Mike Crossey sits back and sips gently at a coffee in Lark Lane’s Keiths. He comes across as modest, unassuming even, and within seconds of opening his mouth it is obvious that he cares about music. Really cares. Belfast-born and Liverpool-raised, Crossey currently splits his time between his London home and his south Liverpool base, near to the newly-renovated Motor Museum recording studio just off the Lane itself.
The last few years as a producer have seen him develop something of a reputation within the record industry; it’s probably true to say that he has become seen as someone who can breath life into a recording. He brings a rough feel to an album, perhaps even using the studio to bridge the gap between the live show and the packaged sound. Of late, Crossey has been particularly busy, putting in 15-hour shifts and lending his stylings to a number of different projects. One such project has seen him working with All Man Kind, an Australian band currently doing well in the states, who Crossey describes as, “sounding like early U2.”
Perhaps more enticingly though, the last five weeks, have been spent in Ray Davies’ London studio, Konk, working on the former Kinks front man’s new release, a compilation album of some the band’s more overlooked songs. This is obviously something he is excited about as he divulges some of the various guests working on the project. Davies is collaborating with Mumford And Sons (a band Crossey himself is keen on), Metallica and even Bon Jovi, amongst others. Although, it should be said the latter’s inclusion was revealed with at least mild disdain.
The subject soon moved on to an altogether gloomier topic though, as the state of the music industry as a whole was brought into question. When broaching the issue of digital editing and its overwhelming prevalence in the last decade, Crossey was refreshingly earnest with his diagnosing. He views the overuse of the technique as a “microwave meal compromise” and stated “record companies now, are looking to make everything cheaper and faster.” Quite a damning indictment, putting distance between himself and the major labels such as Universal. This also denotes a sort of ‘us versus them’ attitude from Crossey, ‘us’ being the pro-music fans, ‘them’ being the anti-music bigwigs. Cliched maybe but hard to deny. It also confirms what perhaps we already knew, that the big labels choose style over substance and are motivated by greed. ”The labels still don’t seem to be getting it and they wonder why the kids aren’t buying the CDs,” ventures Crossey ruefully.
As idealistic as this all may seem, he comes across as a bastion of hope for a moribund industry whose decline has been well publicised. If this is the problem though, what is the answer? Well, Crossey feels a glance at the past can reveal a lot, “If you look at previous decades, they are remembered for the latest technology that was around at the time. In the 60’s it was panning, in the 80’s it was digital reverb and the last decade it has been digital editing, and it’s been overdone. I think we will look back and laugh.” The idea of tinny speakers and frequencies being squashed to ‘nth’ degree in order to suit the iPod age may then, just be a phase. But can we be sure that the people writing the cheques will learn from their mistakes? Or will the record companies just become more determined to claw back the money they’ve lost, hemorrhaged through dwindling sales and a now unquenchable thirst for free music? Crossey feels they will have to change, “They spent too much and no longer make enough, so they’ll collapse in on themselves.”
So if the monsters will sleigh themselves, then the biggest challenge may be trying to win over the next generation of kids who don’t know what a good record should sound like. Again though, this comes down to an obsession with speed and convenience and not just in the context of iPhones and file sharing; the recording equipment itself often suffers. “The best equipment is the old stuff, 60’s microphones that aren’t made anymore but could cost you £50,000 now. So instead you get cheap ones from China. The craftwork just isn’t there now.” He’s no technophobe though and by the sound of it the newly-renovated Motor Museum is very much alive to technological innovations since Crossey took over the reigns in April. It’s all about the balance though, and the industry needs to look to the likes of this man and focus on quality. And quality alone.