Written by Jenna MacFarlane
Photography by Dan Austin
Music production is an intricate art form. It requires strong attention to detail, mindful creativity, and openness to new ideas. Evan Eliason, acclaimed local producer, produces impressive and diverse work for musicians all over the world.
It’s easy to stream our favorite song without giving second thought to how it really came together. We praise the singer and the instrumentalist but often miss out on the detailed process of musical expression.
The behind-the-scenes magic of music takes place at the hands of one person: the producer. Music producers are the lifeblood of the craft. They envision, initiate, and construct the flow of a song. They take care of the details from start to finish. Besides a few prominent executives that have made a name for themselves in the industry, producers usually fly under the radar. The secret orchestrators behind the sounds we love, producers take a musician’s broad idea and turn it into something striking and cohesive.
Twenty-seven-year-old Evan Eliason is one of them. You can find him tucked away at The Vanguard Room, Dixieland’s own music studio, working with artists from all over the country. Eliason has built a reputation for diverse handiwork; his repertoire spans from L.A. and Nashville to Mexico City. People contact him because of the work he’s done, and he’s open-minded to explore any genre or style of music.
I like challenges. Even if I’m not familiar with what someone wants to do, I want to go for it anyway.
When artists visit Eliason at The Vanguard Room, they find that he doesn’t take a formal, sit-down approach to production. He describes himself as neither a night person nor a morning person: “When I work best, it just fluctuates,” he says. At some point during the day, he arrives in a sort of flow state that he relies on to create the perfect mix for musicians of all backgrounds.
The Vanguard Room was founded by Aaron Marsh, of Copeland, and Matt Wilbur. Eliason saw a big shift in his career path when he met Wilbur and started professionally producing. In Eliason’s words, Wilbur took him under his wing. “We’re like a family here,” he says, referring to the dynamic between Wilbur, himself, and the other producers at the studio: Bryce Rivera and Casey Newton.
If you don’t know much about production, the first thing to note is that it is extremely open-ended. It’s different for every musician and for every producer. The process is organic, collaborative, and unique to each individual.
An experienced producer ought to be able to work with anyone, think on the fly, and execute ideas in a unique and creative way specific to the musician. They should be able to condense ideas into sound, working closely with the artist to create something with which listeners can resonate.
Rather than producing a set style, Eliason prefers to try out new things. He doesn’t like to do the same thing twice — and he’ll tell you that. “I like challenges. Even if I’m not familiar with what someone wants to do, I want to go for it anyway,” he says. “I’d hate to make the same record 10 times over again. I definitely would much rather be doing something that I have no idea what it’s supposed to sound like and just find the sound as I go.”
I’d hate to make the same record 10 times over again. I definitely would much rather be doing something that I have no idea what it’s supposed to sound like and just find the sound as I go.
Rather than working within a specific genre, Eliason prefers a specific work style: one that moves quickly, flows, and where the artist holds an ever-adapting concept of how the song or album might come together. He’s passionate about maintaining the symbiotic relationship between the artist and the producer, developing a trust and openness that is hard to find but priceless when it is.
“If the person is excited about it and they’re like, ‘I have a vision for it,’ I’m into it,” Eliason says. He doesn’t fear what he doesn’t know; from indie-pop to R&B, he’s experimented with diverse forms of musical expression.
Eliason is from Binghamton in upstate New York. He got into music at a young age when his parents put him in piano lessons. “I hated practicing so much,” he recalls. “It wasn’t until I was 12 or 13 that I started enjoying it when I played with my friends. That was the first time I felt like, ‘This is what I want to do.’” His older brother bought him his first version of Logic, a production software, and he fooled around with it throughout high school.
I love going to shows, especially local ones. When more people see live music, more people want to make it.
After moving to Lakeland for college in 2012, he began really teaching himself how to mix when he met Matt Wilbur, co-owner of The Vanguard Room. “The moment he started teaching me, I realized I had so much to improve. It was so instantaneous,” Eliason says. “I feel like I just leapt in terms of what I knew. It’s one of those things where you don’t realize what you don’t know until you do.”
Music production is a lot more accessible than it was, say, 10 years ago. People have always been making music, and they’ve always been putting money into it — but now, it’s cheaper and easier to get music out there for people to hear. You don’t need a label or an exorbitant amount of money, just the determination to do something independently and the confidence to put it out there.
Though Eliason has only really been involved with the Lakeland music scene for the past five years, he’s noticed an influx in the number of people willing to professionally produce music here. He’s all in to support local music and its growth here. “I love going to shows, especially local ones. When more people see live music, more people want to make it.”
Lakeland is my big-city dream, honestly.
Luckily for our local musicians, Eliason doesn’t have any plans to move away to a big city. “Lakeland is my big-city dream, honestly,” he says. “It really is. In terms of opportunity, Lakeland has all the opportunities that I would want. As long as I’m finding fulfillment in creating things with someone, helping someone see their vision through to the end, that’s the most exciting thing for me. So, as long as I keep on doing that, that’s my dream. Lakeland, even though it’s a small city, is still home.”
Take a listen to everything he’s produced on Spotify by searching “Evan Eliason Works.”
The Vanguard Room