Jeff Berkley Wants to Produce Your Next Record
Jeff Berkley is an award-winning songwriter and one half of the local singer/songwriter duo Berkley Hart. Berkley Hart have received multiple nominations for San Diego Music Awards. They won their first SDMA in 2004 as Best Americana Album for 12. But Berkley’s also a record producer. At 22, he got his first co-producer credit for a Joel Raphael record. He’s since worked with a roster of talent including such notable locals as Gregory Page, Lisa Sanders, and Tim Flannery.
Dave Good: For those of us who’ve never actually made a record, could you describe what it is that a producer does?
Jeff Berkley: My job as a producer changes with every artist's project. Writing music, editing, choosing songs, rehearsing the band, choosing instruments, recording, directing, setting the stage, resolving arguments, choosing tones, recording, playing, or keeping quiet and staying out of the way, promoting, finding a budget, etc. I just fill in the blanks where I'm needed. Recording artists all want and need different things. I do what needs doing to make what's in the artist’s head and heart into a reality. I actually produce a real copy of their dreams. Cool job!
Hi-Staxx: What was your approach to producing that band?
Berkley: What happened with his record and most of the records I do is that Stevie’s [Harris] dreams became mine. I learned to see with his eyes and hear with his ears. The most important thing I can do for any musician is to help draw the best performances possible from them without any negative energy. Add to that any experiences I may have had that apply and, voila!
Rick Rubin to me defies studio logic because he can produce anything, and I mean anything, from a Neil Diamond comeback to death metal. All of his records sound great, but none sounds alike.
Berkley: He's on my top five list of faves for sure. His records are truly diverse from a genre perspective, but you can tell it's him from the tones and performances he pulls from his artists. I can always tell its Rick. It’s the same with all the greats from T-Bone Burnett to Phil Spector.
Have you ever gotten to the point that you wanted to fire a pistol during a session like Spector did?
Berkley: Yes, but not out of anger. More as a celebratory shot to cheer a good vocal take or a perfect guitar solo.
Do you have a favorite genre as a producer?
Berkley: Nope. I used to, but I fall in love with every record I'm doing and find out what's cool about that style. Right now, I'm doing a retro 80's record.
Do you cringe when you hear some records?
Berkley: I suppose so.
Big cringe factor for me on "You Can't Always Get What You Want." The choir and the French horns reek, even though the idea belongs to a first rate studio guy named Al Kooper.
Berkley: There's something to learn from that, though. People can be moved by music that is made in all sorts of different ways. Recording technique is important to us dorks, but in the grand scheme it's about the song and vibe every time.
As a musician and recording artist yourself, have you had bad experiences at the hands of a producer?
Berkley: Thankfully, no. I've worked with a lot of folks, some big-time and some local, and they all did the right thing. I learned everything from them including my dad James Berkley, Andy Mingione, Bob Johnson, Dave Sharp, Ben Moore, Joel Rafael, Paul Dieter, Kevin McCormack, Gavin Lurssen, Sven Eric Seaholm, and John Katchur.
A reporter once asked Tom Petty what he found to be the most difficult part of his job. "Telling the A songs from the B songs," he said. "They can sound a lot alike." So, how do you tell an A song from a B song?
Berkley: Instinct is all I can cite for that one. Years of seeing audiences react to my own tunes has really refined that skill.