Rihanna’s ‘ANTI’ Producers Chad Sabo & Blake Mares Discuss Perks & Flaws of Music Production

Pressure on producers

Staying relevant in a competitive, yet collaborative industry takes skill and patience. Mastering the global market is the ultimate dream and end goal for most producers.

Music producers are frequently being scrutinized over their choice of sound.  There are many producers who have worked their way to the top and are now comfortably sitting in the charts each week because of a catchy production or the global star that features on their track. Many producers create the same standard or a higher level of production yet receive less acknowledgement. Ultimately, one of the greatest feelings a producer can experience is being satisfied with the sound they have created.


Chad Sabo Interview

Producer Chad Sabo wrote, recorded, and produced a demo at his home in 2013, with no intentions of it ever being officially released, never mind making it onto Rihanna’s 2016 ANTI album. He explains that Never Ending was just another lo-fi acoustic demo that he shared on his SoundCloud page.

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I was just making honest music with simple, vibey production.’

Rihanna’s 2016 ANTI album includes Work, Kiss It Better, and Needed Me. After its release, the album quickly made it to number 1 on the Billboard 200 charts, and within days went Platinum.

Rihanna’s Never Ending

Being part of such a successful project must feel surreal?

Yeah, honestly if it wasn’t for my friends and family occasionally reminding me that I wrote a song for Rihanna, it would probably feel a whole lot less real. It’s a pretty good feeling.

Never Ending has an amazing chord progression that feels so cathartic. I remember after my first nonchalant listen of the ANTI album; I was surprised to find myself repeating that guitar hook and those stirring vocals over and over again – it was ironically never ending.

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The song‘s composition and lyrics work so cohesively with one another, did you pull from any emotions coming up with the concept?

The chord progression came to me first. I was on tour with my band The Cold Seas, just sort of noodling on an acoustic guitar in the back of a van in San Diego. I recorded the idea on my phone and then when I came home from tour a couple weeks later, I started elaborating on the initial verse riff and wrote the lyrics. I tried to remain a bit ambiguous while writing the lyrics but also wanted to make it relatable.

Ghost in The Mirror

Never Ending, like any other song, may have diverse meanings to listeners. On a personal note, the song embodies being stuck in one state of mind, finding it hard to get in touch with yourself again. What message were you trying to interpret when writing the song?

The concept was very literal for me, I had somewhat of an outer of body experience while high on tour. I remember staring in a mirror at one point, feeling like I was looking at someone else – hence the ghost in the mirror reference.  I remember at one point, I felt like I had multiple bodies and like I was stretched out forever, which is where the “Never Ending” lyric/concept came from.

Chads favourite picks on the ANTI album are Needed Me, Love on The Brain, as well as Same Ol’ Mistakes, given the fact that it’s a cover of Tame Impala’s New Persons Same Old Mistakes.

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‘Having Never Ending directly after Same Ol’ Mistakes on the album was so cool’

Signing to Roc Nation

Has your signed deal with Roc Nation given your band The Cold Seas a larger platform?

The Cold Seas is my independent project with my extremely talented friends, Erik Rudic and Nash Breen. We’ve been very much a DIY, indie band since day one and had a brief experience with Roc Nation management where we received some cool opportunities. We got to play Barclay’s Centre in Brooklyn for a TIDAL event with Deadmau5 and DRAM and went out to LA on a couple of occasions to record at some amazing studios.

The Production Process

What do you most love/hate about songwriting/producing?

I ultimately want people to want to listen to my music, so if someone enjoys a melody or connects with a lyric, it’s an incredibly satisfying and validating feeling. However, when I can’t quite find the vibe or the exact words I’m looking for, I think to myself, I’ll never write a good song again. Then a couple days later I’ll ditch that idea and write something completely different and better than the idea I was working on previously with a lot less effort. I hate those feelings in songwriting purgatory.

Lastly, industry loyalty is important to most, if not all artists. The support that the team receives plays a huge part in an artist’s success. In a rapidly developing yet challenging environment, do you find labels tend to be dispersive?

I’ve seen people leave labels when you least expect it. That’s why it’s tough to trust people in this industry. But you must have faith in other’s and eventually you’ll find the right people who truly believe in you and want to remain with you through thick and thin.

After his 2016 success, Chad continues to work with his band The Cold Seas and has since been contacted to work with producer Dave Fridmann, James Murphy from IDC, and Kevin Parker from Tame Impala.


Blake Mares Interview

Blake Mares is a fully immersed music producer who has worked with the likes of Ariana Grande, Madison Beer, and Joey Bada$$.

Blakes seems moderate and modest of his long schedules. After capturing a vibe of admiration for his craft, and condemnation for a lack of respect of it, I caught Blake as he caught impulsive breaks in-between his workload.

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Early Career

There is a clear drive and passion in Blake’s work, a well-earned college degree in Audio Production opened the doors early on in his career for progression and success. He now has multiple number one hits to his name, but Blake first gravitated towards the music business in 2006 DJ’ing for parties and smaller events.

Producing and co-producing some of the biggest hits including Shawn Mendes’ There’s Nothing Holdin’ Me Back, and Selena Gomez’ Same Old Love, Mares first began as an intern for Westlake Recording Studios.

‘I will always be grateful for former Westlake employees Steve Rush and Jonah McLean in my hiring.’

Westlake Recordings

Westlake recording studio was established in the 1970s and is now the go-to studio for music, films, and television shows. Clients include Fifth Harmony, Justin Bieber, and Michael Jackson.

Blake first reigned in on his engineering skills with the help of Gerald Thompson and Dave Emerick.

Working in the tech shop took my knowledge of studios and their interworking’s to the next level. In 2015 I decided to spread my wings and leave Westlake to become a freelance recording engineer, which is what I’ve been doing ever since.

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Mares has worked on Rihanna’s 2016 No 1 album ANTI, as well as the 2012 success Unapologetic. Alongside working with many other artists including Pentatonix, Khalid and Sean Paul.

First starting off in the music industry, what revelations did you first come across?

Writing camps were probably the weirdest concept for me at first. The idea of getting a few strangers in a room to write a song for an artist they’ve never met seemed crazy. But these kinds of camps are very common and some of the biggest hits are made this way.

It’s the Singer, not the Song

‘It’s the singer, not the song’ is a phrase that first came about from a film. The Rolling Stones took the title and created a song from it. The phrase has since been casually thrown around in the music business. Working with some great artists, do you agree with the statement?

I think that it depends on the situation at hand. I do agree with the idea that a singer can make or break a song because sometimes a person’s tone and timbre just don’t fit the vibe of a song.

What sort of equipment do you use when producing/engineering?

I can play the piano but I’m not a pianist. MIDI and heavy editing usually do the trick for me when it comes to production. The knowledge of instruments and music theory is a huge help as an engineer. I use some form of music theory every day in the studio, whether it’s understanding song structure, timing, finding the key of a song, or helping a vocalist find harmonies.

What aspect of your job do you find the most challenging?

‘The long hours are definitely the most challenging for me. It means that I miss out on events, even with family and friends’

I have done some sessions which have lasted over eighteen hours. Other days I will work a twelve-hour day and only have time to go home, shower and return to the studio for another twelve-hour day. It gets quite challenging and tiring at times.

What process in song-making do you enjoy the most?

I love aiding the creative process, I look forward to helping clients achieve their sound. Thinking of new and creative ways to record and process. Sometimes the spur of the moment ideas can be the most entertaining to play out.

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Blake had worked on Rihanna’s 2016 James Joint, Kiss it Better, Needed Me, Goodnight Gotham, & Sex With Me

You have worked on albums from the likes of Shawn Mendes, Rihanna, and Selena Gomez. How does it feel knowing these have gone on to become successes, especially songs you have worked on?

It’s always a good feeling to know a song you’ve put a lot of effort and a lot of hours into is doing well. Most of the time I’m unaware of actual release dates for songs that I’ve worked on so when I hear it in a store or on the radio, I think ‘Hey I worked on this’ and it’s a pretty good feeling.


Stay Tuned

Stay tuned for Part 3 of my music production study, which will look further into the struggles of music producers.

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