12 Hours with Spotify Singles Producer Bryan Grone
Presiding over a recording session with a rock-and-roll legend would be a dream come true for most music fanatics. But it’s both a dream come true and a regular day at the office for Bryan Grone, Spotify’s head of audio production and executive producer of Spotify Singles.
Through Singles, a program Grone helped create, Spotify invites everyone from the biggest names in music to unsigned acts to record two songs for the streaming service—an original and a cover tune.
A graduate of the esteemed Berklee College of Music in Boston, Grone himself sings, plays the drums, guitar, piano, bass and other keyboard instruments. No wonder he was tasked with tricking out the in-house studio that Spotify built in 2016.
“I’ve personally curated every piece of gear,” Grone said. “It’s all the stuff I dreamed of owning my whole life, but didn’t have the scratch to buy.”
On a recent Friday, Grone produced a session for a childhood idol: Jack White. Here’s how the day went.
7AM: Wake up. It was a more hustled morning than usual. Jack’s crew was arriving at 9 a.m., which is not super rock-and-roll. We usually start sessions a little closer to noon, but Jack was playing a show that night, and he had to be at the venue in the afternoon.
Usually, I would go the gym and play with our puppy for a little bit in the morning. But I just did some pushups, scratched the dog’s head, took a shower, took coffee to go, and got on the subway.
8:50AM: Get to work. On a normal day, I get in around 10 a.m. I guess I have a desk somewhere out amongst all the people, but I always go straight to the studio and spend my entire day there.
My engineers arrive around the same time. We check in on the day and see what’s coming up, whether it’s preparing for a session or doing some mixes. But on Friday, we hit the ground running, excited about Jack coming in.
9AM. Setting up. I spent the first couple of hours liaising with the band’s crew. I was also overseeing a photo and video team, figuring out how they could capture some b-roll content for us without getting in Jack’s way.
We set up all the equipment the night before. We do production calls before each session, so we have an idea what the artists are going to be doing. When they walk in, I want them to feel like everything is already figured out.
I take a lot of time to explain to the crews why we’ve set up the way we have. They’re often laser-focused on reproducing the setups they do for every promotional opportunity. But we approach these more like recording sessions than live shows. The artists can do multiple takes, we can do overdubs, we have isolation booths so we can get a clean vocal, etc.
In this case, the crew liked the setup. They spent most of their time fine-tuning the settings on the guitar amps, bass amps and drums, because all the members of this band are pretty hypersensitive to sonics.
10:45AM: Spotify, meet Jack. Jack has a four-piece band—a bass player, a drummer, and 2 keyboardists, and they all arrived within 10 minutes of each other. They had never rehearsed the second track, so they spent about an hour on that.
Musicians feel at ease when they come into the studio. The lights are very low and cool and vibey, and there are great old rugs and all this vintage gear.
The organ player, Neal Evans, was really excited to see our 1962 Hammond organ, which I picked up last year from Custom Vintage Keys in North Hollywood. You can get a keyboard with organ sounds on it, but nothing replaces the sound and feel of an analog instrument.
12PM: We’re rolling. When the band was done rehearsing, they went straight to work on their original track, “Over and Over and Over,” which was from the album released that day, “Boarding House Reach.” They did a loose, very frenetic and emotional version of that tune.
It was pretty amazing to have Jack playing out of the amp that I bought for the program I built. He is maybe the only artist whose fan club I paid to be in as a kid.
When I’m sitting in the room, I also have my producer hat on, thinking about what I’m hearing and what I could recommend. I vibe out each artist to get a feel for how much they are interested in additional creative input. A lot of them are, once they know that we’re the ones who built this and know all the gear by heart.
This time, there wasn’t a lot of room for feedback because it was almost like a jam session. Nor was there anything I would have said, because everything sounded amazing. So, I was just checking in on them, making sure everyone had water and seeing how they felt about each take.
They were done recording by about 12:45, which is pretty fast. I’ve had bands in here for 12 to 13 hours.
12:45PM: It’s a wrap. A lot of times, the person taking video at the session will do an interview with the artist after the session. Given my relationship as a fan and my relationship to Jack’s manager, they requested that I do it. We talked about his approach to recording this album, what they had recorded at the session and why, his relationship to the cover song he chose, and what makes a great studio experience. The interview went about 15 minutes, and then we wrapped.
I rarely ask for photos with artists because I’m just not that guy. But I also think if there aren’t things in this business that still make you nerd out in the way you would have when you were a kid, it’s time for you to move on. So, I tastefully waited until the end and asked for a photo. I got a really good one.
Then, I escorted Jack out of the building. I’m really cautious about the artist’s experience here. When the artist is out the door and back to their car, then I can exhale a little bit and revel in the experience.
1:30PM: Catching up I hadn’t eaten yet, so I grabbed some lunch, which Spotify brings in every Friday. After that, I had a quick debrief with the engineers and the videographer to make sure everybody was on the same page in terms of the next steps for postproduction. I made sure Jack’s crew got everything they needed off to the venue, and then I caught up on some work emails.
4:30PM: Coaching time. I have a professional coach, who I spend 45 minutes a week talking to over Skype. It’s been a great opportunity to have conversations with an unbiased third party in a way you can’t necessarily with your wife or friends or coworkers or anybody else.
6:30PM: The fun continues. It was time to call it a week. We were fortunate to be able to segue our day with Jack into an evening with Jack. He was playing at a club called Warsaw in Greenpoint, and his management arranged for myself, the engineers and a couple folks from Spotify who worked on the session to go. So we all hung out and got drinks beforehand in Greenpoint at the Keg and Lantern.
9:15PM: Jack White, live and in concert Jack played for 2.5 hours, ripping through stuff from his new record and a bunch of stuff from all his previous bands—The White Stripes, The Raconteurs, The Dead Weather. I wasn’t really keeping track of time, but all of a sudden it was 12:30 or 12:45 a.m., and my ears were ringing and it was time to call it a night.