Updated: Oct 11, 2020
Originally from the South Coast of England Jo Henley is a Midlands based songwriter, instrumentalist & producer. From playing cello in the orchestra to bass in a rock & pop covers band Jo has been involved in a wide range of musical genres over the years. She is the creative genius behind Beanie Studios.
How did you get into music production and did you always want to be a music producer?
When I was in the Sixth Form at School someone donated a four track cassette recorder to the music department. I was in my first band (playing bass) then with three others including the main singer & pianist who wrote all the songs. We tried recording songs & that was my first experience of recording & when the bug first bit! Later on post-University I bought my own four track & started recording songs that I'd written. From there I progressed to a 16 track digital recorder & then onto computers. I used Cubase then Pro Tools & then finally Logic Pro. It was Logic that gave me the easiest & most accessible way of getting into producing & I haven't looked back since.
Did you encounter any specific obstacles when you first started?
The main obstacles were trying to be around like-minded souls as I think you learn most from being in the room with others. I was shy though & spent years beavering away on my own. It didn't occur to me that I was doing anything unusual as a woman. I suppose this was because I just did it on my own at home. I've actually become aware of sexual inequality in the industry more recently because of people's reactions when I tell them what I do.
I was shocked to discover that only 2% of professional music producers are women. What are your thoughts about that?
Very shocked to be honest and equally saddened. There's no physical reason why women can't be on the same playing field as men in this area. It's incredibly male dominated even in these more enlightened days. I had an interesting discussion with Trevor Horn about this when I asked him why he thought it was still male dominated. His response was that production has a long learning curve (in fact you never stop learning) and it can take years to hone your craft. If you started as a woman in her late teens/early twenties he saw them as becoming really proficient at their work just as they might be wanting to start families. I personally still don't see this as an issue but that was his take on it. I think the biggest obstacle is trying to give women confidence to get involved & try and change the attitude of the industry. It really is still a boys club. There is a difference between confidence where the sexes are concerned - a lot of men will bluff their way through and appear confident even if they don't know what they're doing. Women often go the other way & underestimate what they're doing and talk themselves down. I have been guilty of this.
Do you have any tips for other women wanting to get into music production?
There are various makes of software to arrange & record songs & music. Jump in & have a go. There's endless stuff on You Tube to show you how to get started if there's no one around to ask or if you're feeling a little shy. I can also recommend doing courses & getting some tutoring. I did 1-2-1 mentoring in a studio through a great company in Birmingham called DJ Gym. Just me & the mentor so I could ask anything I liked. Ironically I didn't need to start from the beginning of their program because I'd already got myself quite far in the production process. Looking out for female orientated groups on places like Facebook is also good to get support from fellow female producers.
What part of the music production process do you find the hardest, and how do you tackle that?
Mixing is a challenge. If the recording is for a release rather than just something to pitch a song I would always advise letting someone else take on that role to get the best out of it. I do it myself if the final product is just to pitch a song to singers/publishers/labels. EQ is pretty key to carving out space for each instrument together with their position in the stereo spread.
What’s the most fun part for you?
Starting the project is really fun. The excitement of knowing it could go in any direction (unless you're doing something very genre-specific). Getting the 'groove' going makes it start to come together & gives an insight into which way it's going to end up going!
Do you have a particular process for recording and mixing?
Vocal recording - I like to let the vocalist run right the way through the song in one take just to get the feel for it. I always keep this because you might get some gem of a delivery that you don't get in future takes. It also gives me a chance to make sure the recording level isn't clipping/distorting & prepares me for vocal peaks. I then record a section at a time giving feedback & encouragement where needed! I'm listening to make sure the lyrics can be clearly heard & the energy in the vocal - as you do more takes the energy can slump. Sometimes a break is needed. I also like them to smile as it's a much nicer sound that appears in the recording.
Mixing - my go-to routine is drums & bass mixed together first & then the main vocal. These three elements (other than panned percussive bits) tend to be down the centre of the recording. Then I start to add the other instruments but make sure that each part added doesn't smother any of the earlier parts. A cut in EQ frequency may be needed for the latest instrument added to avoid this.
Do you write lyrics or sing yourself?
I sing to do a guide vocal for the 'proper' singers but I'm definitely not a pro singer. I write both melody & lyrics so I'm a bit of an all-rounder.
If you had to choose one released track that you are most proud of your production, what is it?
This is a challenge because I have tended not to work with artists for release (although this is changing & I have several projects on the go) which means the songs that I have produced aren't in the public domain. Anyone wanting to pitch a song isn't supposed to have it released in any shape or form so those that I have worked on (including my own) I can't share at the moment which is a great shame as I'm very proud of my recent work. I have had a couple of re-mixes released although I have progressed skills wise considerably since then. One was a re-mix for a local singer-songwriter George Simpson & the other was a remix for a hit 90s band Look Twice from Sweden through their Swedish label
Why did you pick that one?
The remixes are in the public domain so I can share them!
What’s your next project?
I'm producing a song for talented singer-songwriter Hati (check her out on Spotify) plus I have an up & coming singer who is going to record a series of EPs to launch her career. I'll work on writing the songs with her too. I still do song demos for songwriters building up their pitching catalogues as well.
How can we hire you?
You can reach me by email (link below). I love working in all sorts of genres!