Interview conducted in English by Vivian Yeung. Translated into Chinese by Sidick Lam
訪問及攝影/ vivian yeung 中文翻譯/ sidick lam
Vivian sat down with Jon Lee, the owner of This Music Studio, to learn more about audio post production, a side of the music industry that is often overlooked. They chat about everything from band competitions to Cantopop music to vinyl records, and Jon has some wise words for any budding musicians out there.
This Music Studio has offered recording time for the winner of our Battle of the Bands. Have you ever been to a band competition in HK? What do you think of band competitions?
I played the Global Battle of the Bands about five years ago. Band competitions are fun to play although the results can sometimes be random, they’re very hit and miss for me. You get to meet a lot of people and chat with different musicians, and it’s just fun in general to play a show. I still like being involved, and what you can win from it is always awesome, for example when the Underground did the Planetrox competition where the winners got to go to Quebec (Canada). For this Underground x Parsons Music Battle of the Bands you get recording time, and that’s super cool.
Why were you willing to offer the prize of recording for a band?
I’ve been that band before; I’ve been that struggling band. I’m fortunate enough to have a place where I can record my own music in the studio, but in Hong Kong these days space is so rare to have. You barely have a small band room in Kwun Tong that you share with a bunch of people, let alone a recording studio of you own. I like supporting new music and artists. I didn’t get into music just because I liked music – I got into it because I also want to further music in Hong Kong. It’s quite the same way that Chris B does it, she promotes music through the actual performing but I like it through teaching and performing.
Do you think there are enough studios in HK who record albums for independent bands with low budgets?
They are popping up here and there, but most often than not it’s the bands who have their own recording setup. It’s very simple and basic. If you look at Youtube and Soundcloud, it’s so easy to release music or make a music video now that you could probably just do it with your iPhone. So I think if there’s not enough studios there’s at least enough means through technology that people can do it themselves.
So what do you think of this trend of independent bands producing and mixing their own records?
I think it’s a good trend. If you look at the 80s and 90s, there were issues with technology and space such that society wasn’t that open to new bands – mostly it was just Beyond and Blue Jeans. But now people have opened up and there are more places to perform, plus there’s West Kowloon. In the States nearly everyone can build their own studio or just rent one anywhere for cheap, but in Hong Kong land and rent is expensive so everything is harder. It’s very encouraging that the people are pushing themselves to learn how to record on their own.
Do you think HK bands’ recording and producing in general is on par with international bands?
Definitely, for pop music, although Hong Kong’s pop music style is very specific. It’s big on the vocals and the music always takes a back seat. But as a band producer it’s a different kind of mixing. You have to make sure that everything is heard, everything has its own space and can breathe. I think HK has the potential for it, but for now pop music is still the dominant source of entertainment for local HK people. Not that I don’t like pop – I’d say I enjoy 60% of all pop music. I appreciate the writing even though they all sound similar, it’s not easy to write good pop songs that are catchy, especially with Cantonese lyrics where you have to get it to rhyme and you need the right tone or the meaning changes. Still it’s very pigeonholed into one specific category – even if the pop stars are singing a rock song or trying out an R&B song, the mix is still a little weird because they’re not used to that. I come from a background that prides itself on expanding what you listen to. Green Day is one of my favorite bands, but I love Bach and Mozart, jazz and heavy metal too. It’s important to know a little of everything so that you can adequately produce a range of music, even with rock musicians.
Speaking of diversity – you’ve helped independent local bands like Noughts & Exes, as well as Cantopop stars like Joey Yung record songs. How is the recording process different for independent and pop musicians?
On Cantopop songs, a lot of the instruments are pre-played, pre-recorded or even programed. The singer very much just comes in and sings to the track. The writing process is very separated – someone writes the music, someone writes the melody, someone writes the lyrics. But in bands there are so many ways to do it; you can record all the instruments at the same time as a live recording, or you can do each individual instrument one by one. I’ve done recordings where the bassist and drummer were recorded first so that they were locked properly and the instruments were all added, and there’s that feeling that everybody’s in the same room. For Noughts & Exes that’s exactly what we did, we did bass and drums first, and the guitars and singers and violins were there encouraging each other, adding ideas and collaborating. That’s probably the main difference between Cantopop and bands in general – the band is always around. I may sit in the studio for three days and not record a thing, but I would not have it any other way. As a band you’re always together and you’re friends, you’ve got to be there to support each other. That’s the whole point of being in a band, and I think that’s what HK is slowly learning and realizing.
Recently there’s been a revival in the sale of vinyl records. A lot of people think they sound warmer. Does vinyl really sound better? Do you produce a lot of LPs?
I think they do. There’s something about vinyl that makes it sound slightly more natural and warm. It just seems more comfortable when you listen to it. It doesn’t seem overly produced or compressed. But vinyl is also so niche, everybody is about MP3s these days, especially in HK where there’s no space for big record players and you’d need huge bookshelves to store your records. We get records pressed in the UK, it’s just cheaper there and I don’t think HK is made for it yet, although I’m sure there will be somebody smart enough to invest in vinyl pressing soon. HK is very into adopting new technology, and for people to go backwards back to vinyl is a big step. It’s very exciting because vinyl is such a different medium for HK, but again space will really determine whether it’ll take off properly or not.
The winner of our Battle of the Bands will win a Gibson Melody Maker. What Gibson guitars do you have in your studio and which ones do you like most?
I have two Gibson Les Pauls from the 2000s, and one Les Paul Jr. Billie Joe Armstrong (lead singer of Green Day) plays a Les Paul Jr, so I kind of got into that sound. I have a Fender Telecaster that I really enjoy but I’m more of a rock guy, so I tend to lean towards the gritty sounds of punk and hard rock, and Gibson just seems more suited for that. The Les Pauls sound good whether you plug it into any amp. The tone quality is fantastic and it just sounds right to me, whereas with other guitars I think you have to try hard with pedals to get the right sound. I think everybody who plays a Fender probably has a Les Paul somewhere. It’s just one of those things, and that name is so legendary – the things that he did with guitars were so incredible and revolutionary.
Do you have any advice for new musicians and bands in Hong Kong?
Don’t be afraid to suck. Everyone starts somewhere. In HK, as transient as it is, people will come, people will leave, but don’t let any of that stuff distract you from the music, because music is so universal. You can’t universally agree on a politician or your favorite sports team, but people from anywhere can agree on a band. For HK people I think they need to open up to different kinds of music out there. Even if you’re a hard rock musician, listen to jazz. If you’re a jazz musician, listen to punk rock. You will always find something that’s there for you. I used to hate heavy metal but then I started listening to the intricacies of what they were playing and I started to just appreciate the musicianship and I think that’s what people tend to forget – that music is not easy to play and it takes time to learn. Keep trying. Learn as many things as you can. Always stay up to date with the newest technology. Just listen to as much as you can and be open minded about it.
Vivian和This Music Studio 的主理人Jon Lee談了一些音樂製作的事，一個常被忽視的範疇。他們也聊到了關於樂隊比賽、廣東歌曲、和黑膠唱片的話題上，Jon也帶出了一些至理的話。
This Music Studio將會為優勝樂隊錄製歌曲。你有沒有參加過樂隊比賽？對於樂隊比賽你有什麼想法？
我在大約五年前有玩過Global Battle of the Bands。樂隊比賽就是十分有趣的一件事，雖然有時候賽果會有點隨機，在比賽中可以遇到很多不同的音樂人，而且獎品很多時候都很精彩的，例如之前Underground辦的Planetrox比賽的獎品便是可以到加拿大的魁北克演出，而這次的Battle of the Bands便是可以贏得錄音的時間，實在是太酷了。
無可否認的，香港的流行音樂是獨得的，但它們始終會強調主唱，而音樂底只作背景。一個樂隊監製是十分不同的，你必須確保每一樣樂器都能被聽見，每一樣樂器都有它的空間和呼吸的。我認為香港是有潛力的，唯香港的樂壇仍被流行音樂主導，不是說我不喜歡流行歌曲，述成以上的流行歌我都是喜歡的，雖然它們很多都很相似但我還是欣賞的，寫流行歌其實不容易啊，要搶耳，更要寫出押韻的廣東歌詞。因此它們還是一個獨立的歌曲類別，儘管有時一些流行歌手嘗試唱搖滾歌或R&B，那些混音是有一點點怪因為他們並不常做這事。我一向喜歡擴闊自己聽的東西，Green Day是我最喜歡的樂隊之一，但我也愛Bach和Mozart，Jazz和heavy metal這些。即使你只是搖滾樂的監製，多聽不同類型的音樂對於做出更多元化的音樂還是相當重要的。
談到音樂多元化，你曾經替獨立樂隊如Noughts & Exes、同樣曾替流行歌手如容祖兒等製作，你覺得過程中兩者有什麼分別嗎？
廣東流行曲的話，很多樂器都是預先錄好的，甚至是用程式造出來的，那歌手很多時候只是來跟著唱，創作過程其實分得很開－有人做樂底，有人作曲，有人填詞。但對於樂隊就有很多種做法，可以同步錄音或是逐樣樂器來錄，我試過一次是先錄bass和鼓的，一路錄其他人即也會擦出新的火花，一直有合作和提出意見，正如Noughts & Exes也是如此。這就是流行歌手和樂隊的分別吧，一隊樂隊是一群人常常聚在一起的，即使不是有什麼要製作，是一個團隊朋友們互相支持著，我覺得香港近年也開始察覺和學習這一點。
Battle of the Bands將會贏得Gibson Melody Maker，你有那些Gibson結他而你最喜歡的又是那一些？
我有兩枝2000年代的Gibson Les Pauls，一枝Les Paul Jr。Billie Joe Armstrong (Green Day主唱)是用Les Paul Jr的所以我也聽慣了它的聲音。我也有一枝我喜歡的Fender Telecaster，但我比較喜歡punk和hard rock那種gritty的聲音，所以剛好Gibson比較適合。Les Paul的聲音真的很棒，我相信很多擁有Fender的都同樣會有Les Paul吧，它可謂一個傳奇。
不要害怕挫折。每個人都有不同起點的，在香港，很多的誘惑會讓人離開音樂，所以不要被那些分散了你的注意力。音樂是很國際共通的，不可能有一個全世界認同的政客，也沒有一個全世界認同的運動團隊，但會有一隊全世界都愛的樂隊。還有，不多聽不同類似的音樂，假如你是玩hard rock的，也請聽聽jazz，假如你是玩jazz的，也要聽聽punk rock，你會在不同音樂中找到你自己。我曾經也不喜歡heavy metal的，但我聽著聽著也開始欣賞他們的那種音樂人的風骨，那是很多音樂人會遺忘的。總之，不斷的嘗試，盡自己所能學習，也要緊貼最新的科技，保持開放的心，多聽不同種類的音樂。