After gigging for years with different bands whilst also working a day job, renowned producer Billy Farrell decided to pursue a career full time career in music. His first in studio job was with Pulse College’s Tony Perrey for a girl band called FAB. He has since gone on to work with and co produce acclaimed albums for high profile artists from Bonnie Tyler, The Corrs, Brian Kennedy and Westlife to undertaking unique projects Wild Ocean 2 with John Hughes , which includes “The Mandela Suite”, a 9 minute work cataloguing the life of Nelson Mandela. After setting up his own studio in 1998 his career has gone from strength to strength. Billy has joined the guest lecture team at Pulse College and his time is now divided between teaching and his studio work. We are delighted he has found time to talk to Pulse College news.
Q1. You started out your music career gigging part time. Tell us a bit about this experience.
I was the keyboard player with a Soul/Funk band called Shush. We gigged from around 1983 to 1992. I then left that band and set up a new band, Jacob’s Ladder and gigged extensively until 1998 when I left to pursue Studio work. While with Jacob’s Ladder, I was responsible for sound on stage which I controlled from a desk beside my Keyboard setup.
Q2. You gigged while working in a full time day job. Can you tell us about the work you did before you embarked on your musical career?
I actually worked in a Bank for 13 years… A bit of a switch I know!! For the last 10 years in the bank, I would have been gigging pretty much 4 nights a week with the band! Throughout those years, I realised my heart really wasn’t in banking…
Q3. You took a huge leap to pursue your passion for music full time. What made you decide to make this huge decision?
Well, I had a very understanding wife who supported my decision…
Also, the more I progressed in music, I felt that I could make a career in the business. However, in the initial stages, I wasn’t quite sure what direction it would take so I suppose it was a bit of a Leap of Faith!!
Q4. Where did your love of music come from?
I started out learning Piano when I was 4 and then switched to the church organ when I was 12. During all this time I suppose my interest and love for music just grew!! While I was studying music academically, I much preferred to sit down and try to play songs off the radio by ear.
Q5. You have been involved for a long time with Pulse College. Your first studio gig was with Tony for a girl band called FAB. What experience did you develop from this initial time in studio?
That project was a huge learning curve as it was the first real production job.
It was also a bit of a baptism of fire in learning how to deal with 4 girls with strong personalities!!! On the Production side, I learned a lot of studio techniques from Tony and also from Tim Martin who worked on part of the project. During this time, I set up my studio at home. Tony was a great help in putting it all together and advising on monitoring etc…
Q6. You went on to work with Bonny Tyler and legendary producer Jimmy Smith. Can you talk us through what work was involved?
My input on that project was purely programming and keyboards.
However, I did gain a great insight into what is involved in vocal recording and Production on such a big project with a big established artist.
Q7. Did you have any formal training or did you learn by simply watching and absorbing what others were doing.
I have had no formal training in engineering or Production so I suppose I have to put it down to the quality of hands on experience that I received in the early days.
I think my background in keyboards meant that I was always interested in recording and how music is put together. Coupled with that, I was able to learn so much working with some great producers. As part of The Corrs experience, I was fortunate enough to work with Mitchell Froom who was inspirational to say the least!! I also worked with Bob Clearmountain at his studio in LA on mixes for the Wild Ocean Project……what an amazing experience that was!!
Q8. You worked with The Corrs manager on an epic 7 year project Wild Ocean. Tell us a about that experience.
That project began shortly after I had put my Studio together and just finished working on the Bonnie Tyler project. John was looking for somebody who could programme but also somebody with a musical sense and my name came up.
We began in 1999, and finally completed it around 2006. The project was always changing and as new pieces were worked on, the sound would change, which meant having to revisit earlier work to adapt it to a new style. This was great experience for somebody in my position and also lead to my working with The Chieftains, Fiachra Trench and The Corrs while completing the project.
Q9. You worked on The Corrs award winning album “In Blue” selling 7 million copies. What a great achievement.
Yes indeed. I consider myself to have been extremely lucky to get the opportunity to work on this album. It was an amazing time, working with some amazing people and a huge learning curve!! I do think that you never stop learning as a Producer…
Q10. You have worked with many high profile artists and projects from The Corrs and Westlife to the “Mandela Suite”. Can you talk us through the different approaches needed in term of sound?
In the case of Westlife and The Corrs, you need to bring a pop sensibility to the project. The basic engineering and Production techniques will obviously be the same as any other project but the treatment of the music has to be considered in a different way. Will it be live instruments or programmed?? Will it involve layering of vocals or not ?
The Wild Ocean project on the other hand was much more cinematic and orchestral. There were only a few vocal tracks so the music had to be looked at from a very different perspective with a lot more emphasis on Orchestration.
Q11. What elements do you feel are vital in carving out such a successful career?
A knowledge of all types of music is an advantage. Also, I think it is critical for a Producer to be able to relate well to people. While the whole recording experience is intensive, it also has to be a very enjoyable one in order to achieve great results. It is the Producers job to ensure that that kind of atmosphere exists in the studio. The ability to listen to other people’s ideas and suggestions is also hugely important… it is a big responsibility to try and carry the whole project on your own shoulders! Lastly, being in the right place at the right time is always a bonus!!
Q12. You also find time to guest lecture on the Pulse College degree course. What part of teaching do you enjoy the most?
I actually find it quite challenging as I am not that comfortable standing up in front of a room full of strangers. The part I enjoy most would be questions and answers as I hope I have something to share that may be of help.
Q13. What area of the Pulse course do feel is the most beneficial to students in the real world work situation?
Obviously the classes are hugely important in learning the basic facts but I have to say that any hands on studio experience that they can get will make sense of all the books !! Pulse and Windmill have always been great in affording students the opportunity to gain this kind of invaluable experience.
Q14. What advice can you give Pulse Students set to graduate this year.
It is a difficult market out there in this business. Therefore it is vital that you graduate with the best results possible. Try to get as much studio experience as possible and when you do get a session, remember what I said about personality and dealing with people. To my mind, and I have regularly talked to Tony about this, personality and ability to relate to and deal with people is almost as important as the qualification…
If you can impress a Producer with how you handle yourself and your knowledge, you will stand a much better chance of a call back rather than someone who goes in with the attitude that they have their qualification so they must know it all…
Q15. Any future upcoming projects you care to share for 2011?
Currently working on songs for Brian Kennedy’s new album.
Also working with a wonderful band from Galway with some really quirky songs.
I am also working on developing a new artist with an amazing voice and an equally amazing talent for songwriting… So hopefully 2011 will be a good one!!
I wish you all the very best of luck in your future careers.