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THE PRODUCER'S CHAIR: CHAD CARLSON

THE PRODUCER'S CHAIR: CHAD CARLSON

By James Rea www.theproducerschair.com

Talking to Chad Carlson at his poolside Cabana home studio about the 2 Grammys he received for Taylor Swift's FEARLESS album led to, his never-ending passion for female voices which is well-reflected in his impressive body of work. Carlson's Engineering and Production discography includes 4 albums with Taylor, 2 with Trisha Yearwood, Allison Kraus, Chase Rice, Love & Theft, Brandy Clark, Sugarland, Blues Traveler, Jewel, Lady Antebellum/Stevie Nicks, Randy Houser, Janis Ian, Thompson Square, Jana Kramer, Maddie & Tae, Matraca Berg, Rachel Proctor, Cole Swindell, Mickey Guyton, Katie Armiger and Point Of Grace, which gives you an idea of how busy Chad has been, since he arrived in Nashville in 2002.

Chad hails from Orlando, Florida where his mother was a choir director, his (deacon) father played trombone and Chad mastered the french horn in high school, which led to a scholarship at Southern Adventist University and a seat in the Chattanooga Symphony, while playing guitar in rock bands, on the side, before attending and graduating from the Conservatory of Recording Arts & Sciences in Phoenix, AZ.

Chad Carlson
Chad Carlson

Admittedly, Chad didn't have his sights set on Nashville and certainly not on country music. His influences musically were artists like Prince, The Police and Madonna, so LA and New York seemed like the logical place to be. But country music had evolved and Chad's wife Amanda wanted to be near her parents, in Chattanooga so, he agreed that, if she could land the interior design job she wanted, he'd give Nashville a shot.

His first intern job at Sound Stage Studios, after graduating from the conservatory in Phoenix, led to becoming Garth Fundis's chief engineer at Sound Emporium, who to this day, Chad proudly calls his mentor. But every bird must leave the nest and as Chad's engineering and production skills became more in-demand, he opened his own Hippo Sound Studio, where his prosperity and his propensity for producing truly emerged over the next 6-7 years, before finally moving into his new Cabana Studio facility.

Being a Grammy-winning engineer has also given Carlson the opportunity to work with some of the best producers in the business including Nathan Chapman, Russ Titelman, Norbert Putnam, Josh Leo, Stan Lynch, Mickey Jack Cones, Derek George, Dann Huff, Fred Mollin, Ross Copperman, Julian King, Sam Ellis, Chris Lindsey, T-Bone Burnett, and Victoria Shaw, who also signed Carlson to his current co-pub deal, along with well-respected publisher Leslie DiPiero/Tom Leis Publishing, in 2012. Recently, Chad has written songs for David Cook, The Scott Brothers from the TV show Property Brothers and Jana Kramer's track number 1, Boomerang from the album THIRTY ONE, which he wrote with Maddie & Tae.

There's a new breed of producers on Music Row and Chad is definitely one of them but, being an engineer, a symphony level musician, a songwriter, having a background in arranging and composition, with one's own studio and two Grammys, already in-hand, has postured Carlson perfectly, for today's new breed of artists and tight-budgeted projects.

The Producer's Chair: How did you wind up working with Taylor Swift?

Chad: It's a really interesting story. Garth Fundis and I were rockin', we were doing a handful of his artists and I really hadn't produced anything yet, I was still just learning. So in the midst of that, Garth calls me into his office and said, 'I found this girl. She's amazing.' Her name was Stephanie Chapman. Nathan is the guy that's been on his wife's demos. He wasn't a songwriter and he really wasn't a producer yet. So we started just hanging out as buddies and Nathan called me one day, a couple months after we did this record, he says, 'Do you know who Jody Williams is? Jody wants me to build some demos for his writers. Do you want to do some demos with me? Well, Nathan met Taylor through that and started building a few things. Then they hit it off and we started doing some demos together with Taylor.

Once Taylor got signed to Big Machine, we actually got fired, I don't know if you knew that. Nathan got let go off that project because, they wanted an A-list producer and Nathan was a brand new guy. A super well respected producer in town produced a whole record on her and I think they were just missing the original raw excitement of what she was doing. So we got called to do her first record. To her credit, she was so loyal to us. We did the first four records with her. Nathan was always the producer, I was the engineer.

The Producer's Chair: Through the course of four albums, you've watched Taylor develop and mature. What was the most outstanding thing you noticed about Taylor?

Chad: Her professionalism was better than almost anybody I've ever worked with. She was dedicated. She wanted to get it right. She was appreciative. As a 14 year old, she knew how to look you in the eye and be thankful, and be present and she was smart about the music. There's a lot of artists that come in, sing their part, and let the producer tell you what they want to do and she wasn't like that. She was really involved from the get-go. She's a smart girl. We were all young. I think part of the magic from the first record was, it was raw. It was honest, it wasn't perfect. It wasn't anything like Fearless. You could see kind of a graduation, for all of us, in every record. Every record became a little smarter or a little more, well thought out. Her songwriting grew, and she quickly became a world class artist!

The Producer's Chair: Knowing what's out there, would you prefer to produce a male artist, a female artist or a group, at this point in time?

Chad: The struggle for me is my passion is always been female artists. I love Madonna - I love Fiona Apple and really great female artists. When I got here, I was so spoiled because, one of the first things I worked on was Trisha Yearwood and she's truly probably the best female singer I've ever heard. Me coming from a background of not country music, I think females at that time were, getting away with really intellectual songs and singing about things that I could identify with.

The Producer's Chair: When you are producing an artist, how involved do you generally get in the song selection process?

Chad: I try to be involved because, it's really important. It all depends - if it's an independent artist or a label demanding them to do certain songs. A lot of times, I'll find them songs -I have lots of publisher friends now and if I write them an email, I hope that they'll assume that it's quality enough for them to pitch me good songs.

The Producer's Chair: As you produce more, are your engineering gigs diminishing?

Chad: I don't want to be known as Chad Carlson, only the producer because you know what...I love engineering. My successes over the past 13, 14 years is engineering and it will always be because I get to work with so many artists. Engineering nowadays is so close to producing.

The Producer's Chair: What's the best advice you can give new producers?

Chad: I think a lot of producing is learning how 'not' to do things. I have seen a couple different producers that really just ruin their artist by not knowing how to lift them up and really make them second guess themselves as singers. It's hard. I've also had some young producers that will get in the room, they'll play the work tape for the band, and they'll say, 'Listen, guitar player, don't do this. I'm thinking you should play this. Bass player, I want you to stay on the one. Drummer, four on the floor, don't mess it up.' And they'll ruin a track because they don't let the band be themselves. So I think a lot of the time the best producers are guys that let the players try whatever they want and then bring them in and say okay let's go to halftime on the bridge, let's not try this time thing here - let's do this. It's like when I have a singer in my vocal booth. When they'll sing, I'll make a mark like 10 things they do wrong in their verse. I'm sure as heck not going to tell them those 10 things they did wrong because all they're going to do is think about those 10 things. I have to find a way to distract them to not do those things.

The Producer's Chair: How difficult is it to keep up with the constant technological advances?

Chad: I think it all has to do with the digital audio work stations and if you know pro-tools, it's not that hard, but I have to constantly buy new software. You have to keep up - there's so much more track based music nowadays. Listen to Sam Hunt's record. The records were mostly made in pro-tools in a room like this. It's a whole new kind of genre - subgenre of country music which I love and I love that aspect of it, but you definitely have to be aware of the technology - it's not like it was when I started with Garth. We had a tape machine and radar. Luckily I came to town already knowing pro-tools and I was already building tracks. You have to stay pretty aware.

The Producer's Chair: Do you have an A-team of musicians that, you primarily call?

Chad: A lot of producers will have a set of players that that's their guys. I don't do that. I want to be transparent. I want the right group of players for the project. I am so lucky because I have been engineering for so long and I've worked with pretty much all the players in Nashville. So I can tell you, if you need drums that are swampy, who to get - or if you want something with drums with a bunch of technology like loops and stuff, who the right guy is, or something that's really appropriate that's, kind of a Miranda kind of thing. That's one of the benefits of being an engineer/producer, you learn who is really right cause you see producers hire somebody and they may not be right. You learn from their mistakes.

The Producer's Chair: What's on the horizon, for Chad Carlson?

Chad: I have 3 artists right now. The most ready to blow up in my opinion is a guy named Carter Winter. He's booked by APA with Jim Butler and he has 50 shows this summer. Mark Bright produced 5 songs for him and I just produced 5 more. He has a really deep amazing voice, but it's kind of a more aggressive music that's, a little more technology-based. He's killing it on the road so Carter's doing great. I'm working with Cody Belew, who was on the voice a few years back. He's an amazing singer. We just finished up his project. We did a record and he's getting ready to start touring. And, I'm finishing up a record right now with an artist named Kimberly Dunn, she's a Texas artist. She's killing it out there. She's a functional touring artist. She's a firecracker man. We're just finishing up an 11-song record. Next I'm super excited about a Don Williams tribute record I'm doing with Garth Fundis right now coming out on Slate Records. We are doing an album full of big artists; We're still waiting on lawyers and signatures but, I can tell you it's pretty much all of my favorite artists in Nashville.

The Producer's Chair: How did it feel, to receive a Grammy?

Chad: We were in shock I think. And so proud for Taylor, she deserved it and I felt so lucky to be part of it all. It was so awkward walking up on stage though. I thought I was going to get gang-tackled - it was the Album of the Year so, it was the final Grammy of the night. I don't know if you ever been to the Staple Center. We were way back in the engineer/producer section and Taylor is right up in the second row. So we're all running and she's already talking and we just sort of walked in behind her and started giving hugs, but yeah, it was one of the best moments of my life.

Read other Producer's Chair interviews:

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Dave Brainard

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Victoria Shaw

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

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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

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The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Jim Catano

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The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Mark Bright

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

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