Though he's been involved with music since he was a teen, Detering has only been working seriously on Red Pill Entertainment's mission to create partnerships with artists for about six years. Red Pill's studios moved about a year and a half ago to its current location on Hampton Avenue in St. Louis, where Detering took some time to chat with me, play me some new music from Salisbury and Miles Nielsen and show me around the red-accented space.
Mariam Shahsavarani: How did you become involved with studio work?
Jacob Detering: I was always a songwriter, even as a teenager, and I had my own cheap recording stuff at home, so I had experience with overdubbing and all that stuff, so I thought, "I'm going to start finding groups and making recordings for them." I would basically just find bands that would let me take them in. I would work for free and try to make a good recording of them, and they would pay for the studio time.
Can you tell me a little bit about how Red Pill came about?
The whole concept of Red Pill really came out of a situation where I made some records with a few artists and I had some issues with where I put all my time and money into doing the record and then I found out they were selling the record on their own and not paying me. That's kind of when I started the whole idea of "I'm going to start something and put this out, and I'm going to organize myself legally to handle these kinds of things." About four years into it I met my current partner, Lauren Markow. We were both in the studio business and both had a lot of interest in trying to find people who were really fantastic and needed help to try to get things out there. People were lacking capital, and we both had all the studio gear and were both perfectly positioned to do that stuff for people.
The past five or six years we started working pretty heavily with people locally and people from out of town. We were down on Virginia Avenue for about six years and then got this building [on Hampton] about a year and a half ago and built this place and have been here since.
And sort of out of that situation with unscrupulous artists we kind of began working on partnership concepts with artists. In the dawn of the Internet we wanted to do something a little more artist friendly where what we owned was directly correlated to what we invested, and just more of a partnership kind of thing.
Can you tell me a little bit about what you do?
Red Pill does a variety of different things. We have a big recording facility so we do a lot of hourly studio time. Another thing that we do is actually look for bands to sign and do more of a development deal for them where we're financially invested in helping them get the product out. That's more of a label function. On the label side, I typically play more of a producer role going through their catalogue of songs and picking what I think are their strongest songs. If it's a band, it's choosing the right performances or what I feel are the best performances. If it's a singer-songwriter, it's helping them find artists or other musicians or performers who will play on the record, and hopefully choosing people who I feel will be creatively aligned or creatively contributive to what the artist is already doing.
In those situations records happen in lots of different ways. Sometimes it's as simple as the band goes in, sets up in the room, and I place microphones and it's literally just a capture of the moment kind of thing. Sometimes you would capture the band and just keep certain elements of it and then correct other parts that aren't as perfect as they would want them. So you maybe focus on drums and bass and once you have those recorded you would start stacking finished versions of the guitar parts and the vocal parts and maybe refining those parts some.
[With a singer-songwriter] the song is there, meaning they have the lyrics and a chord progression kind of thing. It's kind of a weird thing to do because you're sort of building -- you sort of have to have this extreme foresight to know how it's all going to converge together at the end, which is kind of abstract to think of it. A band, by committee they kind of sit there and play the song together live a bunch of times and then rehearse so the song naturally kind of coalesces. With a singer-songwriter, often since they don't typically have a band, usually they just sort of write the songs on their own. It's a different kind of beast altogether.
How do you know what you're going to be doing on a record?
It's kind of like an interview when you're trying to get a record….You're kind of trying to figure out what role you would be playing. It helps to be someone who can sort of fit into whatever role. You've just got to determine what the role is, and sometimes in the process of that discussion or interview you might realize that you're not the person for that job.
A lot of times you have bands that haven't done a lot of recording and they learn a lot about how the process works and how the process can work. There are a lot of different approaches you can take, all of them leave a creative mark on what they do. For example, people always say that if a band plays together live there's a certain synergy and feel to that that's noticeable, so a lot of bands are really into capturing what they do as a group live rather than overdubbing everything. There's a certain tightness that comes with overdubbing things because you can be a lot more myopic about it and really hone in on each part and make sure that it's executed exactly like you want. Some people may feel like that sound kind of sterile or too preplanned and there's not enough spontaneity in it.
You kind of have to talk with them and see what they want to do and what they've done in the past and what they think works best for what they're trying to accomplish, and then kind of do what they need done. That's what it comes down to.
Are there times where you end up recording everything together instead of piecing together different takes?
It just depends. Like the Brothers Lazaroff record ["Hope, Fear, Youth"] that they'll be releasing shortly, we recorded that to analog tape all live in an evening. That's what they do. That's really their aesthetic and they have outstanding players that are very tight and together. But their whole concept and their feel is centered around what they do as a group. It's kind of like acting; the person across the table from you does something and you respond to it as a creative person. Being in a band is kind of similar to that. You respond to what the drummer does sort of innately, without even thinking, you just do something.
How do you balance the business side with the creative side of making a record?
Most of our deals are set up in a way that you establish a budget for the record and our budgets are typically pretty bare bones, to get as much done as possible for as little money as possible. That being said, we do have our own studio and stuff, so if there are things that we want to try that we think would really add to a record, we have the ability to turn the clock off and to go for something that we think is a viable idea and something that could really help further the record.
When I'm in the studio working on something I'm not really thinking of the business side too much because we've already kind of done the work on that. It's trying to find the great songs: going through the catalogue and picking the best things and figuring out how to best present those things and listening for the takes and performances that really resonate at some level where you feel touched by it. I think that's always the ultimate benchmark. You listen to something and it really impacts you.
The music business is so…crazy. When you're making a record you kind of have to let go of that side of the business and just try to make something. You can't make a record because you think people are going to like it. You have to make a record because it's something that really resonates with you and something that you think is the best possible thing that you're capable of doing at the moment.
Do you have a favorite project that you've worked on?
All of them are really interesting. Every project brings something different to the experience. Like, the Brothers Lazaroff are great because they're just so cavalier in what they do. A lot of the music-making business and record-making business these days is about sitting in front of a computer screen and perfecting everything, and the Brothers Lazaroff is great because they're just not interested in that. It's more about the moment and the experience, and they're always pushing sonic and creative boundaries, which is really a fantastic opportunity for me as an engineer, because it lets me try things I normally wouldn't get to try.
I mastered Ben Taylor's new record. He's James Taylor's son, and that was kind of a fortuitous experience.
I've had the opportunity to work with a lot of great people. I get to do a lot of out of state work, which is cool, and I always feel lucky to be able to do that. Years ago my partner, back in the days of Myspace, found this woman named Amy Petty who was out in Boston. [She] convinced Amy to come all the way out here. We plowed through several songs in a couple days and it was great and super easy and she was even more talented than we thought she was going to be.
What are you currently working on?
I have a really cool record that Red Pill is about to finish and put out by a local group called Salisbury. The songwriter is a guy named Eric Lysaght. Eric writes these great songs, and the record is sort of a concept record; it's about these tiny little towns in Missouri. It's sort of a folky-esque. It kind of sounds a little bit like a Neil Young, Crosby, Stills and Nash vibe on it. It's got a great crew of players on it. It's got Joe Meyer, who plays with Nikki and Matt Hill and everybody else; Dan Eubanks, who is a Nashville-based player now but used to be a teacher at Webster University; Tony Esterly, who plays pedal steel and is the guitar player for Gumbohead and Shooting With Annie and some other great records. It's a small clique of guys that just love Eric's songs. We'd all heard these demos that Eric had made and they were just out of this world. We're going to put that out late-spring/early-summer.
What do you think is necessary for sustainability in today's music world?
The music business has really suffered a lot. I think in a lot of ways the music business was the first intellectual property business to really take a huge hit when the Internet began to proliferate and sales stopped coming and people started stealing music. The cool thing about the Internet is that there's a lot of music being made. The ability to record is not limited to being connected to a record label anymore because people can get a computer and record stuff in their house. The tools are just more accessible than they've been in the past. But at the same time, we believe that there's a certain benefit to working with other people. The whole home-recording thing is just not a very interactive process. You don't learn things and do things. Music is very creative. You respond to what people do, and a lot of what you do is based upon the input and feedback you get from your contributors or collaborators.
There were certain elements of the old-school record business that I think were good. Namely, that they would spend a lot of time and energy trying to develop concepts. They would give artists the latitude to explore and try to develop something. That just doesn't really happen anymore. We really like the idea of just hearing something promising in somebody and knowing if they had access to certain people or tools, or just access to a creative environment, something really remarkable that would affect other people in a cool way or a great way. Lauren and I both feel like that's something that needs to happen still. Without labels that are interested and able to partner with people and partner with artists, that just doesn't happen.
The sustainability side is more about making decisions that won't really impede your career or crush you. We're focused on finding productive people that are writing good material and have a work ethic and have realistic expectations about what the music business is going to be and don't get completely discouraged by that.
We basically are just trying to help people get stuff done that we like and think are talented people and people we align with from a value standpoint. We think there's still a big need for that. It's great that you can do everything on your own, but it's not really the best idea. My partner says, "Just because you can perform brain surgery on yourself doesn't mean you should." And in some ways, making a record is kind of like brain surgery. Doing anything creative like that is so involved and heady.