Peter Meighan is a Dublin based producer, engineer and musician. Kick starting his musical career playing guitar and taking care of live sequencing duties. His first big engineering break came when he was asked to record the “Couse” and “The Impossible” album “The World Should Know” which went on to be nominated for a Meteor award for Best Irish Album. Since then Pete has gone on to work with many Irish and UK acts, engineering and producing the critically acclaimed “Hybrasil” album “The Monkey Pole”. His most recent project was with UK band “North Atlantic”. In his spare time he is a musician with Dublin/Wicklow based band “Moon”, which he formed with ex-“Hybrasil” frontman Spud Murphy. Pete has been a guest lecturer at Pulse College since 2010, covering Ableton Live for pre-production and stage use, mix techniques in Logic Pro and Pro Tools. We are delighted to feature him in this month guest lecture feature.
Q1. What motivated you to go down the Music Technology path?
Music has been part of my life ever since I was a kid; my dad was a gigging trad musician and I would tag along as bassist/guitarist/sound engineer/dogsbody as much as possible. By the time I started secondary school I was obsessed with music, already trying to make recordings on a second hand 4-track tape recorder. I slowly accumulated a lot of equipment, learning through experimentation about what could be done with limited resources. I went on to do an electronic engineering degree at university, splitting my time between studying and gigging with various bands. However I felt that I had reached the limit of what I could learn on my own and wanted to study professional recording techniques so once university finished I went working “for the man” in Cork for a few years to save up the fees and living expenses, then shipped off to Dublin.
Q2. You began your music career studying guitar. What influenced you take up that particular instrument?
My uncle was a professional guitarist when I was growing up, he was constantly on tour all over Ireland, Europe, and the United States, and I have vivid memories of huge tour buses pulling up outside our house with all these crazy looking guys and girls piling out, eating my mother out of house and home. I would get given tapes, plectrums, the occasional guitar strap, fueling my obsession. My uncle has a beautiful 1964 telecaster, which he would occasionally let me play, but he only ever gave me one guitar lesson; looking back I think he was actually doing me a favour, letting me find my own way in the music world – he was never short of support or encouragement, but he understood that it is important to rely on and nurture your own initiative and confidence in this business.
Q3. Tell us a bit about your live sequencing duties that you did as part of “Couse” and “The Impossible”.
The album “The World Should Know” was a much denser work than “Couse’s“ previous album, “Genes” – some songs were completely electronic (“Little Darling”), with me doing the programming in Logic using various samplers/drum synths (Battery, Ultrabeat, Kontakt). Another song, “The Right Choice”, had the Section String Quartet joining an otherwise simple acoustic song half way in; we knew we didn’t want to rely on clicks so we used Ableton Live’s tap-tempo and looper facilities to kick in those parts of the tunes we needed, at the tempo we were playing at, exactly when we wanted. I would control Ableton using both my guitar system’s MIDI foot controller and a simple USB MIDI controller. At the time this was running off an iBook G4, with the samples streaming from a firewire drive. These days I’m using a Macbook Pro with the audio coming directly from a fast high spec internal drive.
Q4. Your first big engineering break came when you were asked to record “Couse” and “The Impossible” album “The World Should Know” which went on to be nominated for a Meteor award for Best Irish Album. Tell us about that experience.
I joined the Couse camp on the recommendation of Phil Hayes. Phil was also Dave’s FOH engineer at the time, and had been in discussion with Dave about recording the next album. Phil asked me if I would be interested in doing it after hearing some work I had been doing in college, and I of course jumped at the chance. The album was recorded over two weeks in a huge estate house in Red Hills, Cavan. I vividly remember the van pulling up outside my place the morning recording was to start, and Phil informed me that his Protools HD rig wasn’t going to be available for the two weeks we had booked to record the album. The entire thing was recorded on my trusty iBook, using a MOTU 828 MKII, with a large selection of mics, pres and comps that I owned or borrowed from Phil and various other engineers. I learned a lot from Dave about vocal recording, as he has worked with many different producers and knows the importance of psychology and atmosphere in getting good takes. Disappearing into the wilderness for two weeks and focusing intensely on the album really brought something out of the material that just gelled it together. The stresses of normal studio operation disappeared and we focused on the important stuff – the music. Once recording was finished we took a break for a few weeks then mixed the album in Nick Seymour’s studio on Exchequer St. The Meteor nomination was a real honour for me, this being my first professional album project. We went on to tour the album in Ireland and the UK, doing shows with Bell X1, Republic of Loose and Edwyn Collins. We also did some fun TV things, playing on the Late Late Show and Other Voices. So far all those aspiring engineers/producers, I suppose the lesson is “Stick With It” – you never know where your next project will take you
Q5. You co-produced the “Hybrasil” Album “On the Monkey Pole”, which went on to receive critical acclaim. What were your musical influences behind the creation of the Album?
I befriended Spud Murphy, the writer of all the Hybrasil material, when I was studying in STC. We shared the same musical interests and influences, and both were particularly big fans of Beck, Air, Beastie Boys, Grandaddy, The Flaming Lips, etc – any artists that embrace electronica and make it work for them (as opposed to being slaves to the presets). We both came from a background of using hardware synths, sequencers, and drum machines, so we did a lot of pre-production work messing with Jens, MPCs, SH-101s, and various other toys that Spud had accumulated. From a production perspective, we wanted to create something really rich sounding, investing a lot of time in mic positioning on the kits, guitars, vocals. All the guys in the band were very good players, and had excellent ears for the tonality of what they were doing. It was a very different experience to the “Couse” recordings, as the “Hybrasil” sound went beyond the classic drums/bass/guitars/vocals model. Much more time was spent on programming, automating effect parameters/controllers, and synthesis.
Q6. You went on to engineer and co produced Grappling Hooks on North Atlantic Oscillation. What was it like having more creative control over the music?
Sam from NAO was a friend of some school friends of mine, and we kept in touch when he moved to Edinburgh prior to starting NAO. During the Hybrasil mix phase, he was in Dublin visiting and we played him some rough mixes; he was impressed with the nuance and attention to detail in the programming and asked if I would be interested in recording/mixing/producing an album with him. He had demos done already, and I was blown away by the imagination and density of the parts he had written. We agreed that I would co-produce, taking over all guitar sound duties and repatching many synth parts to get more organic sounds than he had achieved with his setup. We wanted a very American, edgy, almost NIN-ish texture to the guitars, so we mainly used my Mesa gear for ‘natural’ tones and various Guitar Emulation packages (Guitar Rig, Reaktor) for that DI-d, Reznor sound. We also wanted to be able to conjure a large amount of different drum sounds from “ingredients” captured in the recording phase, so we used a lot of stereo pairs, varying placement and mic type to get different room levels, texture, etc.
The mixing phase was extremely difficult, with some songs exceeding 120 individual tracks due to multiple kits, huge walls of vocal harmonies, and lots of electronica. The result though is a really unique album, with a huge spectrum of moods in it.
Q7. Was it difficult initially starting off your career in the Music Industry?
Yes. I’m not from Dublin, but I felt that I needed to be in the city to make any kind of in-road into the industry. A couple of factors made it difficult getting started – Dublin is expensive to live in, so I needed to work to support myself; this meant often having to work all day, then record a session at night, leaving little or no time for a normal life! I know this could only go on for so long, so I made sure to work with artists that would show my skills off in a good light – I think this is important as people will associate you as an engineer with the material, even if you have no say in the writing. I also found some ‘scenes’ in Dublin very cliquey, with many bands cross-pollinating and relying solely on their mates to engineer for them, regardless of their ability. I have found though that the people who are open to collaboration/working with unknowns/taking a risk on something new are generally the ones who go on to greater success, so I’ve gotten over my initial dismay there. I think the key thing is to trust in your abilities, recognize talented people when you meet them, be nice but not annoying, and take risks on things.
Q8. You teach Abelton, Protools and Logic in Pulse College. What made you turn your hand to teaching?
Skippy (Dave Christophers) and I had stayed in touch after I left STC, where I had helped finance my second year of studies by supervising the practical classes for the part time students. I have learnt a lot from some talented people in my time, and I love to pass whatever knowledge I have on to other aspiring musicians and engineers, knowing what it is like to be in their position! I mentioned to Skip that if the opportunity ever came up, I would love to do some teaching, as I believe my “real-world” experience is something I as a student would have been very interested in. We did a few dry runs last year with Skip sitting in to see how I got on, and I guess he thinks I’m OK at it as I’ve been back a good few times. I suppose I’m a bit different from many engineers in that I try to use Logic and Ableton as much as ProTools, and I move material between all three regularly in a professional environment so I have some handy tips on all three to avoid hiccups/time wasting/client anger etc.
Q9. What is the most rewarding part of teaching?
Seeing people react to something they have never seen done before – recently I was doing a class showing how you can use Ableton to match to any given tempo on the fly, then have a drum machine sync’d to it allowing you to play along with arpeggiated patterns in perfect time. Think Aphex Twin, completely live and spontaneous. One of the girls in the class was blown away as she had been looking to do something like that but wasn’t sure exactly how – it’s nice to be able to answer the more unusual questions.
Q10. What are the most important tips that your students should take from your class?
That’s a difficult question, as the students vary in what they are looking to get from the classes. Here are a few things though: Personality counts for a lot, so be nice to people – it’ll come back around! Patience and calm are good things in studios. Know your gear – you don’t need to know every single PT shortcut or every single aspect of every desk, but strong signal flow both real and virtual is a must. Don’t forget it is supposed to be fun! Happy sessions are productive sessions.
Q11. What future projects have you in the pipeline?
Currently I’m touring with “North Atlantic Oscillation” as guitarist/drum-machine-ist, and I will be engineering/programming their second album with producer Tony Doogan (Mogwai, Belle & Sebastian). I am in preproduction on a few smaller E.P.s with some Irish artists, and I will be doing the Unholy Trinity album later in the year. I am also building a studio/workshop in Wicklow town over the summer. I’ll also be preparing some new Ableton/Logic lesson plans for Pulse’s 2011/2012 year.