A Music Production Forum at NAMM, Hot Zone 1.25.13
Forger (Michael Jackson, Simon Lynge)
Mark (Mooka) Rennick, Prairie
Sun Recording Studio, Cotati, CA
Shepperd (Take 6, Whitney Houston)
Brad Lunde, TransAudio
Moderated by Claris Sayadian-Dodge of studioexpresso.com
Panelists Brad Lunde, Matt Forger, Tony Shepperd
and Mooka Rennick for Studio Expresso.
An Article by Matt Forger
I was excited
when asked to participate on a panel discussion at the Winter NAMM
show in Anaheim, California. NAMM, National Association of Music
Merchants, is a trade show for the manufacturers and distributors
of musical instruments, equipment, and all things that relate to
the retail music business. It's an event attended by 100,000 participants,
mostly professionals in the biz, but also some fans that are lucky
enough to score a hard to come by pass. I told myself that I wanted
whatever subject we spoke about, to be meaningful and engaging,
not just boring, dry, technical talk.
The panel I was part of, was on the subject of music production,
titled "Mixing With Masters". Claris Sayadian-Dodge, who
runs the company Studio Expresso, a networking hub of production
professionals, had invited me. She also manages recording producers
and promotes recording studios and manufacturers of high quality
gear. We had four panel members; Brad Lunde, president of TransAudio
Group, a distributor of High End Pro Audio, who is very knowledgeable
in professional studio practices. Mooka Rennick, owner of Prairie
Sun Recording Studio in Northern California is also an engineer/producer
who has worked with Grammy winning artists. Tony Shepperd, an engineer
and producer very active with great credits and a good speaking
presence, and myself, engineer/producer who, as I explained at the
event, prefers to be called a facilitator of the recording process.
Claris the moderator skipped between us asking questions about gear,
studios, trends and styles of working, in a very relaxed way. We
were the second panel that was scheduled for that afternoon in what
was called "The Hot Zone" (Hands On Technology) which
provided a variety of speaking events on topics of music related
Brad spoke about Billy Woodman owner of ATC speakers who refuses
to compromise in any way that would affect the quality of his company's
product. No compromise is acceptable to increase profits, sonic
quality is his number one concern in designing the ATC monitor speakers.
Definition and clarity to the highest professional standards are
paramount. They were used for playback during the panel and the
sound was excellent.
Mooka was asked
about his studio and he spoke on the experience of Tom Waits working
at Prairie Sun Recording. Tom's "Mule Variations" album
was recorded at the studio by engineer Jacquire King and mixed by
Oz Fritz and Jacquire King. Mooka spoke of Tom's focus on the emotion
of the music and his desire to have a spontaneous and fresh sound
on the album. He said that Tom would check on how the mix was progressing
after just a few hours of work and if he didn't feel the vibe, he
would tell everyone to take a break and resume work the next day
with a fresh approach. To him the feeling of the track was the most
important quality and he didn't view the mixing process as a mechanical
exercise. At the 2000 Grammy ceremonies he received the award for
Best Contemporary Folk Album, proving his instincts were correct.
Tony, the other
engineer was asked to play a track he had worked on. It was a female
R&B artist, Sheléa, performing a good pop rendition in
a big band style. She could really sing. It was top notch. It also
happened to be on his label, Breath Of Life Records and was recorded
at his studio. He told the story of how the track was sent to Stevie
Wonder on his request and Stevie referred her to WETA (the Washington
DC public broadcasting station) producers. She was chosen to perform
at the presentation of the Gershwin Award to Burt Bacharach and
Hal David at the White House. A great story of how sometimes timing
works and things fall into place.
The first track I was asked to play was from the Michael Jackson
BAD 25 album project. It was a previously unreleased demo called
"Don't Be Messin' Round". I explained the process of putting
together elements from three different multitrack versions of the
song to create the finished product, while strictly adhering to
the edict that nothing later than 1987 could be used in the mix.
That is to say, no newly recorded elements, just ones that Michael
had personally overseen could be used, in an effort to be authentic
to the era and Michael's idea of how the song should sound.
As the event proceeded I was asked my opinion of many art and technology
issues and I stressed that music is about emotion, feeling and soul.
It's a form of communication from the heart and embodies the spirit
of creativity that is best executed not as a cerebral exercise,
but as an organic living expression of emotion. For one of the first
times in my public speaking career I felt that I had an audience
that completely got what I was referring to. They were all music
people, they understood the vibe and groove of how music comes together
when the conditions are right and when the energy coalesces, the
I was asked to play the second track that I had brought. It was
from the other end of the spectrum, not a world famous artist, but
by a songwriter who I admire for his ability and talent and who's
had a degree of success with accomplished artists recording his
songs. In this case he was the performer of his own composition.
The song was titled "Buddy Holly", a biographical telling
of his life from the standpoint of his music and inner feelings.
The track began with a drum loop that led into guitar chords and
as the audience listened I sensed an interest in what was a new
sound for them. Then the vocal in a half spoken, half sung manner
described who Buddy Holly was and what his feelings were, about
his own music, as if telepathically interpreted by the artist, Larry
John McNally. Of course, I've heard the song a thousand times and
knew the words by heart as they rang out in the room with a clarity
and purpose that enthralled all who were listening. The guitar built
in intensity to the chorus "Yeah, yeah
Second verse, the audience was drawn in by the story, transfixed
with the telling of an insight into a figure in music they all knew,
but were hearing new revelations about. Another chorus, "Yeah,
yeah yeah." I was feeling the rhythm of the music
carry the listeners to the next verse, as if hypnotized, including
the moderator. We had only listened to brief excerpts of the other
tracks but she too wanted to hear more of the unfolding story. The
audience was transfixed. The panel members were moving their bodies
to the beat. Every face had an intense look of wonderment, hearing
something new and not knowing what was unfolding but enjoying the
moment of revelation. Finally a sense of needing to continue with
the discussion took over and I immediately explained how Larry and
I had worked, taking his song demos and with the technology of Pro-Tools
we had crafted an absolute masterpiece, editing, overdubbing, layering
performances from his friends working in their own studios, and
mixing a heartfelt tribute to an early genius of the popular song.
I explained that everything I did in production and engineering
was to serve the purpose of fully realizing the potential of the
song. There was no higher purpose or goal to my work, only to serve
the music as best I could. I mentioned that Quincy Jones always
said, "You leave your ego at the door," and if the nurturing
and guidance of the team that has come to that special place, melds
into a single spiritual moment of beauty, then you have created
that which transcends our physical world and touches someone's heart.
A young woman in the seventh row testified, "I hear you brother,
I'm with you," her hand in the air. Smiles were across all
the faces of the audience. They knew. They spoke the unspoken language
of the ether. They understood the voodoo of the unknown. It was
a moment in which I realized that I had found what I was looking
for, a purpose, a realization that people want to know, they want
to be reassured, that it is possible to cross the bridge into the
realm of understanding, the why and the how it happens, and that,
yes, it can happen to them if they just try. Try harder. Study more.
Work, practice and listen to all that they can, and never give up
learning that you need talent and have to work your butt off to
achieve your goal.
It was for me,
a day I will always remember.
After a warm reception on the panel, I received some feedback and
I'm including a few of the emails here:
fantastic on the HotZone mix panel
I have tremendous respect for you and everyone on our panel. Your
self-expression was not only understood but felt by everyone in
the room. I had positive feedback by panelists and the audience.
See you soon!
studioexpresso l C Artists
pleasure to share a panel with you and thank you for the email.
I was quite impressed with you, as its not often you meet those
who have accomplished much but have not lost their kind natures.
Your work is iconic, a rare achievement in this world. I am always
struck how efforts like yours will live on for many generations-as
those in the future will wonder just how on earth you captured magic
in the bottle. Congratulations on work that has no time limit.
Thank you so much for the invite to the event. You were awesome!
Loved the stories. You should consider writing a book and including
a good portion of your untold stories.
experience !!! I love your soul level. I loved your mixes
and your work!!
may be crazy but our resolve to get it right and with integrity
will never change.
All The Best
your writing back; your panel, and your comments about music from
the heart in particular, still the best part of NAMM for me this
If you are open
to brief conversation about enabling the art to come out, let me
I thank you
for your long contributions to our joy in the world. All the best.
And on this article:
captured exactly what was going on in the room that day and eloquently
put it into words. Reading this, I felt just like I did when I was
experiencing it live. Well done.
Forger Matt at-a-glance: Michael Jackson,
Donna Summer, Paul McCartney, Patti Austin, Missing Persons, Michael
McDonald, James Ingram, Siedah Garrett, Quincy Jones, Steven Spielberg,
John Landis, George Lucas, Francis Ford Coppola, Giorgio Moroder,
Larry John McNally, George Duke, Patrick O'Hearn, Gilberto Gil,
Simon Lynge, Rod Temperton, Bruce Swedien. It has been pointed out
that there is no "Matt Forger sound" because his skill
lies in letting the artist's true nature emerge through the recording
process. Therefore, artists can count on Matt to let their vision
burst forth without the coloration of extraneous points of view.
"I am here to bring out the greatness in you," he states.
Matt Forger is frequently quoted in "Man in the Music: The
Creative Life and Work of Michael Jackson" by Joseph Vogel,
published by Sterling Press. Forger was among the interviewed on
the 25th anniversary of Michael Jackson's infamous Spike Lee directed
video (seen on TV last Thanksgiving).
Thank You Sponosrs!
Group, the premier distributor of high-end recording gear to
the US and Worldwide. TransAudio helps the industrys inventors
build a business through product development working with top level
end users and selling to the trade. TransAudio product lines include
the best of the best: A-Designs
Loudspeakers (UK), Bock
Audio (USA), Chameleon
Labs (USA), Geoffrey
Daking & Co (USA) Drawmer
Massenburg Labs (GML USA), SoundField
Microphones (UK) and Tube-Tech
(Denmark) to name a few
at HotZone 2012: l-r: Brent
Fischer, Jay Kaufman of Kaufman
& Associates, Greg
Claris Sayadian-Dodge, president studioexpresso.com,
Schwartz, Brad Lunde, president TransAudio
# # #
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