Douglas Romanow is a Toronto-based music producer. His production work has won numerous awards and nominations from the Junos, The National Reggae Awards, the Maple Blues Awards, and the National Jazz Awards.
Doug was the Musical Director for both the Industry Awards and the Gala Dinner at the 2011 Canadian Country Music Awards and is set to fulfill a similar obligation at this year’s awards. Romonow works out of Noble Street Studios, Toronto; and recent productions of his have also been recorded and mixed at Blackbird Studios and Ocean Way in Nashville, Tennessee. 2011 clients on his roster included Chantal Kreviazuk, Mrs. Johnston, Danny Deakin, New Nobles, Cheryl Thibideau, Michelle Owen and Candelora. A respected industry voice; Doug is a regular presenter at music conferences, including Western Canadian Music Awards and Canadian Country Music Awards.
Doug: Most of my work comes by referral through artists I produce, or from industry colleagues who send projects my way. Some artists may have heard my records and contacted me directly through my website. I keep my ears open for new artists, especially if there is a strong buzz about them. I try to be in the clubs a few nights a month, because I want to convey a tangible connection between what artists do on stage and how they perform in the studio…
What kind of first impression gets you excited about a band or artist?
I think that one of the most important things an artist can do is go unapologetically deep into their music. I’m less motivated by videos or pyro at shows – but I’m deeply inspired by artists who can write and perform great songs!
How important is a bands image in the early days, before they make a record?
As great as a cool shirt can be, it’s really hard to make it sound good in the studio! But a great concept or hook is essential in building a hit record. So writing is high on my list… great singing makes my list as well. You can tune anybody these days if you have to, but there is no plug-in for charisma!
Some people say that bands should just concentrate on the music and leave the rest of the stuff to managers – I think trusting someone to organise all your affairs can be a bit dangerous. What is your opinion? How understanding of the business side of things do you like your artists to be?
I’m very motivated when I meet an artist with a focused business plan. More and more promotional responsibilities are remaining with the artist, and I don’t see that trend changing. It’s a drag to make a great record just to see it die six months after its release, because of a poor promotional campaign. So I look for artists with a strong team around them who will ensure a great release and give the record it’s due. In certain cases when an artist does not have a team behind them: I can help assemble a great team who can take a record and work it effectively.
So a great team to support the record is necessary; but what is the general budget situation and funding arrangement after that? Are most records these days paid for by the bands, the management, or the labels? Who tends to fork out and what does a band need to know and prepare before making a pitch towards a producer
Doug: The records I produce are usually paid for by the artist, by the artist’s management or label group; or by independent investors. In Canada, we can also secure some funding through government-assisted arts programs which may cover a portion of production costs (such as FACTOR). Artists need to know that whoever pays for their record, owns the masters. My advice to artists is to secure all of your funding before starting production, so you are not emotionally distracted by financial concerns during the creative process.
The industry is evolving so quickly these days… How do you feel about the increased number of home studios? How has the DIY “YouTube generation” affected business?
Technology is amazing and I’m thankful to have so much of it at our disposal. I think every artist should have a decent recording setup at home to archive and demo their songs! But owning a stethoscope doesn’t make me a doctor; and in that sense, owning a Pro Tools rig doesn’t make you an engineer! The most competitive and creative records are still made with a team of experts all focusing on delivering their best, drawing from their individual strengths and experiences. The songwriter writes; the producer guides; the band plays; the engineer records; and the mixer listens. If a band is serious about their career, they’ll need great people in all of these areas.
How much of the branding and publicity needs to be in place before you get involved with recording a new artist?
The most important thing to me is the music. If a band comes to me with a hit song but they’re not on Facebook, we can fix that problem. If the band comes to me with a kick-ass website and shit songs, we have a lot of work to do!!
What is the best route to becoming a successful Producer? What was your education like?
It depends on the individual… I began private musical training when I was six and studied until I was twenty-two years old [popular and classical music on accordion, french horn, organ and piano]. In high school, I started buying synthesizers and producing recordings for various bands and by my mid-twenties, I was working full-time! Neither of my university degrees are
music- related, but they still come in handy. All education is beneficial if it teaches you to think, to problem-solve and to look for new possibilities. Musical training is essential for record production and also helpful for engineering. I’m not a big believer in recording school programs – they’re often too expensive and offer little hands-on experience. Internships are great.
How important is it as a producer, to focus on building a niche sound and cementing your presence in one main musical niche? You’re involved with a medley of genres…
Most of my work has been Pop, Rock, Blues, and Reggae; but I’ve also had a growing interest in Country music, mostly because I’m in awe of the musicianship… Nashville is a great place to meet world-class musicians and engineers. Personally, I try to move between genres as much as I can; because I can get bored if I feel I’m repeating myself. I can appreciate the guys who are strictly rock or country producers, but I don’t like how their sound gets boxed in and then they get hired for that cookie-cutter thing they do. The next thing you know, new artists are pressured to imitate previous records, and the label is pushing some guy who sounds like “that hit” (that has already been released)! Inevitably, the music loses it’s element of surprise. It’s like watching a magic trick when everyone knows the secret! Pretty dull party – and sadly, that’s a good description of a lot of commercial music these days.
What advice to you have to those out there questioning their career paths?
There are many easier ways to make a living than producing music! Superstars are the exception… Most professional musicians make a modest living doing something they love to do. If you’re finding the music business difficult, it’s because it really is a very hard industry! Hopefully, the joy of making music and finding like-minded friends compensates you in a different way. Beyond that, the music business demands some pretty crazy hours and travel – but if you get energy from those things then it’s probably a great place for you!
© Ngawara Madison, Music Vice
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