Scott Smith and his wife Jennifer Ferguson Smith had the unusual pleasure of collaborating with best-selling novelist – and sometime musician – Lee Child. The outcome was Just The Clothes On My Back, a collection of songs about Child’s long-running fictional character, Jack Reacher. Performed by them, the album was recorded and produced in their home studio.
Avoiding the term ‘engineer’ as it “sounds too tech-y to be part of a creative venture”, Scott describes himself as a musician/songwriter/producer “in that order specifically”. He has however been very hands-on in the studio from early on in his musical career and has recently added an iD44 to his setup, which already included the legacy Audient product Mico, a 2-channel microphone preamp. Audient catches up with him to find out more.
How amazing to be able to collaborate with a favourite writer, Lee Child. What was your songwriting process on this? Was writing with an author – a celebrated one at that – different from usual?
Great question! My wife Jennifer and I were fairly terrified in the beginning. We’ve done a ton of songwriting. We also run our own songwriting retreat and have taught writing at other retreats as well. Honestly, we had no idea what to expect. All we could think about was that while Lee has 300 pages to tell a story, we always have to squeeze it all in in 3 minutes! Not to mention how would we even broach a lyric disagreement with one of the world’s biggest best-selling authors if it came up?!
Thankfully… everything went fantastic. It really couldn’t have gone any better. We landed in New York and the first day we mostly finished 3 songs. Lee adapted immediately to the shorter format, and we adapted immediately to “speaking” in his character’s voice. Having been huge fans of his books made it easy to speak through him, and gave us an immediate focus of where we were going with it all. It was such an honor to work with Lee, and truly was one of the best experiences of our lives.
Let’s hear all about your studio.
The Wood and Stone Room is the quintessential, humble home studio setup. It’s evolved over the years as I’ve moved to different places. The current iteration has been in place for 18 years now and is my favorite. The room is small (16′ x 18′), but has some really nice touches. It has old wide plank oak flooring, and one end of the room is a semi-circular stone fireplace wall from floor to ceiling. It totally takes the corner problem out of the equation.
“The room just sounds good on its own”
When we moved in, the ceiling was done up in that 1970’s era acoustic tiling with the holes in it which couldn’t be more perfect. The room just sounds good on its own. I rarely ever use baffling or gobos, and always just stick the singer in the middle of the room for vocals. I’ve recorded everything from rock drums to marimbas to string sections to a children’s choir in here with no issues.
Gear-wise I’m really stripped down these days. I’m running Pro Tools with a Mac, the two Audient pieces (soon to be three), a few other preamps, some outboard compression, headphone splitting. It’s really a quite simple, efficient, stripped-down setup as I find myself doing mostly everything ‘in-the-box’ nowadays. I have a pretty good mic collection, and a pile of amazing guitars, an old Sonor drum kit, a 70’s Wurlitzer electric piano. I use Adam monitors mainly, and a set of KRKs for a/b reference.
How does the iD44 fit into that?
The iD44 has become the central hub of my setup. It’s my main tracking device, and for larger sessions, I slave extra channels via ADAT/SPDIF. It also allows me to A/B my monitoring, and volume control my monitors, as well as functioning as my talkback through headphones.
Tell us some of the features of iD44 that you enjoy.
I definitely appreciate the sheer quality of the unit. The preamps are beautiful, and I really appreciate that you don’t cut corners on them. You use the same quality from piece to piece. I’ve known of companies that actually take a design from their flagship product, add noise and distortion to it, and then sell a re-packaged cheaper version of it to the consumer. It’s one thing to use a cheaper component, or minimize the bells and whistles on a product to make a lesser version… but to intentionally make it worse to sell it cheaper?! It’s pretty mind-blowing, and I appreciate that Audient doesn’t play that game.
“The preamps are beautiful”
The converters are amazing! My first playback through them made me want to go back and redo every mix I’ve ever done. There is such a 3D quality and clarity on both A/D and D/A that it was stunning the first time I experienced it.
I love that the one box allows me to control my monitor volume and choices. The talkback feature that allows you to use your computer mic is brilliant too. Anytime I can take a cable out of the equation to get the job done is a very good thing I think.
Can you give us an example of how iD44 has helped solve something/make something easier whilst working on a project.
Again, not having to cable up a monitor controller or talkback system always makes things better in my opinion. Keeping the signal flow as short as possible is good in all ways.
“making mix decisions is so much better”
The quality of the converters has definitely made my job easier as well. My tracking sounds fantastic, and making mix decisions is so much better and faster by really, really, really hearing what you have to work with. It’s so much easier to pinpoint if and where there’s a problem.
I also love the routing software. It’s simple and elegant and makes complete sense.
We love that you already have a Mico – and did you say you’re looking to add to your Audient collection?
The Mico was my first foray into Audient, and I fell in love with it from the beginning. The DI on that box makes a mediocre bass guitar sound a lot more expensive. It’s my go-to.
“the routing software […] simple and elegant and makes complete sense”
I want to add one of your 8 channel ADAT pres to replace my current one right now. I’ll be full-on Audient at that point. I just love that you are building such high-quality equipment at an affordable price point, and putting all of the little practical details that we all want in the real world. There are so many choices and options for interfaces now, and I’ve tried a bunch of them. I love that you’ve avoided bundling in plug-ins, and any weird proprietary nonsense that forces your customer into a corner. Please keep doing what you do best!
What other projects have you been working on ?
I just finished up a full length record with my dear friend Jennifer Daniels (www.jenniferdaniels.com) called Songs From The Locke Box. She’s an amazing singer/songwriter from Chattanooga, Tn. She and her husband/musical cohort Jeff stayed here while we squeezed in as much tracking as possible within a limited time frame.
I’ve also been working with a wonderful artist named Jade Tremba (www.jadetremba.com). She’s doing a completely unique blend of reggae and pop. It’s been so much fun, and we’ve been releasing singles over the past year.
I’ve got a slew of mixing coming up as well as producing some previous and new artists this year.
My wife and I (pictured above) also tour as ‘Naked Blue‘ playing our own songs and are booking limited shows due to the pandemic.
What motivates you?
Hmmm… what motivates me is that I’ve been able to sustain my musical career for over 30 years. And, that I’ve been able to share it all with my wife. It’s been an amazing ride, and while the industry certainly has ups and downs, I’m so thankful that I’ve gotten to have this life in music. Just being able to continue it all is motivation enough.
“It’s been an amazing ride”
Did you always want to do what you’re doing?
My mom was a musician and had a great opportunity to pursue a musical career when she was a teenager. Her parents said, “No”. When I was 16 and decided that I wanted to follow this path, I asked my Mom about it. She said, “GO”!!
So, yeah… ever since I picked up that first guitar at age 11 and hit a power chord, I was pretty much hooked.
Anything exciting in the pipeline (that you can tell us about)?
I can say that Amazon has picked up and filmed a series based on Lee Child’s Jack Reacher character for future release. I can also say that we and Lee Child have written an entire record based on this character. But, that’s about all I can say… 🙂
Well that is very exciting indeed. Audient can’t wait to hear more about that..