If anyone takes the time to get to know me and learn about what I love, they will quickly find out it is music. In almost ALL of my blogs, I discuss how music has been an instrumental and integral part of my whole life. From my days of shaving lines in my eyebrows to look like the rapper Big Daddy Kane, to my years working in the major label sector and everything in between. Music has always been one of the biggest parts of my life.
Both my source of inspiration and my cause of frustration. I have been fortunate to be able to make a living working in the music industry. It has been the only career I have ever had. Plus music has been one of the main things I spend most of my income on! My girlfriend, actually everyone I know can attest to the fact that I spend most of my extra money on either making music, buying instruments, or just going to one of the last few record stores left and buying actual physical copies of music. In all of this, one of the things I am most proud of is the music I have produced. Some of it has been released to both critical and commercial success, and other recordings never saw the light of day (thank god some of those didn’t!). My days of trying to be the front man of the next rock band that has groupies waiting back stage are probably gone. That is probably a good thing. But my days of making great music with artists who want to share their art with the world are still ahead of me. There are very few things more rewarding in life than working with an emerging artist and producing their debut album. Seeing the look in their eyes and the big smile on their face when they finally start to see their dream of making that first record actually come to reality is a fantastic feeling.
With technology today, everyone thinks since they have a home recording studio and know how to push record, then they are a producer. Not so fast! That is like saying you are Stephen Spielberg because you film movies on your iPhone or iPad. I mean come on, really?? I am by no means saying that you cannot make a great album at home. But producing a quality album that can compete in today’s ultra competitive market place is different. I learned from my years working at Capitol Records in Capitol Studios that making a great album is much more than just getting a great recording. Many people can record something great, but my approach includes many more aspects.
A couple of years ago I met an extraordinary artist named Simon. He was formerly the front man and guitarist in a pretty successful LA band during the late 1990’s up until the mid 2000’s. When I started working with him, he just came back to playing music more seriously after a hiatus, where he kind of stepped away from actively pursuing a career in music. When we started working together, he had a ton of songs and decided he wanted to try to take another crack at music. We initially started working together when Simon connected with a mutual friend for some marketing and branding for his music career. Our mutual friend recommended Simon to contact me to have his music professionally recorded. Simon had been working with a pretty well known engineer who previously was one of the famed rap producer Dr. Dre’s staff personal engineers.
Simon was unhappy with the recordings he made with this celebrated engineer, and wanted to find someone who can help him capture the essence of who he is as an artist, while challenging him and elevating him to be a better artist. Every artist wants to get great recordings of their best music. But a great artist wants to break new ground with their music, and put together something that could stand the test of time. That is what Simon wanted.
Simon and I met over a late lunch one day. During lunch, we instantly bonded over our tastes in music, sound, and goals for where we saw each other in the music business. We decided to make an album together. What unfolded was a series of false starts to recording. One of my approaches to making an album with an artist is to sift through all the songs they have, and find the ones that are the best. While also motivating them to continue to write music. Then once we get a solid list of what we think are strongest songs, re-work then and fine-tune them prior to rehearsing them with a band or recordings. Simon, being the prolific songwriter he is, had well over 150 songs. Going through each and every one of them ended up being a very time consuming and labor-intensive process. Unfortunately, this approach made us lose steam. We would work together for a month or so, then drift away from each other, to eventually reconnect some months later. This happened a few times. The breaks were a combination of either one of us becoming too distracted with life, or me just telling Simon to keep writing cause I felt his best material was ahead of him. After a series of these start and stops, Simon and I finally reconnected this past summer, and decided to finally choose a good chunk of songs and commit to fine tuning them. Like the old saying goes, timing is everything! This time around it has been fantastic and we are both ready for the challenge. We committed to meeting a few nights a week to work, with each of us having assignments and work to do in between the meetings.
When we first begun working together, Simon had a band. A group of a few great musicians, but the problem was they were players who were more interested in partying then committing to making a great record. Which despite what I assumed years back, are two different things. Currently we have a great lineup of musicians who we are working with, but most of the work we are doing is just Simon and I. We have access to a killer pre-production studio, with great gear and instruments. Our focus has been to essentially demo the songs ourselves, using both live instruments and midi programming for drums, loops and synths. This gives us the luxury of fine-tuning the songs as best as possible so that once we finally get into consistent full-fledged rehearsals with the whole band, we will have the core of what songs will sound like. We are dialing in on making the song structures tighter, unique and compelling arrangement, and dynamics for each songs. Doing this work prior to the recording sessions, allows us the flexibility to spend less time in areas where we are paying a higher cost (like studios, musician rates, etc.), working out the basics of structure and arrangement. This will create an environment where the band has some time to experiment and add their personal flair and touches to each song once we are in the studio, instead of focusing on learning the songs. In the old days, all this was done in the recording studio, but that was when the music industry had bigger budgets. Working on a limited budget, I have learned to be resourceful, and get everything ready to go before entering into a studio. This gives me the luxury to use more of the budget toward better studios, musicians, and mixing. Instead of what many people do now which is spend more time in a cheaper studio working everything out as they go, but sacrificing getting the best recording possible because of the higher cause of the cost of better studios. I would rather work everything out prior to that point, and then get into the best studio we can afford, with a tight band, and song arrangements down.
In early August of this year, Simon brought to me a really heartfelt song that touched on a deeply personal experience he had endured earlier this year, during our last hiatus. The song was about halfway done, but still needed some development. We spent the last month working out different arrangements and ideas, but were both not completely satisfied with what we were getting. So, Thursday night Simon and I convened at Amp Rehearsal in North Hollywood to try and tackle the song. We locked ourselves in the rehearsal studio and went to work. After many hours of working out ideas, we came up with what we both KNEW was absolutely phenomenal. I have say, we have not recorded the final take yet, but I cannot remember a song I felt so good about in this early of a stage. Many times after trying several attempts at a certain idea, when we finally got it down, I would getting goose bumps and the hair on the back of my neck would stand. If that doesn’t reassure you that you making something special with an amazing and artist, I don’t know what else would.
I look forward to the road ahead with this project. Ya, there is a lot of work ahead, but I know if I can get the best songs worked out prior to recording, then everything else will seem easier. Remember, without the songs, you have nothing! It always starts with songs. All producers have their own approach, just like I have a unique way of bringing out the best an artist, or as my former mentor the great Richard Perry used to say, “your job is to elevate an artist to their highest level.” Some producers will pick up the guitar and play exactly what they want you to play. Or tell you the exact notes to play. I sometimes will do that, but more often I give you hints as to where I want the song or part to go. I give hints and point toward the direction I want you to go. My theory is that in your journey trying to figure out what I want you play or what I hear in a certain spot, you will open doors of creativity and other ideas that are way more profound then I could have imagined.
I am fortunate to be working with an amazing artist who has one of the most unsurpassed vocal abilities, and musical talent to convey exactly what he is feeling emotionally with the melodies he sings, and the fantastic songs he writes. My job is to highlight that, and bring out the best in his performance and the songs. I think so far I am doing a good job at it. But, nothing I do would work without an amazing artist who has the unique ability to challenge both he and myself to bring our best. That is the essence of making great music. That is why I do this…to make something special…and to create something that will outlast my days on this earth.