It started with a love for music
Paul Rogers has had a fascinating career, and has seen him graduate from a early devoted dance music punter to determinedly making a small dent on the international club circuit throughout the noughties as a DJ, running a label, producing records and music supervision for the likes of Pete Tong, Sasha & Unkle, mixing movie scores, and most recently song-writing and producing Australian pop records. His innate talent – whether nailing a successful club track, producing pieces of raw emotion for film, or song-writing pop – is matched by his formidable grasp of the technicalities of sound design, especially when it comes to headphones. He’s learnt to “understand what the cans are telling you” and is a firm believer that Sonarworks gives him the confidence he needs to trust his headphones to deliver.
For such a prolific producer immersed in the world of music, Rogers didn’t come from a markedly musical background, although did always have an interest in music. The real turning point came at 19, when he “fell in love with the clubbing world”. He remembers clearly “It was during the time in the early 90s when dance music blew up. I went to the Hacienda to a Sasha, and it changed everything. I started going to every gig of his and became obsessed with what he was doing. I fell in love with dance music, but more specifically that particular sound.” The young Rogers took a one-day A&R course which brought him into contact with Sasha’s manager Seven Webster, who offered him a job doing Sasha’s bookings. Further experience of A&R and DJ management at Jackpot Records then developed into playing as resident DJ at Jackpot’s weekly night at Subterrania London with Carl Cox and Danny Howells, and the making of his first record in 1997. After a summer promoting Renaissance at Pacha in Ibiza, Rogers began an artist management job at Ministry of Sound, before a friend tempted him into setting up a studio together and Rogers discovered his passion for production. “We just started making records – we had no idea what we were doing, but we knew the music we loved listening to. Our inspiration always came from John Digweed’s monthly night in London called Bedrock, at the famous venue Heaven in Charing Cross. We ended up putting out around 35 releases on one label, 30 on another, and sold thousands of records, not bad for a blag! I do listen back on those tunes now and cringe though, looking back, its amazing we established such a great following from them!. The label sent us around the world multiple times Dj’ing, and that is an amazing thing to be able to do. Although I never was comfortable with the DJ thing, you have to be comfortable being the center of attention, and I always hated that part of it because I really wasn’t, but spending so many years in that environment, and touring with Pete and Sasha, I learnt about what works in a club, and what doesn’t”
In 2003 Rogers reconnected with Sasha, assisting him in using Ableton Live and co-producing a couple of his albums, before he began a 9-year collaboration with Pete Tong, developing a system for his live shows and becoming Tong’s producer and studio partner. “We put out a lot of records and remixes and some film scores…I did all sorts of things with Pete, so many different projects, plus a lot of touring as well. It was amazing working with someone like that, his worth ethic is next level, he never stops, he’s an absolute machine” More recently, now living in Sydney Rogers has signed with Universal Music and is adding an entirely new string to his bow making pop records.
The move to movies
It’s an eclectic career, but Rogers sees no reason for a DJ not to cross over into sound design and record production – even movie composition. “It was electronic production I was doing as a DJ, house music more specifically, and if you take the drums and bass away from a club record there’s a lot of sound design going on. Some of those tracks, you could almost just slow a track down, remove the drums and you have a bed for a film cue.” His seminal experience was on ‘Harry Brown’, a 2009 action-thriller starring Michael Caine. “That was an amazing experience for me. There was a couple of times when I would go home at night and felt a little bit disturbed to be honest. It was such a dark movie, and there was this one scene in particular, a drugs den scene, where the director wanted us to make this piece of music that was so uncomfortable, it urged you to feel like you had to just get the fuck out of there. I spent two months on this piece of music and it was the darkest, weirdest, most nasty piece of music I’ve ever done in my life; I went home every night and felt depressed! Its amazing how music affects you when consumed over and over in this way. It starts to get inside your soul!. But it was a great experience working to film like that.”
Producing pop hits
Equally, Rogers sees no issue with a once-underground dance devotee crossing over to produce mainstream pop. “I’m trying to bring my background of the underground and its sound design and sound palette to pop records, because now you can do that; if the song is right the sound design can be as mad or weird as possible. It’s a good time for pop music in that way, especially the alternative side of it.” He works both with emerging artists and those already signed, and is now even song-writing, a completely new venture for Rogers. “I’ve written songs with Thandi Phoenix who’s amazing, and currently working with a girl called Lily Paps who has recently signed to Universal, and she is incredible.
The need for flexible production methods
New skills and new genres also mean new ways of working. “Now I’m kind of mobile rather than having my own dedicated studio, but I’ve still got some tasty hardware compressors and all my old analogue synths. When I do the writing sessions and record vocals, I always do it at Universal studio because it’s equipped with some special gear, the Telefunken mics, 1073s, and all the really lovely vocal chain stuff; it’s the best place to record. Im 100% mobile now though, all my projects are made on my laptop, I just go into Universal, plug into their rig and I’m going through this 30k chain, recording vocals straight into my laptop!
This more mobile workflow is where Rogers has found Sonarworks absolutely invaluable, giving him the confidence he needs to trust the sound on his headphones. “It’s that bridge in between… in my studio I’ll prep a session a little bit then I’ll go home that night and work on my headphones to adjust and add stuff before the next days writing session. Sonarworks gives me the confidence that when I go into Universal it will slam straight away. It needs to immediately get the attention of the artists or the people I’m working with. It’s nice to know when I’m on the cans tweaking stuff it will immediately translate on the Barefoots.”
The secret to a mix that translates to the club
And it’s not just in his role at Universal that a reliable headphone sound has been key; throughout his DJ-ing career Rogers has always relied on his cans, becoming adept at understanding their sound. “In club tracks often the main problem is too much kick and bass. You’d think with a dance track you’d want the kick drum super-loud, but in fact if you’ve got a good sound system with really good bass monitors the kick will be there, and you need to control it. If you put a slamming kick on it when you play in the club it can be like a jackhammer if its too much, you really need to learn that adjustment.
When I was making club records with Pete, he would be out playing them out every single weekend, so you quickly learn the balance in your headphones and you get a feel for bass in your mix, however this comes from playing them out and adjusting from there.” You don’t tend to be in the studio as often so you’re making records on your laptop quite a lot of the time; so headphones really are essential. When I was touring with Pete, he was doing 3-4 shows a week, and it doesn’t take long to get used to the sound of your headphones; you start to understand exactly what the cans are telling you. It’s a constant adjustment, but one you have to learn to understand.”
Rogers’ preferred cans are DT770s, which “have a bit of weight behind them.” Previously using HiFiMANs, he found they lacked a lot of bottom end, “so I was always pretty nervous using them.” He trusts the Bayers a lot more, but nonetheless Sonarworks is the crucial element: “I couldn’t imagine using them without Sonarworks, I think I’d feel uneasy to go in without Sonarworks because I’ve learnt to rely on what it’s doing.” Having found the software very simple to set up (“I just had to download the pre-set for those headphones from the website, load it in, adjust my graph on my EQ and away I went”) Rogers would encourage anyone hesitating to try Sonarworks: “You’ve just got to try these things haven’t you? I was a bit sceptical at the beginning I have to say. Initially when I put them on I was like ‘ok…’ but once you listen to them it’s a no-brainer to me, I wouldn’t mix without Sonarworks now. It’s my final check; it just gives me that confidence.”
Don’t let anything stop you
Looking back over the varied twists and turns of his career, Rogers is encouraging to other would-be producers starting out: “I’m not really a musician – I can find my way around the keys but I’m no musician by any means: don’t let that stop you being a producer if you have a love for music, a really good ear for it, and you know what you want, what you like and learning how to communicate that. It might take you a little longer to get there but it’s possible if you graft and work your ass off. It’s that 10,000 hour thing; you’ve got to put a lot of hours into anything to start getting better at it, but you’ve also got to expect to do it for nothing for a few years, and you don’t care when it’s all you want to do. That’s why we do it right, because we love it.”
It’s certainly love and passion that exudes from Rogers, whether reminiscing about his years with Pete Tong, or waxing lyrical about working on headphones. Enjoying and exploiting every opportunity to come his way, who knows where we’ll see his name popping up next.