JST Producer Spotlight: Billy Decker

If you’ve heard any Top 40 country music in the past couple of years, there’s a good chance you’ve heard a song producer by Billy Decker. Straight out of Nashville, Tennessee, Billy is one of the most in-demand producers for country music today, having worked with artists ranging from Sam Hunt to Dustin Lynch to Chris Young.

As a producer, Billy’s work sets the standard for what a crossover country song should be. He mixes modern pop production with classic country instrumentation constantly – something his clients are actively seeking out to stay relevant in today’s music industry. And for us, his unique ability to blend these two styles made him the ideal producer to work with on a custom Bus Glue series of plugins.

Let me explain why... 

Natural Approach to Compression 

If there’s one place in music today where huge budgets are spent on recording live instruments – country takes the cake. That’s not to say there aren’t artists in other genres taking the same approach, but country music, especially in Nashville, continues to carry on the tradition of great sounding instrumentation tracked live in acoustically superior rooms.

We’ve talked before about Billy’s studio which was built into his cabin for optimal mixing and tracking sessions, but even still Billy’s work often comes from other engineers or from sessions he’s recorded in other studios. 

Because of the nature of these expensive recording sessions, Billy’s approach to compression is unique. While he won’t necessarily use more or less compression than anyone else, his approach demands that the natural acoustics of live instruments be retained and highlighted by the compressors he uses. The end result is always massive, full-spectrum sounds that mold together into a radio-ready mix.

Mixing Production Sounds With Acoustic Instruments

If there’s a yin and a yang to a modern pop/country crossover track, it’s the hip-hop style drum loops paired with acoustic guitar (or other acoustic instruments like banjos or mandolins). There is a very stark contrast between the two elements, as one shows the tradition of where music has come from and the other shows the technology and style of where things are heading.

The balancing act of these two styles is super important in modern mixes, and Billy’s usually approach involves three major stages:

  1.     Acoustic Bus Compression
  2.     Drum Bus Compression
  3.     Mix Bus Compression

With his acoustic bus, Billy’s able to fold various acoustic and live elements together and make them fit his vision for the track. For some songs, a bright and jangly element could fit perfectly, shining through the densest of mixes. For others, a darker, more soulful guitar tone could be the right style.

The drums end up getting compressed in a similar manner. Knowing that there are likely going to be production samples/loops and live drums, there may be two or even three stages of compression depending on if he needs to compress them individually before summing them to a drum bus. 

Finally, Billy’s various elements all get glued together through the mix bus – where vocals, percussion, acoustic instrumentation and more all form a single, polished track. By having multiple stages of compression prior to this, Billy’s able to mix into his mix bus much more efficiently and in a way that retains the characteristics of all of the elements of the song.

What Makes A Modern Music Producer?

As you’ve probably picked up on – we’ve touched on “modern” as a concept several times here so far. The reason for this is that whatever you want to call it, “modern” music needs to translate to audiences across all genres. Billy knows this better than anybody.

His vision for a song never starts from the question of “How can I make a great country song?” but rather, “How can I make a great song?” He knows that to make it today, engineers and producers need to be able to make something that transcends genre. You need to open your mind to borrowing styles and techniques from peers outside of those working on the same types of music you are. Without that, you’re just doing the same things over and over again. 

Just do what feels right for the song and you’ll find success in this industry. Don’t limit yourself with the labels you put on your work. 

Advanced Mix Techniques 

Do you think your mix sessions could use a bit of a push to get on the professional level the artists you work with deserve?

If so, we’ve got tons of resources for producers, engineers & mixers in JST VIP. Everything from our Toneforge Bootcamp course to the Taking Control of Your Drum Mix eBook will help you grow as a music professional and provide guidance with the issues most of us tend to battle at one point or another.

Join our community today.