In the fourth part of our series about Austrian producers and their view on the course of events, SOPHIE LINDINGER now has her say. She is best known for her versatile work in projects like LEYYA and MY UGLY CLEMENTINE. For some years now she has also been involved in production and is talking about this side of her work here. The conversation took place shortly before Corona, which is why some current issues were not discussed. Ada Karlbauer met the artist and producer back then in “real life” to talk about her work. It was all about the male urge to express oneself, the overcoming of calling oneself a producer, the increasing fusion of all in one, the dividing lines between DIY and professional, and why there’s no more budget left for a person who interferes just a little bit.
“IT WAS VERY MUCH DIY THEN”
People know your musical work primarily from projects like Leyya and My Ugly Clementine. How did you begin working as a producer?
Sophie Lindinger: It all started with Marco [Kleebauer; note], with whom I’m also in the band Leyya. Marco has always been very interested in producing and for a very long time I was just a singer-songwriter thing, writing my songs and not really knowing what to do with them. Marco said to me at some point: “Hey cool, let’s record this.” And that was actually the first time I saw how something like that works. It was very DIY then. Marco had one of these guitar effect pedals, which was then converted into an interface. It was really funny, because all the converters sounded completely shitty and the overall sound was strongly influenced by this box. It kind of worked out anyway. As far as producing is concerned, I was socialized exactly with this DIY approach.
For a very long time I didn’t even think about what is right or wrong in producing. As long as I think it’s cool what I recorded, it’s right, no? This is how it then developed organically. I never saw myself as a producer, because I felt that I could do far too little. A few years ago I conducted a production workshop together with Marco at the INTERTONALE in Lower Austria. At the beginning I thought of being more a kind of support, but in the course of the week I realized that I actually know and can convey everything because I have been doing it for so long without realizing it.
Of course, it also has to do with self-confidence to call oneself a “producer” in public.
Sophie Lindinger: Absolutely, that’s so weird. I don’t want to turn this into a gender debate, but I have the feeling that many men have a stronger urge to present themselves and say more quickly: “Yes, of course I’m a producer.” But I need proof for myself that I can say, “I’m a producer.” If I don’t have this proof in my hand and people from outside wouldn’t call me a producer, then I don’t feel that way either, although I probably am. It’s my mindset. With Leyya we actually always produced everything together. Of course, Marco was more focused on the technical side of things, because that’s what he did from a very young age. But in the meantime this has changed a lot. I just realized that I could do it too, and then I just started recording things myself.
This is also how My Ugly Clementine was created. There I did everything in turn, recorded, set up all the microphones, in fact exactly the same way I had always done it, only this time it was in a more conscious way. There were no problems and it sounded great. So you could actually say that I’ve been a producer for three or four years, but it was a process until I was able to express that myself. I have been saying it about myself for only a year now, because I’ve finally proven it to myself. It’s weird because it is strongly conditioned by external influences how you can and want to present yourself, or what you are allowed to be as a woman. I’ve always felt that I can’t just say, “I’m a producer.” Because I was afraid that I was not good enough and that it would be embarrassing if someone actually “tested” me. I’m only saying it now and it’s in fact bad because I’ve been doing it for so long.
Conversely, who is actually testing all the producers?
Sophie Lindinger: Nobody! It’s normal that dudes are producers, so nobody questions it. But a woman as a producer is not normal, so you have to turn it into a topic for discussion or question it immediately, because it simply can’t be. I think this kind of thing doesn’t happen consciously, but is rather a subconscious form of socialization. It’s like that not only in music.
“[…] THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN DIY AND PROFESSIONAL IS EXTREMELY SMALL […]”
Is your production method still influenced by DIY factors?
Sophie Lindinger: I think the difference between DIY and professional is extremely small, because what is DIY and what is “professional”? You still imagine it to be like this: the studio, a huge mixing desk inside, but that’s how it used to be. In the past you didn’t have the money to get the equipment yourself, so you went into a studio. Everything was there, you rented it and produced everything on the spot. Nowadays there are so many cheaper things you can do to reproduce exactly that, and that’s why you can do a lot of DIY because you’re not tied to the studio anymore, yet it still can sound just as professional. So the question naturally arises: “What does professional mean?” Rather the technical claim or the access to the matter? Because you can also work professionally when you’re sitting at home in your bedroom. It does make a difference whether you work at home on your bed or you go somewhere where there’s a separate, autonomous space for this work. I and Marco share a small studio, everything is available there. But in principle it’s still tinkered together and doesn’t have a huge mixing console, as you’d like to imagine. I would still call this professional, even if it doesn’t fit the standard definition.
“THE PRODUCER NOW HAS VERY DIFFERENT TASKS THAN FIFTY YEARS AGO”
Are there still any studios in Austria where one produces in this old-school style?
Sophie Lindinger: There are still about four or five “real” studios in Vienna. But what I noticed is that individual people who would normally produce from home are renting them. But it’s no longer the case that the studio is owned by one person who then invites and produces bands. Most of the time they rather are shared spaces. Now, which band goes to someone to record in the classical way? This has become very rare. More and more recording is already happening during the writing process. The producer now has completely different tasks than 50 years ago. In general, the word producer is defined in a completely different way than it was back then.
According to contemporary definition, the producer must also be able to do everything successively, to unite all production areas in one person.
Sophie Lindinger: Exactly. In the past, a producer was usually just someone with a musical vision that he or she actively brought to the project. Someone who said, “I imagine it to sound like this.” And then there was a technical person who put these thoughts into practice, mostly there were two people. It was the same with the Beatles, for example: George Martin was simply there and discussed with the Beatles how they could implement the sound, and there was a separate technical person. The producer at that time was more of an advisory, creative mind that was added to the mix. These days, everything has become one. A producer must be technically skilled, be able to record, be able to use a microphone, know what it will sound like, be creative, even take notes at times, as everything blends together in one person. Of course it also depends on what the respective band wants. Often a band just has a rough sketch of an idea and you then finish the song with them, record it, arrange and even mix it at the end.
“YOU DON’T HAVE A BUDGET FOR A PERSON WHO INTERFERES JUST A LITTLE BIT […]”
This increasing fusion of different functions which were previously separated from one another also embodies certain budget issues.
Sophie Lindinger: You no longer have a budget for one person who interferes just a little bit, you need a person who can do everything. This has become so in many areas, suddenly you have to be able to do everything. That was also a reason that intimidated me at the beginning. It has simply become so different what a producer is today, what he or she can and must be able to do. You always have to consider too what the band actually wants from you. Some people come with a finished song and just want you to record it, for example, without getting involved or putting your two cents in. But then there are bands that come along with only one melody and you’ll write the whole song down. Many come into the studio with the gesture “Produce me”, and then I have to find out exactly what the person actually wants from me.
So your musical approach adapts itself individually to each project?
Sophie Lindinger: Right. Since I’m also making music myself, I know the point of view from the other side as well. Every person simply has a different way of making and feeling music. Some have a precise vision and just need someone to implement it. Some people have more of an idea and then you can get completely involved. If a producer has a sound of his/her own that a band goes for on purpose, it’s also okay if you want it to sound precisely like that person. For me, the most important thing is that the music sounds like what the artists themselves would do, and then I adapt myself. I think it is very important to be able to adapt. But if they come to me because they want my sound, that’s okay, because I like to do that too [laughs].
Your artistic ego does not stand in your way in this respect?
Sophie Lindinger: No, not at all. I think it’s because I simply have my own music projects as well. I can act out on all levels, with My Ugly Clementine I can do the raw, rocky stuff, with Leyya on the other hand I can do the fine, the electronic brainy stuff, so that I don’t need that anymore in a collaboration with someone else. Of course I give my input, I will always show possibilities, but as long as the artists don’t say that they want my special sound, I will adapt myself to them. That’s really very important, because everyone has his own musical language.
Whom have you worked with lately?
Sophie Lindinger: Don’t Go, for example, is a band that I produced by accompanying them. They just released the second song – “What if” – from our collaboration, a rather electronic, dark sound. But I have, for example, just produced two songs by a German band and also some by another Austrian artist, who work with very warm and acoustic sounds that you can effectively create with your hands. The other one was more of a rough rock band, nevertheless belonging to pop. This is a nice juxtaposition: on the one hand Don’t Go with its very electronic sound aesthetics and on the other hand the other projects, which again have a very acoustic sound. This way you also get a nice variation.
“I JUST DON’T SET LIMITS TO MYSELF”
So there are hardly any genre limitations in your work due to questions of taste?
Sophie Lindinger: I am always open and honest with the people who want to work with me. Basically, I like to try out everything because I want to broaden my horizon and learn new things in the process. But of course I’m not a professional at recording metal bands [laughs]. Funnily enough, in November I recorded the Juke Swing Band, a Viennese swing combo. This was the first time that I recorded six people playing in one room or in three divided rooms and actually mixed it that way. It was totally exciting because there were wind instruments and a double bass and that’s just a very specific way of recording because these instruments are very fragile concerning the frequencies. I learned a lot during the production. Because, when am I going to record an upright bass again? It’s just so rare. Again, my approach was, “Hey, I’ve never done this before, but I’ll be happy to do it.” I then sit down two days before and immerse myself in the text-books so that I can do things I have never done before. It’s also important to me to do my job well, even if it is new to me. Therefore I take a lot of time to inform myself before. And like I said, when a metal band comes to me and wants to work with me, I plunge into the text-books and then we just try it out. And in the end it will be really cool [laughs]. I just don’t set limits to myself.
In pop music it’s quite easy to find role models due to the personality cult around them. What is it like in production, are there any role models for you?
Sophie Lindinger: Somehow not. Probably also because I never had a plan to become a producer. For me it has always been music and that’s why I’ve looked for my role models in the musical field. I’ve been listening to a lot of stuff and thinking to myself, “Fuck, that sounds good!” I then go and check out who did this. But since there’s no face to it, it’s quickly forgotten. It’s just funny, because so many producers penetrate, arrange and write songs in an extremely strong artistic way and thus create the sound that contributes to the song becoming a hit in the end. And finally you don’t really know this person at all, only the interpreters.
It’s probably frustrating when you’ve produced The Beatles and nobody knows you.
Sophie Lindinger: That’s likely so. But I still can’t judge that completely, because I live myself out mainly in my music. I think it’s different nowadays anyway, because now the producers are disappearing almost a bit more than before. If you take the producer’s existence from the past, then an extremely large number of musicians are producers today. Because most of them get involved in the sound and the arranging and have a clear idea of how it should be. However, since the term “producer” has a different connotation today, namely that as a producer you also have to cover all the technical areas, many musicians do not call themselves that. But actually they are just like those who call themselves that, to the outside world. The technical part is a matter of practice, you can learn that. The feeling for music, sound and arrangement is something you have or don’t have. And that is ultimately the decisive factor.
“WHERE DOES DIY END AND ‘PROFESSIONAL’ BEGIN? THAT’S DISAPPEARING THESE DAYS, AND THAT’S PERFECTLY OKAY.”
How do you feel about the change from the holy grail of “sound studio” to bedroom producing and cheaper, more easily accessible production conditions?
Sophie Lindinger: Basically, I think it’s good that everyone can have access to it and that they can put their ideas down very quickly. It’s very creative when you play around with Ableton or any other program and you can fiddle around with sounds. It broadens the musical horizon. However, this is like using an instrument. You can play an instrument quickly, but you are far from being a virtuoso, so it’s important to study and practice.
It’s funny when you see the comparison of someone spending hours mixing a snare and making unique sounds, and then there are those who pull in a ready-made percussion loop and say it’s done. Both ways probably work these days, in the end it’s simply the aspiration you have for yourself and what you want from your or the produced music.
I think producing is just a matter of experience, it’s like writing music. One develops over the years. The more you write, the more you learn and the more you hear. I also have a lot to learn and I think the most important thing is that you reflect on what you are doing and try to constantly improve. But if a person enjoys just pulling in the loop and calling himself or herself a producer, that’s okay too [laughs]. If it sounds exciting in the end, it doesn’t really matter how it came about. Whether loop or hours of mixing. This brings us back to the question from before: Where does DIY end and where does “professional” begin? It’s disappearing these days, and that’s okay. This is how new music and the access to it are developing. Music wouldn’t sound like this today if it wasn’t for DIY.
Many thanks for the interview!
Translated from the German original by Julian Schoenfeld