Brandi Carlile on Producing and Uncovering The Artist – In Conversation at NAMM 2023

The 2023 NAMM Show‘s TEC Tracks program included a special session “Brandi Carlile on Producing and Uncovering the Artist in the Studio”. The session featured Carlile (a 9x GRAMMY® Award-winning singer, songwriter, performer, producer) in conversation with 4x GRAMMY-winning producer/engineer Dave Way (Fiona Apple, Ringo Starr, Phoebe Bridgers, Echo in the Canyon, Sheryl Crow, Pink, “Weird Al” Yankovic).

TEC Tracks is a pro audio and music technology education program at The NAMM Show.  Aside from the production of her own work (in which she has played a major part since her self-produced, self-titled debut in 2005), Carlile has increasingly been in demand as a record producer for other artists in recent years, helming albums by Tanya Tucker, Lucius, The Secret Sisters and Brandy Clark.

In this TEC Tracks session, Dave Way interviewed Carlile to discuss her approach to record production. Both the creative and organizational aspects of production were covered in earnest, with Carlile expanding on the different steps taken and decisions made to bring out the “magic” in the process.

The topics of song selection and band-building were also a focus, with Carlile discussing what she looks for in a song for each particular project and what it takes to gather the right studio ensemble. In both cases, Carlile said she prefers these decisions to project the authenticity of the artist first and foremost, rather than playing it safe to generate a by-the-numbers product:

“I’m just looking for the songs that reveal the artist most authentically, where it doesn’t sound like they came out of a staff writing room, or it doesn’t sound like they are not being revealed authentically in the song for whatever reason,” stated Carlile.

“I always ask artists not to send me produced demos. I always ask for just a voice memo on your phone, a guitar and vocal. Not because I want to have an overbearing outcome on how the song turns out, but just because I don’t want me or that artist to get pulled in one direction in too strong of a way, to leave room for the moment, the moment that is rock ’n’ roll in the studio.”

Carlile also shared wisdom, techniques and insights she has learned from working with other acclaimed producers, including T Bone Burnett, Rick Rubin, Dave Cobb and Shooter Jennings, and she discussed differences between producing her own music versus other artists’ work.

An emotional portion of the discussion was dedicated to Carlile’s recent series of collaborations with songwriting legend Joni Mitchell, including Mitchell’s 2022 return to the stage at the Newport Folk Festival after a lengthy health-related hiatus and the resulting upcoming live album produced by Carlile.

At the session, Carlile played two preview tracks (“A Case of You” and “Both Sides Now”) from the upcoming Mitchell live album for the crowd, along with additional cuts from Tish Melton (“Michele” and “The Chase”), Tanya Tucker (“Bring My Flowers Now” and “Kindness”) and Brandy Clark (“Buried” and “Ain’t Enough Rocks”).