• ZephyrHillMusic

Donna Marie

Updated: Oct 16

A singer/songwriter & music producer from Warrington, North-West of England has been writing and playing music for most of her life. Donna's style of music blends Country, folk rock, Americana with a hint of pop.


How did you get into music production and did you always want to be a music producer?

It all started very early in my life. I don’t read music and so I play by ear. Learning songs on the piano turned into a skill in itself. I have to listen to the song and filter out the rest of the music so that I can focus on the part I am trying to learn. I am fascinated with how music is put together.

I was about 14 the first time I set foot in a recording studio. This was way before when the internet was in every home. I actually remember looking through the Yellow Pages and the Phone Book and discovered a local recording studio named, Frog Studios in Warrington. I called them up (after much deliberation) and asked if I could go down and take a look. I hopped onto the bus and headed over. I was greeted by the studio manager Dickie and he showed me around. There was a lady singing in the main studio so we didn’t go in. She was fantastic and it turned out to be Ruby Turner. I booked my first studio session a little while later after saving up my paper round and odd jobs money (as we did back then) and was hooked ever since.


Did you encounter any specific obstacles when you first started?

When I first started to make music, recording equipment was not as readily available as it is now. It was extremely expensive and I was still at high school. The school (Bridgewater High School, Appleton Thorn, Warrington) itself had a relatively high tech (at the time) ATARI Notator Sequencer that I was able to use on rare occasions. Other than that it was a case of booking studio time and learning my craft and using my two tape stereo and playing around with an old, battered, cheap microphone to sing into. I was also writing songs by then and it was the start I needed to pursue music production although it was very informal at this point, in fact I was still working towards myG.C.S.Es. I wouldn’t necessarily say that there were obstacles from a female perspective, or perhaps I was too young to realise if there indeed were any obstacles in being Female.


I was shocked to discover that only 2% of professional music producers are women. What are your thoughts about that?

My experience is, as a Female in a Male led industry it is often difficult to be taken seriously. There is a lot of sexism. Many of my Male counterparts can be very dismissive and the fact is Women can be just as dismissive and assume you aren’t a ‘real producer’. That can be said about many things in music. I studied Music Technology formally for 5 years and put the time in. I don’t know everything and I am always learning but that is the beauty of the creative arts. It’s the same for sound engineers (I spent quite some time in Manchester in the early noughties ‘shadowing’ and sound engineering at venues like The Roadhouse. My first shadow engineering gig was actually for the band ‘The Feeling’ and their single ‘Sewn’ was in the top ten. It was a busy gig.


I do think a big part of the low numbers of women in this industry is down biology as well. The fact that women physically have babies and Men don't can sometimes mean a difficult choice to either have a family OR a career. The same can be said about any industry. Sexism isn;t just in the creative arts.


Do you have any tips for other women wanting to get into music production?

My tips are pretty obvious. Work on your craft. Record lots of musical styles, maybe work with local bands or artists and learn how to mix and arrange. The role of ‘Producer’ has many hats in today's music industry. You will have to be able to budget for the work undertaken. You may be asked to source everything like mastering services and vinyl pressing and session musicians and and when required. Be clear about what it is you want to do and how you want to achieve it. It’s not always about making the music but it’s about managing a project as well.


You don’t have to go to university. In my experience, having a degree in this subject doesn’t seem to matter. Your musical back catalogue is your calling card. The more you produce music, the better you will get. Another top tip is don’t get pulled into having all of the latest gear and plugins and the best preamps. Start simple and go from there.


What part of the music production process do you find the hardest, and how do you tackle that?

Mixing is a real art form. Bass is the boss so learn how to tackle that and the rest is easier to deal with. Also Dynamics, make sure you maintain dynamics.


What’s the most fun part for you?

I really enjoy working on the song arrangement and instrumentation. It’s exciting to hear the song progress grow from a basic idea into something complete. You can go in so many directions.


Do you have a particular process for recording and mixing?

I try different things. During lockdown I have been re-learning Logic Pro X, I haven’t used since the much older version of Logic Audio Pro 7 (and that was a long time ago)


I have been producing for a few solo Artists, all wanting something quite specific and very different. Working completely remotely has had  challenges but it’s been an interesting way of working. Generally speaking I record 'scratch' tracks and basic demo songs and work from there.


Do you write lyrics or sing yourself?

I do write songs, that’s where my musical journey began. I love to work in different styles, musically I work in lots of genres, from acoustic folk to deep house EDM and many styles in-between.


If you had to choose one released track that you are most proud of your production, what is it?

ON THE ROAD


Why did you pick that one?

On The Road is a song that felt very easy to write. I knew it was a strong song and I could instantly hear how I wanted the arrangement and production to sound. I really feel that I accomplished that. It’s actually had over 110.000 plays on Spotify which I am of course proud of. 


I wrote it during a difficult time in my life and being on the road as a touring musician really helped Me to escape that. Everything you hear are real instruments. I recorded the guitars (electric and acoustic) and bass in my home set up, the drums were recorded in North-West Recording Studios in Chorley and the strings you hear are all real which were recorded remotely and sent over by Chris Demetriou Music. This was a breakthrough song for me as a producer.


It also got picked up from the huge VERY NEARLY NASHVILLE music playlist on spotify, which I listened to a lot so I was incredibly happy about that.


What’s your next project?

I am working on a few projects at the moment. I just finished a 5 track EP for an independent artist in the UK. I also tracked a15 song album for another artist from Scotland so I am in the process of mixing that. I also worked on a track for another producer, creating what was essentially a backing track for his artist to sing to. It worked out great.


My latest work is a cover song by Loric McKenna performed by  THE SONGS AND STORIES COLLECTIVE in which i am a member.


How can we hire you?

I have been working on my branding and will have an official website for my production company very soon, the best way to contact me is via my artist website.


HIRE ME


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