Sean Giovanni, Nashville Music Producer/ Balcony TV Nashville
by Sue Basko
Giovanni also runs Balcony TV Nashville. Balcony TV is an internet music show that brings in well-known musical acts to do one acoustic song apiece out on a balcony overlooking a scenic part of a city. Balcony TV was founded in 2006 in London and has since been franchised worldwide to Dublin, Hamburg, Poznan, Brighton, Auckland, Paris, Brisbane, Edmonton, Rennes, Prague, Toronto, and Mexico City. Nashville was the first U.S. city to have Balcony TV, and has been followed by New York and Austin. I love Balcony TV!
Sean Giovanni offers these insightful answers to my probing questions:
Please explain your business. You have The Record Shop -- which is a recording studio, right? And you do Balcony TV Nashville. And what else?
I own The Record Shop Recording Studio in Nashville, Tennessee. After working as a freelance engineer and producer for several years, I decided it was time to open my own facility. My goal was to create a relaxed, creative environment that focused on the artistic vision of my clients. The Record Shop is a multi-purpose production facility that features a diverse selection of instruments, microphones, analog gear, and recording spaces. One of my main objectives when working on a record is to capture the sonic direction of the artist through creating the right vibe with a great performance. Having my own facility allows me the flexibility to take the time to get it right without "worrying about the clock."
In addition to producing records, The Record Shop also offers a wide variety of services to assist our artists in successfully developing and promoting their work. We offer video production, website design, graphic design, and marketing. Rather than making the studio a "one-stop shop" for these services, I sought out to develop a team of creative minds that could work together collectively, in order to provide excellent service at an affordable rate. In doing so, we are able to not only give our artists a great recording, but also offer the tools for them to promote the record effectively.
In an effort to offer our artists a valuable opportunity to promote their music, I developed a monthly on-line music show called The Record Shop Sessions. The Record Shop Sessions, streamed on youtube and our website, features in-studio performances and interviews from a wide variety of artists. As the show began to develop, I ran across an award winning on-line music show called Balcony TV. Balcony TV showcases performances and interviews shot from balconies in 16 cities around the world. I saw this show as a unique opportunity to help spread the word on the incredible music community in Nashville and abroad. We recently celebrated our one year anniversary of Balcony TV Nashville and the show has continued to grow as a leading outlet for new music on-line.
What makes The Record Shop special?
I believe the dedication to the direction of the artist is an important aspect of what The Record Shop has to offer. We have all the fancy equipment, but maintaining a clear vision of what the artist is seeking to achieve through their recording is invaluable to the process. I start every project with a series of pre-production sessions where we discuss the sonic vision of the material, work out arrangements, and allow everyone to get a feel for the studio. By the time we begin recording, everyone is on the same page, and we are able to focus on capturing the best performance. I take the time to get things right, so when we run the playback, the artist hears exactly what they were hearing in their head when they envisioned the material.
The first time I visited Nashville, I was instantly drawn to the creative atmosphere of the town. Everywhere you go, there is music being written, played, or recorded. There are countless, hard-working musicians and artists constantly creating. Great songs are at the heart of any great recording, and Nashville is a songwriter's town. The creative energy here is truly inspirational and keeps me going day in and day out.
With the amazing music community in Nashville, comes a high level of competition. While the struggle to stand out amongst the crowd can be overwhelming to some, this challenge has driven me to continue to put my heart and soul into every project I produce. However, there is also a sense of "family camaraderie" in Nashville that is not often seen in such a competitive industry. Nashville has a small town vibe with big city opportunity. I have been blessed to have the support of a few influential people who could have easily brushed me off, but went out of their way to lead me in the right direction. The flood last year was a great example of the selfless personality of the Nashville community. Many people were devastated by the damage of the flood, but everyone still came together in support of one another and the common goal of making great music.
Tell me a little about your life and background. What led up to where you are today?
I grew up outside of Detroit, Michigan, a city with a legendary and diverse music scene. My father is an eclectic fan of music. As a kid, he introduced to me to a wide variety of music. I was always interested in the way that the "organized noise" that created music could inspire such deep emotional response. This interest led me to write poetry, which turned into songs, and eventually I mowed enough lawns to purchase a Tascam 4 Track.
I have to leave something for the autobiography haha....so for the abridged version, I experimented with recording music for a few years. When it came time to go to college, I ventured to Minneapolis, Minnesota, where I attended The Institute of Production and Recording. During my time in Minneapolis, I began working my way up as an engineer at a couple studios in town.
Before graduating, I took a trip out to Nashville and knew right away that it was the place for me. However, after interviewing at every studio in town, begging to make coffee and wrap cables, I was told I was "overqualified" (which translates to, "you're not receiving college credit from Belmont").
It was looking like I was out of luck, but I was fortunate enough to keep at it and I eventually got in touch with studio manager, Pat McMakin. While Pat was unable to get me an internship, he did offer me some valuable advice about getting your foot in the door in Nashville. Inspired by his support, I continued to record demos in my apartment on Music Row and continued to build my network around town.
I began producing a local rock band called Stonecrossing, who introduced me to studio owner, Pat Holt. Pat was kind enough to allow me to utilize his facility during downtime. I finally had a commercial facility to work out of and eventually began picking up freelance sessions at several facilities around town.
During this time, I began to collect an assortment of equipment that would soon become the back bone of The Record Shop. Over the next few years, I had collected enough gear to open my own studio and I began searching for a room. After a few months, I found a room built by producer, Mark Burchfield. Formerly, Watershed Recording Studio, this room would become the home of The Record Shop in December 2009. It has been a great journey so far and I'm excited to see what the future will bring.
I love Balcony TV. How has your experience been so far?
Balcony TV Nashville has been a very rewarding experience for everyone involved. It has been really cool to have the opportunity to provide such a valuable outlet for the Nashville music scene. Our videographer, Rev. Jay Leal, of Rebel Rev Productions, does an amazing job at capturing the vibe of the performances. Our hosts, Crow and Melissa Montgomery, bring a fun personality to the episodes. The engineers, Art Lindman and John Constable are a great help in bringing the sound of the show to life. It's a blessing to have such a great team to help make the show happen.
This year, we have branched out to cover music industry events as well. In January, we went to Anaheim, California for the NAMM show. We covered a variety of exciting new products and had a chance to interview a few legends in the industry such as: Andy Johns, Alan Parsons, and Victor Wooten. We were also invited to cover the behind the scenes preparation for the Grammy Awards. Seeing the rehearsals and preparation for the show was amazing.
What are some of your favorite moments in your work?
Goosebumps...the moment when the last note of a song is ringing out and I look around the room at everyone standing there with chills, knowing that we just got the "magic take" What a feeling! I had the privilege of recording vocals with a legendary artist a couple weeks ago, and as I glanced through the glass during the final take, I felt the emotion radiating from his performance, I was reminded of why making records is the only thing I've ever wanted to do with my life. The ability to spend every day creating something that will live forever is truly a blessing. I often refer to a quote from philosopher William James that sums it all up, "The best use of life is to use it for something that will outlast it."
Tell me about indie musicians in Nashville. What is the situation?
The story of Indie music in Nashville is interesting. There are a number of killer non-country acts in Nashville, but they have a hell of a time building a local fan base. More often than not, most of the crowd is other indie bands. haha You could take any one of the top indie bands in Nashville and send them to any other city and they would tear it up. But put them in Nashville and they get a subtle round of applause from their peers.
There is a saying that Nashville is a great place to develop a project, but eventually you have to take it somewhere else to break through. Now there are obviously exceptions to this rule. There are some great indie bands that have found a way to gain a strong following in Nashville, but it is usually short lived unless they take the show on the road at some point.
I think the relocation of many notable indie and rock acts to Nashville is starting to help put the indie scene on the map in a larger scale, but while Nashville is a diverse music town, the good ol' boys of country are still holding up the fort for the most part. That being said, there is still great indie music in Nashville and it is a great place to develop a project.
If a new singer songwriter wants to come to Nashville and play some open mics or showcases, which ones do you suggest?
There are countless open mics around Nashville. Some are good, some are great, some probably shouldn't be happening. The best way to find out what works for you is browsing the web or picking up a copy of The Nashville Scene. Songwriters can find listings of upcoming open mics and check them out to see if they would be a good fit. Open mics are a great place to network and hone your craft as a performer. However, its important to be on top of your game. Nashville is a small town and word spreads quick, good or bad.
I believe co-writing is equally as important as hitting the open mics. If you want to become a great songwriter, surround yourself with writers that are more experienced than you are. Nashville is full of opportunities to develop your songwriting, its just a matter of making the effort to meet the right people.
A very successful writer in town told me, "If you want to be a great writer, write a song everyday. Most of them might be horrible, some of them will be ok, but a few will be amazing. Eventually the great songs will start coming out more often."
It’s just a matter of making the effort to improve your craft and learning to see experiences around you as songs. Depending on your writing style, the Nashville way of doing things may not be for you. Contrary to what some "associations" may tell you, there are no rules to songwriting, only guidelines that have worked in the past. The best way to find your voice in Nashville, is to experience all that the Nashville songwriting community has to offer and decide what resonates with your own creative direction.
What are your favorite microphones and why?
My favorite microphone is whatever sounds best on the instrument for the current song. One of the great things about the creation of music is that there are no rules. I enjoy experimenting with different combinations of signal chains, placement, and instruments to create unique sounds when a song calls for that, or I'll stick to the standard options if not. I really dig the warmth of ribbon mics on a lot of things and generally lean towards vintage mics when extra character is called for.
What is your philosophy of music production?
Great Songs. Proper Preparation. Mindless Execution.
Great recordings begin with great songs. Sometimes artists have a hard time revisiting a song after it's written. I've found that many times, if it feels like something is missing from a tune, if we look at the lyrics, phrasing, etc, there may be some minor adjustments that could take a song from being good to great.
It may be Nashville brainwashing me, but I need to "feel" the words to fall in love with a tune. Don't be scared to rethink the second verse or find a stronger line to tie the bridge together. Just because you wrote it already, doesn't mean its the best that it could be. "Hallelujah" took Leonard Cohen five years to write, sometimes the right words take a few revisions.
Unless you are a jam band, proper preparation is key to great studio performances. The intensity of this preparation can vary greatly depending on the vibe of the project, but in my opinion great recordings are more likely to come when the artist is clear on where the song is going to take them. This doesn't mean that every note has to be methodically planned, but a basic outline of the direction can go a long way in capturing the magic take... and avoiding the drummer throwing his sticks at the guitar player.
When you can play the song without thinking about it, you're ready to make a record. Too little planning can make for a difficult day in the studio, but too much thinking can also take away from the natural feel of a song. The goal is to find a balance, where you are comfortable with the tune, but don't have to think about what comes next. Let the song take over, get lost in the moment, and the audience will follow along. When I look out into the room and see an artist opening their eyes, returning from the journey they took while performing the song, I know we've got the take.
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