Beau Hill: 'Your Only Constraint Is Your Own Imagination'

Producer and engineer Beau Hill is best known for his work with Alice Cooper, Kix, Winger, Warrant, Europe and Ratt.

Beau Hill: 'Your Only Constraint Is Your Own Imagination'
Producer and engineer Beau Hill is best known for his work with Alice Cooper, Kix, Winger, Warrant, Europe and Ratt and having worked on both sides of the studio glass. He has played instruments and sang backing vocals for some of the artists that he produced, as well as for his own band Airborne not the Australian band of the same name. Hill's vast experience ranges from recording artist to record production to record company executive. Hill was one of the founding partners of Interscope Records. He has co-written hit singles, fronted his own band, and worked with many well-known rock musicians. In Ultimate Guitar's continuing series, "The Producers and Engineers", Joe Matera put in a call to Hill to discuss his production career, the importance of being a musician-cum-producer and digital technology vs. analog. UG: With your own background as a recording artist and musician, how important was that to your future career as producer and engineer? Beau Hill: That's a great question and nobody has ever asked me that before. It was very important primarily because I had no experience with how the business worked at all. I didn't have any relatives or friends or anybody in the business at the time. You interviewed producer Keith Olsen awhile ago, well Keith was the guy that gave me my start. So when Airborne were making that record with Keith, I spent as much time as I possibly could, while making that record in learning and stealing everything I could steal from Keith. (laughs) Just before we got the Airborne deal I was putting myself through college as an engineer so I was working at a small studio in Denver, Colorado and after business hours, I would go in and record my band. And that is how we wound up with the demos that got us our deal. You obviously know that there is an Australian band called Airbourne? Yes, I know, and believe me, the phone started ringing as soon as those guys hit the airwaves here, everyone was asking me, were you in a band called Airborne? Being a producer that also engineers, how integral has that been to your work? From my perspective the most important part was being a musician. I had also studied classical composition forever. So that was important but having an engineering background sort of completed the puzzle. In order to work efficiently with the people around you, you have to have a musical background and some type of technical background as well, so you can really know what is going on in your sessions at all times. Whether or not I am twiddling the knobs, isn't really as important as when I can walk into the room and know when something is wrong and how to fix it. I have a vocabulary that I can speak to the other assistant engineers or engineers on the date to sort out whatever is going on. I think it's important for producers to be well rounded. You need to be able to communicate effectively with the people that you're working with, like if it's a musician and you want it to be a Asus4 chord rather than an A major, you need to be able to convey that to the people on your session in order for your session to work more efficiently and effectively.

"I was not the producer of choice that the guys from RATT wanted to work with, I don't even think I was in their top ten."

You were very much part of RATT's success since you produced those first few albums of theirs. What do you remember most about working with the band from a production and engineering perspective? First off, for the record, I was not the producer of choice that the guys from RATT wanted to work with, I don't even think I was in their top ten. But none the less I got forced upon them, the rest is sort of history now. From an engineering point of view, we did the first record at The Village in L.A where we had access to pretty much anything that we needed so there wasn't any gigantic engineering challenges. The biggest challenge for me was trying to get the arrangements where the songs were really going to hold up. And at the time, I was a completely unknown hack producer and they were an unknown broke band from San Diego. So at a certain point I would say, hey guys how about this?' And rightfully so they'd say, who the hell are you to tell us what to do?' So we wrestled with that for a little bit. Luckily they were open enough to make a few changes so we wound up with the arrangement on Round And Round' which as you know, kick started the whole thing for them. Would it be fair to say you and the band are largely responsible for the development of the LA glam-metal scene? We were certainly a part of it but don't forget Guns & Roses was beginning to happen and Van Halen RATT was one of the early contributors to that scene certainly. But it wouldn't be fair to say we were the impetus for that particular style. It was already under way, but we happen to kind of be there in the early days. Over the years much has been said about you hiring Mike Slamer to play some of the guitar solos on Warrant's first two albums. Much to the point of it being disputed and debated, so what's the truth? When we were in pre-production I called a band meeting and I said, listen guys we're competing with the greatest guitar players in the world, everybody from Steve Vai to Warren Di Martini to Eddie Van Halen and I have to be honest with you, I think the songs are really great, but I think we're a little weak in the solo department and so I like to bring somebody in'. And as much as every band in the world never wants to hear that from their producer, I have to give these guys full credit, they listened to me and they agreed to do it and they were real gentlemen about it. We also credited Mike on the record and yet this has always been presented to me as some sort of behind the scenes, subterfuge, kind of secret, but everybody in the band signed off on it and everything was done above ground and everybody participated. You started in an analog world, so how did you embrace moving over to the digital recording realm? I would use the phrase, kicking and screaming. But having finally having been converted to it, I absolutely love it. And the only thing I can say is that in the digital universe, your only constraint is your own imagination. I mean if you can think of it, you can pretty much do it. In the analog universe there were many physical limitations. There was stuff that you couldn't just be able to do. But now that you've eliminated a lot of those physical properties, ie: tape, razor blades and things like that, if you can imagine it in your mind, then you can do it. How did you, and do you, go about capturing guitar tones? The best answer I would give to you is to cut and paste the paragraph in that Keith Olsen interview where he describes his method. He taught me and obviously I loved the results he got and so, I used the same approach. And that is what I have always done. I have to give credit where credit is due. What do you think of amp simulators and virtual effects and the claims that some are able to replicate, and if not, surpass the real thing? That's a great question. It has been so long since I have done a session on tape and in that time period, the analog digital converters and the equipment has gotten so good, that I would be hard pressed to tell you the difference. I can give you one example. There is a plug-in that takes a snap shot of a wave form of a piece of analog gear and it replicates it. I used it on one my favorite pieces of outboard equipment, a Pultec EQP-1A, which I have to say, one should never leave home without. I ran it through this modeling plug-in through a recorded a guitar part I had. I placed the plug-in version on the left and the real version on the right. It was just one rhythm guitar part and nothing else. And I sent it to six people. Two other producers, the guy who played the guitar part, my rep at Digidesign and a couple of engineers. I asked them, which one was the real EQ, and which one was the plug in and it was the exact same settings on both sides. And the replies came back 50/50. Three thought it was the real one and three thought it was the plug-in. And the guy who played the original guitar part even got it wrong. That kind of softened my hard edge about analog versus digital.

"I think that unless they change the business model significantly, the major labels are going to continue their decline."

What's your opinion on the current state of the industry and where it is heading? I think that unless they change the business model significantly, the major labels are going to continue their decline. I was lucky enough to be in the industry when there were three components that I think really drove the industry and helped all of us from that time period, to be successful. One of them was the record labels, the other was terrestrial radio and the third was MTV. The existence of all of those, in a sort of hand in glove way in which they interfaced with each other, really kind of drove it. Since MTV has become largely silly game shows for children and the majors have decided to lower their risk profile so unless it's something that's been on Star Search or one of those TV talent shows, they're not going to get involved, it's only going to get worse. All of those things have contributed slowing down the explosive growth of the industry significantly. Now with all the DIY bands that are trying to promote themselves on the internet etc, we have the market place flooded with hundreds and thousands of bands who are all at the same kind at the same tipping point. What advice can you offer to home recording enthusiasts? I believe the very top of the food chain with respect to recording the material is the songs themselves. Think about all the great hit records that are out there, and really a lot of them don't sound that great, but the people and listener respond to the music. They don't know if there is a +5 at 10 Kz on the hi-hat or not, and nor do they care. But they do care if they can sing along or dance to it or whatever the particular emotional tie is to the song. So I always tell people don't get too bogged down in the knob twindling and that kind of stuff, because if you have got a terrible song, it doesn't make any difference if you've recorded it in a multi-million dollar studio or not, it still a terrible song. So I try to focus people on getting the material right first. Once you've got your material right then everything else from a knob turning perspective or a patch bay perspective becomes a lot easier. It's kind of automatic in some way. Finally what are you currently working on? When I launched my website, in 2007, bands from all around the world starting sending me files. Because when you go on the internet, as you know, you strip away the lawyers, the managers, the agents, the gatekeepers really. So bands that I have never met or ever heard of, started sending me files with the requests like, could you please help us as we've taken this as far as we can take it and so can you do what you can do with it?'. And that was interesting and so I had a go and since then that's really all I've been doing. So I am working with a lot of indie projects and it has been a blast because there are some really talented groups out there Interview by Joe Matera Ultimate-Guitar.Com 2012

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    Beau Hill, great producer. One of the best. I love his work with Ratt, Winger, Warrant, Fiona and Kix. I have those LP's... Timeless classics. I wish he'd produce my album in the future.
    Well I guess this proves that Mike Slamer did play on the first two Warrant albums, albeit in the solo department.