The 25 Most Important People in Metal: #14, Joey Sturgis
As much as metal is a genre of music and a lifestyle, it is also a community. And like all communities, it has its leaders — men and women whose work, be it by design or circumstance, affects all lovers of extreme music on a regular basis.
Throughout November, MetalSucks will celebrate these industry leaders by counting down The 25 Most Important People in Metal one per day. To be clear, this is a list of the people we believe are most important to metal today, in 2016 — not necessarily the most important people overall in the entire history of the genre. Some of them are musicians. Many of them are not. Some of them are people you’ve heard of. Many of them work behind the scenes and do not routinely get to take a bow. But they all have one thing in common: more than just cogs in a machine, they are truly, undeniably irreplaceable.
Album production: everyone is an expert, no one actually knows what the fuck they’re talking about. Still, one of the few things that everyone in the metal community can agree on is that album production is important. This is true of all genres, but since metal fans tend to actually care about albums and not just singles and tend to be hyper-obsessive nerds, they at least tend to know who produced their favorite (and least-favorite) albums. Justin Bieber fans do not spend nearly as much time debating the merits of The Biebs’ work with Usher versus The Biebs’ work with Kuk Harrell as metal fans spend debating about Metallica’s work with or without Bob Rock, and Metallica haven’t even worked with Bob Rock in thirteen years. Producers are a big deal in the metal game.
And although there are a handful of very talented and successful producers working in metal right now, few epitomize the genre’s current landscape the way Joey Sturgis does. Look at the list of bands he has recorded and/or produced and/or mixed and/or mastered: Asking Alexandria, The Devil Wears Prada, Of Mice & Men, The Acacia Strain, Born of Osiris, Attila, We Came as Romans, Oceano, Miss May I… and, oh yeah, this:
As is the case with A&R guru Steve Joh, you don’t have to like the bands with whom Sturgis has worked — I don’t think it’s a secret that MS isn’t a fan of most of ’em — but the mere fact that you’ve heard of them all (and, more importantly, heard at least a little bit of all those bands’ music) is undeniable proof of Sturgis’ impact on metal today. I mean, I can’t even count how many of my friends who give zero shits about metal sent me that Attack Attack! video after it came out to see if I’d heard of them. That’s the reach Sturgis’ work has. You can argue with his taste, but you can’t argue that he hasn’t been a massive success.
And with good reason: again, I may loathe Asking Alexandria’s music, but I can’t say their albums sound bad. Their albums sound great. I wish their albums sounded more like Mayhem’s Ordo Ad Chao (i.e., recorded from the inside of a submerged whale’s anus), because then they probably wouldn’t be as popular as they are. But Sturgis don’t play that. Ugh, aren’t smart, talented people SO annoying?
Like Misha Mansoor, Sturgis also feels uniquely contemporary. His website, joeysturgistones.com, allows him to share the wealth via articles full of recording knowledge as well as various audio plugins and tones. He’s also a big, big part of Nail the Mix, which is exactly what it sounds like. Technology and personal disposition conspired to make Sturgis not just one of metal’s leading audio recording professionals, but one of metal’s leading audio recording educators. He’s also making it even easier for kids to make demos and albums that sound great despite being made on the cheap, which is part of how we get the Misha Mansoors of the world in the first place. Mike Clink and Michael Wagener and Tom Werman did not have any such services when I was a kid.
I know there are producers out there who are pissed at Sturgis for both daring to diversify (the music industry being such a stable profession, after all) and for sharing their “secrets,” the way magicians get pissed about that one dude who shows people how they do all their tricks. The people who are mad about this are generally the same kinds of people who are mad about streaming services. They’re dinosaurs, they’re the past. Joey Sturgis is the future.