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Artist Interviews

An Interview With James Sanger, Music Producer

Photograph of the blog post author, Jon



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We caught up with James Sanger, responsible for Keane’s success on their debut album “Hopes and Fears”, about his role in artist development and why he is now using Мusic Gateway to find the next talented artists and bands to work with.

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James Sanger producing music

Now, here's a bit more about the man himself.

How did you first get inspired to work in the music industry?

From an early age I suffered from really bad asthma and often I would wake up in the night with harmful asthma attacks. These were potentially life-threatening, quite often I'd not be able to breathe and would pass out thinking I'd died.

As a young child, my Mum would sing to me to help me sleep so I credit her with starting me off with music.

Having a succession of near-death experiences gave me a deep routed desire to create something lasting, create art that would live on so to speak. So I wrote a book of poems when I was 13/14 and it was not long after that I started putting my poems to music.

I got a four-track tape recorder when I was 15 and used to write and record songs all the time. I was on that four-track every day for years and years... until I got an eight-track!

When I left school I went busking and soon rented a flat in Brighton where I used to give private lessons in recording with computers, samplers and sequencers. I had lots of clients, some singer song-writers some DJs and even some classical composers. In those days computer sequencers were really in their infancy. I learnt Dr T's KCS, then Pro 24, then Cubase on the Atari and so on.

So this is how started working with and developing artists?

Yes, I first started helping lots of people learn computer sequencing and sampling, but mostly I was making music with them and recording songs... and it was great fun... making a living out of making music!

Some of my clients got record deals with the music that we had made together... and it wasn't long before I got my own record deals... I had a small distribution deal for my first record, then I got signed by Triumph records, then Indochina records.. then China Records and then I signed a bigger deal with Echo Records and  Chrysalis Publishing.

Then I moved to London.

After a while, I got a call from Bryan Ferry's manager who said that Bryan really liked my 'sound' and wondered whether I would like to go into the studio with him and help him. It wasn't something I had ever thought about doing so it took me off guard, but I agreed to do it and a few days later I was in Bryan Ferry's own studio helping him with his record!  

The job I was doing was called 'Music Programming' and at that stage, I hadn't even known that what I was doing had a name.

I worked with Bryan for over a year and it was there that I met Brian Eno and lots of other great artists. I then got asked by Brain Eno to come and work with his programming and setting up music gear with him in his studio which was great and I did that for quite a while.

I met a lot of other great artists at his studio and I had a music industry manager who was finding me work and things got really, really busy and exciting. I was doing lots of programming for a few years (I only had a few days off!) and I worked all around London and Europe

Your career was really kicking off here then!

Yes, I was working almost all the time and I was then asked to go over to Los Angles and work with Rick Nowels. This opened many doors as I ended up working on material for Madonna, Mel C,  KD Lang, Bryan Adams, Sinead O'Connor (who I had worked for in the UK as well ), Dido who I had also worked for in the UK and lots of other people.

It was a pleasure to work with these artists.

I had a great time and came back to Europe to work on an album in Switzerland with Phil Collins.

How did you get involved with Keane on their debut album "Hopes and Fears"?

Well when I came back to the UK,  I wanted to stop doing so much programming for other people and wanted to start developing my own acts and get more involved in the writing and producing of records.

So I set out to find a band in that I could use some of the programming styles I had developed when working with artists like Dido. So it was great to find Keane and get them interested in signing a development deal with me, which they did. We made a great record, at my studio which was then signed to Fierce Panda records and then Island records.

It was a great moment when the record went number one and won a Brit award for 'Best New Album' a year or so after Dido's record also won a Brit for 'Best New Album'. Everything really did kick off from there.

Now I mostly develop new artists and bands. I'm always wanting to make new-sounding records and I like to develop innovative records that sound unique and inspiring.

I don't have high overheads and I like to spend time on a project at my own studio rather than going to an expensive studio and having to rush the production. I suppose that is why some say my sound it quite 'vibey', 'genuine', 'quirky' and 'original.' I take the time to make everything new and interesting.

Photography by Deniz Saylan

 'James in one of his synth programming rooms' All photography by Deniz Saylan.

What favourite album you've worked with and why?

I couldn't possibly choose, they are all my favourites!!

Tell us about your most recent projects, do you vary into different genres of music or stick to a select few?

I have recently done a real range of styles.  I even 'rapped' on a song and people who know me will agree I'm probably the most un 'rap' person there is! Usually, my 'sound' is indie / pop, with electro undertones. I like to make epic but sincere, artistic productions and make each record genuine and unique.

You have an artist/band development project on Мusic Gateway right now. So what qualities should the artist/band have to work with you?

The artists I work for all have a similar 'maverick' quality. They are 'visionaries' and love the art and artistry of making music. They share my passion for drama and my passion for a great song. So that's what I'm looking for, a bit of drive and passion!

Great, also... why did you choose Мusic Gateway to find new talent (Jedi-mind powers excluded)?

I chose Мusic Gateway as I felt it was a great platform for finding new talent. Let's hope we find the right artist! I received a number of great pitches already so it's off to a good start.

What's your plan for the future? 

I'd like to continue developing more great bands and artists. I am just happy making music and happy to be making a living out of making music.


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