May 02, 2023
Steve Berlin is a 40+ year member of Los Lobos and multiple Grammy winner as producer/entrepreneur.
Certainly proud of the Lobos catalog- it’s not easy to have a near 50 year career in anything much less in the music business, and I’m blessed to have worked with so many amazing and varied artists thru my career- The Tragically Hip, Faith No More, Buckwheat Zydeco, Raul Malo, the Super Seven records and a zillion more… and the best part is the lifelong friendships I have made.
The producer role has certainly changed a bit since I began my career- seems like there’s a fundraising component to almost every project lately and the social media aspect is an interesting development, but ultimately it remains trying to get the best, brightest and biggest version of the artist’s imagination onto a storage media and then out to the world with the least amount of stress and bloodshed.
I started like every kid- my friends had a band and I wanted to hang out so I started playing drums initially. My best friend was a drummer too and the band picked him so if I was gonna hang I had to play something else so I started on flute and then saxes. I was a teenager in the late 60’s so my musical imagination was largely formed by freeform FM radio in that golden age, and not much has changed- I still listen to the widest variety of music I can find and I’m still always looking for something new.
Once again- I am so lucky to have had close relationships with people that started as my heroes. I was my sax hero Lee Allen’s roommate for 3 years as a member of the Blasters, and early on in my producing career I became friends with Paul Rothschild, and then later to have worked with and learned from Mitchell Froom and Tchad Blake.
Early on like most 28 year olds I thought I knew better than the artists I was producing what their records were supposed to sound like. It took me a little while to learn and grasp humility, and to really understand that the best work happens when everyone in the room feels fully invested.
Almost everything I do these days is on the road or virtual so my main tool is AudioMovers software. It certainly kept me alive thru the pandemic as I was able to conduct sessions from my office chair all over the world and I still use it all the time. As far as instruments I am enjoying a bunch of plugins from AudioThing- they are making some cheap and fun sound bending tools that actually sound great.
The one thing that I would say to any aspiring producer is to get a solid idea in your head what you want the record you’re producing to sound like- then fully accept it probably won’t actually turn out that way but I guarantee there will be moments when the artist or the band feel like they’ve gone up the creek and lost the paddle- it takes a clear vision to say "follow me out."
As an almost full time mobile producer my headphones become the most important part of my chain- I need to know and trust that what I’m hearing is really what’s happening so I will go to them constantly especially in studios I do not know. It is amazingly easy to be fooled by a subwoofer that you are making history.
I am really gratified that there are so many amazing tools that let a guy like me make uncompromising records in unfamiliar places or in some cases make cool records without ever sharing the same physical space with the artist. Had anyone asked me even 3 years ago I would have said that is impossible but now I know it most definitely is as long as you have a monitoring chain you can trust.
I am lucky enough to own both LCD-XCs and a pair of Manny Marroquin's MM-500s and without a doubt owning these phones has increased both the quality of my work and my efficiency. They are so clear, rich and detailed that I find I am able to get things done faster- I rarely need to sample mixes on alternate environments anymore since things translate so nicely. Since I do almost everything I do on the road it's absolutely paramount that I have a monitoring system I trust completely wherever I go and until I found these phones I never felt 100% confident, but now I do. I've also found that the LCD-XCs work great for singers concerned about their intonation- again since they are so clear and detailed its a lot easier for them to find their pitch so I bring them to every session.
I recently finished a record with a band called Shinyribs in Austin and my Audeze's were invaluable because I was getting mixes on a cruise ship. I'm working on a few records right now in varying stages of completion- an artist named Rush Sturges I'm mixing with David Simon-Baker, and another Austin band called Nuevo who are fantastic. I'm also co-composing a soundtrack for a silent movie called Breaking Home Ties with Scott Amendola, Adam Dorn and Nels Cline.