©2011 Master Seven. All rights reserved.
Interview with Marco Delmar
Master Seven Interview by Tom Beninate
Copy Editor: Susan Castellano
Let’s take the fun one (if there is a fun one) first. Let’s take the one where somebody wants to make a hit record.

What you want to do as much as possible is to find out what their vision is. A producer’s role is to enable the artist to take their vision and make it accessible to people who … are not necessarily familiar with this artist and somehow grab their attention. That’s always the more difficult thing. Each individual artist is unique…. So you try to find the little things about them that are unique to their personality…. For example, an artist like Lady Gaga (whose music isn’t that different) has a unique approach. Everything about her that can possibly be different from anybody else is really highlighted. It’s the same thing with Marilyn Manson…. He has found this is where he can make himself as unique as possible. His delivery, his lyrics and so on are unique. The thing a producer needs to do is to try to help an artist focus on what it is they do that only they do or they do particularly well…. If you don’t do something that is a little bit different, people will turn off; and then you’re not going to get beyond this stage.

Where does the ability of the artist to write a good song fit into this equation?

Well, that’s a huge part of the equation. You have to be a good writer if you want to be a writer. You have to be a great singer if you want to be a singer. It’s a given to me that if somebody is putting themselves out as a writer, they have the ability to write good songs. If you don’t have the ability to write good songs, well, that’s pretty much the Holy Grail in this business. You have to have something that is memorable - that you’ll want to walk away humming, if you will. It has to be something that catches people and that has a hook. As the producer, your job is to find those hooks and really make them big. You need to make them obvious and make the arrangements point towards those hooks and make them come out so that people will remember them. And make sure that they are simple enough so that people do remember them and think of the song. It could be something as silly as a certain kind of a clap - a little ear candy can do the trick. The song has to be saying something that people care about, that people can relate to, but is simple enough so that they don’t have to think about it too much.

When you advise a client that their song needs a hook, can they go out and write one? Do they get the concept?

There is no steadfast rule there. They are all a little bit different. More than anything else they need focusing. I’m a songwriter…. Songwriting is essentially putting an emotion to music. Therefore your latest song is always the best one you’ve ever written.

(Laughing) Yes, it is!

(Laughing) … Since the artist is so emotionally invested in their own music … you want to give them the objective reaction: This works, that doesn’t really work. Part of that has to do with understanding what the artist is trying to say. Each song has to have an emotional communication…. You can pretty much get it down to a single emotion that made you want to write the song in the first place…. Often it is just a matter of helping the artist find that (emotion)…. To them it’s just a natural thing for them to just write. Then you can … (ask), “What did you mean by this song?” (And they may say), “I meant it to be melancholy.” (My response would be), “Let’s focus on that and this is how the listener feels when they hear it.”
Marco, I’m sure you can instantly identify which song or songs are key within the bunch of songs that an artist brings in to record. Does the artist also get that correct?

That’s a good question. I’d say it’s usually about 50/50 at best. In a band situation, you might find that not the writer per se but the other members of the band usually have a better perspective of what songs really work or don’t. Again, for the writer, they are all his or her babies. Each one is as precious as the other one. It’s very hard to have that perspective. (Laughing)

(Laughing) Well, for your own writing, do you find that you can be objective? Or, that all of your songs are your babies?

Oh, everyone is the best one I’ve ever written. (Laughing)


(Laughing) OK.

(Laughing) I mean there are certainly some songs that I think are going to be more commercially viable. You know there are some songs that are easier to identify with. So yes, a big part of what I do is to help people with their repertoire. You try to get a two or three to one ratio. So if you want a ten song record it’s good to come with somewhere between 20 and 30 songs. If you have twelve songs I usually suggest you do an EP. There are ones that seem to have the clearest message. I love “Paint it Black” and I love “Satisfaction” from the Rolling Stones. There is no doubt that “Satisfaction” to me has the clearest message. I give them my impression of it and whatever song they concur with, we’ll go ahead and record. If there is a song that they feel extremely strongly about, I always record it because often they are right and it’s their way of defining who they are and who their audience is. An artist has to have fairly large elbow room there or prerogative, if you will, to define what song they want to put out to people.

Earlier, you mentioned people that would come to you to record music that might not have commercial implications. Why would someone do this?

Well, I wouldn’t dare say that someone is not interested in selling their music, because they are. You are absolutely right. Why bother. The question is whether or not that is the first criteria…. If the first criteria is to create a unique form of music, a growth of the genre of the art, and then make it successful commercially, it’s just a different approach. All artists want people to buy their music.

So you are referring to something like Kraftwerk or Tangerine Dream where the labels did not anticipate their commercial success.

Exactly. They never really hit big. A band like Pink Floyd comes to mind. They put out two or three records that were likable but they certainly weren’t commercial. It wasn’t until they came out with “Money” that they had something that could actually go on the radio. Whereas you have a band like Led Zeppelin, using the same time period, whose first record was purely a commercial record. That was strictly to get them on the radio, even though they didn’t write most of the material. The Beatles were definitely: “Let’s first hit radio, and then we’ll worry about Sgt. Pepper.” Marilyn Manson (on the other hand) didn’t come out to try to be commercially successful. He first wanted to do something then … make it somewhat commercially successful.
How important is establishing the right tempo before recording, even if that means nudging the speed by one or two beats per minute?

Generally speaking, I lean towards what is the most comfortable tempo for it to be sung. This may not be necessarily the most comfortable tempo for the drummer or the keyboard player. I usually have the singer sing it with their guitar player or even a cappella. I ask, “Which one feels the best to you?” Then we will start there. From that point on it’s a matter of does the speed of the way you are delivering the lyrics lend itself to bringing you into the music or pushing you away. A producer has to give the artist that perspective and certainly tempo is a big part of it. I wouldn’t say it is any more important than arrangement or anything like that.

I guess that would also include how comfortable the singer is in phasing the lyrics.

Right. That’s what I mean. Are the words coming at me and I am having a hard time deciphering them or are they easily being understood without me having to think about it. People that are listening to music are generally not thinking. They are generally feeling. And you want them to do that. If they have to concentrate intellectually to try to understand what you are saying, then music tends to lose its hold on you. If you listen to “Subterranean Homesick Blues” by Bob Dylan, you’ll hear tons of words, one after the other, but I never found myself trying to figure out what they were. They just hit you. You may not intellectually understand everything that he is saying, but you get the point. If it was any slower it would be weird. You wouldn’t move to the music.

From a producer’s perspective, how is today’s hit music different than the hit music of the 60s and 70s?

A couple of things. First of all, I want to say that this is a very exciting time for producers because they have really been given a ton of freedom…. Now, a lot of artists have got ways of putting themselves out there and making themselves successful because of the Internet as far as downloads and so on that they didn’t have access to before. In that respect it has gotten quite interesting and much more exciting. As far as how pop music relates today to what it did then, I think the formula is still the same, which by the way is a good and a bad thing. When you look at some of the more popular groups like Katy Perry and Lady Gaga, their whole approach is passionate, emotional, and sexually driven music over a back beat. That is something you can dance to, like the Supremes. That has not changed. There is a reason why the 60s, 70s, and 80s music gets kids jumping up and down, just like it did back then. It can be very primal. Rock and roll and R&B are very primal art forms. It’s hard to listen to “Billie Jean” and not find yourself tapping your foot, whether it’s the 80s or today. People still listen to that and say, “I want to sound like that.” The first time my daughter heard “And I Love Her” she said, “Oh, are these guys playing around soon?” She was five years old.
Marco Delmar is the former guitar player for the Elektrics, a New York-based band which recorded two records on the Capitol label. For the past nine years, he has been voted Producer of the Year by the Washington Area Music Association (WAMA) and has also won Studio Engineer of the Year four times. Marco currently produces and engineers projects at many top recording studios in the Washington, DC area including his own studio, Recording Arts. He has an impressive client base of national, local, and regional acts.
In Quincy Jones’s recent book, Q on Producing, he talks about making the artist comfortable and “spreading the love.”

That is huge. I think humor is a big part of it. You have to make them realize that it is supposed to be fun. Yes, you need a certain serious aspect to it. I can hear when records feel like work and I can hear when records are fun to make. I read an interview recently with Geoff Emerick who said that the song that really made the Beatles huge was “She Loves You.” And he said that was the most fun song he ever recorded. For some reason there was a bunch of teenage girls inside the building. You can hear the joy in the song. So I think it is important for people to come to the studio and enjoy the process. One of the most common things people say to me is that if you cannot have fun playing music, when do you have fun?

Was that from Geoff’s book Here, There and Everywhere?

Yes.


What are some approaches to get a nervous artist to relax in the studio?

You have to make them feel that they can fail and that they shouldn’t be too careful when they are playing music. They have to go back to the root of what made them want to do this in the first place. (Don’t sit) there scrutinizing their every little note and every little thing that they do. (Don’t) expect them to make hits every single second. (Approaches) change from artist to artist. It may be as simple as saying, “Let’s have some food, everybody relax.” Or, “Let’s play some different records off the clock.” More than anything else it’s on the human level. Some (producers) have this sense that they have to put on certain airs (but this) really freaks out artists. Artists are very sensitive. When they feel that you are putting on any kind of airs, they get very defensive. I was with the band The Elektrics, who got signed to Capitol to work with some really great producers. The thing that shocked me was how regular and down to earth … these guys were. These guys just finished doing The River with Bruce Springsteen and the next record they were working on was with Sting. They would ask me, “Well, what do you think Marco?” I said, “I don’t know. You’re the ones with the ten gold records.” We went into the hallway of this big huge skyscraper to play Frisbee, talk about music, and just relax. They said, “This is your music and your art. We’re just here to help it.” These were the top guys. In retrospect, they knew right away that we were totally uptight. One thing that I noticed about a lot of these engineers that tend to flow to the top - they are low-key, humoristic types of guys. They are not sitting there trying to prove how cool they are. They are there to show that you are cool. Let’s make a good record and have some fun.

What can artists expect from you and your engineers when they go to your studio, Recording Arts?

We tend to run a very low-key affair. We have a lot of low lighting. We have a lot of toys. We keep it very comfortable and “living roomish” if you will. It’s nice and clean. Of course we have all of the material and equipment and so on. They are not walking into the starship Enterprise. They have a sense of walking into a very regular atmosphere. I never hire engineers that are the hyperactive kind or the Machiavellian type that can’t wait to make it big … precisely because they don’t make the artists comfortable. The artists are the ones who have their emotions on their sleeve. They are the ones that are exposing themselves…. You don’t pass judgment. You don’t sit there and throw your nose at them. You also have to have a great deal of compassion for their efforts and for what they are trying to do. It’s not easy. It’s very difficult. You don’t make a ton of money. You have to like to be around musicians and artists. They sense that. They feel that right away.

How does your job differ when you produce for an artist that is new to recording versus an artist that knows a little about producing yet comes to you for your professional guidance?

Quite frankly, the more the artist knows, the better it is. They won’t come to me if they knew more than me. If they didn’t appreciate that I have a perspective that they can’t have and that I have experience they haven’t had then they wouldn’t bother being here. I think that is usually a help now that people have home studios and have done a few records because then you can cut to the chase. You don’t have to … explain (about) click track…. They are like, “Oh yeah, we know.” They have been through some of the pitfalls. Sometimes they have ideas you haven’t had. I’m always open to the ideas that will contribute to my knowledge base. I’m likely to soak as much from them as they are to soak from me. The more experience they’ve got the better the record is going to be. That said, when you get people who have never done this at all, the caveat is you get people who bring a totally fresh perspective and are not jaded in the least. If you can get them to just come in and relax you can make some interesting stuff as well. That’s also the reason why people who have done this a lot come to people like me because they are tired of worrying about the levels and this and that. They just want to come in and play.

Is there anything else that you would like to add?

Basically, you can be successful doing this but you have to like artists. You have to like the artistic process. You have to enjoy their company and enjoy helping them do something that they wouldn’t normally be able to do. It’s not what they can do for you but what you can do for them.

Marco, I really appreciate your time today.

It’s been a pleasure.




Check Marco Delmar’s availability for your project at Recording Arts:
http://www.recordarts.com

April 4, 2011
Recording Arts website:
recordarts.com

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What are the key roles and responsibilities of a modern day producer?

Are you referring to musical responsibilities or business responsibilities?


Well, let’s talk about your musical responsibilities for an artist who comes to your studio, Recording Arts, and wants you to both produce and record their CD.

People come to me ostensibly for the musical production and then of course they are trying to further their careers. Sometimes they are somewhat exclusive from each other. I do work with some very talented people who are trying different things in music that they know are not going to be commercially successful, but would help them expand their vision and their ability to create something that is new and fresh. That role is a little bit different than when I have somebody come to me and say, “Okay, I want you to take my music and make it commercially successful.”
How receptive are artists to the notion of adding arrangements to their music, whether it means them playing different parts or adding parts that they don’t play such as brass or strings?

First you have to get the artists’ ideas and you have to give them the freedom to put their ideas down – knowing that you can change things…. Usually they are very receptive. If it is a certain part of the song that has drama, you add certain sounds or an additional guitar part that would help that cause. I’m not the kind of producer that will take it upon myself to say, “Here’s what I think you should do. This maybe is what you tried to do but I think that is wrong.” I know some people do that. I don’t go along with that. It is important that artists describe what their intentions are and then you help them reach their goals…. Sometimes you can end up with some variations that are greatly different from what they intended or originally thought of. Solo artists are much more flexible that way. With solo artists you pretty much have the whole entire orchestra to choose from. It is a whole different approach with bands. The first thing you want to do is capture their energy. That is the one thing that a band brings that is unique. Then add to that energy and the dynamic that they are trying to perform … by using arrangements.
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So then a producer has to tailor their guidance around the artists’ objectives.

Yeah. You want to try to nudge them in that direction because you know that ultimately one of the reasons they come to a producer is for help creating something artistic that is also going to be accessible to people that want to buy it. The artists we are talking about are those that need to be artistic first, then you can guide them towards commercial reality. Then there are others who approach it from the point that they want to be commercially successful and then you have to help them expand their artistic reach. If you don’t have both you are either going to be a flash in the pan or you’re not going to really hit. If you have both then you can have a career that will have meaning because the world will come … to get something that is unique.
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How much structural guidance, such as adding a bridge or modifying the chord progression, do you suggest to your artists?

Quite a bit. The biggest contribution a producer adds to the process is to give the artist an objective first-time listener perspective from the beginning to the end. And so naturally, (what is) certainly involved in that process is the idea of, “What if we add a modulation? What if we add a chorus? What if we add a bridge?” Try a lot of different things. The artist understands what they are trying to say. But sometimes the first-time listener doesn’t understand. You really need to create options for the artist rather than saying, “You must do this.” Because then you are holding back creativity.
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