Interview with Matt Robertson

Matt Robertson is a producer / composer / orchestrator / programmer living in the UK. Having studied Music and Sound Recording at the University of Surrey, graduating with a First Class degree in 2000, he started a music production company with Neil McLellan (producer of the Prodigy). This was merged into The Lodge production facility based in New York in 2004.

He now works with leading film composers including David Arnold (Quantum of Solace), Andrew Lockington (City of Ember), Alex Heffes (State of Play), and most recently has orchestrated for Marius de Vries on the hit movie Kick Ass.

Arranging for live shows, he’s worked on the brass arrangements for Bjork’s 18-month Volta world tour, string arrangements for Bat for Lashes, and orchestral charts for Kanye West’s ‘Glow in the Dark’ tour with Rosie Danvers.

He’s currently working with Marius de Vries on a film project to be released in 2011.

 

Where did you study, and do you think it helped you in your later career?

I studied at the University of Surrey. I think the stuff I learnt there is useful up to a point but I don’t think I ever got a gig from knowing how FM broadcast worked! However, the course has a year in industry and that has been absolutely invaluable.

What was your first break and did that lead directly to what you’re doing now?

I met Neil McLellan at Strongroom Studios (where my one year placement was – doing tech support) and started working on productions with him, doing some programming and guitar / keyboard work. In some way or another, every single gig I have got in the last 10 years has come through people I met in my year out, or through other people that I was at university with and their work placement contacts. I think it’s very difficult to under estimate the importance of meeting people in the work field that you want to go into, and the stuff you learn will pretty much always be secondary to that.

What technical skills do you use in your work at the moment?

I use a lot of organisational and IT related skills! A lot of what I do now is technical in that it is computer related. Intimate knowledge of the common software tools is important, but having the ability to be on top of several parallel projects and keep everything organised is probably equally important in what I do. I also do arranging / orchestrating, so the technical knowledge there is important too.

What about the human side and relating to other composers, clients and colleagues?

(I think the fact that I’m answering this interview via email probably answers your question! hehe 😉 )

The interpersonal skill side of things is maybe THE most important part of getting on in the industry. A huge amount of work is done remotely now, using ftp or similar to send projects around the globe, but in order to get into a situation where you are doing some remote work I think you have to establish a ‘real’ relationship with someone first. People want to know that you are trustworthy and reliable, and those are very difficult qualities to establish if you haven’t spent at least some time in the same room as the people you are working with. There’s also an interesting side effect of all the remote work I think – sometimes artists will be sending their Work in Progress projects over the net to me to work on, and in that situation they need to know that I understand enough about the protocols of sending things remotely that it’s not going to get into the wrong hands. I think those kind of things are much easier to deal with if you actually have a good relationship with the people you are working with, and have spent time with them outside of skype.

 

Who have you enjoyed working with most and why?

I did some string arrangements for Bat for Lashes recently for some live shows and that was really good fun. Working with Björk on her world tour in 07/08 was amazing too. Jon Brion was great to work with. The orchestration work I did for Gallows with Garth Richardson was really good too. I think in all these cases I enjoyed it because all these people are at the top of their games and also are wonderful people who just inspire you to do your best work.

How do you see music production changing over the next 10 years?

I think from the point of view of the production industry (rather than the ‘being an artist’ industry) the ability to do everything quicker will become more important. I don’t think that neccesarily means doing it worse, it just means having a really good workflow, and all the software / hardware choices might become more to do with efficiency than anything else! Remote working will probably become even more important as more and more people work outside of major studios, and this will HOPEFULLY go along with much faster domestic broadband upload speeds than we currently have! A lot of the time I spend on the organisational side of things is due to the fact that a lot of the time we are using software way beyond what it was designed to do. The workflow (in film particularly) means that there’s a lot of time spent moving data between songs and also running parallel sessions that ‘add up to’ what you want one session to be. Neither Logic nor ProTools really have that side of things sorted out and so you can easily spend a day moving stuff around projects to consolidate something before you have done anything musical at all. Hopefully these things will become rectified as we go along, but the major software manufacturers are understandably more interested in the 10s of thousands of units they sell to hobbyist musicians rather than the 100s of units they sell to people doing complicated film scores!

I think more and more people will move ‘in the box’ as audio processing gets better and better – to the point where there will be very few ‘classic’ studio setups any more (even less than there are now!) This is a shame in some ways as I love that process.

What’s your favourite record and why?

Blimey…..

umm…

something including Arcade Fire’s ‘Neon Bible’, Gregor Samsa’s ‘Rest’ and Bat for Lashes ‘Fur and Gold’

They all are totally transporting for me. I think that’s what I enjoy most in records now – the ability to take you somewhere else. Also – I would love to be able to make a record anywhere near as good as these 🙂

What advice would you give to people starting out now?

Be nice to everyone and say yes to everything

Any other better questions you can think of?

You could ask me about the importance of matching the type of VCA to the type of filter in an analogue synth, but maybe I should save that for my website hehe

Websites featuring Matt:

Matt Robertson Music
Listen to some of Matt’s own great tunes Matt on Soundcloud

Matt on Twitter @mrmattrobertson

Matt on facebook