becomes very inefficient and time consuming. I don’t recommend working with an artist “in the room” during mix or mastering. The process is not intuitive to those who have not done it before and it leads to more problems than solutions. Even in the case of an artist coming into the studio for a revision session, 95% of the work is already done and the session involves a very limited number of revision areas.

How does producing your own music compare to working for someone else? What are the pros and cons of each? Are their any methods of working that apply to both?

Producing my own music takes many of the same steps, though it is sometimes more difficult to be objective about my own work. The more I do it the easier it becomes.

Did you have any doubts in your mind that you weren’t going to be successful?

It takes work and a long-term vision to succeed at this industry, but I appreciate working to a long term strategy. Any degree of success that I have can be directly attributed to those two things. Doubts are part of any entrepreneurs day, but the long-term focus helps to get me past those moments.

Did you have any doubts in your mind that you weren’t going to be successful?

If so, what did you do to prevent yourself from giving up? See the answer above, Hard work and a long term strategy.

How long did it take you roughly to start excelling with your career?

As an engineer/producer I feel that it really started to come together for me after about 15 years of putting in the time.

How did you build contacts and/or clients?

A business friend once told me that “Nothing succeeds like success”. As you bring success to the artist, more artists are attracted to what you do. I stay connected through industry associations and conferences. I look for artists who exhibit a high level of talent and exceptional drive. Then I focus on what I can bring to help that artist get to the next level of their career.

What are some of the biggest mental tools you can obtain to be successful in this field?

• Keep track of your finances, it’s the lifeblood of your business.
• Know how to give the “elevator pitch”.
• Learn how to get the artist to describe what they are hearing in their head before you start recording.
• Be genuine and learn how to take rejection, it’s a part of the business.

How many times have you fallen down, so to speak and had to get back up and get yourself motivated again to continue?

I have had to reinvent the business model completely at least 3 times within the past 20 years. That’s a very difficult process both mentally and emotionally. Each time requires new skills to add to the prior skill set.

If there was one word you could use to explain your experience so far while working as a music producer, what would it be?

Patience

If you can come up with one habit that could possibly ruin or stall a person’s career, what would that downfall be?

Lack of self-motivational skills

Maintaining a successful career takes a lot of work and commitment, how much time do you dedicate towards your work?

60 hours a week minimum

Have you ever had to relocate in order to gain more business?

I thought about it, but the Internet has made it possible for me to market to the world while living in a place that is a great family location.

What’s steps did you take to advertise and get your business out to the people?

My advertising is primarily word-of-mouth and helping an artist succeed.

Have you ever embarrassed yourself? If so, how did you overcome the incident?

Embarrassment is a daily occurrence. I try to learn what I did “wrong” and find steps to improve.

There are times in a career when life isn’t going your way, how do you keep your mind on your work without losing focus?

A long-term strategy helps with this. It helps me put short-term problems into a more reasonable perspective.

Have there ever been a time where you haven’t gotten your work done on time? If so, how did you deal with it?

Stay up late and get it done if it’s for a client. If it’s for me I adjust my project management and make sure I hit the next goal.

What goals did you have set before you started your career?

My goals are being able to maintain a reasonable standard of living for myself and my family, to provide a skillset and area of expertise that artists find directly advances their careers, and to put out something of lasting value within my culture.

B-Comp has a very musical and warm tone that makes instruments seem to “sit” well in the mix. I find it to be very adaptable with the various diode settings and the detail of the settings. It combines the best of vintage gear with the “tweakability” of modern digital audio processing. B-comp works particularly well on overheads and electric guitars where the vintage warmth and character serve to provide a great tone as well as…

What did you have to sacrifice to make your business happen?

Sometimes time with my family. However, I live and work in the same building so I see my family throughout each day, all day.

Is there any additional advice you can give me to help along the way to a successful career?

Reduce expenses if possible, that will help to get past the “dry times” and there will be “dry times”. Have a strategy that is incremental and long-term, don’t try for steps that are too big, rather go for small steps that are all in the same direction.

How do you find your customers?

Industry associations and Industry Conferences, I attend as many of them as my budget can afford, which is at least two per year.

the citadel house

Babelson Audio
Babelson Audio

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