Celebrated music producer and Royal Conservatory alumnus Greg Wells won a Grammy Award – his first – on February 10, 2019. He received the award for his production work on the soundtrack to the film The Greatest Showman. The recording was the top-selling album of 2018.
“It really is that movie moment where they announce your name and you get this euphoric blast,” Wells said in an interview for The Canadian Press. Despite having been nominated twice before – including once for Katy Perry’s blockbuster album Teenage Dream – he wasn’t confident of his chances.
“It doesn’t feel like a real thing,” he added, evidently still surprised.
For more than 20 years, Wells has applied his talents as a songwriter, producer, mixer, and instrumentalist to a wide range of pop, rock, and country albums that have sold more than 120 million copies around the world and been streamed billions of times.
Wells attributes his ability to work with artists ranging from Celine Dion to Kid Cudi and from Ariana Grande to Keith Urban to his production philosophy. He believes in guiding artists rather than imposing a sound on them. “For me, the goal is to shine the best light on the artist...and help them be as true to themselves as possible,” he explains on his website. “I’m more the basketball coach than the player.”
The Peterborough, Ontario native also credits his diverse music education for his success. Wells developed a classical foundation at The Royal Conservatory, where he studied piano, pipe organ, orchestral percussion, and music theory. As a teenager, he developed an obsession with learning rock music and taught himself guitar and bass. He would go on to study jazz at Humber College. “That has given me a toolbox where I can do a lot of different things,” Wells explained to the magazine Music Connection.
Wells also points to persistence as one of the critical elements of a successful music career. “Persistence trumps everything—genius, education, talent,” he stated to Modern Drummer magazine.
For him, as for many musicians, the path to success began with many setbacks. “Most of my career didn’t make any money for anybody, including me,” Wells said. “Years and years of making mistakes—but paying attention.”
Wells also pointed out the importance of remaining open to any opportunity. “You can never tell how one thing leads to the next,” he noted. “Sometimes it’s just one more skip of the stone, and sometimes it’s fifteen more circuitous twists and turns.”
Ultimately, Wells says, music is a lifetime commitment, and one that requires a lifetime of learning. He uses the analogy of a conductor to illustrate his point. “A classical conductor plays a number of instruments very well, [even though] when they’re in front of the orchestra they’re not playing anything. That’s how they got the gig—by being experts.”