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THE PRODUCER'S CHAIR: DANN HUFF

THE PRODUCER'S CHAIR: DANN HUFF

By James Rea www.theproducerschair.com

According to Billboard's 'Country Producer of the Decade' and last year's ACM 'Producer of the Year' Dann Huff, we are now officially in a singles market, which may account for, the number of clients on his plate. Talk about a balancing act...Huff's current client roster includes Keith Urban on Capitol, Billy Currington and Jennifer Nettles on Mercury-UMG, Hunter Hayes/Atlantic-Warner, Thompson Square on Stoney Creek, Brantley Gilbert and Thomas Rhett on Valory Music, The Band Perry, Brett Young, Seth Alley and Danielle Bradbery on Universal-Republic, and on Scott Borchetta's new label Dot Records, Maddie and Tae's debut album, and Steven Tyler's already released first single "Love is Your Name", written by Eric Pasley and Lindsey Lee for Tyler's debut solo album.

Dann Huff
Dann Huff

Andrew Leahey/Rolling Stone Magazine wrote; "Love Is Your Name" turns out to be really good and Tyler rips into it like one of his own. While fiddle, lap steel, acoustic guitar and a drum loop kick up some quiet dust in the background, the singer dives into the song's first verse sounding like...well, like Steven Tyler, his voice powerful, raw and blissfully free of the Auto-Tune. It's a left-field arrangement that hasn't been heard on country radio in years - and the whole thing is done within three and a half minutes, long before the song's hooks have overstayed their welcome. F.I.N.E. indeed."

The single was recorded with Steven's back-up band Loving Mary, at John McBride's Blackbird Studios in Berry Hill and like the expected album, is country. Looking back...Huff's move into production, after his remarkable body of session work, which includes Barbra Streisand, Kenny 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, 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 countless others, was the result of friendly persuasion by Mutt Lange, who told Huff, "You are a producer in guitarist's clothes."

But although flattered, Dann really didn't know where or how to begin, until Lange recommended him to Faith Hill. Then came newcomers Lonestar and SHeDaisy, and two Megadeth albums. But what he couldn't have predicted was that, Lonestar and SHeDaisy would become award-winning, multi-platinum acts, selling millions of albums. And as their careers took off, so did his.

Some of Dann's other 'cherished awards' include: 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, not to mention, a 'boat-load' of nominations.

But don't be surprised if Steven Tyler is only one, of a long list of iconic artists from other genres, who would love to have Billboard's 'Country Producer of the Decade' produce them a country project...which makes Dann Huff, one of Country Music's Most Valuable Producers.

The Producer's Chair: Can you describe your sessions with Steven Tyler?

Dann Huff: Steven has the enthusiasm of a first time artist, but he maintains a balance between being very demanding on himself and, by proximity, on everybody. He elevates a room, and yet he's also one of those people who is thankful and grateful and expresses it. He doesn't take things for granted, and that's something that only age really burns into you or zaps out of you. All in all, Steven is such a refreshing person. He's one of those people who you want to be around.

The Producer's Chair: There's a real buzz around Thomas Rhett. How did you and Jessie Fraiser wind up co-producing?

Dann Huff: Thomas's manager Virginia Davis called me. Jessie is a phenomenal songwriter/programmer (track-guy) who also runs Major Bob Publishing and...he's one of my favorite producers. I asked Thomas; "Why me?" and he basically said; "To balance both worlds. We don't have that." The new crop of artists making records grew up with hip hop, so their values are very hip hop and pop infused. The beauty is...Jessie is a 'real' second generation country writer, so it's been fun and I really enjoyed the experience of co-producing with Jessie. I learned as much as I gave.

The Producer's Chair: Would it be safe to say that, most of the new artists that you (and other producers) are producing will be bringing their hip hop/rap roots to their music?

Dann Huff: Yes...even Brantley Gilbert, who is a deep Georgia country boy, listens to old country and loves it but, the last time he was up here, he was playing me Lil John...and not for shock value. He listens to George Jones and as far as you can reach into hip hop.

The Producer's Chair: Do you suspect that, Nashville's producers will be doing a lot more co-producing in the future?

Dann Huff: To me, you've got two choices: rest on your laurels or stay hungry and immerse yourself and learn. Reinvention has to be integrated at all times. It's constantly morphing and changing. That's what I'm enjoying right now.

The Producer's Chair: Where are you recording most of your projects, these days?

Dann Huff: I track in a proper studio, but I also do a lot of it at home. Mostly I do vocals and over dubs at home, where I have more time and less money going out of the budget. The sad thing about that is who that affects (the proper studios). The pie has gotten so much smaller, and everyone is trying to find ways to save money. If I have my choice (if it's in the budget) of paying for a studio, it's John McBride's studio Blackbird. He has one of the best studios in North America. And I'd love to be able to just go over there are work all the time, but that when it's between hiring more studio musicians or paying for the studio, I have to go with the music. It's part of our new economy. It's not all horrible, but it's not all great. At the end of the day, I just have to get the job done.

The Producer's Chair: When you are working with an artist like Jennifer Nettles and there is a decent budget, is Justin Niebank still your engineer/mixer of choice?

Dann Huff: I use Niebank on 95% of what I produce, but I also use Steve Marcantonio, Drew Bollman, Joe Baldridge, Seth Morton, and Mark Hagen to engineer and record. In the same way directors don't cast the same actors in every one of their films, you have to cast per artist so that you're not making the same record. We all only have so many ideas. So, we switch it up. However, Justin is one of those rare talents that can reinvent him-self, from project to project. It's like you're buying a known quantity with him. He's also one of my best friends. So, that's a bonus.

The Producer's Chair: What's the inside-track on Jennifer Nettles' new album?

Dann Huff: Talk about a talent, everything Jennifer writes is about her life, which is an artist's job in my opinion. She's also one of the best singers. She's like Reba. She comes in so prepared. No auto-tune needed!! She just does it.

The Producer's Chair: In our last interview, you said; "Iconic artists have a story that no one else can tell, as young artists have their own story. And the story that an artist brings to the table is inevitably where the songs come from. There's the interest level right there for fans." Do you think that mainstream radio is providing that for fans, lyrically?

Dann Huff: No...but then again, that's not what it exists to do. Mainstream radio is there to provide entertainment for listeners and to hopefully keep them listening long enough to hear the advertisements!

The Producer's Chair: Is there a reason why women aren't getting equal airtime?

Dann Huff: It's always a cycle. When I first started producing records women pretty much controlled the airwaves! If you wait long enough it will happen again. There are a lot of very talented female artists making music right now.

The Producer's Chair: More artists than ever before are having success, without mainstream radio. What has changed?

Dann Huff: Those artists are touring and finding new ways via social media to get their music out there. Management and labels are getting creative in finding new ways to access a wider audience. They know there are a lot more fans out there who are scouring the Internet for new music, not even interested in the Top 20 scenario. Like my son. If it's on the radio, it definitely won't be on his playlist!

The Producer's Chair: Why do some artists receive a stronger commitment from the label than others, coming out of the box?

Dann Huff: Very simple…the labels have to pay bills like everyone else, not to mention their stock holders. Whichever artist is having the hits at the moment accomplishes this and also pays to find and establish the artists of tomorrow. It's not a perfect science and many times some great music is missed, but it at the end of the day, it is a business.

The Producer's Chair: Whose music do you listen to, at the end of the day?

Dann Huff: I'm a product of the 70s, so I default to that! Aural comfort food. But seriously, I listen to everything on the radio, and I love recommendations, especially from my kids. I like to know what's happening outside of Nashville, but I also am very keen to stay abreast of what's going on right here in town. I love what Jay Joyce has been doing.

The Producer's Chair: What are, the biggest challenges facing our industry today. And what are some solutions?

Dann Huff: GETTING PAID! This affects everyone in the service sector: writers, publishers, musicians, producers, record labels, management, etc. We are all dependent on one another. The technology that serves us so well has also marginalized our product. Free is tough to compete with. We've got to compromise. The good ole days are gone. If we let greed guide us, we've got problems. We still get paid good money to do something that we love, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't try to make it better. We have to learn how to redistribute revenue streams available to us in order to pay everyone. On the production front alone, my friend Joey Moy is involved with Craig Weisman's label. I think he has struck a great balance there. He has a great incentive to further the career of his artists because of the revenue streams available to compensate him. Perhaps the wave of the future is that all producers will become "staff producers", very much akin to the 1960's.

There...we just solved everything.

Read other Producer's Chair interviews:

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

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The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Jay DeMarcus

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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

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The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Noah Gordon

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The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Paul Worley

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Cactus Moser

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The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Dann Huff

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