Ahead of The Grammy’s: An Interview with nominated producer, Andrew J Miller
Andrew J. Miller has been producing music for over 20 years. He’s racked up 4 Emmys as an audio engineer for NFL Films, had sync placements for Savage X Fenty Vol.4 and worked with some of the industries’ greatest. When a call was arranged to discuss his up-and-coming ventures, I was excited, if somewhat a little tentative. Having only been self-promoting as a producer for the last five years, despite his longevity in the game, Miller remains somewhat of a dark horse in the industry, and there was little precognition of what to expect.
The person who picked up was refreshing. Its 10am New York time, and he’s been travelling since 3:30. Not that you’d know, he’s ready to talk about everything. There’s a guitar in sight and a visible sign above his PC, the simplest of philosophies: work hard, dream big. A motto synonymous with another he mentioned throughout the interview – “consistency and confidence”.
From the people he’s worked with to the accolades he’s attained, upon talking to him, it was hard to imagine someone with that degree talent and experience discussing Imposter syndrome, joking that “people knew me around campus as the kid that always had headphones on and never talked to anyone”. Until recently Miller sought comfort in anonymity, a comfort surely on the verge of diminishment with the potential of a Grammy as the next laurel in his collection. A possibility you can tell is surreal to him.
It would be an injustice to his hard work and dedication to say destiny was at work. But his early introduction to music certainly helped pave the path. Miller grew up in Willingboro, New Jersey, that he affectionately refers to as ‘Little Motown’:
“People from there call it Little Motown because of the talent, not only [for] music but acting, there’s politicians, very high-level people in the entertainment industry [it’s] especially creatives that come from Willingboro New Jersey.”
His earliestmemories of music, like many of the greats, he accredits to churchgoing with his father:
“My dad was an organ player. So, when I was a youth, I would not always bebehavingproperly in church. I would have to sit by my dad at the organ. He was the disciplinarian.”
He recalls from young age, recognising greatness when he heard it:
“I remember listening to a lot of Jodeci. There was a lot of Jodeci going on in my house, Luther Vandross, Mary J. Blige, Bell Biv Devoe, Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston, Stevie… all the greats!”
The multi-generic nature of his musical introduction surely explains his chameleonic abilities as a producer that makes him such a gift in the industry today:
“My dad had an extensive record collection. I always, as far as I can remember, liked to listen to his collection of music, as far as R&B, Hip-Hop, gospel. That was my introduction. I think that very much shaped me as a producer today and a musician. Those humble beginnings you know?”
After graduating high school and overcoming a wave of ambivalence, admitting he considered going to college for computer science, he decided to persist with his true passion:
“I thought computers, along with a lot of other people were the future, and obviously they are (laughs). So, I probably wouldn’t have been wrong there either. But I was sitting down and producing, doing a lot of producing for friends… I had taken a liking to producing a lot. So, I was sitting at my work desk one day and my mum was like why don’t you go to school for music production and recording. I thought that made a lot of sense.”
But even with the support of family, the production industry is about as cutthroat as it gets. Miller spoke about the doubts that come along the way. From studying at William Patterson University, realising that “Not everybody gets to this level, makes it to college and are able to do something the love”, to the more recent self-consciousness of putting ‘producer’ to the forefront of his job description:
“It was weird. Probably not as extreme as Kanye (laughs) but I think that all creatives have a self-consciousness, but most of us are very comfortable in what we possess. So, it’s finding that balance and knowing what you’re capable of and being confident in that… and there’s different excuses, like oh I don’t want anyone to steal my ideas or maybe I don’t think it’s good enough. It’s really finding that balance. It’s every day, at least for me. Right now, I’m at the point where I’m going to put it out. I’m going to do it because if I love it, maybe someone won’t, but I’ll still love it.”
It was Miller’s relationship with fellow New Jersey legend Adam Blackstone that landed him his first Grammy nomination for ‘Round Midnight, from Blackstone’s debut album Legacy. He explained their long-intertwined history: “We’re originally from the same town. I had never known him personally until maybe three years ago, 2019-2020 ish is when we met for the first time”. In fact,the coincidence of their meeting verges on the parameters of fateful:
“It happened that we met randomly. One day a friend of mine said hey want to meet Adam? He’s an audio engineer, I’m hoping to do some stuff with him, do you mind coming with me to this event? I was like, sure! I’ll come to support my guy… the next time we met after that was the Superbowl in 2020. [I saw] on Instagram, that he was in town, I was like hey what’s up bro, and he was like hey come out… and coming back home from the Superbowl we were on the same flight. And from there we started working together a decent amount.”
Despite hailing from the same town, being of similar age and both possessing a gift for production, there’s definitely no sense of Outkast rivalry between the two. On the contrary, there was an older brother like admiration for Adam:
“I’m so glad you brought up Adam. That’s my guy. First of all, he is the goat in the industry, quietly. Recently with him doing the Superbowl, his platform has grown. In my mind he has always been a legend… growing up, he’s probably four years older than me, so he had graduated high school before I even got there. But as a kid growing up, I was like, Adam Blackstone’s the man!”
Miller described the fortuitous phone call with Adam that landed him in the studio:
“I just text him, I was actually at the chiropractor (laughs), like yo bro, hope all is well with you and the family, and that was it. He called me right away… he’s like you want to come to a session in a few hours, and I’m like sure I’ll leave the doctors and I’ll come over. That was how I ended up on the album.”
For anyone less experienced, it may have been an unnerving moment, as Miller recalls walking into the studio and being met with a troupe of musical legends:
“James Poyser walk in and I’m like, okay that’s the keyboard player from The Roots (laughs). Nobody else is in the studio and there’s no other sessions going on, so I go to the receptionist and I’m like I’m here for a session with Adam. She’s like we don’t have a session with Adam but Jasmine Sullivan’s coming in. So, I text Adam, what are we doing? No response. Then he comes in like I need a drum track for us to record to for ‘Round Midnight and that’s literally how it happened within a few hours of checking in.”
The ability to go with the flow is a testament to the faith Miller had in Adam’s vision, especially on a classic like ‘Round Midnight, originally recorded by Thelonious Monk. It’s a song that requires little explanation in the jazz world and the necessity to understand the assignment was vital:
“I think after talking to Adam I understood what that meant. I knew what he was trying to do… having a fairly decent amount of music history, if anyone says they’re doing a jazz standard like ‘Round Midnight and they’re bringing Jasmine Sullivan in… I know what level of excellence and greatness it has to be to mean something. I was just humbled by being a part and Adam, he’s a musical genius.”
It’s really a full circle moment, from collaborating with Adam after years of acquaintance, to being nominated next to some of the very voices he grew up listening to. Mary J Blige, Babyface, Beyonce – it’s a tall order by anyone’s standards. And the potential of winning has put domestic loyalties seriously to the test:
“First of all, my wife is a huge Beyonce fan and she’s like it’s the only time I want Beyonce to lose in anything! But Babyface, Beyonce, Mary J Blige… It’s like never in a million years did I think I would be part of anything that could be in the same category. It’s surreal. I don’t want to say it’s a dream come true, but it does feel like a dream. Every day I think about it for a couple of seconds and think what? I’m truly honoured to be a part of this amazing song and album.”
And as early is it, 2023 is shaping up to be an equally big year for Miller:
“I did a track in a major movie that’s coming out with Kevin Hart, Tiffany Hadish and Welsey Snipes. It hasn’t been announced yet, so I’ve got to keep it under wraps. I am planning on doing a series kind of like Carpool Karaoke after the football season’s over. It should be me as a producer with an artist driving around and we’re going to produce tracks and record them in the car. I’m producing that myself in collaboration with Teenage Engineering, so I’m excited about that.”
Of course, the amount of time he’ll have to produce a series independently will be determined on the demand of work that comes his way after the Grammys:
“There’s a bunch of stuff that I would like to do but depending how the Grammys go things could be a little different. It sounds crazy even saying that, but just connecting with artists that I love, and working on different projects. The grind never stops. And I’m learning to be better at not always saying – what’s next? But at the end of the day, the work has to keep going and I’m always looking forward to the next thing.”
As we neared the end of our time, the conversation ended as we started, a reminder that “consistency and confidence can take you further than you ever imagine”. His story so far is a testament to having a quiet conviction in your worth, although ‘quiet’ may have to be revaluated soon. But one thing’s for sure, Miller is entering new heights.
Miller is nominated for Best Traditional R&B performance at the Grammys on the 5th of February. Listen to ‘Round Midnight now.