Working with a diverse range of artists from The King Blues, Frank Turner and Bring Me The Horizon, Kat Marsh's career has been one full of surprises. A musician and artist in her own right, her connections within the industry have paved the way for some of her most exciting projects, feeding back into her own creativity. After a day of workshops at dBs Music Bristol we sat down with Kat to hear how it all began…
Could you tell us a little about how you first got into music production, and the journey you’ve been on that’s led to where you are today?
I first got into music production as a result of recording my own music. I started out recording on a Tascam 4-track, then a 16-track, both of which were extremely laborious and limited!
I finally learned about Logic when working with other producers. I picked up a lot by watching and then started to take over vocal production duties on my own recordings. I also began writing music in Logic, which has taught me a lot.
You’ve gone from working with The King Blues, to your own project in Lionface, founding Choir Noir, as well as working as a vocal arranger for some pretty huge names. How did you first find your way into the industry?
My first experience of the industry was as a session vocalist. I met my long-time producer and good friend Peter Miles through my brother’s band at the time, Crazy Arm. I recorded BVs for their first album and Pete called me up to record some BVs for The King Blues second album and it all stemmed from there.
How much did that initial break lead to some of your more recent projects?
That first break was absolutely integral in getting me to where I am right now. Pete paved the way for so many of my musical introductions that have ultimately brought me here.
One of the more recent collaborations has been with Bring Me The Horizon, who you’ll be heading back out on the road with at the end of the month, a band that has evolved so much since their inception. What has it been like to work with them as they’ve continued to innovate their sound?
They’re a super exciting band to work with, they are constantly pushing themselves musically and artistically. They also have a lot of passion and confidence which is inspiring. My first connection with them was for their Royal Albert Hall show, which saw them performing with a full 50 piece orchestra and 14 person choir.
It was for the Teenage Cancer Trust, so they weren’t making any money for the show. They could’ve easily smashed out a regular performance, but they wanted it to be absolutely epic. Jordan in particular put huge amounts of work into making that show what it was and the result was something pretty incredible. I never know what they’re going to do next and that makes it super fun to be involved with them!
The formation of Choir Noir was a response to your work with them. How important is it to you to still have your own creative output alongside the work you do with other artists?
I feel like an artist first and foremost and my work with other people has come about as a by-product of writing and releasing my own music. I never intended to be a session vocalist or an arranger, those roles kind of just happened.
They’re super fun for me, the structure of working for someone else means I can just enjoy the process. I find the artistic side of writing and releasing my own music super emotionally intense and challenging. I feel like the two roles, of being an artist and being a vocalist/arranger for other artists, balance themselves out well. Session vocals and arranging give me a break!
What has been the most valuable lesson you’ve learned after working with so many diverse artists?
The main lessons I’ve taken from working with artists and bands are, don’t take anything personally and remember you’re there to provide something for someone else. I’ve had SO many ideas and suggestions rejected, it’s a huge part of the process. I’ve learned to totally let go of feeling attached to ideas I write for other people.
Everyone hears things differently and wants different things, I see my job as fulfilling that for them and I will work with them to achieve it. Also, nothing is wasted, some of my rejects go on to become amazing things! My rejected BVs for Doomsday by Architects (not sure if they were ever even heard by the band) turned into the Doomsday arrangement for Choir Noir.
When it comes to inspiration, what non-musical sources always help you get creative?
I find that movies, anime and artwork massively inspire music for me. I go through periods of intense media absorption, where I take other art forms in, and then periods of creativity when I take in nothing else from anyone and just make my own stuff.
I write from an emotional perspective always, so I have to be emotionally connected to music be able to create the greatest output. If I really feel a song I know I will write a great arrangement or parts to it. So far I’ve emotionally connected to all the session jobs I’ve had. If I didn’t I may have to turn it down!
What are your must-have tools?
My must-have tools are my laptop, an interface of some kind (my Apogee One if I’m travelling), mic lead, mic and headphones. If I have those things I can work anywhere and on anything. My travel mic is a Neumann KMS 104. It’s made for live, but it’s also a great studio mic. I took it with me on tour with BMTH and it actually ended up getting used by Oli and Jordan to record some vocals for them.
Do you have a ‘secret weapon’ that you always use in your work?
I think my main secret weapon for any type of vocal recording/arranging is a good vocal sound, I need reverb! I use one of the Apple AU presets in Logic, it was recommended to me by a phenomenal singer and I’ve stuck with it.
In terms of performing live, my secret weapon is to practice until you’re bored with the parts. When you’re thrown in front of a huge crowd you can be so overwhelmed that all your rehearsal flies out the window, so by being over-rehearsed on parts you stand the best chance of nailing the performance. It should be something you do without thinking by the time you get to stage.
What has been your proudest moment so far?
In terms of Choir Noir, I think my proudest moment was hearing a fan-edit of the Doomsday arrangement alongside the track that someone had uploaded to Youtube. I always record the arrangements to click, so that if you play them alongside the track everything syncs up.
Someone had figured that out and done it. It was so awesome because I realised, in a super long-winded way, I had managed to get those original BVs I’d demo-ed for Architects when they were recording the song, actually onto the song and people were hearing it. I was super into those BVs and had been bummed that they weren’t gonna get used, so it was magic to find a way to make it happen! It reminded me that rejections can sometimes lead to the best thing ever.
As an artist, my proudest moment so far was finishing my first album. I’ll hopefully be releasing it this year, under a new name.
What’s next in the pipeline for you?
My main musical projects this year are Choir Noir and my new album. I have two new Choir Noir arrangement videos completed and we’re working on the process of releasing them right now. I’ve started working on the arrangements for the next wave of Choir Noir releases too, one of them is a collaboration. In terms of sessions, there’s a big Choir Noir session project booked for April with a great band (I have to keep that secret at the moment!).
I’m also sitting on a finished album, so a big part of this year will be me working on getting that released.
Those are my major musical projects this year. In between, I’ll be touring with BMTH when they need me and taking on sessions as they come in.
What advice would you give to someone aspiring to work in the music industry?
My advice would be to say yes to everything, you never know where it might lead you. Don’t take rejection personally and save every idea you have. Trust your creativity. Be a nice person to work with, listen to people more than you talk. And have a side hustle you can use to make money when necessary!
Do you like the sound of working with a range of exciting artists? Our Music Production & Sound Engineering degree may be the perfect next step