Spencer Cheyne didn’t expect to reach the number one spot on iTunes, having come as close as number two and three in the past, but he was ecstatic when he finally reached the top spot, after his work with a local country duo, Leaving Thomas.
“I had never had a number one before, so that was neat,” recalls Cheyne, 30, who is a Calgary-based mixer and producer.
He has put in countless hours of hard work to reach this point in his career, encouraged to get into music by his friends and family – first as a violinist and then as a drummer.
But, during his years of teaching and performing live, it was the technological element of mixing and producing music that led him to get involved in studio work. He is now a highly sought after, up-and-coming studio talent in the Canadian music industry.
The journey to get there started when Cheyne took up the violin at the tender age of four. He became interested in the instrument because a family friend that he looked up to played it.
From then onward, violin and music became the focus of Cheyne’s childhood, even going so far as to spend some summers at violin camps.
Around Grade 7, Cheyne picked up the drums with some encouragement from his best friend, but some resistance from his parents, who would only get him his drum kit if he completed his Grade 10 violin exam.
“Violin wasn’t very cool when I was like 14 years old. Playing classical music, I wasn’t the talk of the town or, you know, I wasn’t getting any girls,” he jokes.
The drums quickly became an obsession for Cheyne, with him practicing for hours and nights on end. He gravitated towards pop-punk and jazz music, though it was Steve Jordan of the John Mayer Trio that eventually made him truly fall in love with the instrument. He first heard Jordan’s drumming when he was 18 and continues to idolize him to this day.
“I just had never heard a drummer like that and I was like I want to play like that,” he says. “Whenever I do play drums still, I always try to sound like Steve Jordan.”
After a while Cheyne’s tireless practicing led him to the stage. He started playing gigs when he was 16, and he even took up teaching music between the ages of 17 to 20. Because of the income that he was generating from his work in music, he was never forced to work a regular job like many other teenagers.
Through his studies, Cheyne met Andy Ericson, one of his drum instructors, whose home studio would inspire Cheyne to learn about the recording process.“Being a nerdy kid as well, and into computers, I thought it was cool. Technology and this nerdy element mixed with music which I loved,” he says.
Around the age of 20, and after experimenting with analyzing his own music and practicing recording, Cheyne decided to put drums on the back burner and really shift his focus to the studio.
He recalls one of the first projects that he worked on being an album for a bluegrass trio. He did the entire record in his basement for $300.
“I was probably working for like 10 cents an hour,” he recalls.
Cheyne has been working his way up in the Canadian music industry ever since. Having attended mixing workshops in France with studio legends Manny Marroquin and Michael Brauer, he learned a lot about how to make a song “feel right.” His most memorable moment from that experience came when Marroquin explained the secret behind a good mix.
He told Cheyne, “A good mix is about how it feels not how it sounds.”
“Because up until that point I was always trying to make things sound nice, and I mean maybe I was having a little bit of success but I wasn’t really having a lot of commercial success. Then when he said that I was like, ‘Oh, I get it,” Cheyne recalls.
Both Marroquin and Brauer share this same philosophy on mixing; and that’s likely why Cheyne’s first mix after returning from the workshop with Brauer was his most successful to date.
“The first mix I did when I got back from Michael Brauer’s workshop was Jackpot’ by Jocelyn Alice,” he recalls.
That pop single ended up being the first song that he had ever worked on to get radio airplay and was also certified platinum in Canada in 2016.
He still remembers the first time he heard “Jackpot” on the radio.
“Just after the song finished playing the DJ comes on and he’s like, ‘That was “Jackpot” by Jocelyn Alice and we’ve pegged this to be the hit song of the summer!’ And I was just like, ‘What? Crazy!’”
Since then, Cheyne has really started taking Canada’s country music scene by storm. He recently co-produced, along with Justin Kudding, and mixed Brett Kissel’s We Were That Song album, which has sold extremely well in Canada and is gaining ground internationally. Cheyne has even had international success with “Anthem,” the latest single from the album which reached the number one spot on iTunes China recently.
“As an Albertan, as a proud Canadian, it was important for me to look at the guys who are making a name for themselves locally and internationally, who are local. Spencer is one of those guys,” Kissel says.
Though Cheyne’s focus lies in the studio these days, he has also had the opportunity to tour as a drummer with Kissel and will be doing the same with Leaving Thomas this summer.
Cheyne really blew Kissel away with one song in particular, titled “Slow Me Down.”
“[It] was a diamond in the rough, it was just such a great song but we couldn’t get it to that next level,” says Kissel.
That changed when Kissel brought the song to Cheyne. He was essentially tasked with remixing the entire song, and as a result was able to turn it into a potential hit.
Leaving Thomas is another example of Cheyne’s recent country music success stories. Similarly to the Kissel album, he also mixed and co-produced them with Kudding. Their self-titled record went on to be number one on the iTunes country charts within the first 24 hours of its release.
“For a pretty unknown country act from Calgary who have never done anything it’s pretty exciting, because you’re not competing with Canadian artists. You’re competing with artists around the world [like] Chris Stapleton and Blake Shelton and, you know, all these superstars,” says Cheyne.
Bryton Udy, one of the two Leaving Thomas members, thought Cheyne’s help to be invaluable.
“It’s pretty cool to share that moment with not only our songwriters, and you know our label at that point, but also with Spencer and our co-producer Justin Kudding as well,” he says.
“The music is still raw, the music is still who we are, but he just took it to that next level where it can compete with the people it competed with on iTunes,” says Annika Odegard, the other half of Leaving Thomas.
Cheyne continues to have a busy studio schedule, being the head mixing engineer at OCL Studios, and is currently working with artists from around the country.
“I just like working on music and I’m very blessed and grateful that I get to keep doing it,” he says.
- By Nicholas Montpetit-Skuba