Hot off the success of Moulin Rouge's “Lady Marmalade” — on which he served as vocal producer for budding divas Christina Aguilera, Lil' Kim, Mya and Pink — producer and A&M president Ron Fair was ensconced at Royaltone Studios in Burbank, overseeing a crunch to finish soundtrack songs for MGM's Legally Blonde.
Fair is no stranger to the hectic soundtrack process; he's been executive producer as well as hands-on song producer for numerous other soundtracks, including Pretty Woman and Reality Bites.
“I've hated soundtracks, but I've had quite a bit of success with them,” he confides, a bit ruefully. “Actually, awhile ago, I'd retired from them, because, generally, what happens is that songs are identified as good for a project kind of late in the life of a film. And the turnaround time for completing a film is a lot different than for a record. The schedules are very difficult. It's tough enough to make great artists' records. But to make great artists' records and then to fit them into the context of someone else's vision — that's even more challenging. It can be daunting and unfun, especially because I care a lot. I don't want to just license other people's songs and cram them into the picture. I take it very seriously, and I try to achieve, if not overachieve, a great match of the scene, the song, the artist and the vibe, while also keeping in mind the target audience of who the film is for — matching up the recording artists who fit the demographic of the film.”
Fair signed on to the Legally Blonde soundtrack partly because it became a showcase for artists in the Interscope/Geffen/A&M family. There are cuts by Valeria, Samantha Mumba, Vanessa Carlton, Lisa Loeb, Black Eyed Peas with Terry Dexter, new Chicago group Superchick and the L.A. all-girl rock band LowBall.
A bevy of happening producers and engineers, including Rockwilder, Patrick Leonard, Tal Hertsberg, Eric Dawkins and Michael C. Ross, were also camped out at Royaltone battling to meet the deadlines, while Fair alternated between vocal producing, executive producing and artist relations.
“It's a ton of work,” Fair continues. “We're pushing the absolute limit here: nine original songs for a soundtrack done from scratch in two months. We were still choosing songs up until three days ago, and the album is being mastered Wednesday! We'll have finished goods the following Tuesday for the premiere — the cover, the album sequence and credits are all done. It's really difficult to keep quality high when you have this kind of time limit. That's why this multiple room thing really helps out. It's very comfortable here at Royaltone and very convenient. I just sort of migrate among the rooms and do my respective gig in each, as necessary.”
A “who's who” of top engineers were handling mixing chores at various studios as Fair finished up recording, among them Mike Fraser, Dave Pensado, Mike Shipley, Jack Joseph Puig and Chris Lord-Alge.
The soundtrack CD process uses all of Fair's classic A&R talents, from song selection to the choice of artist to perform each song, to arranging, vocal production, mix supervision and album sequencing.
“For me,” he explains, “it's about having full command of the entire musical vocabulary — being able to play, write and arrange. It's all woven into doing my job. It's my power with my artists, because they know I'm not guessing.
“There's a lot of us, actually, who do this — people like David Kahne, Rob Cavallo, Jimmy Iovine…There's that stereotype out there of the record exec who knows nothing about music — some suit or bean counter — and it's not like that. I'm down here sweating every eighth-note with all my records. They're all carefully crafted; it's time-consuming and difficult.
“I've been doing this my whole life, and I have to say that producing records now is harder than ever,” he concludes. “That's one of the reasons I don't produce everything I sign. There are only certain records that I'm the right guy for, and I think I'm pretty good at picking them.”
East Coast studio owner/producer/engineer/guitar consultant Perry Margouleff has set up shop on the Left Coast, where he's scouting for new talent. A serious gear collector, Margouleff is the owner of Pie Studios in Glen Cove, Long Island (aka “Noah's Audio Ark,” due to its owner's penchant for stocking two of everything audio). A portion of that primo collection now graces Margouleff's new Valley Village production facility.
The 1,200-square-foot studio, once owned by Toto drummer Jeff Porcaro, is home to a compact Neve 5316 custom broadcast console originally built for NBC television and (of course) Pro Tools. It's also fitted with the classic pieces of gear that Margouleff couldn't bear to leave behind, among them a Flickinger 2269 compressor used on numerous hit Stevie Wonder vocals and an almost virgin Fairchild 670, found in what Margouleff calls “the Polish equivalent of Congress,” and protected with a very cool Lexan faceplate.
“Collecting audio gear is like a disease,” Margouleff cheerfully admits. “There really ought to be an Audio Anonymous. When I built my studio in New York, it started with a Neve module and a U47, but now it's insane.”
Other highlights of the collection include Neve 8078 modules, a Roger Mayer RM58 compressor, Geoff Daking, Compex and Altec 436 compressors, and RCA and Telefunken mic pre's. There's also an RCA BA6A, about which he says: “When I started buying them, people were calling them boat anchors — they thought they were just too slow. I learned about them the first time I worked with Jimmy Page, who had about six of them. There was a country artist whose acoustic guitar sound Jimmy had always admired, and when he finally met him he found out that the secret was a BA6A. Now, I use it for acoustic guitars, vocals and sometimes drum rooms. They need some TLC, because they are 50 years old, but they're really fantastic.”
All this gear, both old and new, is being used to further Margouleff's stated goal of bringing talented and musically proficient new artists to the attention of the industry and the public. His talent search of the L.A. club scene has already turned up a number of acts that he's begun recording, among them the teenaged Jancy Groove and Santa Cruz-based singer/songwriter/guitarist Gabriel Gordon.
“They can all really play and sing,” he comments. “And I think that's coming around again. We've had all the cotton candy, now there's going to be room for some meat and potatoes. Historically, when the economy is flush and people are doing really well, music is not that relevant. But when people are struggling and trying to figure out the meaning of life, art, painting, music — it all takes an upswing because people are looking for something to identify with.
“The industry may think that if it isn't contrived and fixed up, it can't be good music. But there are people out there who are going to figure their way around it. There's a lot of good music out there that isn't getting attention, and I want to help change that.”
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