Interview by Aaron Zaretsky
Transcribed by Tashia Antoine
With the international attention Toronto’s booming music industry has been receiving in recent years, it is apparent that Canadian record producer, Ashton Price of Morph Productions, has contributed greatly to the movement, standing the test of time. With over 17 years in the business professionally, Ashton has served as record producer, songwriter and engineer. He has also worked with a variety of varying artists.
In this Northern Touch interview Technical Producer Aaron Zaretsky speaks with Ashton and discusses the challenges the music industry faces along with sustainability tips for businesses in the industry.
Aaron: Let’s begin with your journey. How did you get started as a record producer?
Ashton: I went to Fanshawe College. They have a program called Music Industry Arts. I would use as much of my OSAP as I could on beer. So, I would at the beginning of the year, kind of calculate how cheaply I could live and the rest of the money that I had, I would buy beer. At the time, when college was over, I actually had a very minimal computer based setup. From there I just started working with people. This was in London, Ontario. London was a very hard place to make a go of it. But I had a friend who was in the Hamilton area, and he was just telling me how great it was there, what a great music scene it had, and how the rent was really cheap and it just seemed like a really good place to get started. So that is where I got started. I was really proactive and started in the late 90, so keep that in mind.
Aaron: Long time ago!
Ashton: Yeah, so times were different then. It wasn’t about Google and all that kind of stuff.
Aaron: Right, it wasn’t about getting viral hits and all that.
Ashton: It was just about putting posters up in music stores and that kind of thing. I was doing that. I was putting advertising posters in the stores and I noticed that there was this Hip Hop organization that was doing all these things. They were teaching people how to breakdance, they were making beats, they were doing all these things and they didn’t actually have anyone to record people. So I saw an opportunity there and I contacted them, and they started bringing people to the studio. And that ended up being my first client.
Aaron: What is the inspiration behind your work?
Ashton: It’s funny because I’ve been doing this for 19 years now, so I think it’s changed throughout the years. At the heart of it, I really love music and there is nothing better than creating. Your mind and all the background noise falls away and you just kind of get to this magical place when you are creating. That’s always kind of the fundamental first.
Aaron: So you find music to be your escape?
Ashton: Yeah, but as I’ve gotten a little older, I do find it really inspiring in any small way that it can to help guide the newer, younger artists through what is a pretty crazy industry.
Aaron: No doubt, and very competitive too! What is your routine when producing a record?
Ashton: If it is a singer/songwriter, or a hip hop artist, or any sort of singular artist, which to be honest with you is more of who I personally work with. I don’t work with a lot of bands.
Aaron: Just individual artists?
Ashton: Yeah, generally speaking. I just finished a great band project a few months ago actually. But generally speaking, I work with more singular artists, and the way that I work with them is I meet with them and they get to record with just say, an acoustic guitar with vocals. Or if it’s a Hip Hop artist, a vocal to a clip track or something. And then we have a conversation about what they want to do with their music and what they like. And then maybe they will give me a few examples of some things that they want their song to sound like. And then I ask them to leave it with me and I work with it on my own, because I am a multi-instrumentalist as well. So, I start trying to figure out what works. I’ve learned overtime, and I guess I’ve been a little bit more comfortable saying this just with being a little bit older now, I want to do that alone. I don’t want the person there. I don’t want to feel like I have to perform for someone and I want the freedom to make a mistake and not have to explain: “Don’t worry it’s going to be good”. It’s nice to be able to just be by myself and kind of figure out what’s best and then be able to present the best idea as I see it to the artist.
Aaron: Would you say that is a criterion that you would use producing a track or a record?
Ashton: Yeah, absolutely. Everyone does things differently. But that is definitely the way that I’ve learned that I have to do it. I am at the point now where if someone kind of insists that they be there during that process, there might be a situation where I just tell them: “You might want to go somewhere else then.” Because I just don’t feel comfortable doing that.
Aaron: So, you have your own music production company; Morph Productions. How did this start?
Ashton: I’ve always been interested in a lot of different types of music. I just ended up starting to work with a lot of different people and I’ve been doing it for so long that different people are always reaching out to me. It’s funny, because I will do referrals sometimes from people and I don’t even know if I know this person. I have a large body of work now in a lot of different genres so I can actually say this is what I’ve done in this genre. One of the advantages of being able to work in a lot of different genres, is you can apply certain techniques from one genre into another genre and you can get some interesting results that way. Or you can end up twisting something in a really different way that the artist or someone who in their world or genre hasn’t even thought of.
Aaron: What is the process of working with an artist to produce a track?
Ashton: Ok, so let’s assume that the artist is a singer/songwriter which is the bulk of what I do. We can also assume that maybe they wrote the track, because a lot of times I end up co-writing songs with artists as well. But let’s assume they wrote the song. Basically, we would end up sitting down and talking about what they want to do with the song. And by that I mean, there are some people that are just doing their music just for themselves. Then there are other people that want to really try and make a go of it. You always have to be mindful of those goals for people and also how they want to make it. Are they going to shop for record labels? Are they going to release it independently? You need to know how they are going to approach it, so you approach the project in the best way to give it success. So there is that element. The other element is that I like to get some samples of some songs that they like the sound of. Then I record them doing a vocal, guitar vocal, piano or whatever they play. Then I just sit with the music by myself and start playing around with different drum rhythms, or play a guitar or keyboard. Just trying to flush out something that kind of brings out something in the song. Kind of like a musical theme that I can use. So I get something kind of rough there. Then I will email it to the artist. If they like it, great, if not, I will keep tweaking it. And then I will keep working on the music to the point of where I am pretty satisfied. Then they will come back, maybe they will do some more guitars or some more instrumentation based off of my arrangement, and then I will get them to do their vocal tracks. Edit it, and mix it, maybe we have a mix session and then it is off to mastering.
Aaron: Besides working with artists, you have done work for a couple of television shows and a videogame. What are the similarities and differences between producing a track for an artist, a TV show and a videogame?
Ashton: Well just to clarify, I haven’t directly worked with television shows or videogames.
What I was doing actually was I licensed some tracks for some TV shows and videogames. So that means that I had some tracks that I already did that a videogame or a TV show picked up. But that being said, I have done some actual scrolling for TV. I did a bunch of stuff for some Malaysian TV shows. It’s really different. You are a lot more confined in your creativity, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But you have to be aware of visual cues that you have to hit. At a certain point, when a person goes “Oh my God, he’s dead”, you have to go “duh, duh, duh”. It’s kind of frustrating sometimes because initially when you are doing those kinds of things, the director or the music supervisor or whoever is getting you to do the music, they are always very open at first. They give you a sample and then they are like, “Oh yeah, just give something a try.” And it’s not until you’ve actually tried something it’s at that point they are like: “I know I don’t want that, I want something else.” And when they hear something, then they can verbalize better what they actually in fact want that they weren’t able to verbalize before.
Aaron: You have been in the music industry for over a decade, tell us about some of your biggest challenges?
Ashton: I have a studio in Toronto and just with rising rent is a big challenge itself. A lot of the buildings that we created, people failed to use and they were relatively inexpensive, and people would just leave us alone and stuff, but all those buildings are being gutted and turned into condos. There is a lot less of those around now. I know for sure that in the last two years I’ve really struggled with trying to find a space that works for me. I had always worked from home and I always had a really nice setup at home. I had a house with my partner and her and I ended up breaking up, so we sold the house. I needed to find something, a different situation. You know the first situation; I was there for about eight months. Then we all got kicked out cause the owner decided he wanted to change the use of the building. It was actually really nice because she was going to donate the building to the city like a halfway house for women or something. But, it was definitely frustrating because I put a lot of time and money into the space. Then I moved the studio, I was underneath a restaurant, and that ended up being a disaster. I got out of that as soon as I could. Now I have a space that I am really, really happy with. I share it with a few other people that are really great. But definitely moving forward, with anybody that wants to have a set up in Toronto, I think that is going to be a real struggle and I don’t think it’s getting easier.
Aaron: What advice would you give someone who wants to follow your career path?
Ashton: Everyone has their own path. It is important to realize that. So my path isn’t necessarily their path. Especially now the industry is so different. Actually, the industry is starting to improve. I had to start out in the days of Napster, when everything was downsizing. But now with streaming and Spotify and what-not, there is new money and a new business model being injected. It is actually a really exciting time. But as far as starting, I think the best advice I can give is figure out the thing that you love to do and just stick to that. Try and figure out a way to make it work in that context. And by that I mean both what you like to do and in what genre, and just develop those skills as much as possible. You have to be versatile. But I think really just focusing on one thing and really, really becoming good at that. It’s probably in the long term going to get you further.
Ashton Price is a well-seasoned producer and his willingness to share his extensive knowledge will go a long way in keeping Toronto’s music scene in the spotlight. To find out more aboutAshton’s work click here.