Hugh Padgham shares essential business advice for the next generation

The English record producer reflects on industry recognition, his work at Gearbox Records and offers some words of wisdom for those looking to have a similar career in the studio.

Hugh Padgham

With a career sculpting records with the likes of Kate Bush, David Bowie, Paul McCartney, Hall & Oates and more, it’s unsurprising that earlier in the year, Hugh Padgham was honoured by the Music Producers Guild with an Outstanding Contribution Award. He’s very grateful to receive this official appreciation of his talents from his industry. 

“It’s the ultimate endorsement,” Hugh says. “I’ve won Grammy Awards, but these are more about being championed by one’s peers. I remember meeting George Martin years ago at his retirement party at AIR Studios,” he recalls. “I asked him why he’d retired, and he said: ‘Well, at least I’ll never be found out now,’ and that’s coming from the most celebrated record producer ever. I guess we’re all inflicted with some aspect of imposter syndrome.”

Hugh Padgham
Hugh Padgham (center) with the Outstanding Contribution award

Hugh continues: “But ultimately, to spend your whole life doing something which is both a hobby and a passion is pretty amazing. I’m very lucky, I feel honoured and privileged.”

While the award acknowledges a glittering career, Hugh is also wary of looking back too fondly.  “I pride myself on having a lot of integrity and being able to leave the past where it is,” he says, when asked about any potential reunions. But would he get back in the studio with Sting or Phil Collins? “I don’t really want to revisit songs I’ve worked on previously. I don’t reminisce often or buy into nostalgia. I’m proud of the records that I’ve done, but I always prefer looking to the future.”

Switching gears

One way Hugh invests in the future is via the vinyl Gearbox Records label. A labour of love to a certain extent, Hugh serves as executive director of this jazz-based imprint which specialises in making limited analogue releases. “We have our own mastering studio – everything is analogue for the most part. So it’s highly cherished old gear which is what we’re obsessed with. We just love high-quality sound,” Hugh enthuses.

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Hugh Padgham
Gearbox Records operates out of this well-featured studio, complete with analogue machinery and vinyl-cutting lathe

“The label mainly explores jazz and more niche sounds with previously unheard recordings from Thelonius Monk and new releases from the likes of Binker & Moses. But the label experiences similar issues to other indie imprints,” Hugh admits. “We are growing, but with that comes growing pains. Being small, you’re always at the bottom of the list when it comes to being paid. We’re successful enough to think we could sell more records, but at the same time, we’re not sure we have the budget to do more marketing. We’ll see what happens next, but in all honesty, it’s all good fun.”

Essential advice

At this point in his career, Hugh busies himself with a variety of projects, both musical and otherwise. Recently involved in remastering of David Bowie’s 80s output as well as his work at Gearbox, he travels, fishes, spends time with his family (Hugh is married to world-famous designer Cath Kidston, who met Hugh when she worked as his interior designer) and also nurtures new musical talents. So what does he advise for any aspiring record producers wanting to emulate his staggering success?

Well, alongside making great-sounding records, he’s keen for emerging studio heads, engineers, mixers and producers to think about the business side of the industry as well as the creative. “Try and be a part of the music and own some of the copyright. If you’re only paid from an engineering point of view, it’ll be hard to make a living. So if you work on projects with a budget, it’s always advisable to have some sort of ownership of the music itself.”

Hugh believes that making a financial living is getting harder and harder in the music industry, so having a clear understanding of the economics of music publishing and songwriting is crucial. 

“Of course, you should try and make great-sounding records, but get your musicians in a room and work out a deal before you even press record. That way, there’s no cause for aggro, then or later. And of course, you should enjoy every second of it…”

Read the full interview with Hugh here.

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