Tag Archives: Producer

Al Schmitt, Legendary Engineer, Passes at 91

Los Angeles, CA (April 27, 2021) — Al Schmitt, arguably the most successful recording engineer ever, died Monday, April 26, at the age of 91. Over the course of a 70-plus-year career, Schmitt worked with multiple generations of music superstars, capturing some of the best-known songs and albums of his lifetime. The recipient of 20 Grammy Awards, Schmitt also won two Latin Grammys and a Recording Academy Lifetime Achievement Award, was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (the first ever for an engineer), and had more than 160 Gold and Platinum recordings to his credit. Just some of the artists Schmitt worked with included Frank Sinatra, Henry Mancini, Paul McCartney, Barbra Streisand, Dr. Dre, Lady Gaga, Bob Dylan, Sam Cooke, Toto, Diana Krall, Steely Dan, Luis Miguel, Norah Jones, George Benson, Natalie Cole, Quincy Jones, Jackson Browne, Neil Young, Tony Bennett, Bing Crosby, The Andrews Sisters and Jefferson Airplane.

Born in New York City, Schmitt grew up around recording, often visiting his uncle’s facility in Manhattan, Harry Smith Recording, as a child. With that influence, it was unsurprising that after serving in the US Navy, he became apprentice engineer at 19, working under producer Tom Dowd at Apex Recording in NYC. Learning on the job, Schmitt was only entrusted with recording the occasional demo acetate until Duke Ellington and his big band—which included greats like Billy Strayhorn and Johnny Hodges—showed up unexpectedly to record on a quiet weekend in 1949. As the only engineer on hand, Schmitt tried to make the most of the eight inputs available, setting up mics using sketchy placement diagrams he’d hastily drawn while assisting on other sessions. He told Ellington “I’m not qualified” so often that eventually the jazz great had to calmly reassure him that he could do it.

Al Schmitt engineered some of the Peter Gunn soundtrack
Al Schmitt recorded the small combo tracks on the famed Peter Gunn soundtrack, paving the way for an extensive run of recording Henry Mancini soundtracks

After moving around New York studios for nearly a decade, Schmitt headed west to Los Angeles in 1958, initially working at Radio Recorders in Hollywood, where he first collaborated with Henry Mancini, recording small combo tracks on the composer’s 1959 The Music from Peter Gunn soundtrack. It was the start of a fruitful working relationship, as Schmitt went on to record numerous Mancini soundtracks, including Mr. Lucky, Charade, Breakfast at Tiffany’s (for which he got a Grammy nomination) and Hatari, which landed Schmitt his first Grammy Award.

Schmitt moved to RCA as a staff engineer in 1963 and was soon promoted to staff producer. While there, he produced the likes of Sam Cooke, Eddie Fisher, Ann-Margaret and Jefferson Airplane among others, but the endless 16-hour days and lack of support from upper management led to him quitting in 1966 to go independent. Over the next few years, he continued to produce Jefferson Airplane and added Jackson Browne, Neil Young, Al Jarreau and others to his discography, but found he missed engineering, as union rules of the era forbade producers from touching the console. As the 1970s wore on, he returned to mostly engineering, which he greatly preferred.

Al Schmitt Grammy Award for Aja
The 1977 Grammy Award for Best Engineered Recording (Non-Classical) went to Al Schmitt, Roger Nichols, Elliot Scheiner and Bill Schnee for Steely Dan’s “Aja”

It wasn’t a bad career decision—during the 1970s and 80s, Schmitt won a slew of Grammys for his work engineering George Benson’s Breezin’; Steely Dan’s staple Aja and stand-alone single “FM (No Static At All)”; and Toto’s comeback album, Toto IV. In the decades that followed, he would take home Grammys for work on multiple Diana Krall albums; Natalie Cole’s Unforgettable…with Love; albums with Quincy Jones, Luis Miguel, Chick Corea and Dee Dee Bridgewater; a pair of Grammys for Paul McCartney’s Kisses on the Bottom; and a jaw-dropping five trophies for Ray Charles’s 2004 album, Genius Loves Company.

In 2014, Schmitt was honored by the Hollywood Walk of Fame with his own star, located outside the iconic Capitol Records building—home to Capitol Studios, where he spent countless hours recording over the decades. In the mid-2000s, Schmitt was a founding member of METAlliance, a group of top engineers who regularly hold recording workshops around the globe; Schmitt often shared his insights and knowledge with Pro Sound News readers through the METAlliance’s recurring column.

In 2018, he teamed with Maureen Droney, managing director of the Recording Academy’s Producers & Engineers Wing, to write his autobiography, Al Schmitt On the Record: The Magic Behind the Music, which shared not only much of his technical knowledge and wild recording session tales, but also career advice on what’s required on a personal level to stay at the top of one’s game for decades. Earlier this year, he collaborated with software company Leapwing to release a signature Leapwing Al Schmitt Signature plug-in.

At press time, the cause of Schmitt’s death is undisclosed, but a Facebook memorial page has been created in his name. His family released a statement April 27, noting,

“Al Schmitt’s wife Lisa, his five children, eight grandchildren, and five great grandchildren would like his friends and extended recording industry family to know that he passed away Monday afternoon, April 26. The world has lost a much loved and respected extraordinary individual, who led an extraordinary life. The most honored and awarded recording producer/engineer of all time, his parting words at any speaking engagement were, “Please be kind to all living things.”

Loved and admired by his recording colleagues, and by the countless artists he worked with, from Jefferson Airplane, Sam Cooke, Ray Charles, Neil Young, Paul McCartney, Diana Krall, Dr. John, Natalie Cole and Jackson Browne to Bob Dylan—and so many more—Al will be sorely missed. He was a man who loved deeply, and the friendships, love and admiration he received in return enriched his life and truly mattered to him. A light has dimmed in the world, but we all learned so much from him in his time on earth, and are so very grateful to have known him.

Original Resource is ProSoundNetwork.com

Legendary Metal Producer/Engineer Michael Wagener Retires

Michael Wagener - WireWorld Studio - Eve Audio
Michael Wagener in his studio, WireWorld 2.0, in an undated promotional photo for Eve Audio. Eve Audio

Nashville, TN (April 26, 2021)—Michael Wagener, the ears behind some of the biggest albums in metal history, announced his retirement Sunday, April 25—his 70th birthday. More than 90 million albums sold feature his name in the credits, as he worked with the biggest names in hard rock and heavy metal, including Metallica, Poison, Megadeth, Ozzy Osbourne, Skid Row, X, Mötley Crüe, Great White, Plasmatics, White Lion, Alice Cooper, Extreme, Dokken, Stryper, W.A.S.P., Overkill, .45 Grave, Accept, Testament, Helloween, Keel and more, as well as artists in other genres such as Janet Jackson and Muriel Anderson.

Taking to Facebook to make the announcement, Wagener wrote,

I have now been active in the music business for over 50 years and I think it’s time to retire and get out and catch up on some vacations. I have sold the studio and Double Trouble Productions does no longer exist as an official company.

I had an amazing time and met a ton of wonderful people and I am thankful for having been able to work with such great musicians and create such wonderful music.

Now it’s time to see some more of the world.

This site will eventually disappear. No more mixes, productions and workshops. The studio has been sold and except for some guitars, amps and minimal studio gear there is not much left here.

I want to thank you all for allowing me to live a great life and to do what I love. I am looking at a future of lots of traveling; it has been a great trip so far.

As a teenager in Germany, Wagener was the first guitarist for the band that would eventually become Accept, but had to quit when he was drafted into the army at 18. In 1972, he began working for a Hamburg, Germany company called Stramp that produced equipment for studios and stage use; during that time, he earned a degree in electronics engineering. By the late 1970s, he had built a 16-track studio in Hamburg, Tennessee Tonstudio, where he learned studio production and maintenance. While there, he met American guitarist Don Dokken, who was touring Germany at the time, and the two became fast friends. When the self-named group Dokken was signed two years later, Wagener produced its first album, Breaking The Chains, which went gold in the U.S.

With that success, Wagener became busy over the next few years primarily as an engineer and mix engineer, as the then-burgeoning metal movement exploded. He teamed with lifelong friend and leader of Accept, Udo Dirkschneider, to form a production company, Double Trouble Productions, and during that time, also mixed debut albums for Mötley Crüe and Great White. With the U.S. hungry for metal, Wagener moved to Los Angeles in 1984, soon producing X’s Ain’t Love Grand and Stryper’s Soliders Under Command.

Yes, Even Guitars

Over the ensuing years, he mixed noted albums like Metallica’s Master of Puppets, Megadeth’s So Far, So Good…So What, Ozzy Osbourne’s No More Tears and Poison’s debut, Look What The Cat Dragged In. Meanwhile, he took on the producer mantel for Skid Row’s triple-platinum self-titled debut, Alice Cooper’s Raise Your Fist and Yell, Extreme’s commercial breakthrough Pornograffitti, Warrant’s Dog Eat Dog and others, while also netting a top-10 single with Janet Jackson’s pop-metal track, “Black Cat.”

While continuing to work with hard rock and metal acts throughout his career, Wagener moved to Nashville in 1996 and built his own digital recording facility, WireWorld Studio, which evolved to become a fully digital 5.1 surround production facility.

Original Resource is ProSoundNetwork.com

Bob Porter, Noted Jazz Producer/Radio Host, Passes at 80

Bob Porter
Bob Porter WBGO

New Jersey (April 22, 2021)—Bob Porter, who made his mark on jazz as a reissue producer and syndicated blues, soul, jazz and R&B radio DJ on NPR, died April 10 of esophageal cancer. Over the years, Porter was nominated for five Grammy Awards and won two, recognizing just some of his efforts across a career that saw him involved in the creation of hundreds of jazz and blues albums.

Born June 20, 1940 in Wellesley, MA, Porter made his mark across jazz and blues with his archival work for a number of labels, overseeing compilations and reissues, first for the Prestige label in the Sixties, then later for Savoy Records (1975-1980) and Atlantic Records (1986-1991). Curating and re-contextualizing the work of then-underappreciated artists who would come to be acclaimed by ensuing generations, Porter often chose which artists’ work to reintroduce to new audiences, arguably creating a blueprint as to how history now regards the mid-20th Century oeuvre of both genres.

Rapper/Producer Shock G, AKA ‘Humpty Hump,’ Dead at 57

As part of his reissue work, Porter wrote liner notes for hundreds of albums for numerous labels—an effort that was rewarded when he won his first Grammy in 1980 for his commentary that accompanied The Complete Charlie Parker on Savoy. Six years later, he took home his second trophy, for best historical album, as the reissue producer of the mammoth box set, Atlantic Rhythm and Blues 1947-1974, Vols. 1-7. An archivist at heart, Porter discovered while compiling the set that numerous masters had been lost in a fire, so he tracked down pristine original pressings to preserve the music and expose it to a wider audience through the project.

Porter’s career as a producer was not solely defined by reissues, however. Over the decades, he produced more than 170 jazz and blues albums, working with artists like Illinois Jacquet and Big Joe Turner. Porter also served nine times as the governor of the New York chapter of NARAS (today known as the Recording Academy), and additionally a member of the nominating committee of the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame.

Despite these industry efforts, Porter likely was best-known for proselytizing on behalf of jazz and the blues in mass media. Beyond writing liner notes, he wrote for Jazz Times, Down Beat, Cash Box and others; blogged at his own site, Jazzetc.net, authored the book Soul Jazz: A History of jazz in the Black Community-1945-1975, and most prominently spent 40 years in radio, hosting syndicated radio shows such as Keeping The Blues Alive (for which he won a WC Handy Award in 1986), Saturday Morning Function, Portraits in Blue, Beale Street Caravan and more.

Original Resource is ProSoundNetwork.com

Rapper/Producer Shock G, AKA ‘Humpty Hump,’ Dead at 57

Shock G / Gregory Jacobs
Digital Underground rapper/producer Gregory Jacobs, AKA “Humpty Hump” (left) and the group’s then-roadie/dancer Tupac Shakur performing at Indianapolis’ Market Square Arena in July, 1990. Raymond Boyd / Getty Images

Tampa, FL (April 22, 2021)—Rapper/producer Gregory Jacobs, best-known as the frontman for Nineties hip-hop act Digital Underground, died Thursday of unknown causes. While he had the stage name Shock G, Jacobs used a variety of characters in his music over the years, most notably Humpty Hump, a guise in which he performed the group’s comic hit, “The Humpty Dance,” which went to 11 on Billboard’s Hot 100 in 1990.

Originally born in Brooklyn, NY, Jacobs became fascinated with music early on, learning to play a variety of instruments; he additionally worked as a radio DJ while in high school—a job he claimed he was fired from for playing the full 15-minute version of Funkadelic’s “(Not Just) Knee Deep” on-air.

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While working in an Oakland, CA music store in 1987, he teamed up with drummer Jimi Dright who he had sold a passel of recording gear to. Soon Jacobs was Shock G, Dright was Chopmaster J, and the pair released an indie single as Digital Underground, “Underwater Rimes,” which led to them signing with Tommy Boy Records. Jacobs produced “The Humpty Dance” and other hits of the act, including “Same Song,” which gave a feature to the group’s roadie and backup dancer, a young Tupac Shakur, marking his first appearance as a rapper.

Digital Underground continued in various forms over the next 20 years, but during that time, Jacobs also worked with other artists, producing a number of Shakur tracks, including his first hit (which Jacobs also guested on), “I Get Around.” Jacobs went on to produce acts like Bobby Brown, Saafir, Murs and Brand Nubian, and additionally did production and remixes for Prince (“Love Sign” from the Crystal Ball box set) and Monie Love.

According to TMZ, Jacobs was found Thursday, April 21, in a Tampa, FL hotel room and there were no signs of foul play. An autopsy is pending.

Original Resource is ProSoundNetwork.com

German Rap Producer Juh-Dee Outfits New Studio

German Rap Producer Juh-Dee
German Rap Producer Juh-Dee

Natick, MA (March 5, 2021)—Having reached the top of the charts numerous times in 2020 working with various German rap stars, platinum-certified composer and producer Juh-Dee has opened a well-appointed studio in Duisburg, Germany.

Juh-Dee, who started DJing at parties as a youngster, soon started making music himself, which brought him into the orbit of emerging German rap stars, including Farid Bang, Manuellsen, KC Rebell and Summer Cem. “The first time I made it to number one with a single was actually in 2020. That was with the song ‘90-60-111’ from Shirin David, and that was a great feeling,” he says. “Then with Apache, we were three weeks at number one, and that song was replaced at number one by another Apache song that we produced. And the next tune after that also went straight to the top spot.”

Tools for the Personal Studio 2021

His preference for studio monitoring has always been large, wall-mounted main monitors, so his new facility sports Genelec 1234 Smart Active Monitors. “In a great studio, there has to be speakers in the wall,” Juh-Dee insists. “I did my first mixes here and I was really surprised at how ‘real’ the 1234s sound, even at high volume. Having heard my first mixes, I realized what made the difference. You can hear clearly the whole frequency spectrum and the tweeters are really nice! They don’t bite; they are really honest. That was important for me.”

The 1234s are complemented by a 7370 subwoofer. “I usually use the subwoofer when I’m working on deep 808s, for example, so I can really hear the whole spectrum down to 20 Hz and I can absolutely hear if they sound okay, or if there’s any strange frequencies going on,” he says.

But while Juh-Dee loves the high-SPL energy of his main monitoring system, his 8331 coaxial three-way nearfields from Genelec’s The Ones series allow him to dial things down when he needs to. “I use The Ones to double-check things at a lower volume, so when I don’t need the full blast of the big 1234s, they are really good for details.

“Also, when I’m mixing for too long with too much volume, I use the 8331s — and I can also easily control them using Genelec’s GLM software. It’s super-easy to quickly dial-in changes, tweak the frequency response, change the volume, and do adjustments.”

Genelec • www.genelec.com

Original Resource is ProSoundNetwork.com

Peek Inside Hitmaker Taio Cruz’s Home Studio

Taio Cruz's Beverly Hills mansion
Taio Cruz’s Beverly Hills mansion, complete with home studio looking out on to the pink hot tub. Keller Williams Beach Cities

Producer and singer/songwriter Taio Cruz put his Beverly Hills, CA mansion on the market in early March, 2021, asking $8.5 million for the five-bedroom, 5,691-square-foot compound built in 1955. While the real estate listing shows off the house’s vaulted ceilings and chef’s kitchen, let’s take a closer look at what really matters—Taio Cruz’s home studio.

Cruz had a string of international hits in 2009 and 2010, including a pair of U.S. number ones, with “Dynamite” and “Break Your Heart.” While he’s still releasing albums, in recent times, Cruz has spent a lot of time writing tracks performed by other acts, including Jennifer Lopez, David Guetta, Usher, Ludacris, Lil Wayne, Nick Jonas, Olly Murs, Cheryl Cole, McFly and others. No doubt, a few of those songs came to life in his home studio.

Taio Cruz's home studio.
Taio Cruz’s home studio. Keller Williams Beach Cities

One of the coolest things about this room is the table, because it tells a story. Sure, it’s a nice, big space to work on, but look at its edges—the paint is worn away, chipped and accidentally scraped off over time, because this is a real work room, not just a bit of showmanship for when guests come over. Despite how tidy the room is for photos (and one of the overhead LED lights is out, by the way), clearly a lot of time has been spent here, dragging songs kicking and screaming into existence.

Studio Monitors

Dominating the well-soundproofed room are a massive pair of PMC MB2S XBD Studio Monitors, towering over everything else. Right beneath them are another pair of loudspeakers—in this case, they’re ADAM Audio S3X-H Horizontal Active Nearfield/Midfield Monitors.

The PMC monitors dominate taio cruz's home studio
The PMC monitors dominate the room. Keller Williams Beach Cities

Table Top

At the center of the table space is an ultrawide-class Benq monitor, sitting behind a Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S49 Mk2 Keyboard Controller. To the left sits a wireless phone and both a PreSonus Monitor Station V2 Desktop Monitor Controller and an Apple MacBook laptop. Right next to them on a Lucite stand is an Ableton Push 2 MIDI Pad Controller. Meanwhile, on the right side of the table sits another MacBook, and just behind that is a MacMini.

Home Studios of the Rich and Famous: The Complete ‘Peek Inside’ Series

Below the Table

Under the table on the left in a rack hangs a Samson S-Patch Plus 48-Point Balanced Patchbay, while the power gear lying on the floor between the two racks includes a pair of APC AV Black 1.5 kVA H-Type Power Conditioners.

The right-side rack has some interesting equipment in its grasp, too. At the top is a Universal Audio 1176LN Classic Limiting Amplifier, while beneath it sits a Chandler Limited TG 2 Pre Amp/DI. The next RU down holds an Apogee Electronics Ensemble Thunderbolt Audio Recording Interface, placed just above an Avalon Design VT-737sp Channel Strip. The lowest spot is taken by a dbx 286s Channel Strip with De-Esser.

taio cruz's home studio
A Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol A61 Keyboard Controller and a Kawai VPC1 digital piano are kept close by.

There’s no knowing what the microphone might be behind that pop filter, but the two keyboards on the right are a Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol A61 Keyboard Controller atop a Kawai VPC1 digital piano.

 

Elsewhere

ADAM Audio monitors seem to be the speakers of choice for Cruz. In the small hallway leading into the studio, there’s a Pioneer DJ rig with yet another MacBook, bookended by ADAM Audio T7V 7-inch Powered Studio Monitors, with two pairs of Roland’s V-Moda brand headphones casually placed atop them. Elsewhere in the house is a spare bedroom with its own small recording setup—another ultrawide monitor, a PC of some description, a Focusrite Scarlett interface…and more ADAM Audio T7Vs.

Even a spare bedroom gets used as a secondary recording space.

Cruz bought the property in 2012 for $4.05 million, and it has plenty to offer the next occupant—five bedrooms, views overlooking Los Angeles, floor-to-ceiling glass doors, a guest suite in its own wing, massage room, private gym, and right outside the studio, an infinity pool, hot tub and cabana. No doubt the next owner will also benefit from the good vibes from all the creative work that happened in that home studio as well.

Original Resource is ProSoundNetwork.com

Graphic Nature Audio Relocates

Will Putney’s Graphic Nature Audio recording studio is relocating to a rural property in Kinnelon, NJ.
Will Putney’s Graphic Nature Audio recording studio is relocating to a rural property in Kinnelon, NJ.

Kinnelon, NJ (February 19, 2021)—Will Putney’s Graphic Nature Audio recording studio is relocating from its current home in Belleville, NJ to a larger, rural property about 20 miles west in Kinnelon. Putney, a metal/hardcore producer/engineer, mixer and musician has worked with bands such as Every Time I Die, Body Count, Knocked Loose, The Amity Affliction, Stray From The Path, Counterparts, Terror and Northlane

Putney has long mixed using a hybrid setup: “I would mix out into pieces of gear that I’ve collected over the years and sum everything together back into the computer. The setup ended up getting more and more complicated. Over time I was basically building a console piecemeal, with different summing mixers, and creating ways to do parallel sends and analog-style routing to get to my compressors and EQs.

Getting Heavy with Will Putney

As a result, the new facility is centered around a newly installed 32-channel SSL Origin analog in-line mixing console, acquired from Vintage King.“ I decided that if I could find something streamlined enough that would give me the routing functions that I want and without too many components, and that had a small enough footprint, I would probably be better suited to working on something like that,” he said.

Putney's new facility is centered around an SSL Origin  console.
Putney’s new facility is centered around an SSL Origin console.

The transition from his former multi-component workflow to the new setup incorporating the Origin has been seamless, he stated: “It all just feels super musical, and it’s fast and easy for me to get mixes going on. What I do in the computer doesn’t really change at all, so it’s business as usual; I still work how I always did.”

The complement of gear installed with the Origin mimics Putney’s previous setup and includes a pair of Amphion Two18 nearfield monitors, which he switched to several years ago, along with Universal Audio Apollo interfaces for tracking and overdubbing into his Logic Pro DAW. “We still use Pro Tools for editing,” he says, “or if I travel to another studio.”

The Origin desk has been installed in a room at the new location in Kinnelon, where the next stage of construction will begin in the coming months. “I’ve got two control rooms set up here. The goal for the future — we’ll start construction in the spring — is to do an updated version of my old drum tracking room but with a more traditional control room. That will be my A room where I can do everything — recording drums and mixing. I will be able to do an entire record there, start to finish, as opposed to working in the modular rooms in the other facility,” says Putney.

Graphic Nature Audio • www.graphicnatureaudio.com

Solid State Logic • www.solidstatelogic.com

Original Resource is ProSoundNetwork.com

Elliot Mazer, Legendary Producer/Engineer, Dead at 79

Producer Elliot Mazer in October, 1973.
Producer Elliot Mazer in October, 1973. Getty Images

New York, NY (February 10, 2021)—Legendary producer/engineer Elliot Mazer died of a heart attack in his San Francisco home on Sunday, February 7, 2021, after suffering from dementia in recent years, according to Rolling Stone. Mazer was a lifelong audio pro and inventor/entrepreneur whose interests—and their influential results—ranged well beyond the recording studio, though he remained best-known for his career-defining work with Neil Young, The Band and others. He was 79.

A producer/engineer for more than 50 years, Mazer worked with a broad cross-section of artists across a variety of genres, including Linda Ronstadt, Chubby Checker, The Dream Syndicate, Dead Kennedys, William Ackerman, Michael Hedges, Janis Joplin, Gordon Lightfoot, The Byrds, The Tubes, Y&T, David Soul, Bob Dylan, Juice Newton, Rufus Thomas, Maynard Ferguson and many more.

Born in New York City on September 5, 1941, Mazer was raised in nearby Teaneck, NJ, and got his first taste of the music business working in retail for the then-burgeoning Sam Goody record store chain. In 1962, he became acquainted with Bob Weinstock, a customer who also happened to be the founder of Prestige Records, and soon Weinstock offered the 21-year-old Mazer a runner position, tracking tapes and delivering music to radio stations. In the course of his work in Prestige’s tape library, Mazer discovered forgotten, unreleased John Coltrane tracks from a 1958 session at the famed Van Gelder Studio in Hackensack, NJ. In the intervening years, Coltrane had left the Prestige label and gone on to growing acclaim, so Mazer compiled the four tracks, which were released without the artist’s input, as the album Standard Coltrane. Soon after, the first producer credit of Elliot Mazer appeared on Dave Pike’s Bossa Nova Carnival.

Phil Spector, Producer/Murderer, Dead at 81

Throughout the early Sixties, Mazer worked with a variety of artists at Cameo-Parkway, from co-writing hits for Chubby Checker (“Hooka Tooka”) to recording the likes of Rufus Thomas and Maynard Ferguson, before moving on to work independently later in the decade. During that time, he hit the studio with the likes of Big Brother and the Holding Company, Gordon Lightfoot, Jerry Jeff Walker, Ian & Sylvia and others. His knack for recording live shows emerged during that era as well; throughout his career, Mazer would go on to capture seminal concerts by Bob Dylan, Michael Bloomfield, Lightfoot, Janis Joplin and Big Brother, It’s A Beautiful Day, Leonard Bernstein, Young and most notably, The Band’s iconic The Last Waltz.

Mazer moved to Nashville around the turn of the Seventies, where he quickly made a name for himself applying engineering techniques he had picked up recording different genres in New York City, thus offering something different from the region’s pros who had come up solely through country music. He established Quadrafonic Studios (a joke name, as it didn’t have quad capabilities), which in turn was put on the map when it became the musical birthplace of Neil Young’s landmark Harvest album.

Neil Young's Harvest
Neil Young’s Harvest, engineered and co-produced by Elliot Mazer.

The two met at a dinner party while Young was in town to appear on The Johnny Cash Show, and by the end of the evening, they’d arranged to track some songs the next day. Mazer called up some top session players—many of whom would go on to play with Young regularly through his career—and they went on to record the majority of the album at Quadrafonic. The resulting record, packed with classic rock radio staples like “Heart of Gold,” “Old Man” and “The Needle and the Damage Done,” became the biggest hit of Young’s career, going quadruple-platinum in the U.S. and becoming the top-selling album of 1972. Mazer and Young would collaborate on 10 more albums over the next 40 years.

Mazer produced and engineered throughout his career, going on to found another recording facility, His Master’s Wheels, in San Francisco, but his audio pursuits took him outside the confines of the studio as well. In the mid-Seventies, he co-developed the D-Zap, a simple device used by live sound pros to detect gear that wasn’t properly grounded, thus preventing artists and crew members from receiving dangerous, potentially fatal electric shocks.

In the late Seventies and early Eighties, Mazer was a consultant to Stanford University’s Computer Center for Research in Music and Acoustics—the team that built the first all-digital recording studio. While there, he also developed an interest in early AI technology, leading to his co-founding Artificial Intelligence Resources Inc. in the late ’80s to create AirCheck, an automated system for tracking songs’ radio airplay. Selling the company to Radio Computing Services in the Nineties, he continued AirCheck’s development through 2005. In 2011, Mazer joined the faculty of Elon University as a Visiting Distinguished Scholar in Music Technology, where he offered a series of master classes to students.

Mazer’s family has requested that all donations in his memory be given to the Recording Academy’s charity, MusiCares.

Original Resource is ProSoundNetwork.com

Phil Spector, Producer/Murderer, Dead at 81

Phil Spector
Inmate Phil Spector poses for his mugshot photo on June 5, 2009 at North Kern State Prison in Delano, California. Getty Images

Los Angeles, CA (January 20, 2021)—Producer and convicted murderer Phil Spector died in a prison hospital January 16, 2021. In his music-making prime during the early to mid-1960s, Spector created hit after hit with a rotating series of singers and session musicians, developing the Wall of Sound production method that became his trademark. While his obsessive nature aided his quest to turn simple pop songs into aural epics that exploded out of the mono transistor radios of the era, that same quality also led to severe mental illness, wrathful control issues and erratic, violent behavior that that came to a head with his 2003 murder of actress Lana Clarkson. Sentenced in 2009 to 19 years-to-life in prison, Spector contracted COVID-19 in December, 2020 and died due to complications from the virus. He was 81.

Phil Spector was born in the Bronx borough of New York City the day after Christmas in 1939; his family moved to Los Angeles when he was 14, following the suicide of his father. Forming a group, The Teddy Bears, with high school friends, Spector had his first success penning and co-performing the group’s sole hit, “To Know Him is to Love Him,” in 1958. After they broke up the following year, Spector headed back to New York City, where he became a musical jack-of-all-trades, co-writing Ben E. King’s hit, “Spanish Harlem,” and playing guitar on The Drifters’ “On Broadway.” Returning to L.A., Spector moved into record production and soon began cranking out a seemingly endless stream of hits with acts like The Crystals (“He’s A Rebel”), Darlene Love, The Ronettes (“Be My Baby”), The Righteous Brothers (“You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin'”), Ike & Tina Turner (“River Deep – Mountain High”) and more.

During this era, Spector developed his trademark “Wall of Sound” production method, often working at Gold Star Studios in Hollywood with engineer Larry Levine, arranger Jack Nitzsche and a loose-knit group of first-call session musicians nicknamed The Wrecking Crew. The dense, bombastic sound was based around a near orchestral approach—rather than use the typically sparse instrumentation of the day, a Phil Spector production would have dozens of musicians crammed into one room, with multiple instruments playing the same parts in unison to create larger, thicker tones, whether that was the same instrument—say, three guitars—or different, though related ones, such as a piano, organ and harpsichord. The thick, sometimes gummy sound was further expanded through use of echo, reverb and distortion; this, along with the fact that they were recorded live in the studio rather than multitracked piecemeal like they would be today, gave the performances an immediacy and often overpowering drive that set them apart from anything else on the charts at that time.

Spector went into semi-retirement in 1966, and married Veronica Bennett, better known as Ronnie Spector of The Ronettes in 1968, adopting a son and later surprising her by adopting twins as a Christmas present. It was, by all accounts, a cruel, abusive marriage that found Bennett and the children kept captive in Spector’s mansion, though Bennett ultimately made a late-night escape from their mansion—and marriage—in 1972. In their 1974 divorce settlement, she gave up all claim to future royalties on the Ronettes’ work and likewise gave up custody of their children—a decision she said was made because Spector threatened to have her assassinated. In the decades since, two of the children have alleged they endured sexual abuse due to Spector in the years after Bennett left.

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By this time, Spector had revived his production career, as he was hired in 1970 to assemble rough takes recorded by the Beatles into the band’s final album, 1970’s Let It Be. While it was a massive hit, Paul McCartney took issue with Spector’s heavy-handed embellishments, eventually going so far as to have the album remixed without them and released as 2003’s Let It Be…Naked. Nonetheless, Spector made inroads with the other Beatles as a result of the collection and went on to record multi-platinum albums for John Lennon (Imagine; Some Time in New York City) and George Harrison (All Things Must Pass; The Concert for Bangladesh). With Spector’s increasing unpredictability, however, both artists eventually stopped working with him. Lennon initially hired the producer for what would become 1975’s Rock ‘n’ Roll, but Spector’s heavy alcohol abuse and wild behavior like showing up to record in surgical scrubs, firing a gun into the studio ceiling, spilling whiskey into A&M Studio’s console, and ultimately kidnapping the session tapes for months at a time, led the project to be shelved for a number of years.

Spector closed out the 1970s recording poorly received albums with the Ramones and Leonard Cohen, and remained largely inactive throughout the next 20 years, sporadically working with on tracks with Yoko Ono, Starsailor and a failed collaboration with Celine Dion (Dion allegedly walked, fed up with Spector’s dithering). Spector spent much of those years in reclusion, fading from public memory, but that ended abruptly on February 3, 2003, when he shot actress Lana Clarkson in the mouth at his mansion. Barely acquaintances, Spector had invited her to his home after they met at L.A.’s House of Blues, and later claimed the death was an “accidental suicide.” Spector’s driver called 911 and quoted him in the call as saying “I think I’ve killed somebody.” After a 2007 trial ended in a hung jury, a second trial resulted in Spector’s March, 2009 conviction.

While Spector’s musical ingenuity is still admired in many quarters, his volatile actions throughout his career have long since overshadowed whatever accomplishments he achieved. He will not be missed.

Original Resource is ProSoundNetwork.com

Producing the Producer: Creating Rick Rubin’s ‘Broken Record’ Podcast

Rick Rubin, producer/podcaster
Rick Rubin, producer/podcaster

As a music producer, Rick Rubin is known for stripping away the clutter and guiding artists to focus on what they do best, whether it’s Johnny Cash’s deep baritone voice, the primal energy of Danzig’s guitar riffs or Run DMC’s iconic breakbeats. Broken Record, a podcast that fosters conversations between musicians and their audiences in the way album liner notes once did, follows the same premise by keeping the setup simple.

Broken Record producer Leah Rose.
Broken Record producer Leah Rose.

“The main focus of Broken Record is the conversation,” says Leah Rose, producer of the Pushkin Industries podcast. “Because the conversations go so deep, when you do hear the music, you hear it in an entirely new context. You might hear things that you didn’t hear before, and learning about the artist’s motivation or the backstory really adds a lot to their music.”

Producing Broken Record, which bills itself as “liner notes for the digital age,” is a bicoastal endeavor led by Rubin, co-interviewer Malcolm Gladwell and host Justin Richmond, from Shangri-La Studios in Malibu, California and Pushkin Industries’ studio in Hudson, New York. The podcast’s guest list has included Industry veterans like Bruce Springsteen and Don Was, as well as newer artists like FKA Twigs, and conversations are free-format affairs that can include playbacks of recorded music and even live, off-the-cuff performances.

In a recent episode, Rubin and artist James Blake dissected Blake’s recording and creative process, and how he often records a single vocal phrase, then stacks it and manipulates the pitch while playing along on the piano. “He lays out that entire process while he’s tinkering around on a piano during the interview, which is just really special and incredible when you hear it,” she says. “It’s like all of a sudden you have this new information to hear the song with, and it makes for an incredible experience.”

Face-to-face interviews like the one used for the Blake episode, which was recorded at Shangri-La on Neumann U87s using Neve 1073 mic preamps into an API console, are typically the most productive. [Rose says Rubin has a doctor onsite who does rapid COVID testing.] The raw audio from the Blake session clocked in at two and a half hours, giving Rose plenty of material to use when building toward the final edit.

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“With Rick, nothing is linear,” she says. “As an editor, my job is to look at the entire thing as a puzzle and figure out how the pieces fit together, [to] take something that could be completely non-linear and make it linear.”

Broken Record Artwork PushkinAs the main facilitator and producer, Rose is on standby via Zoom during recording sessions to cue up recordings for the host and guest. Many of the episodes released in the last year were recorded with the guest at home, with mixed results. Sometimes they get lucky and the artist has a world-class studio at their disposal—as was the case with Springsteen—but often Rose works directly with the guests to ensure their recording setup will be up to standards. She’s even shipped gear to some guests.

After the interview is done, Rose compiles the audio files into an edit that gets reviewed by Richmond and Mia Lobel, executive producer at Pushkin Industries. Once the edit is locked in, she sends it to engineers Jason Gambrell and Martin Gonzalez for mastering.

Producing audio on behalf of one of the most successful and enigmatic producers of his generation might intimidate some, but Rose says Rubin is hands-off for most of the process. “He trusts us,” she explains. “We take the finished product, the conversation, once it’s done and then it’s really up to us to figure out the best way to present it.”

Broken Recordhttps://brokenrecordpodcast.com

Original Resource is ProSoundNetwork.com