47: Butch Vig, Record producer on working w/Nirvana, Garbage, and the art of communication
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Butch Vig is one of a handful of record producers that people actually know about and recognize. His work with Nirvana, The Smashing Pumpkins, and Sonic Youth put him on the map in the early 1990s, but by that time, he was already 15 years into a production career, and by his own estimate had already made 1000 records for local and regional bands in the Midwest. At that time he worked mostly out of his (now legendary and sadly defunct) Smart Studios in Madison, Wisconsin.
Here he talks about growing up in a small town in Wisconsin, falling in love with records, and playing in his early bands Spooner and Fire Town.
We spent a morning in his home studio in LA talking through some of the big questions in record production:
- How did it feel to produce one of the biggest records of all time (Nirvana's Nevermind)?
- What is the key to great production?
- How does he listen to new music and what is he looking for in a band?
- How much of his job is in the interpersonal interactions with people? How much is technical?
- How did computers change the way he makes records?
- How has being in a band impacted the way he works with other bands?
More recently his work with his band Garbage, as well as Foo Fighters have made him into one of the most recognizable record makers around. But underneath it all, he’s still a low-key guy from the Midwest who loves to talk about music and hang out with creative people.
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