Earlier this week, DHL announced the launch of their FAST-TRACK Sessions, a unique opportunity for emerging artists to win a two-day recording session at London’s Abbey Road Studios. The talent search will seek to unearth and support grassroots music talent by providing access to a professional recording experience and music industry experts. Three entrants will be selected to record at the iconic Abbey Road Studios in London, where The Beatles, Amy Winehouse, Frank Ocean and more all recorded some of their finest work.
Working with the artists during their session will be Hannah V, a producer and music industry professional who has worked with the likes of JP Cooper, Stormzy, Yola and more during their lengthy career. Alongside Thomas Smith, NME’s Commissioning Editor (New Music), the pair will be selecting the lucky artists who’ll go on to have their session at the iconic studios, where Hannah V has worked frequently.
We caught up with the producer to hear what they’re looking for in the entrants, what artists can expect from their session, and the challenges facing the recording industry right now.
- READ MORE: Want to record at Abbey Road studios? DHL’s FAST-TRACK Sessions initiative offers once-in-a-lifetime prize
Tell us about your experiences recording in Abbey Road…
“Abbey Road is one of those places everyone dreams of recording in. It’s the most famous studio in the world, right? The first time I worked there I was so nervous, I was hyper aware of the legacy of the space. I produced an EP for JP Cooper in Studio Two, the studio where The Beatles recorded; even initially walking into the space was overwhelming. But the team at Abbey Road are incredible, every time I’ve been here I’ve felt fully supported. Abbey Road understands that we are here to make music, make art – and there is a real sense of freedom in the building.
When you go into big studios like this, there’s so much prep to be done. You have to have a clear idea about what you want to do and what you want to achieve in your time there. It sounds like I’m exaggerating, but these are literally the best rooms in the world, with the best equipment and the best engineers. This means that you can really work on details and truly translate your vision to a recording. Working at Abbey Road is an experience like no other.”
What will you be looking for in the acts who submit to DHL’s FAST-TRACK Sessions?
“It’s a hard question, because you never know what you’re looking for until you see it – there’s always a certain je ne sais quoi you are looking for. We all have certain guidelines: musicality, a bit of technique and enthusiasm. Enthusiasm is really important, because being thrown into this type of situation can be really intense, and the artist has to be open. I guess ultimately I am looking for someone that’s hungry and passionate, someone who will really embrace this opportunity and make the best out of it.”
What can the winning artists expect from you in the studio?
“I’m going to approach the session differently for each artist. The whole project is about them, and I want to make sure that it’s artist-led. They may want to record one song, or loads of different ideas. Maybe they want to mix a song, do an instrumental, perhaps another version of a song they already have. Or maybe they want to work on something from scratch and want to write together. I want to keep that open as every artist will be in a different space and will probably already have ideas of what they will want from this – it’s up to me to see what’s realistic and set a schedule.
I’m going to be very organised when it comes to the FAST-TRACK Sessions. I know that when you only have Abbey Road for a couple of days, you have to make the most of it. It’s nice that there’s no pressure of having to have a definite finished product, it can be whatever the artist wants it to be; that doesn’t happen very often either.”
For an artist that may not have worked with a producer like yourself, could you explain what your role entails?
“It can really differentiate from artist to artist, but my role is generally about listening to an artist’s vision and actualising it. If they want to record a song, we can work on the vocals and build a backing track together. If they’re a singer or a rapper, I’ll produce the beat and we can work on the arrangement together. In many ways it can be hands-on if that’s what the artist needs, or if we have an artist who comes from a production and engineering background, then it can be more of a guidance thing.
I see my role in two specific ways: I want the artist to feel inspired, safe and supported, but I also want to show how I schedule and run my studio days, how I interact with the team and how I walk that fine line of ‘sticking to the plan’, but having the flexibility to adapt as necessary. It is music after all, and things are bound to move around on the day. I want to show the process of how to get the most out of a studio day in a place like this.”
What are your unique skills as a producer that sets you apart?
“Firstly, I’m a pianist, and that helps in quickly writing a song around a piano and programming the parts. And I’m good with people. I seem to have an instinct about getting the best out of everyone in the room – it’s important for everyone involved to have a bit of ownership with their responsibilities, including the artist, the producer and the engineer.
I want to create a space for people to feel like they can make suggestions, even if we don’t necessarily go with it, at least we’re all thinking about our decisions. I really want to show that it’s all about collaboration and a good vibe in a room. I know some artists might be a bit nervous, but I want to ease those nerves as quickly as we can and for them to take it all in, because these opportunities really can be once-in-a-lifetime.”
What attracted you to the role of producer?
“I like the idea of creating something from scratch; it’s just magical. What I love about the producer journey is adapting the role to whatever the artist or session requires. As a producer we’re in service to the song, the story, the artist – it’s a really humbling experience. I always try to bring something different out of an artist, an angle they haven’t had from a different producer, or studio, or a part of themselves they haven’t explored.”
What’s the biggest challenge that the recording industry is facing right now?
“I think that something that the DHL FAST-TRACK Sessions process does help with is accessibility. I first went into Abbey Road thinking ‘how could a person like me ever be in here?’ But once you’re in, you realise it’s just a great place with great musicians and people wanting to make great music… but I didn’t know that until I went in there.
I also think it’s important that artists have a fair chance, even if they don’t have loads of budget or exposure so early on in their career. People are expected to have already started their journey, or to have a viral song on TikTok, but some people come from really difficult backgrounds. We don’t want music to only be made by people from a certain class. Music is for everyone, and needs to be made by everyone.”