Local focus: Sam Johnson’s musical adventure in paradise
Music producer Sam Johnson works from the coastal settlement of Taranaki in Ōakura.
In the secluded seaside town of Ōakura, surrounded by songbirds and a sparkling Mount Taranaki, you’ll find Rhythm Ace Studios.
It’s a musician’s paradise and is where music producer Sam Johnson lives with his family.
Johnson’s partner Mel Saunders says he’s not the man she met nearly 30 years ago.
“He played in a band, but he wasn’t that amazing music producer, studio owner that you see in front of you.”
Johnson has been recording, designing and producing for over 25 years, largely in London.
Today he produces music with local artists and puts them on the map.
Johnson describes the music-making process as a “wonderful adventure”, a journey over the course of a year, seeing the artists most weekends, “and you just become friends”.
He says he finds relief once he knows they’ve “drained the tank”.
“You can listen to something and know it’s your best.
“I mean I’ve released music myself that I know wasn’t finished and it’s an awful feeling.
“It will have to do, is never a sentence that will do it with music. Maybe with toast or lunch or something, but not with music”.
The studio is filled with high-end instruments, sound and recording equipment, and a laid-back vibe smothers the room.
Australian-born Kiwi artist Renee Milner says space has a lot to do with how she feels about making the trip to Ōakura.
“It’s a beautiful space to walk in, not only inside the studio, but also in the nature that you see outside.”
She says Johnson has “an incredible talent for bringing out the best in the artist”.
Mark Armstrong, lead singer of the Slacks, says Johnson is special “because of his absolute love and passion for music.”
“You can see when he’s at his desk, when he puts a microphone on someone while they’re listening to a reading, he comes to life because that’s what he loves.
“He tells us all the time that it’s just ‘such a pleasure of my life to be able to make music with people who are passionate about music’.”
Armstrong says Johnson has “a very unique process.”
“I’ll come to him with a song and with the overall structure, and then we’ll work together on the production of that track to figure out what we think that track needs.”
Johnson’s partner normally has the final say on how he worked each day.
Saunders is a non-musician with a new set of ears and a face full of expression – or not.
“I just look at their faces and I know it’s been a whole day wasted.”