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Toby Wright - Mastermind and Methodology

Toby Wright - Mastermind and Methodology

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Published by Brian McKinny
Interview and cover article of Toby Wright, multi-Grammy Award winning music producer/engineer/mixer for the January 2013 issue of Music Insider Magazine. The article may be found online in its entirety at http://blog.musicinsidermagazine.com/2013/01/toby-wright/
Interview and cover article of Toby Wright, multi-Grammy Award winning music producer/engineer/mixer for the January 2013 issue of Music Insider Magazine. The article may be found online in its entirety at http://blog.musicinsidermagazine.com/2013/01/toby-wright/

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Published by: Brian McKinny on Jul 20, 2013
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www.musicinsidermagazine.com Music Insider MagazineCopyright © 2012, Brian McKinny
TOBY WRIGHT
THE MASTERMINDAND METHODOLOGY
BY BRIAN MCKINNY
In talking with Grammy Award-winning, multi-platinum record producing, innovative recordingengineer Toby Wright, time has a way of disappearing. Recently, I had the opportunity to sit downto talk with Wright about his career, how he does what he does, and what shaping the careers of many artists and bands means to him.Suffice it to say: Get Wright started, and you might as well get comfortable. The man has a lot to talk about. And
I didn’t want to miss a single word … Wright 
has worked with so many artists and bands
that I know and love, he’s really been an integral part of my musical life, well before I ever met him
or knew anything about him.His reputation for taking artists and bands that are notoriously difficult to work with and gettingthem into the studio to create their magnum opuses is simply legendary. From his masterful work with Alice in Chains on the album,
Jar of Flies,
to the incredible breakout album for The
Wallflowers, “Bringing Down
the Horse,
” and countless others, Toby Wright has built a business out 
of 
“not fucking around.”
 He has that rare ability and focus to bring out the absolute best in a band or artist in the recordingstudio, allowing that brilliance to be distributed to the masses.Want to learn a thing or two
like what it takes to make great music? You might as well get 
comfortable …
 
MIM:
Tell me a little about yourself. What was your upbringing like?
Wright:
My dad was a professional saxophone player, so music has been in my family forever. Heactually ran Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts for a while, so that provided inroads to amazingartists in the industry.
MIM:
What brought you to production and recording engineering?
Wright:
When I was learning to play the clarinet, flute, saxophone, piano, guitar and all that kind of stuff,
I didn’t feel like I was really that great of a musician, even though I had played a bunch of 
shows, passed all these talent a
uditions, and so on … I had all these great reviews,
but 
I didn’t really
feel it. I found I had way more interest in being behind the scenes, creating the entire package than Idid playing just one instrument in an orchestra or being the guitarist in a band, or something like
that. So that’s what I went to school for in New York at NYU, and I subsequently got a job at Electric
Lady Studio in New York.
 
www.musicinsidermagazine.com Music Insider MagazineCopyright © 2012, Brian McKinny
MIM:
What were some of the most important lessons you learned while working as a studiomaintenance technician, and how did you apply those lessons to your first assignment or project asthe lead recording engineer?
Wright:
Knowing your gear, and knowing how to operate it to its full potential. And then there wasstudio etiquette, for sure
how to act in the studio. Knowing what NOT to do is sometimes moreimportant than knowing what to do, because you can get thrown out of a session in a heartbeat. Mysessions today are still very focused on getting it done, e
specially because today’s budgets are so
damn small. Y
ou have to maximize every minute in the studio. If the singer’s late, sometimes we’ll
impose penalties and fines. It just depends on the band, and their financial status, and so on. I guessa great work ethic is one of my attributes that I stand behind, that I bring forth to the table, and I tryto instill that ethic in the musicians who I work with.
MIM:
What was your first big recording project? Who was the artist/band and what was yourexperience working on the album?
Wright:
Back in the mid-eighties, I built a studio in North Hollywood, California called One on OneRecording. That studio was amazingly successful all of a sudden. Big, huge rooms were en voguebecause of the big drum sound that they gave, and so we built a 50 by 65-foot room with 30-foot ceilings, and something like the first 13 or 14 artists who came through there ended up going triple-
platinum or better. I don’t think that was necessarily because of the studio, I think it was just the
times, with all the popular hair bands. I had looked through the Billboard top music charts, and Ihad called the top 30 producers or their management company, and told them that there was abrand new studio opening up, come and check it out. I happened to be the only guy there, so I endedup getting to work on every single one of those projects, in one capacity or another.My first stepping outside of all that was with Alice in Chains.I did two songs with Alice in Chains that were successful before that (
Jar of Flies
album),
“A Little
Bitter
,”
and
What the Hell Have I,
 
which are on the soundtrack for Arnold Schwarzenegger’s film,“The Last Action Hero
.
Another prominent mixer was hired to mix them, and the band hated how
they’d come out, and so they hired me to do “
Jar of Flies
.”
And so,
Boom
”… Jerry (Cantrell,
guitarist/vocalist for Alice in Chains) called me from Australia and said,
Hey, how would you like todo an EP
with us?” and I said, “Absolutely!” And so we went in, they had booked
10 days in thestudio, and when
they got there, I said, “So, let’s check out some of 
those songs you want to
record.”“Funny thing about those songs
,
” Jerry said
,
“What’s that?”
I asked.
“Uh, we don’t have them.” I’mlike, “Really?! So what’re we gonna do for the next 
10
days?” Jerry said, “Well, do you mind if we just jam?” I
was like
, “No
 
…”
 Jam with the best 
band in the world?! Let’s start 
fucking rocking right now! And so we did. Wejammed for those 10 days, and
the whole “Jar of Flies,”
was written, arranged, recorded, andproduced in those 10 days.W
hen I asked to hear what they’d
written, at one point Jerry said,
“Well, I think I have one thing
,
and he started playing the chorus for
No Excuses.
 
www.musicinsidermagazine.com Music Insider MagazineCopyright © 2012, Brian McKinny
MIM:
Hypothetically, which would you prefer to deal with: a band with talented musicians whowrite crappy songs or a bunch of average musicians who write good songs? Also, how would youapproach each scenario differently to achieve a good result for both?
Wright:
 
I think I’d probably rather
deal with the good songs, because from my experience, every
indicator is that good songs sell music. Crappy songs don’t sell music. Those
are the people whogive
their music away online. That’s the wrong approach.
I think Sharon Osborne is the perfect example of that. She tried to make Ozzfest free one year, and nobody came. She put on anotherOzzfest the next year and charged regular ticket prices and she sold out. The lesson from that ispeople value things that they pay for; they do not value things that are free, period.
I don’t do “
back-end
 
deals anymore, because there’s no such thing, especially with bands
that 
aren’t signed to major labels, and there’s a million of those out there right now
. And even if they areextremely talented, 
what’s my incentive?
I often ask,
Can I see your marketing plan, please?
 That question usually makes them freak out.
They’re like, “Oh, uh… We’re in the middle of writingthat now…” Well, when you get your business plan written, let me know
I say.
And then I’ll ne
verget a call back from them
 
ever. They’re scared
and usually broke.But if you have your ducks in a row
and you’re really going to get out there and sell your music andmake a profit, and you’re serious, then you have to know that this is a business. It’s not f 
uckingaround. I d
on’t 
fuck around. I make music for a living, and I would love to help everyone out, but at the end of the day, I must pay my bills, buy food, and put gas in my car, the same as everybody else.
It’s
just life.
MIM:
Over the years as a recording engineer and producer, numerous changes inside and outsidethe industry have affected popular music and the music industry in general. As you see things now,what have been some of the biggest changes
for better or worse
that you have seen, and howhave those changes affected how you engineer or produce music today?
Wright:
The personal computer came along and revolutionized the music industry. Apple camealong and took over, and now they own it. Before, it was all about the record companies, and therecord companies selecting what to put out, what people heard, and they did the screening processfor the public.
Today, you don’t have that.
Y
ou’ve got “
one-button gratification
 
I can go on Spotify, type in thename of any artist and their whole catalog pops up. And I can search the Internet for unknownartists who
aren’t on Spotify as well
. I have a one-button touch to the globe; whereas before, if I wasa musician, I would have to go through a label, and go through very limited distribution, pray that they (the record label) liked me and would push my record.
Now, it’s much more of a self 
-serve industry where musicians have a chance to just do it for
themselves. And if they fail, it’s all on their own.
It still takes literally thousands of people to make a
hit record. I don’t see the radio industry changing very much.
I
t’s always going to be “
pay to play.
 But there are lots of different ways around that.

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