This week I am talking with one of my favorite producers in music! Brent Milligan currently produces and plays bass for Steven Curtis Chapman. He’s also worked with Michael W. Smith, Charlie Peacock, The Backstreet Boys and more. We are discussing his journey as a producer, a touring musician and A&R rep as well as the importance of taking advice from the people you look up to and putting it into practice in your career by becoming really good at one thing as a time.
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*I grew up taking bass and cello lessons.
*I knew a couple of guys who went to Belmont University who were starting to have some success as musicians in Nashville playing for people that I had heard of and it got me thinking I could do it too.
*I got to Nashville because a mutual friend knew the artist/producer Charlie Peacock who was my favorite artist.
*I got a voicemail from Charlie Peacock saying he needed a bass player for a festival and he felt like he was supposed to call me.
*I had auditioned for Margaret Becker’s band previously and she referred me to Charlie.
*I met Charlie at his studio and played through some songs and got to know him, then we flew to Sunshine Fest in Minnesota and that was my first real gig.
*Charlie asked to hear my songs and decided to teach me songwriting and producing and use me as a bass player from time to time.
*I had an open invitation to sit on his studio couch and say nothing and just be invisible. Just listen and watch which I was going to do at every opportunity.
*He let me use his studio whenever he was not using it and I would go in and work and learn from his engineer Craig Hanson.
*Charlie taught me to not cross pollinate musical styles when recording. Don’t do jazz licks on a pop record, etc.
*He taught me a lot about being a family man and be a musician.
*It’s okay to be faithful to your wife, faithful to a church, not doing crazy stuff.
*I met Brent Bourgeois through Charlie and had done some work together and he called me and asked if I wanted to play bass for Michael W. Smith because he just got hired to be his band leader.
*I played for Michael W. Smith for 7 years. At the same time, I was also writing and recording demos and a band wanted to record one of my songs. The A&R guy asked who they wanted to produced their album and they liked my work. The A&R guy was Eddie DeGarmo who I had played bass for on his band DeGarmo and Key’s tour. He knew I produced the demo and wanted to get me work producing and asked them if they wanted me to produce their album.
*Everyone I’ve worked with so far has been by referrals and relationships.
*Start building competencies .
*Charlie said that If you establish a competency as a producer or bass player, then people will be more likely to interested in your production. As opposed to just walking up to them and saying I want to produce.
*If you establish competency as a songwriter or musician, people will take you way more serious when you say you want to produce records.
*After playing for Michael W. Smith, I got asked to do A&R at a label and got off the road for 2 1/2 years.
*Then I got a call to start working for Steven Curtis Chapman. I had subbed in for his bass player over the years so we had a relationship. He heard a record I produced and asked if I would produce his next record Beauty Will Rise.
*Even when you’ve been successful, there is still that voice inside that says you’re not good enough.
*When producing with Steven Curtis Chapman, he usually brings in a voice memo and I have him track a guitar to a click track, then I will make a sketch of what I think might work by building tracks and a sound around his scratch track, then I send him an mp3 to see what he thinks and getting adjustments from him.
*Then he either thinks it great and keep going with it or he likes certain parts about it but maybe wants other parts to go in a different direction. I’m trying to get guidance from him, then once we get the course set, then I’ll start getting live instruments tracked.
*Then he’ll come in and sing and do bgv’s.
*Picking players and mixing engineers for an album is usually a collaboration between me and the artist.
*I became the head of A&R at Forefront Records because their guy left and they asked Charlie Peacock to be their interim A&R and he had to find his replacement and thought I would be good for the position.
*An A&R person does project management by helping the artist think through direction musically and think through song selection, producer choices, making sure there are songs that work for radio.
*You’re helping the artist turn in an album that’s going to help them with their career the most.
*You’re the go between for the artist and the label.
*Start with developing one competency.
*If you want to be a producer, start producing tracks. Learn to play your laptop like an instrument.
*Start doing whatever you aspire to do at whatever level you’re able to do it.
*Start putting up videos of you playing your instrument on You Tube and make a presence for yourself.
*If you have content that people can see what you do, that let’s people know your talent level and can open opportunities for you.
*You can make videos everyday and get your name out there.
*If you reach out to someone and ask them for coffee, they will usually meet with you and give you advice.
*It comes back to relationships.
*Be interested in people.
Brent Milligan is a Nashville based producer and musician. Originally from Baton Rouge Louisiana, he has lived in Nashville for many years with his wife Sarah and three kids, and has toured with or worked on albums by Michael W Smith, Steven Curtis Chapman, The Backstreet Boys, Toby Mac, DC talk, Paul Baloche, and many others. He can usually be found in his studio, spending time with his family, playing tennis, or making chocolate chip cookies.