Our Stories: Jim Smith

Craig Gamblen

As well as working as Facilities Manager at Spirit Studios, Jim Smith has recently been studying on the BA (Hons) Music Production course. From juggling a young family, as well as other life commitments, to studying a full-time degree, Jim has certainly had his work cut out for him.

Busy working on final submissions and tying up all the loose ends, we caught up with Jim to find out about his time studying the course.

Jim, before we get started, let’s take it all the way back to the start. Age old question, but how did you first get into the industry?

Well, I used to be in several bands when I lived in the Midlands. I decided to move to Manchester with a view of becoming an accomplished musician. But, I soon realised I was a very little fish in a big pond. I knew I wanted to do something with music, but I didn’t think I was good enough to become an accomplished musician. So, in 2004, I decided to take the Audio Engineering course at Spirit Studios when it was still on Tariff St. By this point, I’d already been playing around with old 4-track cassette tapes. And, from there I became a sound engineer.

Music isn’t foreign territory, then. Tell us, what made you want to study the BA (Hons) Music Production degree now. 

I’d kind of lost my way with music. Before starting the degree, I used to sit at home making electronic music not really making any of the music I was spurred on to do originally. And so, I wanted to get back into the studio and rediscover my passion for music.

There’s no better reason. How have you found getting back into the swing of it and learning again?

Yeah, exactly. Knowledge is power, as they say. It’s been great to fire up the brain cells again, but it hasn’t been easy. Time-wise, studying the degree alongside other life commitments has been very difficult. However, from the very outset of the course I really got stuck in.

I’ve really enjoyed working with musicians, again, and learning new things. As part of the course, I had to create an innovative composition. So, I had to write a piece of music which I would never have written to get me out of my comfort zone. I decided to write a piece of music on minimalism – I didn’t even know what it was before I started.

In addition to this, The (un)Certainty Project has been ace. In particular, taking music I’ve written and developing it with musicians I’m working with. For me, it became a completely new creative process, and it made my music take a different route. To begin with, the tracks were ambient, drum and bass, but with real drums, a vocalist and bass player, it’s took a bit of a swerve.

Would you save you’ve learnt anything about yourself as a producer, or anything along the way?

Yeah definitely – trust your ears. If you have a good sound source, musician and studio, you have an easy job. A friend of mine, Guy Garvey (Elbow) told me years ago to ‘chuck the mics up and see what it sounds like’. And, you realise the power of trusting your ears.

And so, would you say you have a creative process?

Yeah, the creative process is my favourite part. Personally, I really like experimenting with sounds. I always have a rough idea of what I want it to sound like, and I kind of just go from there. Normally, I’ll start with the drums to get me going, and then I’ll work from there.

Perhaps a difficult question to answer. But, what intrigues you most about the music production?

The fact there are no rules. Arguably, fundamentals are in place, but techniques are open to opinion. For example, one person may have a completely different way to working than another. But, in the end, as long as it sounds good that’s all that matters.

And, secondly, the serendipity of music production. Often when I’m working on an electronic music track, something will prick my ear. In fact, it happened with a track I’ve been working on, a gunshot sound came from somewhere due to an error in Pro Tools. It’s great when things happen by accident. And, that’s happened throughout the ages, too.

So Jim, you’re coming the end of your degree. What does the rest of 2019 look like?

I’m desperate to finish all the unfinished tracks I have. I’m a bit of a bugger for not finishing things off. In fact, I have about 3 electronic tracks which are nearly there, but not completely finished yet.

For me, the degree has forced me to work to deadlines and finish things off. I know I can do it.

Before you go, there’s one last thing. What would you say has been your biggest achievement?

Writing something I’m happy with, definitely. Since writing electronic music, I realised I should have started this years ago.

Thanks for chatting to us Jim. Good luck with everything.