Archive for the ‘In the Studio’ Category


Some of us go to bed listening to bedtime stories. Music producer, Steve Sundholm was “lullabied” by cutting edge music. Son of Conrad Sundholm, co-founder of Sunn Amps, Steve grew up with access to the some of the greatest sound equipment and recordings in the world. For Sundholm, music is the stuff that dreams are made of. Those dreams turned into a successful career as a music producer working with some of America’s favorite music artists like, Hall & Oates, Green Day and Lil’ Wayne. With a life colored by music and a career built on it, Sundholm provides keen insights for those heading to the studio.

Avoid Music Prejudice

We all grow up in communities that affect our music interests. This can lead to music prejudices. Sundholm confirmed this, sharing a personal experience in our interview. When leaving Portland for LA, Steve Sundholm found these prejudices confining, even detrimental to his career:

“I think there’s too much criticism of different genres and different styles. I didn’t even realize that affected me when I left Portland to go to LA. ‘Rap was awful and pop was stupid,’ and you have all these ingrained preconceived notions. I didn’t realize how being quick to judge another genre would hold me back when I got into the real music business.”

When moving to Los Angeles, Sundholm found that music prejudices were inappropriate. Artists from all genres respect each others’ work. They may not like the final product, but they appreciate varied aspects of each style. “People (in the music business) don’t say bad things about music they wouldn’t necessarily buy. They see the good in it and they respect what’s good about it and they respect that it actually means something to someone else,” said Sundholm. Successful artists learn from each other, employing the best in music to build their individual sound. Artists don’t let music prejudice keep them from making it to the studio.

Leave ego at the door

Studio work is humbling. It takes dedication and compromise from all studio participants to reach a great final product. One of the biggest detriments to this process is artist egotism. According to Steve Sundholm, the hardest thing about working with artists is dealing with ego:

“The better the musician, the more ego. . . . and it’s understandable. It’s like telling a doctor or a lawyer that they’re wrong. They’re so wrapped up in their education and they’ve spent so much money on their education they’d never admit that they’re wrong or that they don’t know something. Musicians are the same way. They’ve practiced and worked, you know, sacrificed hours, untold hours. When a guy like me steps in and asks them to dumb it down back to their first or second year of playing, they have a really hard time with it. It’s kind of a jarring experience because they want to show off what they can do.”

Good artists choose their producers wisely and trust them. They listen to their producers and are humble enough to follow their lead in the studio. Sundholm encourages artists to thoughtfully engage in the process while being respectful of the producer’s expertise. He advises artists to check their egos at the door, avoid negative speech and to never talk back. It’s one thing to be constructive and cooperative; it’s another to bring a bad attitude.

Be Prepared

A huge pet peeve for music producers is working with artists or musicians that are ill prepared for studio time. It’s not only expensive on studio budget, as most studios charge hourly, but it’s also disrespectful to the producers, engineers and others involved. Steve Sundholm suggests musicians tune their instruments, warm up, re-string their guitars, etc., having everything ready for the studio experience. Smart artists save time and money by being prepared and on time to studio sessions.

Reaching out and learning from artists of all genres, keeping ego out of the studio and properly preparing for the studio increase artist success. Practicing these basics help musicians and artists avoid basic industry pitfalls and overcome studio hurdles. The sooner artists learn these concepts, the faster they realize their professional dreams, with or without the lullabies.

Record with Steve Sundholm at Kung Fu Bakery Studios

Related Article: Steve Sundholm Series Part 1, “Music Architect Steve Sundholm on Choosing your Producer”

By Marzee Dyer
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“Steve is the fourth best producer I have ever worked with. . . the other three? One is washed-up, one is retired, and the other is no longer with us.” – Jimmie Haskell, Three-time Grammy-winner and five-time Emmy-winning string arranger and composer.

I sat down with music producer, Steve Sundholm this week, gleaning his studio insights on working in the music industry. He works with some of the biggest names in the industry, like Cee-Lo Green, Carrie Underwood, Ryan Tedder of One Republic, Randy Jackson, even Madonna. Sundholm has spent the past seven years producing in Los Angeles, the last two of them as Chief Engineer of the world renowned Nightbird Studios at the Sunset Marquis. Trading LA for Portland, Ore., Steve Sundholm is now mixing it up at Kung Fu Bakery, a recording studio on thirty sixth and Southeast Division.

Carrie Underwood, Steve Sundholm, Ryan Tedder (One Republic), Craig Durrance, Zac Maloy

From Left to right: Carrie Underwood, Steve Sundholm, Ryan Tedder (One Republic), Craig Durrance, Zac Maloy

Sound has been key in Sundholm’s career, and is the ruling force of any producer’s work. Still, he revealed that while all producers are dedicated to sound, production styles vary as much as albums do. No two producers are alike. This is something artists need to take into consideration when preparing to record. As many musicians know, the producer holds power in the studio, not the artist. If an artist wants to have any control over the production of their album, they need to ensure production quality by finding the right producer. Steve Sundholm provided some key tips to help artists choose the right producer:

Understand your producer’s process

Each producer develops their own creative process. Some mix, engineer, and produce in stages. Others, like Steve Sundholm, do it all at once. There are producers who like to have the entire band record together, while others prefer to record and perfect each instrument independently. Each method has its own pros and cons. Decide how you want to work and find a producer who meets that.

Learn about the producer’s specialty

There are many different types of producers. Sundholm explains that a worthwhile producer is, “great at something and focuses on that.” Some are musicians and specialize in specific instruments, often focusing on those instruments in their recordings. There are producers who, because they aren’t biased towards a particular instrument, are more interested in the overall sound. Some producers are phenomenal arrangers. Others are what Steve Sundholm calls, “Vibey Producers,” producers who don’t necessarily know music, but know when something’s good. “They’re really good at helping creative people relax or saying just the right thing to get something out of them,” said Sundholm. Know what you’re looking for in your final product, and find a producer who specializes in it.

Know their work

Each producer has a different style or sound to their work. The best way to understand this is to sample their recordings. Learn what genres they’ve produced, artists they’ve worked with and so forth. What does their work sound like? Is that the sound you’re looking for? Get to know the product you’re buying into before you invest in studio time.

Artists maintain power in the studio by choosing their producer wisely. They invest in someone whose method, expertise and track record reflects work the artist can trust. Most of all, Sundholm suggests that artists find a  producer who is able to, “find a balance in protecting the artist from themselves and making bad decisions, but at the same time unlock(s) what makes them (the artist) great.” A great producer doesn’t make it about them. They make it about the artist.

Related Article: Steve Sundholm Series Part 2, “Studio Do’s and Don’ts”

By Marzee Dyer
Interview with Steve Sundholm conducted on Feb 8th, 2012