Always Hit “Record”: An Interview with Producer Phil Speiser
Phil Speiser is a big name, not only in Austria, where the music producer and composer calls home, but throughout Europe and the US. Phil has had several international club hits as well as official remixes released by Selena Gomez, Robyn and other artists.
His career started at the early age of 15 with the electro-project Dirty Disco Youth, which got the attention of superstar DJ Steve Aoki, who quickly signed him. He toured worldwide until the age of 20, playing in front of crowds in the hundreds of thousands across Asia. He also completed an Australia tour withthe bandSkrillex.
At 20, Phil started producing and writing for various international artists and was a member and producer of the fifth chapter of the German band Scooter, the most commercially successful German act with 23 Top 10 hits. Phil’s productions also include features with A-list artists such as IggyAzalea, WizKhalifa and Snoop Dogg.
We caught up with him in his studio in Vienna:
What are you working on right now, and what interesting projects do you have lined up for this year?
Currently I’m pretty busy with my act “MÖWE”. We are currently producing the upcoming singles and I can tell you: The songs we got lined up are already among my favorite tracks. Be prepared for some serious hits! I’m also finishing the first EP of the artist “Marcel” at the moment. He is an outstanding singer, and I discovered him here in Austria. I‘m also involved in several big advertising campaigns at the moment which is also a lot of fun.
Can you tell us a little about your studio? What is your set-up? What are your 3 favorite pieces of gear?
I moved back to Vienna a couple of years ago and started to work from home again after having spent years in big studios. I work best if I alternate studio work with other things. I can’t fit my creativity into a schedule.
Thanks to modern technology I don’t need a big studio for a professional production which gives me great flexibility. The core piece of my studio is probably my MacBook. It’s connected to my full setup but it still allows me to take my projects wherever I want to go. Since I’m working with Ableton Live, the Ableton Push 2 is probably the main device I use to control my DAW. For reference listening in the studio and working on the road, my Austrian Audio Hi-X55 Headphones are a must-have.
How do you feel about microphones?
The most important thing for me, when it comes to microphones, is a transparent and un-coloured sound. I also don’t do any processing on my recording chain. I love to have the full flexibility to shape the sound later-on in my creative process. I need to trust my microphones, because sometimes it’s the first take, the quick demo recording that ends up on the record – because it was the most emotional one.
For which purpose do you need mics the most?
I mainly use microphones to track vocals. Especially in pop music, vocals are by far the most important element. Every decision in the vocal chain is crucial. I also record a lot of acoustic guitars and percussive elements.
In which situations have the Austrian Audio mics performed well for you?
Right now I use the OC18 in the vocal booth for nearly all of my vocal recordings. The Austrian Audio mics have exactly the transparent sound I was talking about. My previous vocal mic that I used before getting the Austrian Audio mics was a lot more expensive, so it amazes me even more that I finally got the vocal sound I was looking for with the Austrian Audio mics. Next to my desk I got an OC818 set up. I use it to record guitars and percussive elements that give my records more life. I use the polar pattern designer to dial in some room ambience of my studio.
Can you tell us what your sonic goals are when you first work with a new artist or new piece of music?
I usually don’t have a specific sonic goal at the beginning. I guess it’s more like a journey. That is part of the reason I record everything un-coloured and unprocessed. It keeps me flexible on this journey.
What makes a great song sound great in your opinion?
If the song itself is great, everything you do in production has to serve the song. The song will sound great if every single element supports the song and doesn’t get in the way. If the song works best with piano only and vocals recorded through an iphone – that’s how it should be done. Another song will maybe benefit from a huge production. Just always ask yourself with every decision: Does it make the song better?
How do you pick a mic for each artist you might be working with?
Picking the right microphone is a similar thing. I ask myself: What makes the artist’s voice sound great? What do I want to highlight and where should I temper? For now, I listen to a singer on the OC18 first and based on how it sounds, I make further decisions. Most of the time I optimize the mic positioning, I hardly ever change the mic.
Can you share some micing tips and tricks with us?
Always be prepared and ready to record. Find a setup that works in 90% of all cases. It’s all about the vibe. Don’t kill the vibe because you need to set up recording equipment. If the artist feels like recording, it should happen instantly. The performance is the most important thing. And always hit the record button, even if it’s just soundcheck or the artist is just trying some stuff to get into the mood. You never know when the magic will happen.