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All-Star Producer David Kahne

All-Star Producer David Kahne
Producer David Kahne gets candid about the state of today's record companies, and revels in relating the experience of working with Paul McCartney

The last time we spoke with producer David Kahne, he was dividing his time between performing the duties of an A&R rep at Warner Bros. and pursuing his real love, producing. Fed up with a system that signs bands based on market research rather than musical talent, Kahne recently decided to embark on his own independent journey. He jump-started this new season of creative freedom by working on Paul McCartney’s latest album, “Driving Rain.”

Kahne has produced some of biggest names in the business: Tony Bennett, Stevie Nicks, Sublime, Sugar Ray, Fishbone, K.D. Lang, and The Bangles, to name a few. He was awarded a Grammy in 1994 for producing the Album of the Year, Tony Bennett’s “MTV Unplugged.” Kahne has also produced songs for “Vanilla Sky,” “Orange County,” “The Beach,” “Clockstoppers,” and a variety of other films and television shows.

Read on as "Mix" magazine editor George Peterson interviews Kahne about the state of today’s record companies and what it’s like to work with a legend.

GEORGE PETERSON:
So why did you quit Warner Brothers? Did you not have the freedom to do what you wanted to do?

DAVID KAHNE:
I was the head of the A&R department there. I just started feeling that being the head of A&R for a record label is a sort of an outmoded job because the record companies aren't that musical anymore. That's a weird thing to say, but it’s starting to feel like we’re living in a post-musical music business. I don't say that with anger, but it really is much more of a marketing-based situation. I would be in a meeting with twenty people and I would say something pretty basic about a record and they would look at me like I was from Mars. This had happened all along, but it got to the point where I just didn’t want to do it anymore. I wanted to score films and work on records. I was still in the studio every day, but it just seemed like I was going to more and more marketing meetings. So I left, and I like it better now.

GEORGE PETERSON:
Do you think the term A&R is passé these days?

DAVID KAHNE:
Yes. I don't think most people even know what A&R stands for when they're A&R people. Again, I'm not saying that cynically. It's just as if they live chorus by chorus. Labels stay in business based on hit singles, so they release fewer and fewer records, and spend more and more money on each record. The way they pick them has so much to do with whether or not they think they can take them to places like MTV and the big radio stations where they pay all the money to play them.
It's interesting when you watch what really breaks. It's usually stuff they didn't plan on, but they rush over and that becomes the new thing. So I think that's where the power of music is. Somebody with M-Audio gear and a laptop can make a record and have a hit—it happens, you know. You start in dance clubs, you make a hip-hop record, you put it out, it blows up, and the next thing you know you get Ludacris or somebody that probably spent hardly any money at all making a really cool record.

GEORGE PETERSON:
How do you see the Internet changing the record industry?

DAVID KAHNE:
Well it has changed it already, via MP3s and the free music distribution sector. And I hope that it continues to change it because it allows music to be heard by a lot of people. In order to have a big success, I think it's still going to be a while before that can really be the sole means. But I did have a friend whose dance record took off through the Internet.

GEORGE PETERSON:
Changing subjects… so you're sitting at home and the phone rings. It's Paul McCartney, who asks you to produce his record—does that ever happen?

DAVID KAHNE:
He did call, sort of. It was weird because I had to meet him and I thought I'd have to go to London. He called and said he was in New York and he had a brownstone, so we found out when we were both going to be there and set up the meeting. I asked him the address and it was three doors down from where I live in New York! I thought he was joking. It was very cosmic.

GEORGE PETERSON:
What was it like working with him?

DAVID KAHNE:
He's a nice guy, a good musician, and a very accessible person. He's everything that you would hope that he was. He's polite, especially to people that worked at the studio. There was a guy in the studio selling old clothes and he bought a Cult T-shirt from him and put it on. When the Cult was working in there, he got his guitar and went into their session and started playing with them.

GEORGE PETERSON:
Talk about choosing the gear that you used on this record.

DAVID KAHNE:
I was just making it up as I went along, but I knew from the start I wanted it to be more analog sounding. I have an eight-track two-inch head stack that I had built for the A27's, so I recorded a lot of stuff on there and then transferred it through Apogee and into Logic. Everything was cut on tape and then bounced over.

GEORGE PETERSON:
Were you involved in the song selection process for the album?

DAVID KAHNE:
Yeah. We recorded about 25 songs and then chose the right ones. But we never heard the songs in advance. Paul just brought them in and showed us the songs. He said they did that in the Beatles. It was cool; they were good. They'd just show up in the morning and, ‘oh, here's the new song we wrote’ and a couple hours later they would have the song done. He wanted to go back to working that way. I was a little nervous about it because that meant that the first ten minutes was going to be really very scary.

GEORGE PETERSON:
When you were starting to do the overdubs and the vocals, were you cutting and pasting much?

DAVID KAHNE:
No. A lot of the vocals were live, too. There's a song called ‘Loving Flame’ that is a live vocal. He played the piano and sang it and I think I changed actually one word. We changed the orchestra arrangement so we had to change the line, but other than that, it was just a great vocal. It was different on every song. But yeah, we did overdubs and then mixed.
In a kind of a funny way, we went back through the computer and used the plug-ins in the computer for compressors. Then we went out to half-inch tape through those plug-ins, the TC Master X and the L1 and the Renaissance compressor. We just used tiny amounts of compression to bring the level up and then went to half-inch. We put the half-inch under the Alesis MasterLink—that's what I used for mastering. When we mastered, we went straight AES out into the mastering guy's hard drive.

GEORGE PETERSON:
Are you also using some traditional single processing gear?

DAVID KAHNE:
Oh yeah, I have Fairchilds and Federal limiters, Motown EQs and a bunch of stuff like that. And I also use the GigaSamplers. I have a GigaSampler setup where I have eight of the GigaSamplers with the M-Audio Delta 1010 interfaces. They're all filled with orchestra sounds. All the orchestra that you hear on the record is all through that stuff, taking direct outs from the Delta 1010s. I have about 3,500 sounds loaded up in real time of all different string sounds and so on. I have twelve different oboe players. So if one of them is drunk, I can get another one! (laughs)