Right facing the Commodore hotel in the thick of Hamra street’s hustle and bustle is a professional music studio in hiding, aptly named Guerrilla Music Productions. Camouflaged within a commercial complex otherwise comprised mainly of law-makers and the like, it was dreamed up by producer Karim Beidoun who brought the inspiration back home after a long stint in the production industry in Dubai. He decided to hand-build his own professional studio to perfection using his hard-earned, through the consultations of world renowned Australian studio designer John Sayers, bringing into form a space that is as feng-shui as it is functional. And while some of the loudest productions are banged out on its high-end studio-ware, the magic is muted to not even a whisper to the average passer-by, owing to carefully constructed wave-breakers. T3ME picked up on the frequency, with the pleasure of sharing some Q & A with owner Karim Beidoun about how he makes perfect productions out of the noise that is Beirut’s steadily growing music scene, as well as sound advice on what audio tech he has installed and recommends. Musicians and producers, listen closely.
When did you create Guerrilla Music Production?
I quit my job in Dubai in mid 2007. It took a while for me to find the right space to build a studio here in Beirut. Design and construction were complete by September 2009.
Are you a musician yourself? What inspired you to go the production route?
I am a guitarist, songwriter, and composer. I’ve always been fascinated by recording studios and sound recording gear in general. I watched a “behind the scenes” documentary of one of my favorite bands recording an album and I remember thinking to myself “this is what I want to do when I grow up”. I was 16, so my decision to go the production route happened very early on.
Have you studied the art? Or are you self-taught?
Honestly, this really isn’t the kind of thing you can learn at school. Sure, you can study the theory behind how and why things work, and there’s a ton of excellent courses that provide hands on experience with the gear, but nothing prepares you for any of the real world scenarios that you will encounter once you start doing this professionally. You learn with experience. That being said, I have studied recording, songwriting, and producing at the UCLA Extension and the Berklee College of Music and I am currently on my way to getting an MSc in Sound Design. A good mix of theory and hands on work experience is a smart way to go I guess.
Do you feel like musicians in this country have enough incentive to forge a comfortable living through the performing arts? Similarly, does the industry here have limitations, and does that hinder you?
No. Musicians need to have a plan B. Something to fall back on. This applies to musicians everywhere, not just in Lebanon. The Internet has had a profound impact on the media/entertainment industry, especially the music sector. Profit margins are relatively low and budgets are practically non-existent these days. You’re better off being a live/session musician than trying to become a recording artist. You’ll be hard pressed to find anyone willing to invest in artist development, proper pre-production, or adequate studio time. Less time in the studio obviously means less income for me, and without the proper pre-production from the artist’s side, the final product will inevitably suffer.
Can you explain a little bit about what specifically you have to offer to the industry in terms of services?
I have tons of experience doing a wide range of things. I can help artists focus their songs, and guide their musical arrangements to get the maximum emotional impact. I can be a button pusher too when I’m working with other producers if that’s what they want; basically just choosing the appropriate microphone for the job, setting it up, and getting proper levels to tape/hard disk. I enjoy mixing all kinds of stuff, from heavy rock to jazz-fusion. My drum room sounds great, and I’m very proud of the drum sound I’m getting out of it. I do a lot of post-production audio, voice-overs, radio spots, ADR, and I’m currently in the process of setting up a video-editing booth. Most of my time, however, is spent creating original sound tracks for visual media. A lot of my music has already been licensed in North America and other territories, and there’s much more on the way including some interesting collaborations with local talent.
Can you give us an idea of the studio-ware you have installed?
First and foremost, I have great sounding rooms that are professionally designed. I have all the standard top of the line microphones plus some secret weapons. All class A preamps, high-end AD/DA converters, Pro Tools, and every plug-in known to humankind. The studio also boasts some beautiful guitars and basses.
Can you list some of the most elaborate productions you’ve worked on?
I was hired recently to record 14 songs in a little over a week. Two MC’s and a diva. Most of the music and lyrics were coming in as we were recording, and they were coming up with a lot of their parts at the studio during tracking. This is a perfect example of what I said earlier about time and budget restraints becoming the norm. It was a miracle we were able to get everything done in time for the label to approve.
Some would assume that, given the hyper rate at which technology is evolving, achieving studio quality recordings is becoming a take-home, DIY affair. Is this true? Or is there more to it that you can only achieve in a professional studio?
That is true to some extent. The technology is now readily available and it doesn’t take much to set up your own studio. We live in a time where every kid with a laptop and MIDI controller thinks he’s Butch Vig or Quincy Jones. But the truth is, you cant be the songwriter, musician, tracking engineer, mix engineer, producer, and artist all at once, and expect to come up with something that will knock peoples’ socks off. Wearing all those hats will always be to the detriment of the music itself. You need to hire an objective pair of fresh ears. I understand that most people can’t afford to hire a professional production team, but if you’re going to record it yourself, then at least have someone else mix it. My point is, it takes more than just one person to create a good product, and artists are prone to getting lost in all the little details while losing sight of the bigger picture. The technology can become overwhelming, and as a musician, you’re better off spending time honing your craft and working on your chops instead. Note: If you’re planning on doing acoustic drums, always book a session at a studio.
Are there any common fallacies about recording that you’d like to shoot down?
Sure. You can’t fix a bad performance in the mix. A good performance is the single most important part of the process. There is no way around it, and no way to remedy it when it goes wrong. A great recording starts with a great performance, and a great mix starts with a great arrangement.
Seeing as the Lebanese music scene is growing at an exponential rate, what is your general perception about this? Can you list any notable talents that you’ve worked with that you think are worth keeping an eye out for?
The local independent scene is evolving rapidly. It’s exciting, but there’s a lot more work to be done. Producers, musicians, songwriters, arrangers, and studios, all need to work together to raise the bar with every new production. As a “scene” we still have a long way to go. It’s way too soon for big egos to become the norm. I’ve had the pleasure of working with some of the coolest, most talented artists in the Middle East and I look forward to working with many more. They all stand out in their own unique way and its impossible for me to single anyone out.
Thank you so much for your time. Your advice is enlightening, and we commend you for giving the talents of Lebanon’s budding music scene the space to really flourish. Musicians, book your sessions here!