First and foremost, Dylan Ellis is a superb mentor, an excellent music producer, composer and a musician. Ellis has allowed for Air Guitar to once again pick his brains about the tough music industry, his passions and his bold decision to work with the first rock musician from Qatar.
You hold various titles in the studio seat as a music producer, engineer, composer and even a musician. Why did you opt for such a career?
Thank you very much for keeping in contact and for supporting the bands and artists that I have worked with. Music has always been a huge part of my life; I started young and just made it a priority. By the age of 8 I had written my first song and by 12 I had made up my mind that all I wanted to do, was be surrounded by music in one way or another.
I had started playing in bands and the recording process was always a big part of that. At the time I had felt very unsatisfied with the people who were recording me, so I started small, doing some recording in my bedroom on a 4track tape recorder, and eventually a Pentium 1 computer. After doing some recordings for myself, some of my friends in other bands started asking for my help, and it just progressed from there. By the time I was 19 we had built the first of three studios. It was very basic, 1 room under my parents house drum kit and computer with a guitar amp and vocal mic. By 21 the second studio was a bit bigger with 2 rooms in a small shopping centre and by 23 the third was a 4 room professional facility. As each of these progressed new opportunities emerged to do things like scoring films, or writing jingles. It really opened up my world of experiences. By the time we sold Inner Flame Studios and moved to Dubai I had worked with over 100 bands and artists from all over the world. Invaluable experience. Music just consumed me, and I am grateful to be a part of it.
Over the years you have built up a brand for yourself in South Africa and now in the United Arab Emirates – working with various artists over the times. What advice do you have for future music producers?
Make a conscious effort to learn something new about your craft every day, and apply it. Learn how to be disciplined and efficient and most importantly stay humble.
As a central figure around artists, you have seen the good, bad and ugly while sitting in the studio seat. What are the common errors that musicians make while recording a musical release?
The biggest error is to a start recording without having a real understanding of the music business or the process of making a good record.
I have always said to bands that their first album is their learning curve. There is a level of inexperience that breeds ego, for the guys that have done it before, they know it is not easy and they come prepared and ready to work, and understand the reality of promoting an album and dealing with reviews that might not be positive.
The younger guys new to music or the recording process will often make the error of thinking that they will sell millions strait of the bat or that they are so good that they don’t need to practice with a metronome or show up on time for sessions. Music is such a personal thing to the musicians making it, that they often think that it is better than it actually is -purely because it is their labour of love. The key to making a good release to make sure the songs are great, the performances on that recording are great, the sound and production value is great, and that you have a realistic budget and strategy to promote that album. If you do not have a following that warrants a full length release, don’t make one. Make an EP instead. If you don’t have money available and a plan to tour or promote the album or EP, don’t make one.
Who are you working with in the studio at present and what can you tell us about Dylan Ellis’ future projects?
On The South African front, I have just finished mixing the new “Unseen Hero” EP “1986” it is a rocking EP. I think that if these guys keep going at it, they will have a good career ahead. I have also recently completed a mammoth new “HOKUM” Single called “Tin”. Look out for it, it is a beast. And I am in the pre-production phase with “Urban Vitamin” via skype and dropbox. Amazing how close the internet brings us.
On The UAE Front, I am working with Beat Antenna’s front man “Neil Harrison” on his first solo release; it is a project I am very excited about. I am also half way through a new “Behold the Locus” EP called “Amplifier” their first music video for the song “Shepherd” will be released soon. We are also half way through recording “Naser Mestarihi’s” new album.
There is certain special relationship with the artists that you work with. Could you elaborate on the relationship with a band called Hokum? As well as the bold decision to work with Naser Mestarihi who is the first person to release a rock album from Qatar.
HOKUM is just a real pleasure to work with. These guys have been making great music together for a very long time, and they are always pushing creative boundaries. We started working together a few years back and as we explore their sound it just keeps taking us to new places. I am very lucky to work with them. They will work on a song for months until they feel it is in a place where they are happy with it and then they bring it to me and together we will explore the many possibilities. I recorded a lot of songs with them before I left South Africa, and now as we look at new songs Jason Jackson, (Hokum Drummer) will record them and send the raw files to me and we will discuss them and try out different ideas and send them back and forth. Every member is involved with every piece of the puzzle until we are all happy. If you like progressive rock or metal, go find these guys.
Naser Mestarihi is a guitar slinging rocker with influences like Van Halen, The Cult, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, Jethro Tull etc. A lot of that music I enjoy personally, so it would only be natural that we would make a good fit. He called me up last year when he was looking through some producers for his full length album and we met up a few times and after lots of talks we decided to start working together. Its been a long process so far, we’ve been working hard on making sure that all the performances are just right. He has some great riffs, I think classic rock fans are going to enjoy this one.
Besides working with musicians, you have done a bit for films and documentaries. Could you tell us more?
That side of things started with Jingles and composing music for Radio and TV adverts. In the early days my brother needed a Jingle for a radio spot for his business and he asked me if I could do anything like that, so I thought it was worth a try and after doing that one, I started using it to look for other songwriting opportunities and they just kept coming. then I started doing composition for some advertising agencies and through them, I wrote some music for the Nashua Cape Cobras cricket team, Simba Chips, Jagermeister and Pepsi.
After a while I started looking for longer duration projects that would challenge me like film scoring. I started working with a film producer who was also a lecturer at a university in Pretoria , and he started recommending me to some of his talented students at the time like Andrew MacDonald and Jarred Sassman, and through them I did some cool short films in multiple genres. Some of them won some cool awards in various film festivals.
Most recently I have been writing music for an Iranian TV station based here in Dubai, writing the theme music for all their new TV shows. It has been great.
A busy body of note, how do you relax and what are some of your hobbies?
Unfortunately this is a sore topic at the moment. I have had very few weekends or days off this year, At the end of these projects I am going to take a few months off and just enjoy some time with my wonderful wife. My hobbies would normally include reading and painting.
As a music producer what is your take on this quote from Rick Rubin, “I don’t know what makes someone hip. The goal is artist achievement and the best work we can do with no limitation.”
I think Rick Rubin has seen the great side of some classic albums. There is a reason the greats are great and that comes down to dedication to achieve excellence with the work they do. As he says “the best work we can do with no limitation” It is a great quote.
Do you have anything to add?
Just a quote that my family use. “If it is to be, it is up to me.”