SongLink International -
THE #1 CREATIVE RESOURCE for Music Publishers, Songwriters, Composers, A+R, Producers and Managers
-
THE PRODUCER'S CHAIR: DANN HUFF

THE PRODUCER'S CHAIR: DANN HUFF

By Nashville Columnist James Rea www.theproducerschair.com

Dann Huff was recently nominated "again" for 2012 CMA Musician of the Year and I fully expected the walls of his home and studio in Brentwood, to be drenched with his sea of past awards, which include 2010 Billboard Country Producer of the Decade, 2010 ACM Producer of the Year, 2006 ACM Producer of the Year, 2006 MUSIC ROW AWARDS Producer of the Year, 2004 CMA Musician of the Year and 2001 CMA Musician of the Year, just to name a few, but such was not the case. His 2005 Grammy for Best Album wasn't even on display. According to Huff, he'd rather focus on his current projects.

Dann Huff
Dann Huff

Dann was born and raised in Music City to a musically gifted family. His brother, David began playing drums in third grade and his father Ronn Huff was a sought-after arranger on the cutting edge of Nashville's contemporary Christian music scene. As a youngster Dann would accompany him to sessions and to this day cites his father as his first influence. Huff started playing guitar at the age of 9. He took a few lessons, even classical, but played mostly by ear. When he was 13, a session guitarist by the name of John Darnall taught him his first scale, and that set the young Dann Huff on the career path he followed.

Today, Dann is first and foremost a family man. He and his wife Sherri met at a junior high retreat at 13 yrs old and have now been married for 30 years. Their daughter Madelyne is in her 3rd year at UTK, Ashlyne, who is getting married this month is a signed writer with BMG Rights Management and their son Elliott, who Dann says is a better musician at 17 than he was, is currently studying with famed swing drummer Duffy Jackson.

In high school, Brentwood Academy, Dann met fellow guitarist Gordon Kennedy and they started gigging in a little band at school assemblies. Then, at the tender age of 16, he started playing on artist's demos in Nashville. Huff then moved to Los Angeles where he played and recorded with an impressive list of artists. According to Hoyle, Dann Huff literally played on at least one track with almost every recording artist in the 1980s, as well as most of Nashville's releases in the 1990s. His sessions resume includes Barbra Streisand, Kenney Loggins, Reba McEntire, Celine Dion, DC Talk, Shania Twain, Michael Bolton, Luther Vandross, Peter Cetera, Donna Summer, Rod Stewart, Michael Jackson, Madonna, Whitney Houston, Amy Grant, Fine Young Cannibals, Barry Manilow, The Temptations, Chaka Khan, O'Jays, Smokey Robinson, Clint Black, Faith Hill, Tim McGraw, Whitesnake, Natalie Cole, Gladis Knight, Neville Brothers, Dusty Springfield, Rick Springfield, Olivia Newton-John, Toby Keith, Billy Joel, Joe Cocker, Bryan Ferry, Peter Wolf, Martina McBride, Chicago, Wynonna, Glen Campbell, Paula Abdul, Tammy Wynette, Mariah Carey, Merle Haggard, Bob Seger, Boz Scaggs and many more.

Dann used many electric and acoustic guitars during his career as a session musician. He mostly runs his Tyler Classic signature model built by Los Angeles boutique luthier James Tyler through a stack of different amps and effect pedals. Huff's gear setup also includes a variety of Fender Stratocasters & Telecasters, a Tom Anderson Classic T and a Tyler Ultimate Weapon with Dual Humbuckers, active mid-boost circuitry and a recessed Floyd Rose Original locking Tremolo Bridge.

When he was 20, he formed the Christian band Whiteheart. Other members were his brother, drummer David Huff, singer Steve Green, keyboardists Billy Smiley and Mark Gersmehl, and bassist Gary Lunn. Whiteheart completed three albums before Huff called it quits in 1985. After leaving Whiteheart, maybe with a taste for something different, Dann and his brother David joined forces to create another band, Giant. This venture left Christian music behind to offer heavy metal, hard rock albums like Last of the Runaways and Time to Burn. Although Giant was well-received by critics, and despite scoring a massive hit with the single "I'll See You In My Dreams", they never achieved the level of success they deserved. When Time to Burn (their 2nd album, followed by III) released in 1992, their 80's style was quickly swallowed up by the arrival of the grunge music scene.

Huff's move into production was the result of friendly persuasion by Mutt Lange, who told Huff, "You are a producer in guitarist's clothes." He was flattered but didn't know where to start until Lange recommended Huff to Faith Hill. Within a couple of years, Dann Huff was making a name for himself as a producer in Nashville. His credits included Faith Hill, Lonestar and newcomers SHeDaisy, as well as two Megadeth albums. What he couldn't have predicted was that Lonestar and SHeDaisy would become award-winning acts selling millions of albums. As their careers took off, so did his. Today, Dann ranks among Music Row's most in-demand producers, with an impressive production discography that includes 2012 CMA nominee for Best Male Vocalist, Keith Urban, Rascal Flatts, Faith Hill, Lonestar, Carrie Underwood, Jewel, Wynonna, Deana Carter, Pat Green, Billy Ray Cyrus, Jimmy Wayne, Shedaisy, Kenny Rogers, Leann Rimes, Martina McBride, Bryan White, Chely Wright, Rebecca St. James, Collin Raye, Trace Adkin, Julianne Hough, Steel Magnolia and Bon Jovi.

Over the past year or so alone, Huff has also been working with 2012 CMA nominee for Best New Artist Hunter Hayes, Brantley Gilbert, Kelly Clarkson, Taylor Swift, Sarah Darling, Mickey G, Johnny Gates and The Invite, Kenny Rogers, The Nashville TV Show, Reba's new TV show, Big & Rich, Billy Currington and next week, he'll be cutting some sides with The Band Perry.

The Producer's Chair: Which is more challenging, producing veteran artists or new artists?
Dann Huff: They have their unique challenges. When you're working with established acts, it absolutely forces you to try to re-invent, re-frame and re-think ideas. There's certain intensity, especially if you've had much success with an artist, to absolutely re-define. With new artists, you're working with an entirely new set of dynamics. It's a relationship that hasn't been formed and you're developing a new language and a trust. With Hunter Hayes, I'd met him several times but didn't know him very well going in. Then all of a sudden I'm thrown into a situation with a young man whose going to play everything on this record. We had no language for that. I had a rough idea how to do it, but not to really implement it. Once you start doing that, you have to develop a language and develop a trust. With every new artist, in the back of their mind is; "Hey, I don't want to sound like so-in-so. How are you going to differentiate me from others?" That pressure to me is as stout as the pressure of working with established artists.

How do think songwriters feel about sharing a piece of the pie with artists who all of a sudden want to co-write?
Probably not good would be the answer. I think it's also a blessing and a curse scenario because gone are the days where said artist shows up at said studio with said set of songs. That worked for a decade. Artists are becoming more savvy, the marketplace is not the same and there's much more competition from every different angle. The idea is to make music that is unique to a certain artist. When that artist is writing, it makes things that much easier. The typical Nashville deal is; if you're in the room you split it. I would feel embarrassed if I only contributed one line and took a third, if there were three writers. I've seen many artists who say "No … I just had the title...10% max" out of respect for the other writers. But economics aside, I think it's ultimately better for everybody when the artist has a story to tell as opposed to boutique shopping songs. Artists who say; "Let's write songs that share my story" is a positive thing.

Regarding country music specifically, will most of the next generation of artists be songwriters?
I hope so.

Will the songwriting community suffer, as a result?
It's going to be survival of the best.

How much artist development do you do?
The whole model is changing. Management, publishing companies, everybody is into the development business these days, not just producers. Hunter Hayes was developed by a publishing company. They just kept me abreast of his development while they were developing his songwriting, his demos and his sound. Usually the calls come quite up the food chain and they're usually close to being ready to start a record. I am helping to develop a girl through my affiliation with BMG, but I'm not in the development business. I only have so much time.

Joe Galante said: "If an artist expects to be in the major label system they must be "READY". What do you look for?
You have to be unique and have a story to tell. Being motivated is not enough. It's all intangibles in music. Look at Peyton Manning. He can't run, but look what he can do. It's not about having the best voice, that's a moving target. The best voice to one person is an irritant to others. It's not just manic energy. I think at the root of a great entertainer and artist is a person who lives to be heard. You have to have that. And the more different it is the better.

You produce a lot of artists who rely heavily on the songwriting community for their songs. Are you ever right down to the wire and its panic time?
All the time, no project is ever over, you're always trying to stack the deck.

Hip Hop is huge partially because it reflects artist opinions and current events. Does country music have a tendency to stay away from that kind of content?
No, I think it embraces it totally. It's just a different slice of the pie. With country music, there's a lot of compassion and unity and neighborliness, small community, standing up for the little guy and honoring the commitments. I think those kind of things are a big part of the politics of country music. A lot of young hip hop artists are writing about pop culture. The notion that country music is sittin' up on a porch totally isolated doesn't exist. You may be sittin' on that porch or frog-giggin' but you've got your cell phone there, which means you're connected to the world. That's what hip hop culture is. They're singing about them and the hood and the city. We do the same. It's just regional differences, a different hood … but people are people. All you have to do is go to some of these country clubs. The mashing of country music, urban, hip hop and rock is pretty staggering.

Is it difficult to find radio hits today, for legendary artists like Kenny Rogers?
Kenny Rogers is a National treasure and an icon and everything that every artist would aspire to be. I told him, the idea of trying to find songs that are concurrent with radio right now to me is an absolute mistake. It's irrelevant to who you are as an artist. I said, let's try and accentuate who you are. If there's something for radio that's magical, that's great, but to willfully go after that? I'm not interested in songs about being in love when you were 40. You've lived this phenomenally rich life. Perspective from you today is what I'm interested in. He has the right to say things that so many artists can't say.

With budgets being so tight, are we going to see more singles released on new artists until they establish their market value?
I hope so.

Do artists with huge financial backing stand a better chance of being signed?
It helps but if Elvis Presley walked through the door in rags, you're still going to go for the talent.

What is one of the biggest challenges of your job?
Time management, I was mailing mp3s to Scott Borchetta in Milan at 10 o'clock on Sunday night. Usually I'm up at about 7:30 in the morning working on something before I go to the studios downtown. I don't have an assistant.

How long have you been working with Justin Niebank and what do you find unique about his engineering skills?

Justin Niebank
Justin Niebank
We started working together around 1990, when I started working with Keith Urban. Justin has an absolute knack for framing a song and really dealing with the emotional aspects of the music. He's not static. He understands that it's not about him. Justin's a bass player, he understands flow and tempo and the necessity of being able to jump in when there's not an idea.

Do you do many re-mixes for other markets?
Yes, it is a big part of securing success and getting songs up the charts. The labels are really savvy about that. If you have a radio programmer in the Midwest who says; "That sounds a little too much like pop music", as opposed to accepting a no, if they can get traction somewhere else in larger urban areas where the lines are a little blurrier, they can call the producer and say, do you mind pulling down the guitars a little so that it's not going to ruffle this guy's listeners? Then you get into re-mixes for other formats & Countries. Some artists say "absolutely not, this is my music" and other artists just want to be heard; Too each his own.

Are major labels still going to operate the same way, in 20 years?
Not in the structure that they're in right now. Big Machine wasn't a major label but it is now. Talent can't help but become bigger. I don't think it's going to be a bunch of boutique situations; it's just re-structuring the real estate. I think there's just going to be the ability, to be more stealth. There's not going to be the redundancy in the labels. I think they're going to be able to out-source more things and they'll be smaller.

What are the benefits to artists, of having label and management under one roof?
You get the ultimate amount of attention. Everybody's in it together. Details are not going to be missed as much. This is the answer to the mega record labels with 25 artists and departments that have to service all. People have been out-sourcing for a while. Once an artist gets big, usually one of the first things they do is, they augment the marketing and they augment the publicity. This is just an off-shoot of that saying, we can out-source that. We don't need people to tell us what a hit record is, we need partners. One size doesn't fit all. There are some artists better served at a major label and certain artists are much better served by the whole 360 mentality. It all boils down to, the people that are there. What there intensions are and what there commitment level is.

Read other Producer's Chair interviews:

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Tom Hambridge

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Tony Brown

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Michael Knox

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Forest Glen Whitehead

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Mark Bright

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Scott Hendricks

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Trey Fanjoy

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Chad Carlson

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Jay DeMarcus

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Shane McAnally

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Doug Johnson

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Jeff and Jody Stevens

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Jamie O'Neal

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Fred Mollin

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Dann Huff

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Noah Gordon

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Carl Jackson

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Paul Worley

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Cactus Moser

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Dave Brainard

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Gretchen Peters

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Frank Liddell

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Victoria Shaw

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Jed Hilly

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Marshall Altman

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Julian King

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Brent Maher

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Tom Hambridge

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Jim Catano

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Michael Knox

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Keith Thomas

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Mark Bright

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Jimmie Lee Sloas

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Ron Haffkine

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Trey Bruce

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Doug Johnson

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Mickey Jack Cones

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Keith Stegall

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Ted Hewitt

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Carl Jackson

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Brett James

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Jeff Stevens

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Dann Huff

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Paul Worley

-
The SongLink Articles RSS Feed
-
-
-
SongLink Prizes To Be Awarded At LIPA Graduation
-
Songlink Success For Hayley McKay and Mike G
-
Tony Visconti To Receive Top MPG Award
-
Sound & Vision Returns To Abbey Road For SU2C
-
Thriller Writer Rod Temperton 1949 - 2016
-
New Beatles Movie & David Stark's Fab 4 Film Stories
-
Songlink Prizes Presented at LIPA Graduation Day
-
Songlink At The Insiders Guide
-
David Stark At Midem 1976 - 2016
-
Nominations For The Ivors 2016 Announced
-
-
The SongLink News and Press Release RSS Feed
-
-
- Manager Mark Winters R.I.P.
-
Jethro Tull 50th Anniversary Tour
-
Zak Abel Signs To Sony/ATV Music
-
1967 Teenage Opera To Open 50 Years On
-
Carole King 'Tapestry Live at Hyde Park' CD/DVD
-
Celebrating 50 Years of Sgt Pepper
-
Mvula and Kiwanuka Head Ivors Nominations
-
Sharkey Launches New Salute Contest
-
Brain May and Kerry Ellis Announce New Album
-
Nigel Elderton Appointed New Chairman Of PRS
-
-
-
DO YOU HAVE GOOD COMMERCIAL SONGS TO PITCH? SUBSCRIBE TO SongLink AND GET STARTED TODAY! - NEED SONGS OR CO-WRITERS FOR YOUR ACTS? PLACE A FREE LISTING WITH US TODAY!

ABOUT SONGLINK | SONGLINK F.A.Q. | SAMPLE LEADS | PLACE A FREE LISTING | SUCCESS STORIES | SUBSCRIBE | NEWS | CONTACT SONGLINK

© 1998-2016 SongLink International - 23 Belsize Crescent, London NW3 5QY, UK - TEL: +44 (0) 207794 2540 - FAX: +44 (0) 207 794 7393 - e-mail SongLink

site design: neonflame creative