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THE PRODUCER'S CHAIR: JULIAN KING

THE PRODUCER'S CHAIR: JULIAN KING

By James Rea www.theproducerschair.com

Long known as a Grammy Award winning studio engineer, Julian King has quietly made a name for himself as a record producer as well. In one capacity or another, he has been involved with records that have sold more than 100 million units. Yes ONE HUNDRED MILLION!

King has worked with a who's-who of Nashville superstars, including such huge hit makers as Tim McGraw, Toby Keith, Tracy Lawrence, Clint Black, Martina McBride, Vince Gill, Charlie Daniels, Hank Williams Jr., Randy Travis, Brooks & Dunn, Trace Adkins, Alabama and Jo Dee Messina. He earned a Grammy as the recording engineer of Faith Hill's 1999 multi-million-selling, pop-crossover sensation Breathe. And, his credits extend to some of the hottest young acts in town, such as Tyler Farr, Chris Young, Justin Moore, Brett Eldridge and Casey James.

Julian King
Julian King

In 2007, he reunited with Tracy Lawrence and co-produced the star's CMA Award winning hit "Find Out Who Your Friends Are." that also featured Tim McGraw and Kenny Chesney. He has also continued to work constantly as an engineer, notably on Lee Ann Womack's 2005 CMA Album of the Year There's More Where That Came From and on the multi-million selling discs of two-time CMA Group of the Year Sugarland.

Raised by parents who were both school principals in Charlottesville, VA, King attended nearby James Madison University as a Music Major.

"I thought I would be a professional trumpet player for awhile," he reminisces. But his true calling was tied to using technology to reproduce music. "I started off running sound for bar bands on the college circuit back east."

In 1987, during his junior year, King got an internship working as "an assistant to the assistant" engineer at recording sessions for producer Jimmy Bowen, with his staff of engineers at Sound Stage, Emerald Studios and Masterfonics, which was set up by his advisor Rich Barnett and Merlin Littlefield. At the end of Julian's internship they offered him a job, which he started after completing his music degree.

Working under producer Bowen, King was instantly in sessions with such country superstars as George Strait. While working on an album with Charlie Daniels, King was teased by the star for being a trumpeter. Eventually, Daniels not only asked King to play trumpet on the record, he paid for King to join the Musicians Union.

King soon became a favorite of top producers James Stroud and Byron Gallimore. He recalls that some of the earliest Number-One hits he engineered were the career-launching singles by Tracy Lawrence and Clay Walker. One of his favorite projects from those early years is the 1992 John Anderson CD Seminole Wind. In 1993, he was tapped to engineer the disc debut of the then-unknown Tim McGraw and King has engineered every Tim McGraw album since that time. He also helped create the sound that kick started Toby Keith's career.

The entire community has learned to rely on his skills. One reason for Julian King's unerringly good "ear" is the fact that he is a recording engineer who is also a formally trained musician. You might even find him listed as a musician on a hit or two.

"That music degree does come in handy sometimes," he admits, "particularly on sessions with string players where music scores are involved. It took me awhile to adapt, but now I find that the [musical shorthand] Nashville Number System is more useful on a day to day basis."

The Producer's Chair: Who has been your mentor(s) through the years?

Julian King: I learned the bulk of what I know about engineering from the engineers that I worked for back then – Chuck Ainlay, Steve Marcantonio, John Guess, Steve Tillisch and especially from Lynn Peterzell. Lynn had a heart attack at the studio and died tragically at age 39. I learned so much from Lynn. He was my real mentor. Everything I know, I learned from watching and listening to those guys and then playing with the gear and the music on my own time.

The Producer's Chair: With so many concerned parties, how do you manage to please everyone, in the studio?

Julian King: It's been my experience that artists, producers and record labels all have the same general goal, but frequently differ on how to reach it. I feel that it's my job to recognize the merits of each party's ideas and then help them all come together. I have been fortunate to work with so many talented artists, producers and musicians through the years and am proud of the body of work that we have assembled.

The Producer's Chair: What is your biggest strength in the studio?

Julian King: I think that one of my biggest strengths is the ability to see that a record has many small elements that come together to make it whole. Each piece has to compliment the next in order for the record to be the best that it can be. Seeing all these things come together is really satisfying.

The Producer's Chair: Now that you are also producing major artists, which do you enjoy the most, engineering or producing?

Julian King: Graduating into producing was thrilling but, in the end, I want to put a career together where I can be both a producer and an engineer. I think I will always engineer, as long as they'll have me. That's how much I love being in the recording studio.

The Producer's Chair: What have been some of the biggest highlights of your career thus-far?

Julian King: One of the things I look back on fondly is having worked with George Jones, George Strait, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard and many other country-music icons. There aren't very many folks who can say they got to do that."

The Producer's Chair: When did you move to Nashville and...Was there anyone in particular who you knew here, who encouraged you to move here? How did you know that person?

Julian King: I had an internship that was set up by my advisor Rich Barnett and Merlin Littlefield with Jimmy Bowen and his staff of Engineers working at Sound Stage, Emerald and Masterfonics. At the end of my internship they offered me a job with them which I started after completing my music degree at James Madison University.

The Producer's Chair: Some artists prefer today's 80s rock-sounding production and some do not. Which do you prefer and why?

Julian King: I do not have a preference as long as we make music that comes off as "honest" for the artist.

The Producer's Chair: When you are producing a new artist, what is the biggest factor that determines the production sound that you create around the artist's voice?

Julian King: It is such a lyric driven format and I feel like the songs have to fit the artist. You can't have them singing about things they don't directly relate to. Once the songs are chosen each one has it's specific parameters. It is hard to put a single element on every song that glues them together, you have to rely on the artists performance to be the glue.

The Producer's Chair: Will pushing the walls of country, push country ‘as a genre' off the map eventually, to be labeled as something else or will there always be traditional-enough artists and specific-enough country instrumentation, to keep it country?

Julian King: The genre has always evolved but I would not be shocked to see it split in to two formats someday. One focusing on the rocking thumpin' stuff and one focusing on more traditional country. There are a lot of more traditional songs on the hot albums today but they just aren't getting thru the gatekeepers to the listeners.

The Producer's Chair: Does your amount of involvement in A&R depend on your whether you're engineering or producing?

Julian King: Absolutely. I am lucky to have a lot of projects that my role is solely engineering.

The Producer's Chair: Which producer has taught you the most valuable lesson about producing and what was that lesson?

Julian King: I have been fortunate to work with a lot of great producers but, I think the best lesson I've learned is something that I see both James Stroud and Byron Gallimore do. I try and let the musicians and artists give me what they hear first without my clouding their minds with how I have envisioned it. More times than not they deliver! If for some reason it's not what I am looking for we can talk and make adjustments after they have put their initial thoughts down.

The Producer's Chair: Who are you currently producing and looking for material for?

Julian King: Jim Catino and I are in the middle of Recording Tyler Farr and I am also producing Casey James.

Noting his increasing prominence, Mix magazine profiled Julian King in 2001 and included; "It's notable that even in this generally laid-back atmosphere [of Nashville], engineer Julian King has developed a reputation as a particularly groovy guy to work with."

Read other Producer's Chair interviews:

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Tony Brown

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The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Forest Glen Whitehead

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