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  • Writer's pictureShane Almgren

David Z: The Grammy-Winning Record Producer Who Discovered Prince

Updated: Apr 29

David "Z" Rivkin is a Grammy-winning record producer, engineer, mixer, and writer who has an ability and knack for finding and developing independent, cutting-edge artists into hugely impactful stars.


He’s had his hands on some of the most iconic songs from the 80's – probably best-known for his long-standing collaborations with Prince, including hits like Purple Rain and Kiss – but he's also contributed to award-winning albums by Etta James, Billy Idol, and Bo Deans, to name a few. David is widely regarded of one of the original innovators of the signature “Minneapolis sound” that artists like Prince mastered, and just about everyone else tried to copy.


He produced the #1 single She Drives Me Crazy by Fine Young Cannibals; and he was also a member of Lipps, Inc, with whom he had a #1 hit with Funkytown.



Episode Highlights

Fasten your seatbelts and get ready for a ride to the heart of the 80s music scene with Grammy Award-winning music producer, engineer, mixer, and writer, David Z. Brace yourself for a fascinating, raw, and intimate insight into David's journey from a young boy strumming a guitar in junior high to working with musical legends like Prince and Etta James. We'll reveal the highs, the lows, and everything in between, from his early days as a promotion man for a record company to his role in the birth of the Minneapolis sound.


The 80s was a time of innovation, revolution, and David Z was right there, shaping the music that defined a generation. We'll dissect the creation process of the iconic song "Funky Town," exploring how David’s experimentation with drum machines, white noise, and equalization led to some of the most beloved tracks of the era. But we're not stopping there! You'll also get a rare glimpse into the mind of a genius, as we delve into David's creative process, his favorite tools, his habits, and how he navigates the exciting yet challenging world of music production.


In the final segment, we'll draw back the velvet curtain on David Z’s advocacy work. His passion for music is only rivaled by his commitment to supporting noble causes, particularly diabetes and drug addiction services. This conversation is not just about David's impressive discography but his personal challenges and the impact he's made off-stage. Join us, and let's celebrate the enduring legacy of David Z, a true titan of the music industry.


In this episode, we cover a lot of ground including:

  • Learning recording and engineering techniques by the seat of his pants out of necessity

  • Meeting Prince and creating that instantly-recognizable, signature Minneapolis “80’s sound” with drum machines and synthesizers

  • The importance of experimentation in the studio

  • How he made that hyper-pop snare sound on Fine Young Cannibals’ She Drives Me Crazy"

  • Using conscientious choices versus “happy accidents” while recording

  • Prince’s prolific songwriting, and how he’d write 30 songs to get 1 good one

  • Must-have recording gear in the studio

  • How he’ll work in any musical genre except Dub Step

  • The differences between analog and digital studios, and embracing the new technologies

But beyond his musical achievements, David Z is also deeply committed to using his platform for noble causes. He candidly discusses how drug addiction has touched his family, and shares his dedication towards supporting diabetes and drug addiction services. So, join us for an inspiring journey through David's impressive discography, his personal challenges, and the impact he's made off-stage. Join us, and let's celebrate the enduring legacy of David Z, a true titan of the music industry!


Listen


Read the Complete Transcript

Shane Hello, everyone! Welcome to the official Live2cre8 podcast, coming to you from Nashville, Tennessee. I am your host, Shane Almgren, and I am joined today by the Grammy Award-winning music producer, engineer, mixer, and writer, David Z. Originally from Minneapolis, he currently hails from Studio City, California. David has had his hands in some of the most iconic songs from the ‘80s and is probably most well known for his long-standing collaborations with Prince, including hits like “Purple Rain” and “Kiss,” but he's also contributed to award-winning albums by Etta James, Billy Idol, and BoDeans, to name a few. He produced the number one single “She Drives Me Crazy” by Fine Young Cannibals, and he was also a member of Lipps Inc., with whom he had a number one hit, “Funkytown.” David is widely regarded as one of the original innovators of the signature and distinct Minneapolis sound of the early ‘80s that artists like Prince mastered and just about everyone else tried to copy. David just wanted to say “thank you” for joining me today. It's a real honor to have you. I've got people all over the creative spectrum, but since you are a music producer and I've listened to a whole lot of the stuff that you've done, this was one of the interviews that I was looking forward to the most. David Z Cool. Shane Let me start things off by asking: What was the defining point in your life, or what age were you when you knew that you had to pursue music? David Z I was, I think, in junior high school, and that was actually back in the days of—I mean, it was early rock and roll and folk music. I had a friend that had an acoustic guitar, and my cousin had an acoustic guitar. I took some lessons. I learned to play acoustic guitar. I learned to play “This Land is Your Land” and everything else. And then my cousin got an electric guitar, and I was blown away. So I wanted that, and I just sort of latched onto the music at the time, which was old R&B—or it wasn't old then—it was R&B. Shane Do you remember any specific or particular artists or bands that you were drawn to that were your key inspirations at the time? David Z Well, a lot of them in the early days were. The English retrieval of R&B kind of affected everybody—The Rolling Stones and The Animals. They were basically doing old black music from America and reinterpreting it to white kids, and that caught on. In my generation, that was the stuff. Everyone was dancing. I mean, before that, it was The Supremes and the Detroit sound, the Philadelphia sound. Those things came first, and then that got huge. And I guess around the time of The Animals—well, no, actually, I was in a band before the English invasion even happened. I was in a band in Minneapolis. There was probably only 10 bands in Minneapolis at the time, and we were one of them. It wasn't a fashionable thing to do. Not everyone wanted to do that. It was—basically, we were obsessed, so we wanted to do it, and there was no other reason. There was no fame to gain; there was nothing. There was just the love of music. Shane You heard a sound, and you wanted to recreate it? David Z Yeah, I wanted to recreate it. A lot of the sounds I heard, actually, were at night. When I would go to bed, I had an AM radio, and you know the ionosphere goes up at night, and you get a bigger bounce. We used to pick up Kansas City and Chicago and, you know, all these huge stations that we would never have heard that kind of music in Minnesota. So, you know, I was sparked by that because it was foreign to me. Shane So you play the guitar. Do you play any other instruments? David Z Well, I play whatever I have to play. I can play that way. I'm not very good at anything, but I can play parts. Shane Did you take lessons at all, or was it something you just picked up on your own? David Z I just picked it up on my own. I mean, I took some lessons, but I really didn't want to learn “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” so I picked it up on my own and sat in front of my phonograph and radio and practiced and practiced and practiced. Shane And how old were you when you first got some guys together and you guys started trying to put parts and learn songs? David Z I was 15 when I started. I had a duet group that we did—acoustic guitar members—and then, around about the time I was 17, I joined a rock band. I moved to a different neighborhood, and the drummer lived down the block, and there it was. Shane So how did you move from a garage band playing with local guys, taught yourself the guitar, to engineering? Because that's what you were doing at first when you first got into the business. Is that right? David Z No, I was a guitar player. I wanted to be a songwriter, and I experimented with writing songs and recording them on my little Roberts tape deck. Shane Do you remember the first song you ever wrote? David Z Yeah. Yeah, I do. Shane Was it any good? David Z I wouldn't say so now. I mean, no, it wasn't. Shane What was the first commercially released song that you had that you wrote? David Z Actually, I didn't really—I haven't really made a living writing songs so much. I did—I was a writer. Let me back up and give more story here. I got a job working as a promotion man for a record company when I was just out of high school. I'd have to take records to the radio stations and push them and say, “This one's good. That one's good.” I was sort of frustrated because a lot of the albums I was asked to push I didn't like that much. My boss at the time said, “Well, if you think you can write anything better, why don’t you just pack up stuff and move to LA?” So that's what I did. Shane You took it as a personal challenge. David Z Yeah, it was a personal challenge, and he did it in a friendly way. He wanted me to succeed. But I moved out to Los Angeles, and I promptly—not too long—sold songs one by one for a little time, but then I got signed to A & M Publishing. I was on the lot there for about four years. I wrote a bunch of things that were done by obscure artists—a guy named Johnny Hallyday in France. I did get involved with Gram Parsons back then. I co-wrote with him, and I wound up on his solo record. Shane What was the name of that song? David Z The Gram Parsons’ song was on an album called GP. The song is “How Much I’ve Lied.” And then I got to play guitar with Billy Preston on sessions, on demos. We all had to do demos of our songs. That was what the publishing company writers did. We all got our friends together and cut demos, and it was a great experience because we got to be in a studio for the first time and all that stuff. Shane So is that where you learned the engineering because I was going to ask: Did you go to school for that or...? David Z No, that's not where I learned engineering. After Gram died, unfortunately, it was about four years assigned to this publishing company. I was in pretty bad physical shape from living here at that period. It was the summer of love, you know, 60, 68. And a lot of people were getting into things that weren't so healthy. So I moved back to Minneapolis, and in order to stay in the music business, I worked at a factory at night. And in order to stay in the music business, I organized a friend of mine who was a booking agent. He had like 22 local bands that he was playing. You know, he was booking all over clubs. There's a lot of clubs in the Midwest. You could actually make a living playing in a band. I said, “Let's get these people together in a recording studio. We'll do little demos of each one, and you can play it for your club owners, and they can hear what they're going to get instead of guessing.” So he thought that was great. I brought him, like, 25 bands to the studio, and about the third band in, the engineer said to me, “I'm sick of doing this. Why don't you do it?” And I was like, “I have no idea what you're doing. I’m just a guitar player.” And he said, “Well, you'll learn.” And so I studied. I got books. I read Modern Recording Techniques by Robert Runstein. I remember that book well. I wasn't brought up in a technical environment, and I didn't know how to run a studio. There were no schools back then for that. It was just learned by the seat of your pants, and I learned through trial and error because a lot of the first records I recorded were terrible-sounding. I really wanted to fight that idea that no good, quality recordings could come out of Minneapolis. So I worked and worked, and one day, I just—I guess I just started to get better. Practice makes perfect. And I did a lot of polka bands, a lot of western bands, a lot of country and western bands—that’s what they call it up there. But, you know, I did a lot of those, and I guess I refined my skills doing those, being they were all guinea pigs to me I just experimented on. Shane Do you know how long it was from the first time you went behind the control desk and you said they were terrible until you were able to record something that you were actually proud of? David Z Yeah, it was 1974 when I first started, and 1977 is when I thought they started sounding pretty good. Shane So that's a three-year window, and you're working at this. Is this your full-time gig at the time? David Z Yeah, it was my full-time gig. That's what I was doing, and that's how I learned. It was just nonstop. I mean, the owner of the studio would bring in all kinds of groups, and I would bring in all kinds of groups, and I'd record them all. Along that time, there was a huge push for R&B, and so I did a lot of the local groups up there. There's actually a really good album out that's been put out about Minneapolis' pre-Prince soul music days. There's a lot of groups that were founding that sound, and that's kind of what I started working on exclusively. Shane When did you bump into Prince the first time? David Z About 1977, a backer who was a real estate guy brought in this group, and he wanted to record them, and it was a group called Grand Central. It was Prince, Morris Day on drums, and a guy named Andre Cymone on the bass. I recorded them. That was great. About a year later, a friend of mine, Owen Husney, said he was managing this kid called Prince. He said, “You may remember him from the group you did.” And he brought him in to do a demo, and that's what we did. We did a demo. My cousin Cliff worked for Warner Brothers as a promotion man, and he took the demo to his boss, and they signed him. They couldn't believe it because he played everything himself. Shane Yeah, that's one of the things that I'd heard is that he's an incredible musician that plays everything on the stage incredibly well, and you can testify to that firsthand. David Z Oh, yeah. He always has been from the beginning, from day one. He could play every instrument—drums, everything. He used an Oberheim synthesizer to do horns. He just played everything. Shane You were pretty instrumental in creating that distinctive—you know, the Minneapolis sound that we all hear, and we immediately identify that: Oh, that's ‘80s. I want to ask specifically: Can you tell us what were you doing to create those sounds? We listen to music coming out of there, and we pinpoint it. I know where that's from. I know when it's from. What specifically are we hearing sonically that gives that away to us? David Z All I can say is our influences were groups like Kraftwerk from Germany and Donna Summer, and we were trying to make—it was basically all drum machines. That was the new thing. It was drum machines and synthesizers, and that was kind of—I don't know. The combination of that plus the licks that basically Prince did were very, very catchy and very special, and they did form their own genre. A lot of people tried to copy that. A lot of the Minneapolis guys sounded like that, but that's only because they were copying his style. He was the originator of that. Shane So you would say the drum machines, in particular, the synths—that was the innovation that got the whole sort of ‘80s sound, that distinctive decade vibe, going? David Z I would. Yeah, I think that's kind of the main difference because the ‘70s were all live rock bands, and the ‘80s turned into drum machines, which turned into dance music. Shane So you were part of a big hit in—what was it? ‘79 or ‘80, with the Lipps? David Z “Funkytown.” Shane “Funkytown.” Yes, sir. How did you get mixed up with them? David Z It was a friend of mine, Steve Greenberg. He came in with this song. First, we did another song that wasn't—I don't think anybody remembers it, but during the course of that song, he brought it out to Los Angeles and got Casablanca Records interested in that song because he had studied the club scene and he had studied what makes people dance. There were a lot of clubs there that we used to go to. So Casablanca gave him a recording contract, and out of that, the next thing we did was “Funkytown.” And we had to run back and forth to the club, to the studio, to the club to check the sound to make sure it was going to work at the club. We adjusted it little by little, and it was a very unique song. I actually think a lot of it was my engineering. It's almost like that's just as cool as the song itself, I think. Shane I've got a question about that. I know when you're mixing and engineering in the studio, you're really capitalizing on your left and right pans, and your club sound systems are typically done in mono. So is that one of the things that you guys are evaluating when you're running back and forth? David Z Well, we just had to make sure it would translate into mono, and I think there was one club in downtown St. Paul that had stereo, but they also had huge subwoofers. So there's a lot of factors to take into consideration. Sometimes stereo will cancel out if it goes to mono, so we had to be careful of that and make sure it didn't collapse. Shane What tools or gear are available to you these days so that you don't have to jump in the car and drive over to the club to make sure your mix is working? David Z Well, hopefully, you can just hit the mono button in the studio. Now they have a mono button. It’s easy to tell. You can just hit it on the board to see if it's going to—you know, if the relationships are going to stay the same. If they're not, you’ve got to do a little adjusting. I always start the mix in mono now because once you get it sounding good in mono and you can hear everything in its place when you put it in stereo, it's all really clarified. Shane That was a piece of advice that I heard for the first time about a month ago and wish someone had told me about 13 years ago. David Z Yeah. Shane So you guys did “Funkytown,” and that went number one here in the States, if I'm not mistaken? David Z Yeah, it went number one in, I think, every country in the world. Shane What kind of stratosphere did that launch you into? What kind of doors did that open up for you? David Z You know, it's funny. I don't think it opened up many doors, really. The next thing I did was Prince and his first record, but I don't think that had anything to do with it. It's almost like—it's funny—damned if you will, and damned if you don't. The more successful records I did, people would be afraid to call me because they’d think I was too busy, and then I wouldn't get any calls. [Laughs]. So it worked the opposite sometimes, like, “Oh, he's too busy. We can't bother him.” And then, you know, the same thing happens when you don't have a big hit. So it's a funny world that way. Shane Did you eventually strike the balance you were looking for? David Z Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. I mean, once I started going on the Prince train, a lot of things came my way. That was more influential than the “Funkytown” thing because that was a one-hit wonder thing, and, you know, there's not a lot of people that wanted to copy that. That was tough. But with Prince, everyone wanted to sound like a lot of the records we were doing there. Shane How many records did you work on with Prince? David Z All the good ones. The first one, which didn't really sell until now. I worked on all of them—Purple Rain. The last thing I did was “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World.” Shane Do you have a favorite tune or a favorite couple from that time period? David Z Well, obviously, “Purple Rain,” obviously—“Kiss” was the one I'm most proud of because I think I had more to do with that than any one of them. Shane What all did you contribute to that? David Z Actually, he gave me a demo of the first verse and chorus, just strung on the acoustic guitar, no particular rhythm, just straight chords. And it was for another group that he had signed, called Mazarati, that I was producing. And we said, “What are we going to do with that? It sounds like Stephen Stills.” You know, I sat up all night. We programmed the drums. That rhythm guitar in there is just me playing open acoustic chords, and I gated it to the hi-hat track on the drum machine. So it made that rhythm. It's impossible to physically play, but it made that song stand out so much because it's the shimmering, shaky rhythm that—not a lot of people do that. I haven’t heard it much. Shane So that brings me to another question I was going to ask about, actually: recording technique. There are so many distinctive things and songs that we hear, and we go, “You know, I want to listen to it again for that one little part.” How much of that is pre-planned, and how much of that stuff is happy accidents? David Z Probably both. I think a lot of the things—you know, the little happy accidents—are just trying to fill a space with something or else drive something. And there's about an equal amount of happy accidents. I always have that kind of stuff, and you can't be afraid to take chances, and that's basically what we did. Shane When you have a happy accident and it's a big hit with people, and they come back and say, “Oh, you're a genius for doing that,” do you tell them that it was a happy accident, or do you smile and nod, boy, smile and nod? David Z I just smile and nod. But, you know, I know it was just a happy accident. But there's theory behind it, you know, like, “What if I try this? What if I try that?” You know, Prince and I used to joke that we'd put guitars under water if it would sound good. Shane What was the most innovative part of him? Was it his songwriting? Was it his experimentalism? David Z Oh, that's a tough one. I think everything about him is experimental. You know, his songwriting is totally innovative, but also, his recording styles are totally innovative. He bends the limit. You know, that's kind of what we tried to do the whole time—bend the rules, break them. Shane Was there any sounding board between you guys where one of you would try something and the other one could go, “No, that's garbage, that's rubbish. You're getting a little crazy.” David Z Of course. That's always happened. But then there was a lot of—you know, it's all done by looks. We'd look at each other, and we'd know if it was cool or not. That's kind of how the communication went there. You know, he wasn't afraid to try anything. And I didn't really know what I was doing because I didn’t study engineering, so I was in the same boat. I just tried it. Shane I've got to ask you this question. This is actually coming from one of my band members. I'm a part of an ‘80s cover band here in Nashville called Max Headroom, and we've been together for about 13 years. David Z Yeah, I’ve heard of you guys. Shane So when I told them that I was going to be interviewing you, our bass player said I have to ask you: How did you get that hyper-pop snare sound on “She Drives Me Crazy” by the Fine Young Cannibals? David Z [Laughs]. I've explained this before. What we did was—that was actually a Linn 9000 drum machine. I started out with the snare sound on that and then added white noise that was gated to the snare, so the white noise is just a hiss, and we gave that to the snare so it opened and shut—when the snare opened and shut. And then I equalized it extreme at 1 kHz through two different equalizers, and then I actually hit a drumhead that wasn't on the snare drum. We took it off and hit that, and we made a sandwich out of that, the white noise, and the snare sound. That’s what came out. Shane And that's interesting. I was just reading an article with some European DJ about, you know, in the big clubs, the trance scene, how they get that really punchy poppy snare, and he was talking about using white noise and gating it really hard. And they were talking about that being an innovative thing from like 2014, and you guys are doing this back in the ‘70s. David Z Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. Well, that was 1980, actually. Shane 1980. David Z Oh, wait a minute. If we’re talking about Fine Young Cannibals, that was 1990. Shane The point is, you guys, you were doing this 25 years before they thought to do it and call themselves innovative. David Z Yeah, I guess. I never called it innovative. It was just a happy accident. [Laughs]. Shane It's an iconic one. It's cool. I mean, you've had your hand in some of the most iconic music of the ‘80s, which is, for me personally, my favorite decade sonically. It's such a distinct and recognizable sound, and one of the things, I think, for people who are casual listeners, is that there's sort of a stigma around ‘80s music, and I even bought into this for a long time—that it’s really canned or processed music. You've got your drum machines and your arpeggiated bass lines, and you've got a lot of people who will say, “Well, that's overproduced bubblegum pop.” But when I joined the band and had to start learning the songs, and especially on the ones where I had to build sequences and backing tracks because there's just too much going on to cover everything with two keyboards and two hands, what became apparent is there's really incredible musicianship, and really, really complex arrangements and production value, and these innovative little parts that are tastefully done. And it's really—I mean, it's great musicianship. David Z Yeah, I think—I mean, most R&B went through a phase of that. You know, the stuff that started out as Chuck Brown & The Soul Searchers—I mean, it turned into the ‘80s sound with drum machines—but they were some of the coolest songs ever. I’d like to do a rehash of some of those and make them live band. Yeah, some of the best songs ever came out of that era. Shane Tell me three songs from the ‘80s that you look back and go, “Man, I wish I had written that one.” David Z “Let the Music Play” is one of them. I love that song. Probably “Bad Girls,” Donna Summer. This is early ‘80s, and you know, I mean, I liked a lot of the groups. Kraftwerk, I love. “Trans-European Express,” or whatever that is, that song. Very cool stuff. Shane I know just doing music and being creative on a daily basis is a reward all unto itself. Do you remember any particular projects that you worked on or songs you were doing where you’d just get that big, dopey grin on your face and you're thinking, “This is ridiculous. This is a blast. I can't believe I'm being paid for this.” David Z [Laughs]. Yeah. Yeah, of course. I mean, especially when the band is so good that all I'm doing is just capturing it. That's amazing to me. I mean, I've had to do—producer is almost like a nebulous term. I’ve had to do everything from just capture a good performance, down to telling people how to play, down to having to play it myself, so it runs the gambit. I mean, when I was recording the live concert of Purple Rain, that was really something that I guess I could smile about, although it was nerve-wracking, but it was gratifying. And I did, actually, a live concert with Jonny Lang for the Disney Channel in Florida at Disney World, and that came out really good. It's just a live broadcast. It was amazing. I used to love to do—I did a lot of King Biscuit Flower Hour shows where I’d have to record a band live, and it would broadcast live over the air. That was really—that’s living on the edge right there. It's fun but strenuous, but it's also—it’s one of those things you smile at and go, “Hey, that was fun.” Shane When you're producing other artists, how do you strike the balance between applying your signature techniques and sounds and just letting the artist be their own artist? Do you try to put something signature in or—how do you marry that? David Z I never try to put signature stuff in. I think all my stuff sounds different, although my kids will tell you there's a thread running through it that they see. I don't really see it, but I try to bend to the artist and make them sound as good as possible. But my way of EQing and mic'ing maybe gives it that sound. I don't know. Maybe that's a signature, but I don't try to add my licks or anything. Shane Well, that was one of the things that’s said about you is you were—you really helped springboard people. You were great at finding and developing talent. Did you recognize it, or did you help craft them because you helped get a number of people their record deals? David Z Yeah, I did. You know, I like to—I'm a singles guy. I used to play this game with myself, like that song is going to be a single, that song is going to be a hit single, and that's what I would listen for. It's like if somebody has a song that I thought was going to make it, I’d try to help, and I've done that on all different genres. It's not just R&B. I've worked in a lot of different avenues of music. I mean, I think you'll find that I do everything from Leo Kottke to Prince and everything in between. Collective Soul. All these different genres. I haven't done dubstep, but that's about it. Shane Any plans to try dubstep? David Z No. [Laughs]. Shane You ever see Key & Peele's bit on that? It's funny as hell. Yes. Shane Yes. Yeah, I love that. I love that bit. So you're doing all these different genres and stuff. Are there any—do you have go-to essential pieces of studio gear, like just a handful of things that you wouldn't even think about working without? David Z Yeah, I do. First of all, the board has to be either a Neve, or an API, or an SSL. They all have different sounds, but I always try to get API equalizers for the drums and the voice. There's just a certain way you can twist those knobs all the way up, and it's not harsh. You don't notice it, and I love the sound of that equalizer on the bedrock tracks—you know, drums, bass, and voice. For the most part, I like to use a certain digital delay unit for delays. There's certain ones—plug-ins like EchoBoy, the hardware like PCM 42. There’s a couple of go-to pieces of gear I always try to have. And H3000’s harmonizer just—I know a lot of the programs in there and how to get the 3D quality that I'm looking for because I'm always looking for 3D sounds. I want it to be deep so you can feel it going deep into the mix and, you know, not just plastered on the surface like a lot of stuff. Shane That's a great segue into one of the things that I wanted to talk specifically about, which is the whole digital versus analog recording method. I know in the DJ world there's this ongoing debate where the guys who came up spinning vinyl on turntables don't see any value or validity in what these mobile DJs are doing with mixing MP3s on laptops, and similarly, these days, it's nothing for just about anyone to have a decent home recording studio. And with all the incredible virtual instruments, and soft synths, and plug-in effects, you can really make some valid and viable music with just a computer and a MIDI keyboard. So I'm wondering to what extent you have embraced the new technology and you use it, and how much you still rely on the old school. Where do you fall on that spectrum? David Z Well, I was actually, I think, one of the last people to switch over to Pro Tools. I fought screaming to remain on tape for a long time, and I used tape up until I was convinced that they had modified Pro Tools enough so it didn't sound thin and harsh like it did in the beginning. But right now, I think, you know, if I can get the analog flow at some point through a big board—you know, recording through a big Neve analog board or big API board—I don't mind going to Pro Tools. And then I mix at my house on Pro Tools, so that's great. But the analog sound’s already in there. At some point, there has to be analog. I don't like the sound of digital recordings. You know, they're just not as easy to bend and mold, and, you know, it's got to have something. And one phase of the recording has to be analog. Usually, it's the recording phase. But there's also a lot of plug-ins now that make things sound analog. That's why they're there. They're, you know, designed to warm up things and be an analog piece of plug-in that you can put on something to make it warmer. Shane Do you have a go-to, or what would you recommend for an analog plug-in like that? David Z Oh, there's a bunch—TapeHead, Lo-Fi—that's a good one. Shane I'm writing these down. I'm going to run out and buy them as soon as we get off here. David Z You listen to the—any modern recording has that stuff in it. Kings Of Leon, and they're big hit, “Use Somebody.” Anyway, the big hit—I know that engineer took the snare and just took it through lo-fi and cut the frequency down so it sounds like it's 12 bits. So he warmed it up that way, and it sticks out of the mix because of that. Shane So one of the things I want to talk about—I've got a few questions about just the creative process. David Z Mm-hmm. Shane In your world, are there daily habits, or standards, or minimums that you hold yourself to? You feel like you've got to do this every day to keep improving. David Z No, I don't think I have to do it every day, but I have to keep up on things. I mean, I'm not a writer, so I can only do what I've got in front of me. I know Prince used to tell me he'd write five songs a day and throw 90% of them out, but he just makes himself write five ideas a day. Now, if you're a writer, yeah, that's great, but I have to work on the tracks that I got in front of me. I don't do that every single day, but I try. I try to keep, you know, busy doing that. Shane Are you a night owl or an early riser? What time of the day are you more creative? David Z I'm more creative after one o'clock in the afternoon, but I don't—I used to push it till late, but I don't—I haven't really done that lately. Shane I'm very curious—from conceptualization to actualization, what does that process look like? You get an idea for a song. You said you don't do a whole lot of songwriting. David Z I get an idea for an arrangement. I do arranging. If somebody writes the song, I can arrange it so it will record. A lot of times, that's all kinds of experimentation, like, you know, try the drumbeat at half speed, try the bass part in half speed, try eighth notes in here. Shane So when somebody brings you a song—say you're operating at optimal levels, you're at 100%—how long does it take you to go from sit down and begin writing the arrangement until you've got a deliverable master track? David Z Well, it depends how quick they record. I mean, people have different paces that they record at. I can usually do a few songs a day, recording-wise, and then spend a lot of time—not a lot of time overdubbing, but adding things. And then most of the time is sorting it out again in the mix, and I try not to do too much. You try to eliminate as much as you can going down that you know isn't going to work. So I'd say, you know, an average? About a week, roughly. Shane Gotcha. That's what, doing a 40-hour week, or do you, you know, get up and do a 12-hour day or work until you fall asleep? Do you have any kind of regimen? David Z It depends. If I'm just doing it myself and I'm mixing, I usually don't mix longer than eight hours because my ears start to give out and I don't trust them. But if we're recording a band, you know, we’ve got to squeeze the most in we can, and usually that's more than a 12-hour day. That's usually a lot longer process. Shane I'm trying to figure out what the producer/engineer equivalent of writer's block is. And is there ever a time where you're sitting there, you're just trying to get things to mesh and go together, and it’s just not happening? So how do you—is that something where you have to walk away for a while, take a break, or do you just keep at it until you power through? David Z Well, you know, I found that if I say, “Let's try it again tomorrow when you feel differently,” everyone always fights that. They go, “No. No. We want to do it now.” Sometimes, I try it again the next day. Most of the time, we just work at it until we get it. Shane Do you ever do that thing where you're out in public and something you've been mulling over and thinking about—you know, you're in the middle of a bite to eat, and all of a sudden, the solution just pops into your head? David Z Yeah, I have done that. Yes. Shane How do you capture that? When you're out in public and creative inspiration strikes you, what do you do when you're not near your equipment? David Z I either text myself a message or record it into my phone. Shane Yeah, that's usually what I do. I've got my little voice activator on my phone. David Z Yeah. If it's a melody, or a rhythm, or something I don't want to forget musically, I usually just record it. I go in a bathroom or something and record it, or somewhere where it's relatively quiet. Usually, it'll work with a text or an email. Shane If somebody wanted to follow in your footsteps, what piece of advice would you give them? What's the best piece of advice you could think of to offer them? David Z The best piece of advice would be: You’ve got to love music because there's no other reason to be in the music business. Shane What cautionary tale—or what would you tell somebody to dissuade them from following in your footsteps? David Z Boy. That usually never works. I mean, it's kind of funny, but people send me stuff, and sometimes it's so bad. I'm sorry. It's just so bad that I try to convince them that they should, you know, stay with their day job. But most people—it seems like the worst, the worst. You know, they don't want to quit. So there's not much I can say to dissuade somebody. It's almost—I shouldn't because maybe they'll get better. I always think of myself and go, “Wow. If somebody ever heard the first recordings I made, they’d say, ‘Oh, man, go back to the factory.’” You know? I got better, and you never know. If somebody practices and they hit enough walls, things might change. They might. You know, like I said, I learned by the school of hard knocks, so why should I deny somebody else that? Shane So if your kids came up to you and said, “Dad, we want to be music producers,” what would you say to them? David Z I already told them, “Never!” They’re never going into the music business, ever. And they knew that. As a matter of fact, I was working with Johnny Lang, who's the same age as my oldest son, and I came home after a long day of recording Jonny, and he was working his ass off in the studio. I come home, and my kid’s watching the television. I go, “What are you doing with your life?” He goes—I said, “Why are you watching television?” He goes, “I'm studying to be an actor.” I went, “What?” I said, “How do you know you're a good actor?” He goes, “I lie to you every day.” So I had to go, “Okay, point taken.” No, they actually—they know that. My youngest son was in a band. He loves music, but it's a rough road. And I try to keep telling them that I'm just really lucky coming up okay because there's a lot of ways it could go bad. Shane Is there an amount of money that someone could offer you to walk away from doing music? David Z I'm sure there is. Everyone's got a price. Shane Any idea what your price tag is? David Z Let's see. I'm sure anyone could identify. I'd actually like to sail around the world. You know, if that could be possible, that would be fun. Shane All right, so we need to get the price on an intercontinental yacht. David Z Yep. Ha ha, you know, everything that comes with it. Shane All right, I'll get my people on that. I will not be the donator for that charitable event. Well, I think we've kind of got to the end. We’re coming to the point—I've got a set of questions that I'm asking everybody. David Z Okay. Shane I sent you 12. Two of these—I added two more since then, so two of these are going to be a surprise for you, but I think you can come up with them pretty easily. David Z Okay. Shane If your job only paid the bills and nothing more, would you still continue to do it? David Z If my job was only to pay the bills and nothing more—well, if it excluded the love of music. If I didn't enjoy it, then I wouldn't do it. No. Shane What talent or skill do you not have that you wish you did? David Z I wish I could read music. Shane If you could have any superpower, what would it be? David Z [Laughs]. A superpower. That's good. Shane A superpower. David Z Yeah, I guess. Shane We’re going comic book here. David Z Well, I wish I could see through things. Shane If you could have dinner with anyone, alive or dead, who would it be? David Z Oh, wow, that's a good one. Jesus Christ. Shane Fill in the blank. I am a success if I _____. David Z Like what I did. Shane Fill in the blank again. I am a failure if I _____. David Z Don’t like what I did. Shane What is the single best piece of advice that someone ever gave you that you followed to get to where you are today? David Z If you're going to do something, be the best. Shane What piece of advice are you glad that you ignored to get to where you are today? Somebody gave you a cautionary tale, and you just disregarded it. David Z Cut your hair and get out of the music business. Shane Cut your hair, hippie. David, what character trait do you like best about yourself? David Z I'm happy. I can see the positive side of most things. Shane Conversely, what character trait do you like least about yourself? David Z I get disgusted easily. My patience is—I'm proud of the kind of patience I have in the studio because I don't usually have that in other parts of my life, and I wish I did. Shane Fill in the blank to this one. I believe every child should have the opportunity to _____. David Z Wow. Well, obviously, the opportunity to enjoy music—a lot of people aren't privy to that. Shane If you could suggest one piece of self-improvement that everyone on earth would adopt, what would it be? David Z Read books. Shane That's brilliant. A hospitable nearby planet has been discovered, and you have been recruited to help colonize it. You may take any three items with you that you wish. What are they? David Z Well, I guess I'd have to take a generator if I was going to take any electric stuff. Shane We're going to say your electricity, your food, all your essentials—your necessaries are all handled, so these are three wishful items, three wants. David Z You know, I'd be bored if I didn't have a guitar, so I'd have to have that. Wow, stuck on an island, huh? Shane Oh, much worse. You're stuck on a foreign planet. David Z Oh, that's even worse. Yeah, absolutely. Hmm. Another human being—a female, probably. Shane I tell you what. Let me qualify this. They're sending the best and the brightest and the most talented and creative. So you're surrounded by top-notch individuals. You’ve got a guitar. David Z A guitar, a vehicle, and some spending money. Shane All right, that'll work. All right, final one: You've just won a lifetime achievement award in your field, and I want you to give us your acceptance speech. There's not going to be any music to cue you or rush you off the stage, so you can get to all the “thank yous” that you need. Or if you have a personal cause that you want to champion, this is your soapbox. Let us have it. David Z You know, I have had a lifetime achievement award, and I think, on that note, I'd like to support diabetes. I'd like to support drug addiction services. I'd like to—that's about it because I think drug addiction attacks every family in a different place. There isn't a family alive that isn't affected by someone in their family having problems with drugs or alcohol, so that would be in my speech. Shane That's a noble cause. Well, David, that's all I have for you. You've been very generous with your time, and thank you so much for joining me today. David Z Sure, my pleasure. Thank you. Shane Once again, that was Grammy Award-winning music producer David Z. You can learn more about David, including his entire impressive discography, at his website, davidzproducer.com. I'd like to thank everyone for joining me today. You are listening to the Live2cre8 podcast, and this is Shane Almgren reminding you to dream big, be inspired, and live creatively.






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