Audeze interviews writer and producer Jeff Owen

October 17, 2023

Jeff Owen has been a creative in the industry for over 15 years. Starting with touring with Joy Williams of the Civil Wars and being a longtime member of Tenth Avenue North, Jeff has been focused on writing music for TV, film, and advertising. He's a signed writer for Baxter House and has had success with music placed with ABC, HBO Max, Netflix, PopSockets, T-Mobile, and the NFL. After working in Nashville for many years, you can now find him writing in his studio at home in South Florida.

 Jeff Owen in the studio with his Audeze MM-500 headphones

"With my MM-500's I'm making mix decisions faster and more precisely."  - Jeff Owen
Here's our chat with Jeff:
Can you pick out any highlights from your work that you're particularly proud of?

Some highlights of mine from the last few years would be producing all of Tenth Avenue North's "No Shame" record. I co-wrote on more than half of the record but the band (and the label) entrusted me with producing the whole project. It was really redefining sonically from what Tenth had done in the past and I was able to explore a lot more than I had in the past. Doug Weier came in clutch with the mix and really put a bow on it. Another album is actually a Tenth release as well- I produced on "Decade the Halls." What a project that was. We decided to make a Christmas album that essentially moved throughout the decades with each track, starting in the 1920's. So imagine big band swing, 80's chorus & reverb, and EDM music all existing on the same project! Stephen Leiweke engineered most of the cuts and also mixed. Chuck Butler produced two tracks as well.

How would you define your main role on most of the projects you work on these days?

These days I'm a writer producer- so essentially I'm composing the music for a song, editing, mixing, and mastering everything before final turn in to the publishers. Half of the time I'm also writing topline (lyrics/melody) with another writer(s). Sometimes it can feel like the guy in the circus who's spinning plates while playing a kickdrum and a snare drum at the same time, but like with anything it's so much fun. Sometimes it feels like I'm sample surfing all day, sometimes it feels like I'm tuning vocals all day, but like John Fields says (my favorite producer I've been fortunate enough to work with): "small baby squirrels." Basically taking so many small incremental steps to arrive at a finished product.

I work with so many talented artists and writers who create such amazing stories and melodies to the music I'm creating that I'm blown away that I get to work with them.

How did you get started in music? What kind of music did you listen to while growing up and how has that progressed?

So my start in music was probably like a lot of other people's in rural America: I had a choice between reading class and band class. Band class sounded so much more fun! So I started on percussion in 7th grade, moved to showchoir in highschool and eventually formed a band. We cleaned up at the talent show and I basically finished my senior year as royalty but I quickly learned how average I actually was when I went to college and there was a bigger pool of musicians surrounding me. Professionally though I hung around a local band long enough that they took me out on the road one summer and I fell in love. I played sound guy/tour manager/roadie for a few years with them as well as Jon McLaughlin before I landed my first performing gig with Joy Williams (the Civil Wars).

I grew up listening to grunge. I couldn't get enough of the raspy rock'n roll thing. STP, Bush, Nirvana... that eventually lead to Third Eye Blind and the Black Crowes. OneRepublic's "Waking Up" album was a big turning point for me from a production stand point. There wasn't any DAW "trickery" with that record but there were so many hooks and interesting arrangements I spent a lot of time trying to crack the code of that project.

Can you name any factors that influenced the course of your musical life? Heroes, role models, moments, interactions, etc?

When I was with Tenth Avenue North we made a couple records with John Fields (Miley Cyrus, Pink, Jimmy Eat World, Demi Lovato, Jonas Brothers). That was like a masterclass for weeks on end on musical arrangement, Pro Tools, gear, internet memes, you name it. It was so much fun and such an eye opening experience to watch his flow and his creative process. It's funny that there was no "process" per se- sometimes you would be in the hot seat cutting a part and you'd mess up or the idea would only be partially sorted through. So naturally you'd speak up and say "hey John, what if I..." and then you just immediately hear playback in your headphones and you'd be laying down what ever you were about to talk through! He didn't want to hear you talk about it, he wanted to hear how it sounded within the context of the music.

Can you briefly describe a moment of frustration from your past work, and what you may have done to overcome the obstacles? Would you approach it differently now?

Man there's so many... There was a project where I asked to produce a cover of a song in epic trailer fashion. Problem was it was a week turnaround. Second problem was it was a sync release. So that means there's no budget. As a producer writer I get to work on the song for no pay, but I essentially split any wins with that artist 50/50. Hopefully this song does well and we participate in the back end perhaps 6 months to 6 years down the road but all the work is on me because I can't afford to outsource everything. So looking back I should have talked some buddies into helping me comp and tune vocals or mix or something but I didn't and the product just wasn't what I wanted it to be at the end.

Is there any gear you find yourself turning to most when working on a project? What are some of your favorite tools/instruments recently?

I'm always looking for ways to create shorter paths to common tasks. Last year I got a Stream Deck to help me pull up choice plugins or perform simple macros just to shave off 3 seconds or 3 clicks with each operation. Do that 30+ times in a session and it starts to add up. I also sold some sturdy quality guitars I toured with and bought an old Sivertone and Airline guitar. I don't need the guitars to stay in tune through an entire set of songs or hold up on the road anymore, I want guitars that have character that come through on a recording. I can tune the guitar between tacks if it's loose.

Do you have any words of wisdom for people who might aspire toward a similar path for their own careers?

I saw Tommee Profitt say it like this on his Instagram feed a few months ago- Basically if you want a career in music it's going to be a ten year commitment, or something to that effect. It's a long process. Unless you have the undeniable star quality that so very few people are born with you better come ready to dedicate yourself to your craft. I wasn't born with that star quality but there was something to work with and I've been working on it for a very long time. I've seen a lot of talented people give up and I've seen a lot of less talented people win in the end because they stayed with it.

How long have you been working with headphones, and how do you typically use them in your workflow?

Headphones are an integrated part of how I make music. When tracking with a microphone to mixing the cans are always ready to go. But I always reference the headphones! I love speakers, I love the energy, and I love feeling my desk shake but headphones can help you bring things into focus. Most consumers listen to music either in mono in an open environment or through buds/headphones. There's a different life presented to you when you use headphones so you definitely want to reference the mix in there.

How have your Audeze headphones affected your work? Can you tell us what you've been working on with them recently?

With my MM-500's I'm making mix decisions faster and more precisely. They've taken a lot of the guesswork out of what needs to be happening in my session. The lows and low-mids are especially tasteful. I can't believe what I was missing with my other cans. There's a bass extension that is especially pleasing. The stereo width is so much wider now and I'm able to pan things more accurately. I don't get any physical fatigue and can work more comfortably for longer periods of time because of the design and ear pads. 

Lately I've been catching up on finishing production and mixing on a bunch of songs from 2022. We're also currently working on wrapping a country hiphop song for a large client in CA. It's an ad campaign that will play most of the year so the MM-500's came at a great time in my work flow!

 Jeff Owen's Audeze MM-500 headphones