Written By: Darwin Green
Photo By: Tyler Clinton
Though born and raised in England, the work of Wayne Wilkins hits close to home for the average American pop listener. The songs he has co-written and produced have played millions of times on the radio, both here and abroad, and on personal stereos worldwide. He is an international talent, and his producing credits include the likes of Beyonce, Natasha Bedingfield, and Kylie Minogue, just to name a few.
Something like this might go to someone’s head very quickly, but talking with Wilkins, one hears a genuine, down-to-earth guy who likes to have a good conversation and tell stories, not the typical insulated fame-entrenched celebrity one typically imagines behind the success stories of multiple musical hits (for example, one hears of Phil Spector). One gets the sensation by talking with him that he knows himself too well to become self-centered, and furthermore chooses to acknowledge the fact of his talent over any ego-gratifying pretense.
In other words, he’s an easy guy to talk to, and has a lot to talk about. His story demonstrates that a love for one’s passion provides the map for anyone looking to travel further along their dreams.
DG: It says in your biography that you chose music over sports. What was the appeal in music that made you decide?
WW: I think what it was, when I was younger, is that I knew that I had a much more natural ability for music. I knew I could work professionally in music. Even if I loved sports I knew I wasn’t good enough to do that for my career. I think in the end I knew I had a talent for doing songwriting and composing music, so…I think that was the deciding factor.
DG: It seems that you have a talent for the piano. If you hadn’t pursued a career in recording would you have gone on to pursue life as a concert pianist?
WW: I think I might have gone on to a career maybe playing as a pianist in a jazz band or playing in some kind of arrangement where I’m interacting with other members of a band, but I think as a classical pianist, I got to a level where I was really good at playing classical music but I was never going to be as good as others who had been in the Royal College of Music or trained formally from an early age. I thought, "I’m going to be 18 and there’s going to be a 12-year-old down the corridor playing Rachmaninov."
I think I knew at that point that I wasn’t going to be at the level that other people were as a classical pianist, but at the same time I had a real talent for writing music. I would sit down at the piano and just play, and just start coming up with stuff. So at that point I knew I was going to go into a career in music producing and songwriting rather than just playing.
DG: How has your involvement on both the production and performance side of music influenced the way you’ve handled artists in recording sessions? Can you relate to them better than if you had only taught yourself producing?
WW: First of all, I’ll talk about my background. My background in music was first and foremost classical, and I went on to learn jazz. I think what happened as I got older and I started to listen more and more to what was on the radio, what happened is that I started incorporating a lot of that into what I was doing.
And I started working with lots of different people. By the time I was in my early twenties I’d be working with more people who sang formally in a classical style and then I’d be working with people who had more pop and rock style. To me, it was being in that environment where I could fuse all those different styles.
I find myself being able to relate to a lot of singers and a lot of different musicians because of having that experience and not just doing one thing.
The other thing that I was very lucky to do was to work in a studio called Olympic Studios in London, where I kind of started off my professional career learning about how instruments and strings and drums are recorded, so I was in an environment where I was learning a lot of different styles of music with lots of different types of instruments and singers and musicians and all that so I think I can relate to a lot of different musicians because of all that.
DG: Let’s talk about pop stars. Tell me about the first time being in front of a camera while producing, and why was there an appeal for you?
WW: I’ve got to be honest about this. It’s a really daunting thing, because the most important thing on an artists’ time is trying to capture the most magical performance you can from them, and that’s hard to do in that situation because having cameras there intensifies everything.
If you’re trying to get a vocal out of a singer, which we were at the time, you tend to find that the people singing when the cameras were on behaved in one way and acted a certain way.
Sometimes it really helped, but then some of them were a little bit more worried about how they looked in front of a camera. So what we had to do in that situation, obviously, the camera crew had a job to do and I had a job to do, is let them record what they needed footage-wise and I recorded as soon as the cameras were off. We managed to find a compromise there. That was my first experience with it, and it was actually quite fun. But at the same point, everybody had their job to do, so we had to find the balance there.
DG: Do you foresee any major changes occurring within the music industry as a whole, and how are you preparing for it now, stylistically, technologically, or otherwise?
WW: What I see mainly is how business is shaping music. Obviously music stars are going to involve themselves in musical styles that are getting more popular. For example, at one time pop music will be popular and then rock music will start taking over, especially in England where you have so many different styles going on. The change is much more rapid there than over in America. I think that’s always going to go on, irrespective of the business of music.
In terms of the business of music now, obviously people are downloading a lot less albums and having singles, and becoming a producer of singles is becoming much more important. It’s not necessarily the greatest thing because it becomes more about having a radio hit than developing an artist from the ground up.
Reading lots of magazines and reading about how people access music now, people and kids are downloading music for free. Talking to a lot of kids, you get the impression that they feel they should be allowed to have a lot of music for free, and they love it; they just want to go on their computers and download it. Part of the challenge of that will be how to monetize that and make use of the fact that they’re downloading it.
Sometimes it’s not downloaded legally, but you can’t really pretend. I don’t think you can hold that stuff back. I think music is one of those things you’ve just got to let go free and people will have to be able to download it, but at the same point, it’s learning different strategies to make a business out of it. For me, I’m just reading about what people are doing and what record companies are doing and models they’re actually using.
I’d like to be able to work with an artist, rather than have labels approach me for singles, in order for them to have a complete body of work. Literally, you’ll have a complete album available for download and people will go on and just pick their favorites. It’s a bit of a shame that albums don’t have the same treatment that they did back in the day.
DG: Thank you for your time. It was certainly an honor to speak with you.
Links to some of Wayne Wilkins’ songs:
Natasha Bedingfield – Single
Natasha Bedingfield – These Words
Cheryl Cole – Fight for This Love
Beyonce – Sweet Dreams
The Wayne Wilkins Interview
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