Music Scene Spotters: Combs, Music Producer, Engineer
By Emily Buss
In our great city, music is an art form we are fortunate enough to have plenty of. And, it wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for those behind the scenes setting our musicians up for success. While there are several recording studios and music producers in the city, it’s those who are deeply committed to the local scene who produce the best work. As we find out with local music producer, engineer and resident musician Ian Combs, having a passion for both the art and technical schematics of the art go hand in hand.
Emily: So, Ian, tell me who you are and what you do.
Ian: My name is Ian Combs and I’m a producer/engineer/songwriter/bassist/cigar aficionado/caffeine enthusiast. Really the bigger part of it is that I’m a producer/engineer, though. I produce, record and mix records.
Emily: And, how did you get your start here in Minneapolis?
Ian: I’ve been recording in one way or another since my dad taught me how to cut tape when I was maybe six or seven. I was also fortunate to have a house full of guitars growing up, so I had a guitar in my hands from the age of five or so. I did the requisite playing in bands thing, and after a good five or six years of the band thing, I finally figured out that my favorite thing was working in the studio and I kind of found a place where I could use all my skills to do something that I really truly loved.
Emily: Why do you think what you’re doing in the Twin Cities is important?
Ian: I think there are far too many bands that have bought into the whole Do-It-Yourself recording thing. I know that will piss off “those guys” in the bands that are doing the DIY recording. My answer to them is this: I was you once. I did it all myself. The problem with that is that when you’re your own teacher, you really don’t learn a whole lot. And, it’s really hard to improve when you don’t learn. I was never fully happy with a recording I worked on until I had someone else do the recording/production work on it. And I got the chance to work with some very talented and generous producers that taught me some things that I feel like I can share with the bands here in the Cities. I know with some guys specifically, like Johnnyrook for example, their record started out DIY and kind of floundered for them, so they came to me and we put a plan together and got the record done in a way that they wouldn’t have been able to. And I think they were much happier with it than they would have been otherwise. You’d have to ask them to be sure, but that’s the impression I’ve gotten from them.
The other thing is that yes, there are some really great studios here in the cities, but if you just go to the studios and book out recording time you’re probably not spending as much time or resources in the place that’s probably more important, which is working on the songs. I feel like that’s something I offer that’s in somewhat shorter supply in the cities. I won’t take a project I’m not producing. I want to be involved in the process from the outset and make sure the songs are right and that time is taken to make sure that each song is as good as it can be. Because without good songs what good is making a record, y’know?
Emily: What is your favorite thing about working in the Twin Cities music scene?
Ian: There are a lot of really good bands in the cities. As a guy that was in the scene from the band side of things the last four years or so have felt like the scene was kind of floundering. There wasn’t a lot of direction. I think bands got complacent about things like promotion and putting on great shows and those bands have kind of fallen by the wayside. The new bands that are coming up seem like they’re coming up sharper and hungrier. It’s fun to be involved with bands that are hungry and motivated. Plus there’s a lot of really varied music in the Twin Cities. It’s not like there’s just one big thing happening. There’s a lot of different scenes to draw on. And the history. There’s so much great musical tradition here that I think a lot of bands try to live up to in their own ways.
Emily: Five-second shameless plug… GO!!
–Emily Buss is a music journalist from Minneapolis and author of On the Rechord blog. On the Rechord is a music site dedicated to the local music scene in the Twin Cities. Emily writes concert and album reviews, band and artist profiles, and provides information about local shows. A college graduate with a degree in Mass Communications with an emphasis on Journalism, Emily has been professionally writing for newspapers and online outlets for six years. You can find Emily at www.ontherechord.com, on Facebook at On the Rechord and on Twitter @TheEmilyB.