In his celebrated career as a music producer, Elliot Mazer has created records for some of the most influential artists of the past four decades, and he now brings his knowledge to Elon University as the Visiting Distinguished Scholar in Music Technology.
Mazer’s credits include multi-platinum albums for such musicians as Neil Young and Janis Joplin. In the 1970s, while working with Stanford University’s Computer Center for Research in Music and Acoustics, Mazer designed the first all-digital recording studio.
His contributions to the industry didn’t stop there. By the late 1980s, Mazer had developed and sold to RCS Inc. the AirCheck monitoring system to help record labels track what music was being played on radio stations across the nation.
Mazer’s vast experience is now being shared at Elon as he offers a series of master classes to students in the Department of Music.
“Elliot Mazer is a fantastic addition to the music faculty at Elon, and we’re extremely excited that he’s with us,” said assistant professor Matt Buckmaster, chair of the Department of Music. “The students will gain immense insight and real-world expertise in music production, and his involvement here will be invaluable.”
Mazer answered questions recently from the Office of University Relations about his career, his philosophy on producing records, and the future he sees for the industry.
You got your first taste of the industry by working at a Sam Goody retailer in New York City. How did you make the move into music production?
“I spent a lot of time listening to and studying the record jackets in the record store and at home. I was fascinated with how records were made. Bob Weinstock, the founder and owner of Prestige Records was a customer. He and I got to talk. I told him I wanted to learn how to produce. He offered me a job at the label and told me I would learn how records were made. I left the store and started working for Prestige. I was able to watch sessions in the studio and eventually got to produce my first record. It was a jazz album with Dave Pike.”
You’ve worked with some of the biggest names in the business. What qualities do you look for when choosing the artists with whom you’ll work?
“I love working with artists that can express their thoughts and emotions through their music. Artists choose me most of the time.”
What musicians or groups do you regret NOT working with because of initial impressions that proved wrong?
“Aerosmith. An A&R guy at Columbia played me a really bad tape of a band they were thinking of signing. I do not remember hearing Steven Tyler on that tape. Another producer at Columbia heard Santana and turned them down.”
Tell me about your philosophy for producing a record. Can you describe the process you follow on your projects?
“I try to help artists assemble a good number of songs that they would like to record. Once I hear them sing the songs, we talk about the approach. Some artists are bands and some need to find musicians. We rehearse and when everything seems in order we go into the studio. To me, the studio is a performance space, and I love to record as much of the final product ‘live’ at the same time in the studio. We can go back and change parts and add things but the original vibe of the session will remain.”
You’ve said you want students to more than just the “how” of producing a record, but also the “why.” What do you mean by that?
“‘How’ is arranging the music and the technical part of recording. What instruments, musicians? What studio? Who is the engineer? Where to rehearse and do pre-production?
“‘Why’ is what composition are we going to record? Who is the featured artist? What tempo, what key? What is the desired end result? How will it be marketed, promoted?”
Are there one or two misconceptions that students commonly express about the music industry and record production?
“The music industry has changed dramatically in the last five years. Most young people are not used to paying for music. The best way for young artists to get into the music industry is to gather as many fans as possible and sell them your music.
“Also, most great recordings were done ‘live’ in the studio. Most young musicians record one instrument at a time. They can make satisfactory recordings but they will be missing the magic that occurs when a bunch of musicians play together and respond to each other.”
How do you think the music industry will evolve – both from production and sales standpoints – as listeners move away from the purchase of albums to the “a la carte” consumer behavior afforded by services like iTunes?
“I would hope that the link between recording artists and their fans will strengthen so that fans can buy the music they love and the artists will make more money per track sold. Fans can decide if they want to buy individual songs or complete albums.”
What are your hopes for Elon University students who study with you in the years ahead?
“If I can help musicians learn more about the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of recording, I will be happy. I know that musicians that know a lot about recording technology will do much better in the real world. Most of the artists that I worked with are well aware of the mechanics of recording, which makes my job easier.
“The proliferation of software like Garage Band and Logic make home recording reachable for many people. Garage Band is much like Logic Light. A $1,200 computer is all you need. I work with artists that use the internal mike in the computer to work on ideas. A pair of earphones would help.
“On a basic level, I want to show the students how they can use recording technology to practice their music and to learn some of the basic skills they will need if they want to make recordings in the future.”