Breaking the sound barrier: Lauren Deakin Davies on starting out as a producer

Producer, engineer, solo artist and session musician Lauren Deakin Davies is currently one of the UK’s brightest young talents, tearing up record books left, right and centre. Editor Daniel Gumble caught up with her in a Hertfordshire pub to talk music production, gear and the challenges facing the studio sector…
By Daniel Gumble,

At just 22 years old, Lauren Deakin Davies’ CV is, frankly, ridiculous. Over the past five years she has achieved more as a producer and engineer than most could hope to achieve in twice that time. Aside from having worked with an acclaimed roster of artists that includes Laura Marling, Kate Dimbleby, Kaity Rae and Peggy Seeger, she has already had several EPs and a raft of singles played on BBC Radio 2 and 6 Music since 2013. 

If that wasn’t enough, she is also the youngest female producer ever to have tracks played on Radio 2, is the youngest ever MPG member and was named Producer Of The Year at this year’s NMG (New Music Generator) Awards. Unsurprisingly, all of this has made her one of the most sought after figures in the UK pro audio industry, already becoming something of a regular on the market’s conference and panel circuit. Indeed, she played a starring role at last month’s PSN Presents session, where she appeared on a panel alongside award-winning producer and engineer Wes Maebe and Miloco Studios COO Nick Young to discuss the state of the studio sector.

Her unique ability to learn and develop her studio skills at such lightning speed can be traced back to her precocious musical talent. In her teenage years she dropped out of school to pursue a career as part of an acoustic folk group in her native Hertfordshire – Walkern, to be precise - with Davies’ advanced abilities as a guitarist and vocalist catching the eye of local talent scouts. And while the band would soon fall by the wayside – her fellow bandmates opting not to drop out of school to pursue a life of folk – she quickly became obsessed with the engineering and production process, prompting her to start assembling a home studio set up dubbed The Den in the back garden of her parents’ house, where she continues to record and produce records for a diverse array of acts.

“There was a clear couple of points where I decided I was going to do this seriously,” she states as we take our seats at a table of a sleepy Hertfordshire pub, the setting of today’s interview. “I first really got into it when my band started going to lots of amazing studios, like Metropolis, and I was constantly over the shoulder of the engineer asking, What does this do, what does that do? That sparked my interest – seeing all the mics and the gear…I knew this was what I wanted to do. We had this unique situation where we were busking here in Hertford and this guy came over, hands us a business card and says, I have a studio, would you like to come and record? That was Martin Lumsden at the Cream Room Studios. We recorded two of our EPs there and got really involved in the production side of things.”

Over the course of our conversation, Davies gives us the inside track on her audio infatuation, gear and how she has managed to progress through the ranks at breakneck pace…

How did you go about setting up The Den?

I had this space at the bottom of the garden that was originally like a pool house, and I started moving more and more gear down there. Then, all of my band members went back to school – we were planning on dropping out because the band looked like it was doing so well – but the rest of the band’s parents made them go back. My mum said I didn’t have to go back because I was doing quite a lot with recording my own music and other bands in The Den. I came up with so many interesting techniques as to how to do things differently because I had such bad equipment!

I still use some of those methods now when I want to get some weird sounds. By the time I was 18 I’d recorded two EPs, and when I started earning some money from it I would use it to reinvest and buy better gear. The third EP I made, which was for Kelly Oliver, got played on BBC Radio 2. I was 18 at the time and that made me the youngest female producer to have a track on Radio 2, so I was like, OK, maybe I’m not making completely rubbish music here!

Few producers of such a young age could have made so much critically acclaimed work so early on in their career. Is there anything you have done differently to reach the level you are at today?

I’m quite an experimental person. There’s also the blind naivety and enthusiasm I have that something is going to work. Having parents that supported me was really helpful. Plus, I had no social life. There were no other 17-year-olds that weren’t in school, so during the day I was making friends with lots of adults and hanging around with professional musicians who do music full-time. That put me in quite a unique position. Even now at 22, I’m still the youngest in so many things that I do, having worked a lot with people older than me.

Tell us about becoming the youngest member of the MPG.

I didn’t apply to be a member until I was 19 because I didn’t think I would qualify! I then realised in retrospect that I’d have qualified when I was 17 because of the output I’d already had at that point. Martin Lumsden was probably the person that encouraged me most to join. I ended up working on Laura Marling’s Reversal Of The Muse project because of the MPG. I’ve worked on loads of cool projects, been to some great events and as a result got to know loads more people because I’ve gone on behalf of the MPG. It’s what you make of it, as anything is in life.

Have you encountered any discrimination on account of your age, and the fact the percentage of female producers is still so negligible?

The primary issue people did have was my age. I was not aware that I was a female doing record production until I reached a certain point of people knowing who I was. Then everyone was like, What’s it like to be a female record producer? Then I realised and looked into it and found out only 3% of record producers are female. Sometimes people just assume I don’t know what I’m doing. I’ve had times when people have come into my studio and they’ve brought a session musician along and the session musician – and it’s always men that do this, women never do – will start saying, I think you should do it like this, or you should do it like that, and I’m like, I’ll do it the way I’m going to do it. I’ve had years of experience and I know what I’m doing. Also, if I’m at any kind of producers’ event, people assume I’m either someone’s girlfriend or a singer.

Do you see any steps being taken to change these archaic attitudes?

The MPG is linking up with existing female–orientated events, and Red Bull have set up this thing called Normal Not Novelty – I’ve done an engineering workshop there. And there are other organisations like Girls I Rate, which is incredible - the MPG are getting involved with things like that.

What have been some of the most interesting projects you’ve worked on?

The most inspiring person I’ve worked with is Kate Dimbleby. She’d already done four albums and the album she did with me [Songbirds] was an entirely acapella, vocal looped experimental thing. I was so excited, although doing a full album with someone who is already established was a bit daunting. The thing that was so amazing was that it was expanding the reality of what you could do with vocals. Another artist I‘ve loved working with is Minnie Birch. I’ve been friends with her for years and I wanted to do her last album so badly – I did two tracks on it – but I was so happy to work on the full new album. We’ve been working on it all year and it’s so amazing.

Talk us through your studio set up?

For most of last year I was running a UAD Apollo Quad and I really like that because I mostly multi-track, so I don’t need to record loads of things at once. I use Logic; everyone is like, You should use Pro Tools, and I can use Pro Tools but personally I prefer Logic. I’m currently running an entirely DigiGrid system, and I use Ethernet cables for everything, plus it’s all modular so you can extend to any amount of inputs you want. I have Lexicon outboard units but I have the Lexicon plugins, so I end up using that instead. And having Waves plugins makes a lot of the others obsolete.

What’s your approach to production?

If I’m recording someone on acoustic guitar, I’ll ask if they know where the sweet spots are on the guitar. It saves time, say, if someone tells me they tried something at a different studio and it sounds great. Then I’ll try it and if I’m not sure of it I’ll ask them to try something else.

Who are some of your main influences as a producer at the moment?

Catherine Marks and Charlie Andrew. Both of those are pretty inspiring.

www.laurendeakindavies.com/home