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Pouring himself into the music: Producer Alex Winter
Like a good friend, the words, rhythms and melodies of musicians like Alex Winter can motivate and entertain us, and keep us company when we need it most. A virtuosic drummer, guitarist, composer and producer, it would be a gross understatement to say Winter wears many hats. Decades of professional training and devoted practice earned him a titanic reputation in the industry, and led to his music being shared and performed around the globe.

Raised in a small town just outside Frankfurt, Germany, Winter's lifelong love of music began during a tumultuous period of his early childhood. Like many toddlers his favorite pastime was fervently banging on pots and pans, which he did with glee and tireless enthusiasm. When he was 4, however, Winter's parents separated — a painful and confusing experience which had unexpected consequences on the young boy's life and budding career. 

"... A while later my mom had a boyfriend who was a drummer," Winter recalled. "He started teaching me the basics and let me play on his drum set, and thanks to him and my mom I started taking formal lessons at the age of 6." 

undefined undefined">As soon as the young percussionist graduated from playing on cookware to the real thing, it became apparent that Winter was a bona fide prodigy. At 13 he began playing guitar as well, and after a few years he caught the attention of a hugely influential figure in the music world.

"When I was 17, I met Gundy Keller, a world-class guitarist and the owner of a recording studio called A-Town Recordings in Stockstadt, Germany. I took guitar lessons with him for a few months, and then after high school when I was 18 I quickly became his assistant," Winter said.

"He'd been working with Roland Music for decades, helping with the development of many of their guitar products… Gundy became my musical mentor, and while working for him I also had the chance to play drums for some of the tracks he used on his tours for Roland Music, as well as for some of their product videos which were used on YouTube and their website. The tracks were also used for Gundy's performances at NAMM show in LA in 2011."

His contributions to industry giant Roland Music, in addition to the early exposure he received by having his work used at the massive National Association of Music Merchants convention, proved invaluable. Following his work with Keller, Winter's unwavering dedication and constant training earned him a place at the ultra-exclusive Berklee College of Music in Boston. During his time at Berklee he continued to progress as both a drummer and guitarist, and soon he developed talents for both music composition and production as well. Though Winter's initial specialization was in jazz, he soon discovered he possessed a passion for writing, performing and producing pop music.

"My love for both jazz and pop is sort of a rarity among young producers," said Winter, explaining how he developed his distinctive style. "I like to blend genres. I love the energy of pop music, [and how] it makes people sing along and dance."

In 2015, Winter performed drums on Guatemalan artist Nico Farias' album "Que Los Mares No Se Enteren." The album was overwhelmingly met with acclaim from critics and listeners alike, and became an instant hit. In Farias' native Guatemala the album's title track rocketed to No.1 on iTunes' charts, and the industry trade group BMI declared it the Latin Billboard's Best Song of the Year for 2015.

"Nico is a friend of mine, and I played drums on all the songs on his album. As with the other songs, the arrangement for 'Que Los Mares No Se Enteren' was already written by Nico, but I had quite a bit of freedom in my playing," Winter said.

"For this kind of music – specifically, pop – I focused on keeping it simple and tight. The beat is supposed to be the foundation in a song, and give it drive and stability. I see that as one of my strengths as a drummer. My style isn't flashy or virtuosic. I like to play 'the right thing' for the song."

The rhythm of Winter's drums form the foundation of this pop ballad, giving the emotional piece what feels a lot like a heartbeat. To that driving beat, Farias delivers a vocal performance on "Que Los Mares No Se Enteren" that alternates between passionate and airy. Rounding out the stunning piece is the melancholy harmony of piano and guitar, which accentuate both Winter's percussion and Farias' soulful and powerful vocals.

Winter's keen instincts for rhythm are an invaluable asset to every aspect of his work, but his strengths are by no means limited to the drums. The unrivaled education he received at Berklee, combined with well over a decade of professional training as a guitarist, have made Winter a powerful force on both sides of the studio glass. So naturally, when a track demands his skills as both instrumentalist and producer, the full range of his abilities become apparent.

A perfect example of that duality is Winter's recent work with Italian singer and songwriter Michele Beneforti. Beneforti, who releases his music under the stage name EMBI, relied heavily on Winter throughout the process of recording his latest hit single "Over and Over."

"I was the producer and recording engineer for all the sessions. Michele played all the guitar parts and sang, but we hired a pianist… and a bass player. I recorded all of them. I made the beat and added a lot of other elements like synths, percussion, and effects. I also edited the recordings and gave input about which parts to keep or not," Winter explained.

Upon its release on Spotify, the track swiftly racked up thousands of listeners on the streaming service and became the most popular track on Beneforti's 2018 album "Evolution" almost instantly. Marked by its innovative and unexpected mix of genres, "Over and Over" is one of those rare tracks that's both catchy and addictive but never wears out its welcome on any playlist.

"'Over and Over' is a blend between hip-hop, R&B and jazz. Harmonically, it's very jazz- and R&B-inspired, but the beat and rhythmic feel are heavily influenced by hip-hop," Winter described.

"I incorporated some subtle sound design ideas that I usually use for pop productions. For example, the synths are kind of in the background, but all of these little effects and layers add to the overall sound and give it punch and thickness. It's a groovy and relaxed song that has a certain feel-good vibe."

In a powerful display of his versatility, Winter also produced artist Ben Stitt's 2018 five-track EP "In the Dawn of My Days." An immensely talented singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, Stitt first befriended Winter during their time in Boston together. It wasn't until this year, however, that the duo first began their professional collaboration.

"Earlier this year he'd heard some of the productions I was working on and the mixes I'd done, and he asked me if I would help produce and mix his EP," Winter said. "Ben is someone who works incredibly well by himself, technically as well as emotionally. Working with him and listening to his songs showed me his sense of reflection and depth."

The collaboration began from a place of utmost mutual respect for each other's artistic and creative abilities. Because both Winter and Stitt are gifted, professionally-trained musicians, each recognized the importance of the other's contributions to the album. Winter took great care not to obscure or interfere with Stitt's vision, and in turn Stitt placed his trust in Winter to refine the album into the final product he'd envisioned. The result was a beautifully soulful and mesmerizing EP which, thanks to Winter's exceptional skills as a producer, remained pure and true to the way Stitt had imagined it.

"When Ben reached out to me, his vision and the existing recordings already had a very specific vibe. His music is acoustic and electronic. I'd describe the style as gentle and melancholic for the most part, with a few intense moments here and there," Winter described. "It's a concept EP, which means that almost every song flows seamlessly into the next one."

Each track on "In the Dawn of My Days" works as well on its own as it does as part of a unified piece. In order to adhere to Stitt's deliberate plan for the album, it was up to Winter to delicately and painstakingly mold the recordings into exactly what Stitt envisioned.

Ben Stitt says, "Coming from a more Indie and Ambient background myself it was great to work with someone who has a lot more expertise in Pop productions and knows how to finish projects and how to make them sound 'modern.' At the same time I could always see various influences and backgrounds in his production style, which led to amazing ideas I could not have brought to the project myself. I think this definitely makes Alex the great and unique producer he is."

It's his understanding of, and expertise with virtually every facet of the production process that set Winter apart and allow him to turn every project into something wholly innovative and groundbreaking. Every beat of every rhythm, every note of every melody, and every effect of every track are all the result of meticulous calculations by one of the most inspired artists in the music industry today.

"Alex's wide range of backgrounds and his perfectionism make him an outstanding Producer. He somehow always manages to put his mark on every production he does but never tries to overpower the artist's uniqueness or take away from their sound," explains Stitt. "He's a skilled arranger, instrumentals and writer and is always open for new ideas and genres. I think the wide range of different production he's already done speak for themselves to show his versatility and skills as a producer." 

Music touches the lives of more people each day than any other artistic medium, just as it's done for thousands of years across every corner of the globe. To the ancient Greeks, the god of music and the god of medicine were one and the same — a testament to the belief that just as medicine heals the body, music cures what ails the soul. That philosophy remains as apt today as it did millenia ago. Musicians like Alex Winter pour their sadness, joy, anger and longings into songs that speak to and soothe those same feelings within all of us, and that makes us all just a little bit less alone and more connected. 

(*Photo Caption: Ben Stitt (left) and Alex Winter (right) shot by Johannes Baumer)

Editorial NOTE: This article is categorized under Opinion Section. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of merinews.com. In case you have a opposing view, please click here to share the same in the comments section.
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