Name: Steve Rokks
Age: Old enough (31)
Hometown: New York, New York
AHD: How did you get your start in the music business?
SR: Well, music has been in my blood for most of my life. I started studying jazz at four years old, but I didn’t really dive into it professionally until I was 21. I was recording in a Dallas studio one night in 2001 when a guy by the name of Tech Huffman approached me. He asked me to engineer and mix a record for hip-hop legend The D.O.C. One thing led to another, and over the course of that year, I soon found myself leaving my old job to track, mix, and produce records full-time. Life just hasn’t been the same since then.
AHD: For readers who may only consume music, how do you describe what being a music producer entails?
SR: A record producer is the most important role in making a record (other than the artist). First off, the producer is the one who organizes studio time, schedules musicians, writes charts, and most importantly gives an outside opinion about the choices an artist makes. The choices a producer makes to help an artist can vary from small things like picking the right guitars and tones for a song, all the way to helping re-write songs if necessary. I have worked with artists who’ve had it all together and I just gave little bits of insight. Then I’ve worked with artists who didn’t have the slightest clue about how to make music (and probably shouldn’t have).
AHD: Does recording, mixing and mastering fit under the mantle of “producing”? If not, how are they related?
SR: Recording, mixing, and mastering do not fit under the umbrella of producing in my opinion. They are all totally different. My start in the music business began as an engineer. Mixing, mastering, and recording are jobs of an engineer, not a producer. The job of a good engineer is essential. The engineer will choose the microphones, pre-amps, EQ, compression, do the editing, etc. My view on engineering is that it is somewhat the role of a historian. Recording music is capturing, through microphones and technology, the sound that is created at a certain place and point in time. There is a lot that goes into making sure an instrument is recorded correctly.
Mixing is still probably my favorite part of the process. That is where the engineer takes all of the individual multi-tracks and sets the balance and sound that the song will have. It is probably the most detailed part of the process. Depending on how it is done, mixing can truly make or break a song. As far as mastering goes, those guys listen with tuned ears to all of the subtleties of the overall mixes and simply make the songs better. Hats off to those guys!
AHD: Does a producer rely more on natural ability or formal, technical training?
SR: It all depends. I’ve seen many guys without a single lick of musical training produce great records. At the same time, I know guys with doctorates from UNT in music theory making great albums as well. I think it all depends on what each person’s gifts are, and what their production style is.
AHD: What do you most enjoy about the work you do?
SR: Are you kidding me? I’m a 31-year-old, partially grownup child who gets to play music in recording studios all across the world every day. And I get paid to do it! That’s a blessing that gets re-delivered to me each and every day I go to “work.”
AHD: How has the Fort Worth/Dallas music scene enriched your experience as a producer?
SR: The DFW music scene is vibrant! The talent I hear consistently blows me away. Regardless of whether it is rock, pop, soul, jazz, or Christian genres, the level of talent that I see is amazing. Along with that, the resources of recording studios, studio musicians, songwriters, and engineers are wonderful. Dallas/Fort Worth can put out records that are just as good, if not better than records made in New York, L.A., and Nashville.
AHD: What is your opinion of the current Fort Worth/Dallas music and broader arts scene?
SR: The only thing I find occasionally lacking from the local talent is drive. The music industry is a business and you’ve got to work hard. A perfect example of hard work is Fort Worth-based band Green River Ordinance. Those guys are some of the most talented musicians I have ever seen, but they know that a good song or an engaging live show will only get them so far. They didn’t just sit around waiting for someone to discover them. They worked hard touring, writing, recording, social networking, etc. and it paid off for them. Nothing makes me happier than seeing a group of guys using their God-given gifts, working hard to accomplish their dreams, and being successful at it.
AHD: Does your faith impact your daily engineering?
SR: Without a doubt. To date, I know of at least 6 albums I have turned down due to the content and subject nature of the music. I believe that at 31 years old, I have a pretty good understanding of what gifts God has given me. It is my job to use those gifts to the fullest extent that I am capable of. I am extremely blessed to get to do this for a living every day. And let me tell you, mixing for an artist like Kari Jobe at two o’clock in the morning, lights down in the studio alone, just music and your thoughts, that’s worship!
AHD: For your latest project, you’re working with Bryce Avary of The Rocket Summer fame. How did you team up with Bryce?
SR: I met Bryce a few years ago through a friend of mine. I tracked vocals for him for a song he was doing on a compilation album. From then, I’ve become good friends with him and have worked with him on Of Men and Angels, the Bryce Avary: His Instruments, Your Voices live album, and now his upcoming (amazing) record.
AHD: What insights have you gleaned during your time with Bryce?
SR: Bryce, to me, is a perfect example of what a musician should be. He understands and has a vision for each part of every single song. His songwriting is amazing, and his willingness to spend the time in the studio to get something perfect is there. I think too many people now days just hit the studio, lay down sloppy tracks, and then have the engineer fix and piece together their music for them. Fully auto-tuned tracks, copy and pasted guitar parts, sound-replaced drums, etc. Nobody wants to spend the time to record good tracks. These things do make a difference in how music sounds. I think the art of making and creating good music has been lost to a certain degree. But one thing I truly enjoy about working with Bryce is that he values and understands the importance of doing things correctly. He will not settle for less than that. Oh, and he is growing a mustache.
AHD: What do you consider to be music’s highest aim?
SR: To put a value on making good music and valuing music for what it is intended to be: artistic expression (not just a cool way to be famous).
AHD: How can readers get in touch with you?
AHD: What advice would you give to the up and coming artist about to enter a pro studio for the first time?
SR: Be prepared! Learn your stuff – all of it. Come with extra cables, strings, sticks, drum heads, etc. Practice playing to a metronome (where necessary). If you have everything learned and rehearsed and you come prepared, you will thoroughly enjoy the entire process. If you don’t, you will struggle while recording, and that will show in your final masters.