We are honored and privileged to post this interview with music producer extraordinaire Dan Workman. Dan is the President and co-owner of SugarHill Recording Studios in Houston, TX. A list of his credits would take up an entire post on it’s own but I encourage you to read more about him at his official biography here.
Dan also played his signature Casio SK-1 as well as various guitar bits on our song Listen To What’s Missing.
Do you ever listen to the CD’s you produced after the fact?
There are a very few that I have never listened to,…. not even once, but those are the rare exception. Some of them I listen to for weeks after they are finished. Some, I need a break from to listen to enjoy,…usually about 6 months. Back in the old days when I was mixing without automation, I could not listen to the songs without rehearsing the mix moves in my head! I’d dream those damn mixes, which really screwed with my enjoyment of the music!
What’s the most challenging thing about producing a record?
Hands down, the most challenging thing is to make the song the best it can be before you go into the studio. Make sure the story is great, the lyrics are economical and tight, and that the arrangement and performances are as good as humanly possible. That list really boils down to getting a great performance of a great song. Being able to facilitate that is a job that is unique with each project.
What are some of the things you’d like to see artists be more prepared for before going into the studio?
Write a killer song. KILL ME with how good it is. Most of us (me included) write songs that we like to perform,… that have a cool part in them that really sends us over the edge. While that is fine and good, a song writer and performer has to write and perform FOR THE AUDIENCE. You have to be able to totally captivate the audience with the song. It’s for them, not for us.
What’s been the most rewarding thing about being in the Recording Academy?
The connections. Once I got off my high horse, and started socializing and volunteering in the Academy, I met and became friends with people I would have NEVER had access to. Now I sit on the P&E Steering committee with my heroes: Sylvia Massy, Ed Cherney, Chuck Ainley, Phil Ramone, Nathanial Kunkle. These people consider me their peer. WTF!!!!!
Do you prefer natural acoustics when possible or post-recording effects?
Loves me some natural acoustics,… but that’s no surprise since I’m paying for the real estate at SugarHill to have incredible natural acoustics. While I also love my TL Space convolution reverbs, there is something so organic about a natural space. I can tell you that I have learned how the outside temperature and humidity affect the sounds in Studio A and B at SugarHill. So much so, that I mic things up differently in the Winter as opposed to the Summer.
Do you ever experiment with the recording medium itself?
Sure. I recorded a (Southern) Backtones guitar part on a portable cassette deck while pushing on the capstan with an eraser to make it wobble. I’ve sent signal backwards–in through the headphones output–on a 1970′s motorola receiver. My latest fun is to create crazy signal chains with the Casio SK-1
Any producer heroes?
George Martin, Tom Dowd, Nigel Godrich, Mark Trombino (mid-90′s Jimmy Eat World).
What’s the biggest thing you’d like to see happen in the Houston music community?
I want to see a badass Tejano Band open a punk rock show and see 500 punk rockers totally dig on it. Houston’s strength in the music world is our diversity. If we collectively put down our iPads long enough to venture out, I think that killer variety shows are the future. Screw waiting 2 hours to see your favorite band play for an 45 minutes. My idea of a good time is to see four or five bands play their finest for 20 minutes each, back to back.
What recording artist (living or passed) would be your dream to produce?
Well, some of them are dead. , I think that I would like to produce the world’s most accessible noise band, whoever that is. I’d also really like to take Two Star Symphony to the next level. Sh-t, how about 5 more levels,… That band captivates me. As for identifiable artists, I’d consider giving a body part to work with Imogene Heap.
Where do you see the music industry being in the next 5 years?
We’re experiencing a die-back in the business caused by two somewhat interrelated events: 1) commercial music became controlled and marketed by corporate entities who were beholden to stock holders and boards of directors, and their musical decisions sucked. Bigtime. So we got contrived mainstream acts that create music that is just lubricant for your day instead of art that is changing your life. 2) We are living in an age where we have not yet developed the discipline and methodology to find a balance between free digital distribution and paying for content.
We are going to mature past both of these barriers,.. I’m just not so sure how long it will take. In the meantime, there will be killer musicians, writing and performing and selling to smaller, but more loyal fan bases, which is fine by me. It is hard to see the dream downsized a bit, but I promise you, if you write soul-stirring music that defines the times, and your performances captivate an ever-increasing audience, then you will have a WONDERFUL career. You just might not own your own jet.
Any living musical artists you would still get star-struck by?
(Paul) McCartney. Almost sh-t a brick standing close to him. Thom York. If Jeff Tweedy would just take a f–king shower, I’d love to hang with him.
What do you consider your best strength as a producer?
Communication. I love music, and I’m a decent musician. I can figure out the grammar and vocabulary to talk and inspire almost anyone. I recently realized that I really love being a musician, and I love the company of musicians in general. When I help a performer to do his or her best, I feel like I played the part myself, hence my ‘musical reward center’ gets totally lit up by my work through others.
What’s the biggest “wow look what I did!” moment you’ve had while producing a record?
Tracking Beyonce‘s (Destiny’s Child) Bootylicious. I knew that song was a hit after we got the first hook down. I said to myself, “If I don’t f–k up my part of this, we are making history right this moment!”, and I was right.
Probably more important are the many, many times that I have been totally blown away by a performance or mix. I never tire of seeing the work come together. My biggest triumph, really, is always the most recent record I have finished–I give my all to each project I take.
If George Martin and Phil Spector got in a fistfight who do you think would win?
Martin would take that punk down. Spector would be crying like a baby, and Martin would be sayin’ “Now THAT’S a wall of sound!”
Dan Workman elsewhere on the web:
Listen to Listen To What’s Missing
Download the song for free here. Download the stems for remixing here.
Listen To What’s Missing
To what’s missing
Listen very closely
I’ll whisper in your ear
Listen very closely
To the words you long to hear
Listen To What’s Missing by Wayside Drive is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License.
(c) 2010 Jeremy Osborn and Natalie Osborn
Produced by Jeremy Osborn
Mastered by Allen Corneau at ES Mastering
Jeremy Osborn: Vox, Synths, Guitars, Programming
Natalie Osborn: Vox, Bass Guitar
Kevin Robinson: Drums, percussion
Dan Workman: SK1, Guitar, misc loopings