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THE PRODUCER'S CHAIR: DAVE BRAINARD

THE PRODUCER'S CHAIR: DAVE BRAINARD

By James Rea www.theproducerschair.com

No-one knows better than Dave Brainard, the extent, to which producers must go, to prevent greatness from slipping into obscurity. And such was the case with Brandy Clark and her multi-award-nominated album 12 STORIES. In a market completely driven by radio, without the help of radio, one extremely talented, little-known 38 yr old female country artist, who was turned down by every label in Nashville, propelled by Brainard's impeccable production, just accomplished the impossible.

Brandy Clark and 12 Stories, already received CMA nominations for Best New Artist and it won Best Song of the Year, 2 Grammy nominations for Best Country Album and Best New Artist, and now...2 ACM nominations for "Female Vocalist of the Year" and Brandy's Song of the Year nomination for "Follow Your Arrow", recorded by Kacey Musgraves. Brandy was also named Music Row Magazine's Breakthrough Artist of the Year! All of which, was largely due to the fact that, Brainard and engineer Brian Kolb, stepped up to the plate, beyond the call of duty, to ensure that the album was finished.

Dave Brainard
Dave Brainard

Since arriving in Nashville in 1999, Dave Brainard produced an independent album on Jamey Johnson in 2002 that, received just the right amount of attention to get things rollin' for Jamey, a Western Underground album in 2007, two Ray Scott albums in 2012 and 2014 and 2 Jerrod Niemann albums, in 2010 and 2012 including JUDGE JERROD & THE HUNG JURY, which landed Jerrod his deal with Joe Galante and Arista.

Brainard's first #1 single as a producer, "Lover Lover" sold Platinum in digital single sales and the same album went on to yield a top 20 with "One More Drinkin' Song" and a top 5 with "What Do You Want".

During the same period, Brainard managed to acquire 2 publishing deals with Balmur Music and Big Picture that led to cuts with Neal McCoy, Sammy Kershaw, Kelly Coffee, Riccochet, Brooks & Dunn and the Hunter Hayes/Jason Mraz's duet entitled "Everybody's Got Somebody But Me", all while touring as a sideman with Rebecca Lynn Howard, Anthony Smith, Marcel, David Nail, and Jessica Andrews.

There's more...Amidst producing, session work, songwriting and touring, in his spare time, with no formal training in audio engineering whatsoever, Brainard also self–taught himself from a TASCAM 4 track cassette recorder (back in 1993), to a Tascam 8 track, to a Roland VS-880, and on to Pro Tools (2000), to establish his own deciBel Productions and Mix Dream Studios with engineer Brian Kolb, as one of Nashville's most sought-after production facilities, for many of Nashville's most prominent songwriters like Steven Dale Jones, Dallas Davidson, Ben Hayslip, Rhett Akins, Mark D. Sanders, John Goodwin just to name a few. Not bad for being self-taught at everything.

David's father was an Air Force Master Sergeant, who moved the family from Seoul, where David was born, to Omaha, Nebraska when David was about 2 yrs old and then from Nebraska to Germany from 1989-91, where David started playing guitar in the 8th grade. They then moved back to Nebraska where Brainard graduated from high school during which he taught guitar to 40 students per week, at a local music store, in his junior year. Brainard went on to attend the University of Omaha Nebraska, majoring in piano for one year, before serving 5 yrs in the United States Air Force Band, stationed in Omaha. Initially Brainard was in the rock/R&B band but then moved over to the country band, becoming inspired by artists like Garth Brooks and Diamond Rio, and musicians like Brent Mason, before moving to Nashville, where he got his first gig...waiting tables at Applebees, before signing his 1st Publishing deal with Balmur Corus Music in 2001.

The Producer's Chair: How did you get signed to Balmur?

Dave Brainard: Tammy Brown (A&R at Sony records) was working with an artist by the name of Gina West that I happened to be writing with. Tammy took an interest and referred me to Scott Gunter over at Almo Irving (publishing). Scott is now one of my best mentors and friends. He drug me over the Scott Gunter coals in a great way. He opened up the door at Almo and I started writing with some of their writers. Thom Schuyler was signed to Almo at the time and he left Almo to go run Balmur. Thom was looking for a couple of young writers and Scott said here's your guy. So it goes back to Tammy.

I got my first cut with Neal McCoy during that first 3 month period. It was a song called 'What If', which got singled, 17 ads the first week, 9 ads the second week, 3rd week 0 ads, 4th week 0 ads and a friend of mine who was kind-of in the know said, they're going to pull that single. Meantime I was out looking at houses thinking, man this songwriting stuff is easy. Then the promotion staff at Warner Bros got fired and they dropped Neal from the label and that began my long line of songwriter heartaches...artists that cut my songs and would lose their record deals. I became known to myself as, the guy that killed careers.

Tebey Otto, when he was with BNA cut 2 of my songs and lost his deal. Emerson Drive lost their deal, so their record never came out, Kelly Coffee lost her deal and it never came out. It was weird. There were at least a half a dozen. (Some of them were with Big Picture) Then the big one for me was the Brooks & Dunn cut. They changed producers after they'd recorded my song, and cut all new songs, though our song ended up sneaking back into project as a bonus track on the Best Buy exclusive release.

There were some cuts that actually popped through. I had a Sammy Kershaw cut from the Balmur catalog and Riccochet had a #1 Christian Country song.

So at that point I had gotten a bunch of cuts but I didn't really have the track record to score another deal after Big Picture. So I kind-of ducked out of it for a while to start my own studio because all along that writing path, I had one foot in the studio and I'd built this side business, on top of writing.

The Producer's Chair: Have you always been a risk-taker?

Brainard: Because of my compulsive tendencies, I've poured myself into a lot projects without being compensated upfront, using resources that cost me a lot of money, and ending up without a proportionate equity in the final result. Dave Ramsey would not be happy with me for sure. But hey, it was what I had to do to build a body of work that gave me credibility, and through the process, I realized I was doing more than just producing records. I was developing artists and really helping define their brand.

My company, deciBel Nashville, came out of a necessity to park equity in those different values that are created for an artist beyond the studio. To find investors if need be, strategize touring and marketing, social media and all those things that can be done before a major label might get involved, to build the foundation of a business for an artist. Ultimately I've observed that it's much more appealing to a label nowadays to partner with an artist that has a sound, a brand, and a fan base already in the works. I see a lot of room to create value in all of those areas. As my good friend Tommy Jackson told me "It's just blocking and tackling." My belief is that the 4 point producer royalty is an antiquated model. So my version of a market adjustment is to go out there and fairly earn other parts of the revenue streams that can come from making a great record. The main thing is production and touring but somewhere in there, publishing can be an element. The most important thing is to find an artist that can go out and build a fan base.

Where it used to be just me and Brian Kolb, I've really been fortunate to become surrounded with a great team of talented people. We're building a true artist development company, and having a lot of fun doing it.

The Producer's Chair: Why were all of the top writers coming to you for demos?

Brainard: Maybe it was an arrangement sense. I always thought, the experience had to be great. No drama, no bitchin', let's make music and let's have fun. It was always fun and sincere and a good vibe and it felt really creative. So we built up this great clientele. Brian was doing the full demos and I was in here every day doing glorified guitar/vocals, hiring a piano or a fiddle where we needed it. I think it was reputation, price-point, it felt musical, and they were having success getting cuts. For the glorified guitar vocals, the price-point was less than a demo and many times it was more affective because I think it covered that gap between filling in the imagination for A&R people and capturing the organic-ness of the song without getting in the way of it. You know what I mean? It was right in that sweet spot.

The Producer's Chair: When did you produce the independent album on Jamey Johnson?

Brainard: It was before I got my Balmur deal. Within a year and a half of being in town I had a small reputation doing this cool VS880 thing and I'd just gotten into pro-tools. Jamie found me through a friend and he came in and said, I want you to demo a couple of things. He loved the demos and his investor put some money into it and he came back and said I want to do a record. At the time it wasn't like, I'm a producer, let's make a record. Jamie and I became really tight, hung out and did a lot of stuff. Fast forward a decade, and it was through Jamey Johnson's team (specifically Emily Merchbanks) that, I connected with Brandy Clark, who was looking for a producer.

The Producer's Chair: How did you meet Jerrod initially?

Brainard: I met Jerrod back when we first moved to town. We moved to town around the same time. We were pretty good friends, and though we never really rolled in the same circles, we kept in touch, and I'd occasionally do some demo work for him. Then we re-connected and in 2008 Jerrod had lost his record deal with Category 5 and he was on the road working his tail off and basically needed something to sell from the road.

The Producer's Chair: You knew that Brandy and the songs slated for her album were a huge risk? Were your heart & your head at odds?

Brainard: On the creative side, there was never any risk cause, there's never risk in being associated with something that excellent, even if it doesn't wind up making any money. The head part is on the business side, on the back end.

The Producer's Chair: You said: "From listening to her songs, I had this image of Brandy as a drinker, a smoker, a hard edged person in general but, as I got to spend time with her, I was surprised to find out she didn't really do any of that stuff. I realized that what makes her so special is that, she's just a truly gifted narrator and storyteller." What made you think that the country music industry would be interested in a 38 yr old female story-teller?

Brainard: It was just that great. I was so inspired by her music and her singing. People fall in love with her. She's just a wonderful soul. To me, that defined the most excellent thing I'd heard in this town.

The Producer's Chair: Were you disappointed when Country radio didn't embrace 12 Stories?

Brainard: I thought that if you could get Brandy's music through to radio that it would be great for the format and help take it back to where it used to be and turn the lights on to listeners and expand the demographic back to a place where listeners get to enjoy more substantive music. I always thought that country radio would be great with it. But radio never had a chance to embrace it, with the exception of John Marks and Sirius XM. In Nashville, it just didn't make it past the gate keepers at the record labels, so you can't really blame radio because they never really had a shot at it.

The Producer's Chair: Do you agree that, Brandy's album has done the impossible?

Brainard: That's probably what I'm most proud of. I believe the quality of content drove a lot of it, but to see how hard Brandy has worked to make this happen can't be taken for granted. I also have to applaud Jacquelin Marushka and the folks at Shorefire. They did some amazing things, from a publicity stand point, to break down the barriers.

The Producer's Chair: Why do you think that Brandy didn't get signed to a Nashville label?

Brainard: Currently, my understanding is that their distribution channels aren't compatible with how an artist like Brandy should be marketed. It's a head scratcher for sure. When Warner Brothers in Los Angeles fell in love with the record they said "We're gonna sign it, and do whatever it takes to develop the marketing plan around Brandy." That was refreshing to hear.

The Producer's Chair: Did you co-write any of the songs on the album, with Brandy?

Brainard: I did not. I tried not to poison that well. What I produce and what I write are two different things. Sometimes they work together, sometimes not. I asked Brandy," who are you writing these amazing songs with?" and Brandy said, "Shane McAnally, and Mark Stephen Jones, and Jessie Jo Dillon (and others)" and I said, "I don't wanna touch that...I'm the producer here and you obviously already have your A Team."

The Producer's Chair: I understand that during production, you had an epiphany about your producing philosophy.

Brainard: I remember sitting in my studio with Brandy. And I remember having this thought, 'Man'...It's not about about the money, and I don't care about what's in it for me. I just want the best for this person. I wanted Brandy to have an amazing life, and great career… whatever it took. And the cool thing about Brandy is that, it was so reciprocated. Every time I would say something like, "you're vocals are so great on this track, you're amazing", she'd say, "no...you're the amazing one. If it weren't for all the time you put into it, it wouldn't be this way."...and so on.

So there's this crazy inspirational process that happens when you're sitting in a room with someone that, you want the best for and they want the best for you. It fuels inspiration. It was that moment sitting there with Brandy that I realized, wow...this sets the benchmark for what I need to be doing from now on, with anybody I work with, and it's become a part of my decision-making process, when choosing to work with certain artists. Would I run through a wall for them?

The Producer's Chair: You said: "I believe in making a difference, and in excellence," What difference do you feel that 12 Stories has already made and will make?

Brainard: I think it opens the door for female artist to want to take on edgier subject matter and let their hair down a bit. I think it inspires young songwriters to want to dig a little deeper. From a production standpoint, I think it's a good example of what can happen when there's more space around a great song or vocal and not so much compression, and I really see it raising the bar all around for anyone wanting to come to Nashville to make music.

I come from a Beatles, Rock, Jazz, Classical background, but I love what I discovered in country music. I love Nashville. I love the traditions. To me, it's worth fighting for. It's nice to be a part of something that swings it back, to what makes this town great.

The Producer's Chair: When did you start to trust your judgment, of what excellence is?

Brainard: That's probably military. It goes back to being in the Air Force...integrity, service before self, teamwork and attention to detail...the core values. It comes from sitting there watching and feeling the gravity of 4-Star Generals command a room of other powerful men and women. It comes from learning proper protocol and observing the teamwork that it takes achieve certain things and leadership. In this industry I look for that too. I've felt that in a room with the Joe Galantes and the Tim Dubois'. It's a very rare quality, to feel the weight or the gravity of leadership in a room the way I used to feel when I'd see Admiral Childs give a speech. Excellence to me kind of comes from somewhere in there. Excellence is this illusive thing that, keeps on making you want to achieve, the best you can...knowing you'll always fall short. Kinda like a carrot on a 50 foot stick.

My Dad got me involved early on listening to cassette tapes of success principles from the likes of Napoleon Hill, to Roger Dawson on negotiating, to Tony Robbins, so I've been listening to that stuff for a long time and learning the principles of stewardship and success and what it takes. That's probably where it comes from. I'm also very lucky to have some mentors in my life, like Tommy Jackson, Jimmy Weber and John Goodwin, that have helped keep me on a good spiritual path.

The Producer's Chair: What has been the most pivotal moment in your career, thus far?

Brainard: Not winning the Grammy. It's great. It feels like we just got a chance to sit at the table and now we've gotta work a lot harder.

Read other Producer's Chair interviews:

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