“I Wanna Be a ‘Producer’”

I am a big music nerd. I love to hear the stories behind songs, the details of recording sessions. I want to know what was tried and abandoned, what difficulties were encountered, what was accidental and what was hard-fought until it was right.

I have a tremendous respect for producers. Even as a kid, I loved reading the liner notes of albums, learning who the producers were. My ears perk up at names like Bob Ezrin, Andy Johns, Glyn Johns, Bob Rock, Mutt Lange, Rick Rubin, Ken Caillat, Keith Olsen, Jimmy Miller, George Martin, Phil Spector, Alan Parsons, Brian Wilson, Andrew Loog Oldham, Sam Phillips.

Which brings me to my concern. As brilliant as it sometimes can be, there is one aspect of hip-hop and other sample-dependent music that grates at me: the careless use of the word “Producer.”

To me, a producer like the ones I listed above, is someone who gets the job done. He takes the ideas and notions that a band brings in, at whatever level of completeness they come through the door, and ushers them to fruition. He makes the trains run on time. He watches the budget. But more than anything, he brings an incredible amount of knowledge and creativity to bear in getting a sound to tape.

The producer, working with a good engineer, knows where and how to set microphones. He knows how to place instruments in a room. He knows how to isolate and blend. He knows when to switch out a speaker or an amp tube. He knows what cables to use, which strings to change, and how sound waves interact.

But he also knows about how chords are built, how notes interact between instruments, how a chorus is constructed and how a solo is brought into play. he often plays multiple instruments himself, sometimes better than the band members.

He is an engineer and a musician, but one who has to deny his own ego so that sometimes-lesser stars can shine. He caters to them, cajoles them, votes with them, and puts up with tons of crap. In the end, it is he, often more than any other single person in the room, who gets the lightning into the bottle.

When it is all done, when those songs sail off into immortality, he can rest in the pride and confidence that he did good work here.

And then some cut-and-paste jockey comes along, snips out some pieces of his work, loops them, raps over it, and calls himself the “producer.”

A startling example of this is the song “Butterfly” by the band Crazy Town. The song went number one in multiple countries. Most of the song was a looped sample of a Red Hot Chili Peppers song called “Pretty Little Ditty” from the RHCP album “Mother’s Milk.”

Thanks to copyright laws, all four RHCP members were given credit as writers, and rightly so. But producers of the Crazy Town song were listed only as Bret “Epic” Mazur (one of the Crazy Town rappers) and Josh Abraham.

Josh Abraham later produced for Limp Bizkit, Staind, Velvet Revolver, Pink, Carly Rae Jepsen, Kelly Clarkson, and many more. He is no doubt a good producer. That’s not what bugs me. What bugs me is the name that is mentioned nowhere on Crazy Town’s album.

Michael Beinhorn. Who is Michael Beinhorn? He’s the guy who produced “Pretty Little Ditty” and every other song on “Mother’s Milk.” He’s the guy who set up the mics, rode the faders, contributed to the arrangements, spent more time with recording that song than the band itself — the guy who gets the credit for making the sample that Crazy Town ripped, looped, and blathered over sound good enough to be worth stealing in the first place.

“Mother’s Milk” was one of Michael Beinhorn’s first production credits. Since then, he has done production for Violent Femmes, Soul Asylum, Aerosmith, Social Distortion, Ozzy Osbourne, hole, Marilyn Manson, Korn, Fuel, Black Label Society, and many more. But he has no credit for anything by Crazy Town. Yet, without him, it wouldn’t be there.

This whole travesty gets far worse when some “producer” lines up some “beats” and rip-off “loops” for a rapper, then walks onto a stage the next year to accept an award as “Producer of the Year.”

Kanye West gets to catch reflected glory from Paul McCartney by admitting that he used a bit of Paul’s tune in his own song “All Day.” But not mentioned (other than by law in the liner notes) is Kanye’s sampling of Jamaican singer Noel Ellis’ song “Dance With Me.” And you’ll find no mention whatsoever of Jerry Brown, the man who got “Dance With Me” to tape in the studio back in 1983.

So who is credited on Kanye’s “All Day”?

Songwriting – Kanye West, Paul McCartney, Tyler Bryant, Kendrick Lamar, Karim Kharbouch, Ernest Brown, Cydel Young, Victor Mensah, Allan Kyariga, Mike Dean, Che Pope, Noah Goldstein, Allen Ritter, Mario Winans, Charles Njapa, Malik Yusef Jones, Patrick Reynolds, Rennard East, Noel Ellis

Production – Kanye West, Puff Daddy, French Montana, Velous, Charlie Heat

Co-production – Mike Dean, Noah Goldstein

Additional production – Plain Pat, Travis Scott, Allen Ritter, Mario Winans, Leroy Twist

It took that many people to write and produce this one song? Dave Grohl did Foo Fighters’ first album by himself with one other producer!

Yet, in all that list, Jerry Brown does not appear. Thanks for nothin’, Jerry.

The next time some hip-hop producer wins an award for producing an album, he should have to bring every real producer on whose shoulders he is standing up to the stage with him. The awards organization should be prepared to hand out as many award statuettes as it takes to cover all the samples that producer leaned on to make that album. The number can and does get ridiculous.

“Bust a Move” sampled five different songs.

“Nuthin’ but a ‘G’ Thang” sampled five different songs.

“99 Problems” sampled six songs, including an Ice-T tune that itself sampled five.

And no honest discussion about sampling would be complete without demanding that Billy Squier and Eddy Offord be invited to every hop-hop awards show until the day they die. Billy Squier’s “The Big Beat” has been sampled in 219 songs. Squier will get songwriter credit, thanks. But producer Eddy Offord gets no love.

So feel free to call them Producers. But there should be an acknowledgement on every album and in every awards ceremony of who did the real magic on those songs. Far too many of these cut-and-paste artists would have no idea how to mic a set of drums. (45)

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Where You Find It

When I was a kid, the music I listened to came from one of two sources:

1) Local radio stations. We didn’t live near any big cities, not even Lexington. We did get one station from Knoxville, WOKI, that back then played what would now be called “classic rock.” The DJs were live and some of the evening patter was fun. But most of what I heard was from a local AM station called WYGO. They did a mix of pop, pop/country, and “soft rock.” Nothing cutting-edge at all. At least I got Casey Kasem once a week to keep me educated on Top 40. I knew Michael Jackson, Hall & Oates, Journey.

2) My mom’s records. Mom ordered vinyl from Columbia House. We’d get these cardboard-wrapped packages at home every month or two. Mom’s collection contained Kenny Rogers, Bob Segar, Crystal Gayle, Anne Murray, The Carpenters, ABBA, Donna Summer, all “safe” stuff.

Years later, we moved to an even more isolated town by Lake Cumberland. On a really good day, you might get WKQQ (back at 98.1), which meant more “classic rock”. The only college station was WUKY, and they did not play the “rock and roots” mix they play now. It was jazz, and not the good Miles Davis stuff. It was The Rippingtons and the rest of that noodly stuff. Depressing.

The first time I remember being enthused about radio was when Georgetown College launched a station that played some good stuff. That was short-lived, sorry to say. Eventually WUKY got on board with some decent material. But that’s it.

Thank God for the Internet. I have pretty much ignored terrestrial radio for years. Occasionally I’ll be in the car and listen to WUKY, when they’re not playing some Lucinda Williams wannabe. I like Lucinda Williams, but not the knockoffs.

My #1 go-to for several years now has been Foo Fighters. They just feel real. More on that in the weeks to come.

I like recommendations from others, but I ain’t turning my Spotify feed to Facebook on and getting in that mess. I ask for fresh stuff occasionally, but it mostly ends up being WUKY’s stuff that people think is cutting edge.

So I cast about, looking. Anytime I hear something that grabs my ear, I fire up SoundHound and find the track on Spotify. Sometimes I am surprised at what I end up digging. Like right now, I am listening to Lana Del Rey. I almost feel like I should apologize, but I like this Ultraviolence album.

I have been tracking back into some 1980s punk, local bands from metropolitan areas, Canadian stuff — certainly nothing Top 40. Stuff like Scream, Nomeansno, Hüsker Dü. Then last night I ended up listening to several Bee Gees tracks, analyzing song structures.

I’m in the middle of a project right now, but I think I need to dig into some fresh stuff soon. And I want to cast a little farther afield, too. And maybe even backward. There is a treasure trove of stuff from the past that I never got to hear. I’m sure I could stay busy for a while.

But first, I finish all the stuff on this whiteboard.

“I guess you’re stuck in the Habitrail.” – DG, FF

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Up Against The Wall

You ever notice how many enormous enterprises are started in someone’s garage? Somehow I managed to end up with a really big garage. I don’t do much in the way of handyman work or repair. I have a few tools, but I don’t need much. I wasn’t about to go out and buy a bunch of tools and stuff just to fill this area.

What I really needed was an office. So I decided to section off the back of this big ol’ space and have myself some room to work.

I stumbled on an idea that nearly kept me awake I loved it so much. After a few trips to Lowe’s and some real questionable structure finagling, I ended up with this. An office wall that is 20 feet wide, ceiling to floor, and entirely whiteboard!

The ADHD kid inside me has been ecstatic. I have drawn out calendars, mind maps, lists galore. My boys get grammar and math lessons out here. Zuh writes Tolkein-inspired scripts at the big table in this room.

I am seriously fantasizing at getting a cheap projector I can run my Macbook screen through and project spreadsheets, grids, and all manner of nerdiness onto this wall, ready to be marked up with dry erase markers.

And then there are the projects, like the one outlined here. I don’t have a heck of a lot of time left to get this one in the can. I really shouldn’t be taking the time to post this, but my poor page has lain fallow for so long.

Back to the grind. If you can call this a grind.

“Ain’t that the way it always starts?” – DG, FF

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