Howard Massey: Record Producer and Music Industry Author

Date: 22 March 2005
Location: New York City
Interview conducted by Paris Askar

Howard Massey is author of the insightful record production book, Behind The Glass. He is also a veteran industry journalist and a record producer of note. Here, Paris Askar from MBJ discusses modern production trends, and, in particular, the role of women in this traditionally male-dominated sector of the music business.

PA: Can you tell us about your background and how you came to be involved in the music industry?

HM: I started in London about 25 years ago. I haven’t done much record production in recent years – it was in the late 70s and early 80s that I was actively doing that. I started off as a touring musician in England, and I then found myself doing lots of songwriting, so I was in recording studios a lot and went on from there, forging a career as an engineer and producer, and now, as a journalist.

HM: I’m actually spending more time writing about music technology these days, instead of actually making music.

PA: Which producers and songwriters have influenced you?

HM: Definitely George Martin.And definitely Lennon and McCartney. I also greatly admire Brian Wilson’s work, both as a songwriter and a producer.In more modern genres, I admire the production skills of Trevor Horn and Butch Vig.

PA: Tell us about your book, Behind the Glass?

HM: It’s a collection of magazine interviews with record producers and engineers that was compiled into book form. Behind the Glass was actually my eleventh book. My previous books were more about the technical side of recording and synthesizer programming.
PA: At the moment you are co-writing Geoff Emerick's autobiography. What made him a great sound engineer?

HM: Incredibly, Geoff started to work with the Beatles when he was only 15, and he began engineering for them at the age of 19. This book, which will be published in the spring of 2006, covers his entire life, from his childhood all the way through the years he spent recording the Beatles, and beyond. He’s quite possibly the most influential recording engineer of all time; the innovations he came up with back in the 1960s are still in use to this very day.

HM: I think what made him such an extraordinary engineer was his sheer love of sound and his desire to constantly experiment and push the envelope. Of course, he’s got great ears, too. Geoff recorded some of the greatest albums of all time, including Sgt. Pepper, Abbey Road and Band On The Run.

PA: Do you think there is a ‘male culture’ behind the scenes’ of record production?

HM: This is a clearly male-dominated area of the music business. It always has been. Musicians tend to be predominantly male, and so there tends to be a ‘locker room’ mentality in the recording studio – a lot of dirty jokes, and things like that.

HM: Basically, I think that many male musicians don’t feel comfortable having a female in the studio, in any capacity – whether as the producer in charge of things or the assistant engineer who’s making the tea. Sometimes they feel a bit constrained when there’s a woman in the control room with them.
PA: Do you believe that it is more difficult for females to break into male-dominated areas in the music industry like A&R, record production and sound engineering?

HM: Absolutely. The people the record labels hire for their A&R departments are mostly male. That’s because they’re looking for people who the artists – mostly male artists – can relate to, and unfortunately a female A&R person seems not to be someone they can relate to. Unfortunately, that’s the mentality of a lot of twenty-something year old men!

Why do you think there are so few female record producers, especially in the genre of rock?

HM: The interesting thing is that the studio manager of almost every major recording facility is a woman. She’s the person in charge – the person who is actually running things and very often the person doing the hiring and firing, so you would think that studios are perfectly willing to hire female staff. But since there are so few women music engineers and producers out there, my guess is that there are simply not that many women who are interested in doing this for a living.

HM: The other thing I find interesting is that there are a fair percentage of women who are mastering engineers. That seems to be one area where there seems to be equality and the one area where gender doesn’t matter. Maybe that’s because mastering engineers don’t usually work directly with the artist; also, they often have more ‘normal’ working hours than producers or recording engineers. Women are also very well represented in management areas: a lot of artist managers and producer managers are women.

PA: There are more female record producers in Jazz and Classical music compared to Rock. Do you think those genres are more welcoming for female record producer?

HM: Jazz and classical artists tend to be older and more mature. I think that’s the reason why. If you are dealing with a room full of rock musicians who are younger… I am sorry to say they often do not see women as equals, especially in music circles. There is still a lot of sexism in young males, something which may not be as prevalent among 40 or 50 year old men.

Has the music industry changed much from when you first started?

HM: Tremendously. I couldn’t imagine more of a change, in fact. It’s mostly because of the rise of home recording equipment.

PA: Finally, what advice would you give to aspiring new producers?

HM: Probably the single most important thing is: don’t give up. There are a lot very of talented people who don’t get anywhere because they don’t have enough faith in their abilities and give up after they’ve knocked their heads against the wall a couple of times. This is a tough industry to break into, so you’ll have to deal with a lot of rejection and not take it to heart. A lot of what it takes to make it in this business is good fortune – that, and being friends with the right people. That’s 50% of it; the other 50% is talent. You also need to develop a good set of people skills. You have to be friendly and funny, someone people like being around; otherwise, they are just not going to want to deal with you no matter how talented you may be. So perservere, be pleasant, and have faith in yourself: that’s the best advice I can offer.

PA: Howard Massey, thank you for your time.

Paris Askar is a Swedish/English correspondent of Music Business Journal

This article republished without permission.