Artist, producer and engineer Brandy Zdan has devoted the majority of her life to music, both creating and enabling its creation. She began her career in Winnipeg, Canada as a teenager and, after a few geographic shuffles, settled ultimately in Nashville. Early on, she released several records with bands and in 2015 chose to go solo. This was also about the time she realized that she was interested in exploring another branch of music’s family tree: engineering and production. Since then, she has produced both for herself and for other artists. Her latest self-produced release—her third solo record—was 2021’s Falcon.
“I’d never done it, but then I had done it,” she observes of her gradual expansion into production. “I’d been making records my whole life. If you’re doing it the right way, you’re a sponge; you listen to the people around you who know more. It’s exciting to be in the beginning stages, because the sky’s the limit and it’s thrilling to chase the sounds in my head. I also feel the pull of the lack of women in these roles. We need to own our titles.”
Her approach to Falcon was unconventional in many ways, not the least of which was that she recorded virtually the entire record in her laundry room. “There was barely any space,” she recalls. “But there was the challenge of being in an untreated area and working with a limited set of microphones. I turned that around. I knew the space that I had and that it was going to be more of an overdub kind of record. I used super-minimalist tools and was proud of what I could capture.
“I still wanted to learn more and produce for other artists,” she continues. “When I had my own music produced by someone else, I learned so much. But [when she began Falcon] it was during the pandemic, I had a baby and this was the time to do the thing I’d been putting off. I needed to trust my instincts and the knowledge that I’ve gained over my career. The challenge with your own work is to stay objective. I’m gifted in that I can take myself out of my songs and know when something isn’t a good take and not be precious about it.”
Zdan has also been lucky in that she's had a number of dedicated mentors. Many artists would love to have expert guidance. While sometimes that might be hard to find, it is attainable. “Talking about what you're doing and trying to do within your community can connect dots,” she explains. “It's not necessarily being social about what you're doing. When I started to talk about wanting to produce and engineer, everybody was so encouraging and offered help. If you put it out there that you want to do things, they’ll happen.”
After working with a number of engineers—many of whom would lend her gear—Zdan began to experiment with UA’s Fairchild Tube Limiter Plug-In, which emulates Fairchild’s vintage hardware compressor. “When I was doing Falcon, [Nashville recording engineer] Mike Poole had been a mentor for me,” the artist recollects. “I remember going in and asking myself, ‘What’s the one thing that I need to have going on for my vocal chain? What’s going to make this vocal sound like a record?’ Mike suggested the Fairchild plug-in.”
The release of Falcon last October was a major undertaking for Zdan. Now that she’s on the other side of it, things have slowed down in some ways. But she’s beginning to write new material, logging stage time and searching for other artists to produce. In addition to studio plans, she has a number of festival dates on her horizon. One of her fondest memories is of touring with blues legend Buddy Guy in 2018.
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