User:Evan-Amos/Interviews/MarshallAltman

Interview Data
Subject: Marshall Altman
Date: May 17th, 2011
Place: Nashville/Brooklyn
Format: Via Telephone
Recorded: Yes, audio
Length: One hour, fifteen minutes

Interview TranscriptEdit

Evan Amos: How did you come to work with Matt Duke?

Marshall Altman: It was a fairly common meet-up story. My managers at Brick Wall Management had met Ruby Marchand, Matt's A&R person, and they had sent me Winter Child, which was Matt's first record, and some new demos. I listened to Winter Child, but what really got me was a demo of "I've Got Atrophy On the Brain" which ended up on Kingdom Underground. I was completely struck by how great a song it was, that and "Rabbit," that which were on the original demos.
After that, I really wanted to pursue it. I had a trip planned to New York, so my manager set up a meeting with Ruby and I went up to her office and basically told her what I thought about Matt, and how impressed I was with the lyrics and his voice. I explained what my vision would be if I had the chance to make the record. I was immediately struck by Matt and his lyrics, first and foremost by his lyrical prowess. The context of his lyrics are two-fold: there's a surface meaning, but then there's this deep undercurrent for me of rage, intelligence and questioning. Questioning faith, questioning authority, questioning humanity, questioning everything. I felt a deep affinity to all of that.
Actually, I think that the first time I heard "Atrophy" was in Ruby's office, that was it. We went and took a meeting, I hadn't heard Winter Child yet, and I was floored, that was the start of this whole thing. Then she sent me a bunch of other demos that had Rabbit and some other songs on it.
Then he came out to Los Angeles to meet with me, to see if we had chemistry, because it doesn't always work, the relationship between a producer and an artist. I've meet with people who's music I've really been into, but for some reason or another, there just wasn't that sense of connection. For me to make a record with somebody is a really big emotional investment with somebody, as it is on their part, so I always try to make sure before I get involved, that there's a potential for the relationship to grow, but to also withstand the challenges of making a record. For better or for worse, I can be a pretty challenging and demanding record producer to work with. I don't know what other record producers do or how they work, but when I think that somebody's talented, I demand a lot from them. That can be taxing on a relationship, and for some people, that's not what they want. Those aren't the records that I end up producing, I end up producing the records where the battle to make something great is alive and well. Matt was definitely one of those people.

Amos: What's an example of you pushing an artist?

Altman: It really varies. It can be a bit of difficult thing to shine a light on. I'll try to spend a lot of times talking about a lyric, than having the artist sing. That's not to say that I only have them sing once. I push people to put themselves in the place they were in when they first wrote that lyric, when that idea first came to their mind. "30 Some Days" was a big emotional experience for Matt to sing that song. It was really raw and new when we recorded the album; I don't think that it was an easy thing for him to sing. We didn't do very many takes of it, we just spent a lot of time talking about how he was feeling when he wrote that song. Starting a new relationship with a person and then having to be away from them, that's one example.
Another example, I can push really hard to make sure the song is right. When I sense that something's great, I don't really like to let them settle. It's a lyric or the lyrics, to make sure it conveys the core of the message it's supposed to, but to make sure that the artist is fully completely committed to it.
Matt Duke is an amazing singer, I think he's probably one of the best singers I've ever worked with. It's a shame that the world doesn't know how great of a singer he is, because there are some amazing performances on the CD Kingdom Underground. The new CD as well, I love his new record, but Matt's probably not the best example in regards to pushing someone on the mic, as far as them singing. Matt has a really immediate channel in order to push the feeling through. Sometimes artists don't have that. It can take a lot of energy, a lot of not singing, to get the point across.

Amos: So you're looking for emotional performances, when you're looking for that final track.

Altman: Yes, definitely. I'm not searching for the perfect vocal performance at all. I'm just searching for the right performance, in terms of emotional energy, effort and commitment. Perfection is not something that I pursue in terms of music. It's easy to get perfection: you just line everything up on the control deck. You can auto-tune anything to death, that makes it "perfect." But perfect doesn't last forever Perfect doesn't change the way people think. Perfect isn't a bookmark in someone's life. The flaws of art, in my mind anyway, are the most transcendent moments. Moments where Matt's voice breaks or if you hear his voice start to break.

Amos: Having seen Matt live, I feel that's really something that he gives himself to on stage. His live performances can be very raw.

Altman: I love that about him and the live performances. It's also that he's out there performing songs on his own, more or less every night, he can go ahead and create new challenges for himself at his own pace. His acoustic version of "Walk It Off" is one of my favorite things that he's ever done. We co-wrote that, and his solo acoustic version is just amazing. It's one of many different arrangements I'm sure he's done.

Amos: Matt switched producers midway through Winter Child due to disagreements over direction, did you guys have any battles like that over the course of Kingdom Underground?

Altman: No, not at all. I think he could sense my commitment to what I was doing. We had a strong enough relationship fairly quickly, to where it wasn't much of matter of me saying, "No, Matt, do it this way," it was more, "This is where the song's taking us, let's go." I got pushed back from him, but he also got pushed back from me, that's typically the way that I work. If somebody's sitting in their chair checking their Facebook account or playing World of Warcraft when I'm working with them, I probably wouldn't be working with them anyway. I want people who are really engaged in the process, engaged in the creation of their art, which Matt really was.

Amos: The production for Kingdom Underground was 30 days or four weeks, and I read an interview with Jonah who described a similar-length recording session with you, is this a common length for you to work? Is that a quick production?

Altman: Sometimes the production schedule is based on the budget, sometimes the production schedule is based on just getting captured quickly or aggressively as possible. With Matt's record, it was made with a small budget, so we were going to have to work quickly. Thirty days isn't a short time to make a record; great records had been made in less time. We tracked the record very, very quickly. When I say track, I mean, the way the we produced Matt's record was we recorded live, with the exception of overdubbing, a small piano part. We overdubbed all of his acoustic guitar parts, the vocals, but we cut that record in two days. The basic tracks being: drums, base, electric guitars, keys.
We cut everything in two days, which is a very aggressive, difficult, taxing schedule. We brought a band in that hadn't heard the material before and they had to learn the songs, but we were lucky on a lot of it. The songs were great, and the band got a sense of that very quickly. I think they could sense that Matt was a very talented songwriter, an artist. But they were also great players, I think that I'm lucky to not also work with great artists, but to work with great players.

Amos: The jump in production between Winter Child and Kingdom Underground was large. Did Matt come in at the beginning and tell you, "I want a real studio album out of this."

Altman: I don't think that Matt and I ever had an explicit conversation about it. I think that the songs, as a producer, I really tried to understand the artist as well as I can, understand the music as well as I can, so I just follow the songs. I think those songs demanded that kind of production. "Rabbit" is a very broken down, sparse, mostly acoustic song. I can't remember now, but I think that he really wanted to do something that was more aggressive musically. An expansion away from Winter Child. I think he wanted to expand musically, and I think that the songs really demanded it, too.

Amos: What was pre-production like?

Altman: Matt and I spent a week on pre-production, just the two of us, sketching out the newly realized versions of these songs, to have a cohesive vision to present the band with. Not a collection of demos, but something with the core feeling of the songs. To get some pure rhythmic or melodic elements that I had worked on, backing vocals, strings, something like that.

Amos: Was the album recorded in February of 2008? Does that sound right?

Altman: I think it was January. It was early 2008. Oh, we started January 2nd or 3rd. I remember I had a birthday party I went to at the end of January and Matt was there, we were pretty much done with the album at that point.

Amos: Were there any songs that were cut from the album?

Altman: Songs that we recorded but didn't put on the album? I think there were, usually we record more songs than what actually ends up on the album. Yeah, if a song doesn't fit the feel or the perspective of the album. We recorded “Ash Like Snow” but that was cut.

Amos: Having produced for Christian artists in the past, what is it like to be working on Matt's material, which can have a very different take on religion. Is it a leap?

Altman: I never really thought about that; it doesn't feel like a leap to me. I make my decisions on records that I want to pursue as a producer, not based on their secular or non-secular origins. To me it's just about the material and if it just reaches me. Matt is incredibly well versed on a religious perspective and he's very well read. At times, Matt's record can be very spiritual and has more faith in it than, for example, even some albums I've heard that have been released on the Christian market. That's my personal perspective. You can hear his personal struggle with his God in the music. But comparing it to something like Audrey Assad's record that I produced, I just see them both as products of their perspectives and talents, and my roll is just to help them create the best possible version of that.

Amos: How did you come to work with Audrey Assad?

Altman: It was a fairly typical introduction. I had made a record for an A&R guy at EMI CMG named Brad McDonald, for an artist named Bethany Dillon, who I love. I was in Nashville and Brad asked me to come up to his office to listen to an artist he was signing. She played a couple of songs and I was just struck by her voice, her writing. I thought that her writing was exceptional. We spent a little time writing, we wrote a song for her record called, "Breaking Through." It really just clicked. But it was a fairly typical situation: I was called into an office to meet an artist, they played me some songs, and I decided there if we there was something there to work on.

Amos: Not being that familiar with it personally, I would assume something like the Christian recording market would be an insular community, but it looks like it could just be knowing people and word-of-mouth as well.

Altman: I don't know. I think that it's a fairly small group of people that do what I do, or maybe say make a living doing what I do, as far as producing records. It's a small group of people, secular and Christian, making and producing records, and it's getting ever smaller, on the label side of things, obviously. It's getting bigger on the independent side of things, as that type of artist continues to grow. I never thought about it, but I think that you're right, that there would be a small group of people that would produce a large amount of Christian records. There's also a small group of people that produce a large amount of country records, of rap records, pop records. For whatever reason, I've been able to produce country records, Christian records, pop records and singer-songwriter records. I don't know if I can tell you why.

Amos: Having listened to quite a few of the records that you've produced, I feel that there could possibly be a thread or a common ground running through them.

Altman: I can probably understand that. I tend to work with a lot of first name, last name artists. Singer-songwriters for lack of a better word, whether they play guitar, piano or whatever. Some might be more rock-based, or soul-based or pop-based.

Amos: Is the reason that you left the A&R business is that you wanted to focus on producing albums full time?

Altman: I had been producing pretty actively for the last five or six years that I had been doing A&R. I had really made up my mind at the time that that was something that I wanted to be doing full time. My last job at Columbia, by the time that job ended, I was producing full time. I really felt like that was were I was supposed to be. It was a long-term goal, to just be making records full time as a producer, as opposed to being an A&R person. The thought of investing my life or time into a company which I didn't own or control, couldn't make the final decision creatively. That never really sat well with me.
I learned a lot as an A&R person, I'm grateful for all of the things that I learned from that experience, but I also knew that wasn't my long-term goal. My long-term goal wasn't necessarily to be the head of an A&R department, or the president of a record label. My long-term goal was to be a guy that got to create music. I don't think that they're the same thing. A record producer is definitely not the same thing as an A&R person or a label president.

Amos: When did you form the Galt Line? Was that with Eric Robinson?

Altman: No, no. Eric Robinson was just a partner in the recording studio, but the Galt Line is just my company. He still works on a lot of the records that I make, whether as an engineer or a mixer.

Amos: You originally started the Galt Line in Burbank, California, but then you moved it to Nashville. How long were you in California before making that move?

Altman: I started the Galt Line... and the Galt Line was just the name of the studio, the name of the company is MyMusic (?). I think it was 2005 that I started that. About 2006 to 2008 is when I was in Burbank, 2008 to 2009 in Hollywood, 2009 to 2010 I was in North Hollywood, then I moved to Nashville last summer in July, I have the Galt Line out here.

Amos: Was there a reason that you moved to Nashville?

Altman: There was definitely a reason. I think it's a better community to raise my kids in, to live a life in as a musician, I really consider myself a musician. I really feel that the business is moving here, slowly but surely, and will continue to move here. Nashville, I'm not some soothsayer, but I feel like this will be the center of the business in 10 or 15 years. Not just country music, but the business in general. Los Angeles is a film and television town, New York is a fine arts town, Nashville is a music town. A better place to live as a musician. Just in my opinion; I'm sure that there are people that will disagree with me.

Amos: I was talking to another musician the other day, and they were basically saying the same thing, where as LA might be about all of these other things, Nashville is just about the music.

Altman: That's really true. For example, there's a ton of pop music coming out of Nashville right now. Just look at Kesha, she's from here, she's done very well. There's a lot of pop music here. There's a lot of rock music here. It's sort of a place to where you devote your life to playing music, if you're a bass player, you don't have to end up in the Kings of Leon or the Red Hot Chili Peppers just to be able to live, to survive. You can do that here with all of the opportunities, this town respects the art and the craft of making music. From being a lyricist to being able to play an instrument, this town respects that. I'm not saying that Los Angeles doesn't, I just don't think that Los Angeles is a town that's made for musicians the way Nashville is.
But Los Angeles was great to me. I built a life there. I worked with great people. I got to work and learn a lot about the business by working at some great record companies. I cut a lot of records in LA, I go back to track there. There's a great group of musicians there that I'm fortunate enough to work with there, sometimes I fly them here to Nashville, sometimes I don't use them, sometimes I do. Los Angeles was great to me, but there's a different sense of the possibilities here in Nashville. You don't have to win the musician lottery, by being lucky enough to be in a hugely successful band, or by being a massive pop star, to survive here. If you're great at what you do here, you will thrive. Greatness doesn't always equal massive success, but here it's means you might be respected and that you might have work to do.
At least that's my perspective so far. Ask me in twenty years, maybe I'll have a different perspective.

Amos: Given the current state of the music industry, the abundance of free social media networking sites and the relative ease of making a record now, does an artist really need to worry about being apart of a major label in order to be successful?

Altman: Definitely. I always think that there will be major labels, much in the way that independent films will need big studio marketing and distribution behind them. Music will always have artists that reach a point where they'll want to grow their career in a way that they're not personally capable of doing, and major labels will always be there to exploit that. I mean "exploit" in the positive sense, but yeah, that's definitely something that's changing the face of what we do.
You can buy a laptop or a computer and create music that's competitive, sign up with TuneCore, and two or three weeks later have your music up on iTunes, I think that's amazing. I also think that it's crowded the market place with a lot of average music, but there's always going to be average music. Great music is a rarity, but now you don't have that barrier of a major label record deal for the potential to be great. You can make a great record in your house, and people will always find great music, that's something that I really believe, whether it's released independently or on a major label.

Amos: So say an independent artist has done this, they've created their homegrown record and they've put it out there. Do you recommend the next thing they do is just to go out and tour as much as possible?

Altman: I recommend a lot of things, but I'm a record producer. I make records. I think what artists do is up to them. I think that touring is a great way to get new music exposed. I think licensing is a great vehicle. If you create an album in your bedroom and put it up on iTunes and just one person discovers it, that person might turn 100 people onto it, and those people might turn 100 on it. All of a sudden, you've sold 500,000 records and you've never left the comfort of your own room. I don't know if that's happened yet, but that's not to say it won't happen.
I think that artists want people to hear their music. If you're an artist, and you want people to hear your music, the best way is to play music, so touring is a big part of the equation, I'm sure.

Amos: Given the current mentality that people seem to have, where you can just get music for free from the internet, it would seem that the only financially viable way to support yourself through music now would be to tour.

Altman: I think touring, once artists have actually established themselves, it's far more lucrative than actually selling albums. I also think that when people value an act, when they value an artist, they'll buy the album. They'll put down money to see the show, but they'll also buy the album. Albums are marketed now differently than they were, it's not you plunking down $17.99 at the warehouse and you get a record. Now you buy a record and you get DVD content, videos, additional content, access to the demos.
There's so many ways to be able to split that up, but touring is still incredibly valuable in terms of making a living. But also, if you want to become a recording artist just to make a living, you gotta find something else to do. If you want to become a recording artist just to become rich, you should find something else to do. If you want to be an artist and you have an unquenchable thirst to create, then you create. Sometimes it's great, sometimes it's not.
But touring... yes, people can get stuff for free, but I still feel if they value a band, an artist, whatever, they will still put their money down to buy it or own it. That's just my perspective, I might be wrong. I think eventually we'll all be paying for music through our internet service provider, or through mobile phones; you'll pay money every month to get access to a certain amount of music. That's my perspective on it today. I don't really pretend to know the future.

Amos: On the financial side, do you actually make more money as a producer actually doing the work to produce the album, or can you make money from the residuals or royalties of an album?

Altman: It all depends. Obviously, album sales are going down, getting royalty payments on albums definitely decreased. It all depends. I'm also a songwriter. You have to do a lot these days, to survive, to make a living as a record producer. You can't just be a record producer. I'm an engineer, a songwriter, a record label. I partner with artists to put out records. You have to be a composer; you have to do everything.
I don't know if there's any pie that's bigger than the others. Some years royalties might be bigger, some years advances might be bigger, some years songwriting income might be bigger. I'm just grateful to be able to make a living doing this. I'm thoroughly surprised that after six or seven years of doing this full time that I can still do this.

Amos: Since we've already moved on from the point of Matt Duke's Kingdom Underground, I was wondering if you'd be able to answer a few questions about yourself, as a means of improving your own Wikipedia article.

Altman: Sure, ask away.

Amos: What's your full name?

Altman: Marshall Noah Altman

Amos: What instruments do you play?

Altman: Guitar, piano, bass. I kind of play everything, just not that well sometimes. I play well enough to help the great musicians that I play with understand what I want them to do.

Amos: Where did you grow up?

Altman: I was born in New York City, raised in Pomona, NY. I moved to the Los Angeles, CA area while in high school. I graduated from Marina High School in Huntington Beach, CA

Amos: So after high school, you went to college, but then you dropped out?

Altman: Yeah, I was a business economics major and a music minor at UC Santa Barbara. I got a National Merit Scholarship. I'd intended to leave Santa Barbara and go to UCLA to finish my degree, then just by chance I ran into a guy that was going to a music school in San Fernando Valley called the Grove School of Music, so I went there and studied keyboards and composition arrangement, stuff like that. It was a great school.
I'd intended to go back and finish my degree in music, but I finished the Grove and started my career as a pizza delivery boy. [laughs] I had enough to be efficient as a programmer, and by programmer I mean a music programmer, on this program called C-Lab Notator, that eventually morphed into Logic, which Apple owns now.
I worked for free for a long time. I worked for anyone who needed music. I made music in my living room. I delivered pizza, waited tables, was in a band, did a bunch of that stuff. I eventually got a call to take over a programmer's job on a Warner Bros. record called Kingdom Come. I must have been 22 at the time, but that sorta started my career. I was the second engineer in a small studio that had gone out of business. I took the money that I had made as a programmer on that Kingdom Come record, bought some gear, borrowed money from dad, used that to buy more gear, and started a recording studio.

Amos: Where were you doing all of this?

Altman: It was Hollywood. I was a kid living in, I think, Sherman Oaks at the time. The studio that I moved into was on Sunset and Wilcox, right on Hollywood. I didn't know anything about recording, not even how to wire or solder anything at the time. I had some friends who were in the business who helped me figure it out. I made a lot of really bad recordings.

Amos: What would you need to wire or be able to solder?

Altman: Just how to solder a 1/4" cable or fix a broken connection in a guitar tuner. All of those little things that you need to know when you're an engineer to a certain extent, because stuff breaks all of the time. A guitar cable breaks, and it'll cost you 15 cents to solder the broken connection, or $25 to buy a new cable.

Amos: How long did you do your own studio stuff?

Altman: It was probably three or four years. I did that and some software development on the database side. I met some people who needed a beta tester on a program, so I started beta testing and learned how to write code. Did that for a while in addition to running my studio.
One of the clients that I was working for happened to be Capitol/EMI and I met a lot of great people at Capitol Records and at Virgin. I spent some time in New York working on that project, developing some relationships that I still have, to this day. I ended up leaving that business and going to work in the sales department at Capitol, working for the general manager of the company. That was my introduction to the inside of the record label business.
I did that for two or three years. I put a band together, because I was getting a little bored, did that with some friends on mine called Farmer. I got signed to Aware Records, signed a publishing deal with BMI music publishing. Went and toured for a few years, then I got offered a job to do A&R at Capitol. I was a tape listener, basically a scout. I would come off of the road, report back on bands that I had seen. I'd also listen to a lot of the unsolicited material that came in.
In one of those tape boxes I found an artist named Citizen Cope. Then I reluctantly asked a woman I was working with, my boss, for some development money for this artist. I worked with that artist and we cut a few songs together, mixing them in Los Angeles. The president of Capitol at that time was a guy named Gary Gersh, he wanted to sign Citizen Cope to Capitol, but they didn't want to sign the deal unless they gave me an A&R job. I gave up the my band Farmer for the job, which I thought was going to be a little detour, but it ended up being a career I was in for around ten years.

Amos: To be a good A&R person, is it something that you can study, or is it more of gut feelings?

Altman: I think A&R people are people who can identify talent early, and they tend to foster that talent. I think that there are two different types of A&R people, people who have that gut thing, the insight or feeling to something that will be great. They get involved with it, whether it's a small town in Middle America. Some guy finds a band he likes, helps them raise the money to record, get together with the right producer or the right engineer, bandmates or whatever.
The other type of A&R person is... well, some A&R people have great ears, some A&R people have great noses. They can smell, whether it's the money behind something or the increasing amounts of attention behind an act.

Amos: So like if an artist is part of genre that's trending well at the moment.

Altman: Exactly. That's versus the type who's into an artist that nobody cares about or thinks is worth anything, but the A&R person can hear potential in the songs, can hear potential in a live performance. I think that the best A&R people need to have parts of both: great ears and great noses. You can hear talent when it's hidden, but also being able to sense that the artist could be part of a cultural movement that could do well commercially. Or the artist is just hot, but to do well you need to do both.

Amos: As an A&R guy, would you just have to listen to an entire stack of CDs? A whole box full?

Altman: Oh yeah. Yes. I tried to listen to everything that was sent to me. A lot of unsolicited material would make its way through, even though most record companies would have lots of "no unsolicited music or materials" policies, but I would try to listen to everything. I would do it because I remember being a musician in my own right and sending in music blindly, hoping somebody would hear it. If I ever heard anything good, I would try and reach out to them and give them feedback. "I hear the merit in this, but it's not ready, it's not for me, but I wanted you to know as an A&R guy, that there's merit here. Keep going. Or don't keep going, but I just wanted to let you know that this reached me."
It's tough, because good music is so far from great music. Bad music is the floor, good music is the ceiling, and great music is the sun. A bad song is ten feet away from a good song, but a good song is a 92,999,960 feet away from a great song. The difference between good and great is vast.

Amos: What's the breakdown of bad, good and great when you'd get a box of tapes?

Altman: When I'd listen to a whole box, 99.9% of them wouldn't be something that I'd want to pursue. A very, very small percentage would be something that I would want to pursue for the record label. Maybe 5%, would be something that I would reach out and say, "Hey, keep me updated on what you're doing, I'm not ready to pursue this for the label, but I want to maintain contact with you."

Amos: When you say unsolicited, are those demos or CDs that you would be sent in blindly?

Altman: I can't really say if anyone's experience was the same as mine, but I would try to listen to anything that came onto my desk. As an A&R person, what helps you do your job is the relationships that you have. As an artist I was fortunate enough to tour extensively, meet a lot of people that I kept in contact with, people that I thought had a great taste in music, so I'd try to stay in contact with them. I would try and develop relationships with artist's management and lawyers, the preliminary gate keepers, as it were, in the record business. Maintaining those relationships, you start hearing about new projects or people that they're excited about.
Those are the "solicited" submissions, where you call someone and say, "Hey, what are you workin' on?" "I've got a great new band." "Cool, send it to me." That's solicited. Unsolicited is a band or an artist who finds every A&R person's name at a record label and sends each of them a package that may or may not make it through the mail room. I'm not really sure how it works now, but I imagine that it's the same.

Amos: Do you have any stories about what length a band went to to get a CD into an A&R guy's hands?

Altman: Yeah, bands would send enormous press packs with photos and sometimes food. All of that stuff. There was a rule of thumb that the bigger the press pack, the more photos, the more clippings, the more stuff, the worse the music was going to be. All you really need to send is the CD along with some contact information. If the music was great, you'd get a call back. I wouldn't pay attention to any of the other stuff unless I loved what I heard.
I mean, no one's going to eat that food. Or care about swag. But I like to think that I was pretty accessible as an A&R person. If I was at a festival and someone came up to me and asked, "Are you an A&R person?" I would say yes and take their CD and try to listen to it.

Amos: What was part of the reason for quitting your band?

Altman: It wasn't making any money and I had other things to focus on at the time. In retrospect, when I was touring it should have just been me and another guy, and that's how we should have played sets. When we'd go out, we'd go out as a full band, it was really expensive, everybody was a partner and eventually the money that we had supporting the tour ran out.

Amos: I know that it can vary greatly, but about how much would you have to pay a band member per show?

Altman: We were all partners, we all owned equal portions of the band. I think I was making $300 a month at the time, very little money. A reason is it was how much money we were making versus how much money we needed. A lot of times, or it used to be, that bands would get tour support from labels. I can't remember if we got tour support from Aware or not.
In retrospect, I would have gone and toured in a much smaller way, maybe just acoustically for as long as I possibly could, maybe bring along another band member, but I didn't. I also feel that it is what it is, and that all roads ultimately lead me to where I am today, with some sort of intent or purpose.

Amos: How long have you currently been producing full time?

Altman: For about the past 8 years. The last few years that I was at Columbia I was really produced full time. I'd go to work in the morning, get to the office and do my day job, leave the office and head into the studio and work until two in the morning.

Amos: When you'd be at a place like Columbia, or being an A&R guy, would you ever cross the line and do production work for any of the acts that were at the label?

Altman: Yes, I definitely produced some records for the labels that I worked for, some of the people that I signed to the label I'd work for. Something that I wouldn't do is develop an act and then try to get it signed to the label that I was working for, something like that would be a conflict. I never did that.

Amos: For your work now as a full-time producer, how do you find the acts or sign the deals for the people you end up working for?

Altman: Because I've been lucky enough to make some records that have been well received, as well as some records that have performed well commercially, because of that, I can get sought out by people. A producer's best advertisement is the work that he puts out. The reason that I've been lucky enough to actually be a continual record producer is because I've been lucky enough to work with great artists and I've been able to make some great records.
Most of the work that I get where I'm hired, comes from the work that I've done. I also develop a lot of artists. I work with new artists who may or may not have had records out, so I pursue them. There are some artists and I'll find a song of theirs that I love, so I'll try to build a relationship with them and work together.

Amos: Do you think that there are necessarily any skills a producer needs to be good at it? Sometimes you'll see someone who wants to be an artist themselves, but find much greater success in writing or producing for another artist.

Altman: It's weird; I don't think that I've ever met two producers that work the same way, or have the same skill set. Obviously, there are producers that can play every single instrument, that helps. Some producers are great engineers, that helps. There are producers that are songwriters. Some producers don't really even have a musical background, but they sorta understand the dynamic of artists, helping them craft great records. For me, I think that my skill set as a musician, songwriter and a singer, that's what valuable to me, to have a level ground with another artist and try to figure out what they need to do to get a great album out of them.
There's also the ability to have a certain amount of confidence, in your own ability or your own understanding of an artist. Believing that you're the person for the job.

Amos: You've spoken at schools about being a producer, is this the type of advice that you give to students when you talk?

Altman: My advice is simple: if you want to make music more than anything else, you should do it. If you want to get rich or be a hobbyist, it's a very hard business to be in. Luck factors into this business more than talent does, that's the sad truth, but it can be very hard to make a living with music.

Amos: Do you think that this is something that people don't realize when they're young or idealistic? That they see the artists they love or that are popular, and they see the lifestyles that they live?

Altman: I guess. It looks like and is a great job. I'm incredibly lucky to do this. I imagine if you love music, and you look at what I do or what a record producer does and you say to yourself, "I wonder what that guy does?" He goes to work everyday and makes records. He's involved with artists and songs. It's very attractive, but it's very difficult to get here and stay here. But I can't do anything else, this is what I do. I've certainly passed up more lucrative career paths to do this.
I've devoted my life to music. I feel like if you're ready to devote your life to music and if the idea of living in abject poverty or financial insecurity isn't enough to shake you from doing it, you're in. I'm pretty honest when I speak to high school kids, college kids or other musicians, to people that are interested in doing this full time.

Amos: What's an example of something lucrative that you passed up to do this?

Altman: I could have gone to business school and got my MBA. I've had opportunities to get into other sides of the music business, be it on the label side or the publishing side. Those would have undoubtedly been more stable, if not in the short or long term. I've passed up opportunities to be in companies that have gone onto do really well, but it wasn't as a record producer, it was as an executive.

Amos: I say that knowing that a lot of record labels have gone through some pretty serious shake-ups in the past few years. Capitol Records went through a big shake up a few years ago.

Altman: And they just went through another one, and Warner Bros. just got bought, yeah, but those really aren't the gig that I was talking about. These were straight gigs, not really music-based gigs, but gigs that might have music or media in them.

Amos: Well, we've covered a lot and it's been about an hour now, so I just wanted to go ahead and wrap this up. I wanted to thank you again for taking the time to help out on this project.

Altman: No problem.
Last modified on 23 July 2011, at 21:55