How South Carolina Music Producers Make Songs Music to Our Ears

Jul 9, 2019

Many famous musical artists have been heavily influenced by their audio producers, but Joe Miller, a music producer who owns and operates the Sounds Like Joe recording studio in Rock Hill, South Carolina, describes his job in humble terms. “I like to consider my artistic domain, I move air and people hear it,” he said.

Producing music is defined by taking music written by an artist or composer and transforming it into a high quality, professional studio sound. It involves several tough decisions that producers must make when there are several options available. 

Gary Bolton beside Strawberry Sky's massive audio board.
Credit Lee Wardlaw/SC Public Radio

Gary Bolton, a music producer who runs the Strawberry Skys recording studio in West Columbia, South Carolina, described the numerous crossroads producers must face on a daily basis. “First, is it fundamentally right? Is it together? And could we make it even better before we even start recording?”

The most important decision a producer is responsible for is whether to producer a sound with an instrument or a synthesizer, Miller said. Producers offer advice on all of the above to artists, but vocalists receive the most personalized attention. “We have autotune but it doesn't substitute for a great performance. What we’re trying to do is work on a vocal performance and instead of spending hours and hours learning how to emulate and phrase,” said Bolton. 

Joe Miller in the control room of Sounds like Joe studios in Rock Hill.
Credit Scott Morgan/SC Public Radio

  Large cities controlled a larger share of the recording industry before the dawn of the information age, but the Internet has allowed producers to interact with clients around the globe by using streaming software, said Miller. “The digital age negates a fair amount of challenge. Sometimes people like to show up at sessions and that’s not possible… I can use software to stream my session to the client.”

This especially benefits producers in the Palmetto State, Miller confirmed. “It also affords me the ability to have a diverse set of services and clients whereas if you live in a major market like New York or Los Angeles you really have to specialize in a way that I wouldn’t enjoy as much.”

Miller said that the majority of his business still flows from the Charlotte market, but Bolton said that 75 percent of his clients are from South Carolina. No matter where artists are from, one thing may be counted on, according to Bolton. “Our clientele is a very diverse set of people. One day we may be doing hip hop, next day Americana, next time gospel."

No matter the background of the artists, the ultimate goal of the producer is to provide them with a sound that is music to their ears. “The most rewarding part is sending a file back for review and getting an email from someone, all caps, with exclamation points, saying we love it,” Miller said.