By Rob Putnam
Producer, Grammy winner and former CEO of Virgin Records, Matt Serletic joined his first band when he was barely a teenager. That outfit went on to become Collective Soul, an act he has produced. Serletic studied music at the University of Miami and, after recording informally with a number of acts, segued into the role of producer. He’s since worked with a myriad of artists including Gloriana (signed to his label Emblem Music), Santana and Joe Cocker. Mega-sellers Matchbox Twenty is another band on his label and he has produced all of its records including North, which was recently No. 1 on the Billboard 200.
Before setting foot in a studio, Serletic likes to map out a plan for a record. “I start with the song and not even in the studio,” he says. “I like to understand the material [first]. And whether I’m writing or not, I try to get involved deeply with each song, try to help impact the quality and understand how there can be a unique arrangement ahead of time so I’m not going in blind. You have some vision for each song and for how the whole album is going to shape up.”
Knowing where to start a record is one thing. Knowing when and where to end it is quite another. “That’s something you learn over time,” the producer explains. “Often I’ll tear down a record and build it back up in a rough mix. It ensures that the rhythm is appropriate. The record has to move, it has to have a sense of motion. Sometimes an arrangement can get over-baked if the momentum is stopped. On the other hand, there’s a real reason to add more if the motion doesn’t continue. Sometimes what’s delightful is that the last thing you put in ends up supplanting something that was there earlier and you’ve got this great combination.”
Serletic foresees a significant expansion of producers’ and engineers’ roles in coming years. “It’s a challenging time to remain narrow in your career outlook, though the skill sets are valuable,” he says. “The world is going in a different direction. You have to be involved in more of the creative process, whether that’s helping find or develop acts. A lot of that is being left to the person that’s going to roll up their sleeves and work with the artist. Traditionally, that was the record label’s role. A producer that does artist development, marketing and even coaching helps grow their own career.”
Emblem Music identifies likely artists by going to clubs and, of course, by scouring the Internet. But unearthing a band that enjoys a strong online presence by no means guarantees success. “The challenge is to have something worthwhile behind that,” Serletic observes. “You can have big social media numbers but you have to be able to perform live or have something unique that’s going to catch the public’s eye and ear. Doing well online is a great way to get discovered but you have to be able to stand up to scrutiny after that.”
As someone that runs a record label and a production company, some of Serletic’s upcoming projects are records that are already in release. For example, Gloriana’s A Thousand Miles Left Behind dropped earlier this year. But he’s working with the band to choose singles and plan videos. He is also involved with Matchbox Twenty’s tour plans. Additionally, he’s developing a free app called Zya that will allow users to get involved in music making. It is expected next year.