Meet the Producer That Took James Blunt from Average to ‘Beautiful’

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Mike Wise1

Known for his production on albums by James Blunt and Fall Out Boy, music producer Mike Wise holds over 132 music credits for helping build today’s earliest mainstream artists such as Fall Out Boy, James Blunt, Alyssa Reid, and Neon Dreams. 

But over the past ten years, the infrastructure of the music industry has shifted immensely, especially for producers like Wise. 

Earlier this month, we spoke with music producer, Billboard, who has had his fingers on our favorite albums since artists like Kesha, B.O.B., Britney Spears, and T-Pain came into existence. We learned that while consumers tend to focus on the artists out in the public light, producers like Billboard and Wise silently produce in the background, which help push these artists to reaching the pinnacles they have today.

But have no fear, with over 78 A-list music credits, Billboard is still very much immersed in the industry today, working with artists including The Game, Robyn, Ellie Goulding, Shakira, and Ariana Grande.

Back in November, Music Industry Weekly spoke with hip-hop and R&B producer, James Worthy who outlined what it’s been like overcoming technological obstacles as a producer in the 21st century. But that was before the global pandemic of COVID-19 hit and changed the music industry, forever.

This month, we had the opportunity to speak with Wise about how his experience producing music for contemporary English singer James Blunt has helped him over the years up and until the coronavirus pandemic struck.

Music producer, Mike Wise

Wise first connected with Blunt through Steve Robson, who had previously written some really great songs with Blunt, and was then looking for someone to help out with production to get the upcoming songs to the finish line. 

“I was familiar with James’s records and singular voice growing up, so it was really cool to be able to work with him on new music,” Wise shared with us. 

When Wise first came on board, Blunt and Robson had demos from their writing sessions that were according to Wise, “inspiring, but needing some focus.”

“I wanted to try some new elements, but didn’t want to lose what was working from the initial demos. When a song feels good from the outset, sometimes your job as a producer is simply to not-mess-it-up.”

He went on to add that it’s all about supporting the artist and elevating the song. “I went back and forth with James and Steve on some new drum ideas, guitar and synth parts, as well as trying to strip away the right layers, leaving only what had to be there. It was a really great collaborative process and I’m really happy with the final result.”

Since Blunt’s emergence into the music industry in the early 2010s, there’s no question the infrastructure of the industry has changed today. As for Wise’s adaptation to the change, he’s aware of the ever-changing need for producers to keep up with an artist’s drive to continue producing more music. 

“These days commercial music is so diverse,” Wise explained.

“Not only that, an artist’s catalogue today can be very stylistically diverse and the listeners are ready for it. As a producer that means you have to be a bit of a chameleon; ready to borrow from any genre or era of music. With the capabilities we have today, artists expect a lot from the producer, sonically speaking, and you have to be able to deliver quickly. On top of that, artists are releasing music faster than ever before. They no longer have to work in album cycles, which means you really have to stay on your toes trying to push their sound forward for the next release.”

How to Stay “Beautiful” Throughout Your Music Career

When it comes to early mainstream artists, producers like Wise and Billboard certainly have the right steps that producers today should be taking when it comes to keeping their portfolios “relevant” and attractive.

“When you’re working with a new artist, it can be tempting to reference existing artists and try to copy music that’s already out there,” Wise pointed out, but “the problem with that is that you end up with something people have heard before and you’re too late to the party.”

So what are producers in 2020 to do when their biggest competition is YouTube and remix after remix?

“I think it’s important to let yourself explore different sounds without reservation when you’re developing a new artist. It’s okay to fall flat four out of five times, because you will then stumble upon something fresh and inspiring that you wouldn’t have done otherwise. Don’t be afraid to get out of your comfort zone. Sometimes the best ideas are the product of happy accidents.”

The Good, The Bad, and the COVID   

Since Wise first started his career in music production, the industry has changed (and not necessarily for the better), but the digitization of music has made it both challenging and exciting when it comes to creativity.

On the creative side of things, the “possibilities have been endless” for Wise.

“Whether you’re in a big fancy studio or someone’s bedroom, you have a tool set with you that previous generations of producers couldn’t have imagined. That technology has opened up so many ideas for me over the last five years. If I’m ever feeling uninspired, I can just go on the internet and find some new sounds/software that will give me fresh inspiration. It’s pretty amazing what a producer can do on just a laptop these days.”

Forget a laptop though, how about 2020’s coolest piece of music tech–the Joué, which made its debut in Las Vegas last year at CES 2020 with GRAMMY-nominated producer and founding member of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame-inducted hip-hop group, N.W.A., Arabian Prince.

For the uninitiated, the Joué is a modular MIDI controller or board that allows the user to play drums, guitar, keyboard, and more—otherwise, you can literally ‘drop a beat’ on the go.

EMBED: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2f4a_eWtrdg&feature=emb_logo

In an interview with Grit Daily News, Prince shared his on-going passion and love for tech, which has also allowed him to continue bridging the gap among DJs, electronic music artists, hip-hop producers, and the industry.

But even as a futurist and technological junkie, there are downsides, according to Wise, of having “all this sonic capability” at his fingertips. 

“Sometimes, I forget to look to other musicians for ideas. If I can make a trumpet sound with my laptop, I’m less likely to call up a friend who can actually play the trumpet. This past year though I have been calling on more musicians to come in with their ideas which is always inspiring and can change the course of a record.”

Since February, COVID-19 has been at large and has forced music artists to turn to platforms like Facebook Live and Instagram TV to help keep listeners engaged. 

But how has the global pandemic impacted Wise’s skills as a producer and even with clients? 

Since the pandemic started it’s become more of a challenge to collaborate,” Wise replied.

“Writing a song over Zoom or FaceTime is not easy. It lacks some immediacy that you would usually have collaborating with someone in person. I’ve had to adjust the way I work with other people. Rather than trying to recreate a traditional writing setting you have to figure out what works remotely, and that may differ with each collaborator. Sometimes it’s more of a tag team, sending ideas back and forth rather than working on something simultaneously. With other collaborators, a simultaneous approach still works as long as everyone makes an effort to leave room for each other. Everyone is in the same boat and we’re all trying to make the best of it. The most important thing is to keep a positive attitude and try not to get too frustrated by the limitations we’re stuck with for the time being.”