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View from the Top: Maureen Droney, The Recording Academy

“I’m privileged to be an advocate for my favorite people: recording engineers and producers."

Maureen Droney

Breaking into the recording industry has never been easy, and Maureen Droney was no exception to the rule when she began a journey that ultimately led to her current role as managing director of the Recording Academy’s Producers & Engineers (P&E) Wing.

While some of her first work experiences were in AV production for corporate events, Droney was determined to become part of San Francisco’s recording scene, spending most of her free time knocking on the doors of the city’s studios. That persistence paid off when she was hired to be an assistant engineer at The Automatt. “That’s where I learned the craft of engineering,” she recalled, “and was inspired and mentored by the many extraordinary musicians, engineers and producers I worked with, from Leslie Ann Jones and Jim Gaines to Ron Nevison, Mitchell Froom, Mike Clink, David Kahne, Randy Jackson, Narada Michael Walden and so many more. It was an exciting time. All sorts of great artists, from Santana and Eddie Money to the Whispers, ConFunkShun, Frankie Beverly and Maze, Herbie Hancock, Sylvester, Bobby McFerrin and even Metallica worked there, mostly recording live, and I got to work with all of them as an assistant or a staff engineer.”

Eventually The Automatt closed, and Droney became an independent engineer, building a CV that included work on albums with Santana, including the GRAMMY-winning Blues for Salvador. She also worked with John Hiatt, Kenny G, Tower of Power, Whitney Houston and Aretha Franklin, along with countless others.

Recording Academy Producers & Engineers Wing Announces 2017-18 Steering Committee, Oct. 14, 2017

For the last 12 years, Droney has been the managing director of the P&E Wing, a position that finds her drawing on insights gained not only from working as an engineer and musician, but also stints in production and artist management with a globally touring 10-piece band, and time spent observing and reporting on the industry, including an 11-year run as the Los Angeles editor of Mix magazine.

All those varied experiences inform her P&E work today: “Having so many different music industry jobs and getting to know so many different people—in the studio, in management, at labels and via the articles that I wrote—gave me a broad view of the industry. My past experience enables me to understand the challenges today’s studio professionals face, and also provides me with skills to be effective in the job that I do now, which involves everything from producing events to working with committees to create technical papers, evangelizing best recording practices and lobbying Congress for legislation beneficial to music creators.”

Political lobbying wasn’t on anyone’s mind back when the Recording Academy and the GRAMMY Awards were founded in 1958. The times have changed, however, so the Recording Academy has too; it still highlights and rewards excellence in writing, performance, musicianship and engineering, but today it also uses its scale and influence to be heard on Capitol Hill.

Recording Academy P&E Wing Presents Merit Awards—GRAMMY Week Celebration Honors Alicia Keys, Swizz Beatz and Music’s Creative Technical Wizards, Feb. 13, 2018

“As our industry has evolved,” said Droney, “the Recording Academy’s efforts toward protecting the rights of music creators has become one of the most important things that we do. The Recording Academy has become a leader in advocacy in this area, helping to bring our industry together to lobby as a united force for legislation that will improve the lives of our members.”

Droney cites some of the Recording Academy’s annual events—GRAMMYs on the Hill in Washington, D.C., and District Advocate Day, when members meet with congressional representatives in their home districts—as key opportunities to effect positive change for the industry. “We’ve been working hard for a long time to get legislation favorable to music creators passed, and today we’re making real progress,” she noted, detailing those efforts. “The Producers & Engineers Wing has always been extremely involved in the Academy’s advocacy action programs. We’ve spent a lot of time interacting with congressional representatives to provide them with a first-hand understanding, directly from the people who work in the trenches and behind the scenes, of the issues facing today’s recording professionals.”

House Votes to Modernize Music Compensation, by Steve Harvey, April 27, 2018

Not all engineers work in music creation, of course, but the P&E Wing has campaigned for many of them as well. “We’ve also been active in lobbying legislators and the FCC regarding what’s been happening with the sell-off of broadcast spectrum and how that affects the use of wireless microphones and in-ear monitors,” she said. “This is an important matter related to the livelihoods of our performer and engineer members, and also, of course, to the GRAMMY Awards telecast itself.”

Creating a presence on Capitol Hill is only part of Droney’s work with the P&E Wing, which has nearly 6,400 members. Many members are involved in the organization’s dozen chapters across the United States. “It is our members around the country who make things happen by contributing their time and efforts to moving our initiatives forward,” Droney pointed out.

Many of those initiatives have an educational bent, and they’re not only about bringing politicians up to speed on the concerns of music creators. “We also work within the industry on professional education about best practices related to actual recording,” she said, “and also about the importance of proper master delivery, crediting and recording metadata. Something else that concerns us is very fundamental: education about hearing health and what people can do to protect their hearing.”

Two of the P&E Wing’s most prominent contributions in recent times have been a pair of recently published guidelines: Recommendations for Hi-Res Music Production and an updated version of Recommendations for Delivery of Recorded Music Projects. “We have a lot of very dedicated and knowledgeable members who care passionately about the future of our industry,” said Droney, explaining how the projects were created. “They worked together to pool their knowledge about best practices for both music recording and preservation. These papers take their real-world experience and provide practical advice and solutions for challenges that people working in music production face today.”

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Another recent P&E Wing highlight is the publication of the DDEX recording metadata standard RIN (Recording Information Notification) “This standard is a major, breakthrough accomplishment,” said Droney, “and it takes us a big step toward solving the industry-wide problem of missing recording credits.”

Whether walking the corridors of power or helping educate audio pros on practices that will help present their work in the best light for generations, Droney sees it all as part of a larger mission. “I’m privileged to be an advocate for my favorite people: recording engineers and producers.”

Producers & Engineers Wing •