Interview with ANDREW LANE, producer and songwriter for 'High School Musical' and 'Hannah Montana' soundtracks - Mar 2, 2009
“I would take the politics out of the industry. It has to be for the love of music not the love of money."
A passionate musical force and constant studio presence, producer, songwriter and SongQuarters member Andrew Lane is a regular pop marvel machine. His ear for music and dedicated work ethic has paid off spectacularly, with his work with R&B boy band B5 helping both Disney’s ‘High School Musical’ (US No.1) and ‘Hannah Montana’ (US No.1) soundtracks reach the top of the Billboard 200. The Atlanta native is currently hard at work adding his distinctive shine to hotly tipped UK R&B electro popsters From Above and tweenie pop sensations the Clique Girlz.
Billboard Award winner Lane takes a break from his hectic schedule to talk to HitQuarters about his production secrets, musical vision, the importance of studying the past giants of pop, and his own special new brand of cookie.
Let's start by asking you where it all began – where did your passion for music originate?
When I was a young child, I used to listen to a lot of the theme songs on television and also to the Motown sounds as well. And also things like The Beatles. I would hear songs and I would write similar songs to mimic them. And so it really came from those great artists and songs that are still going around today.
And since then, what experiences have been important in helping create who you are now - Andrew Lane the ‘Billboard Award-winning producer’?
Definitely being in bands myself - as well as writing for projects as a teenager, and growing up with musicians like the Jazz Crusaders and these people who were called Pleasure. Just watching them and also just following the trends of music really helped me to become an award-winning producer. Because I used to listen how Quincy Jones used to put arrangements together and how Mutt Lange used to do it, how George Martin used to do it for The Beatles. And I wanted to be like them.
As you say, you played in bands in the past, do you still consider yourself an artist now?
Not an artist, no - producer, artist development, songwriting.
So what would you consider to be the record that really established your name as a producer – what was your breakthrough?
My breakthrough was the B5 version of a song called "Get'Cha Head In The Game" on ‘High School Musical’ in 2006.
So how did that project all come about?
It was really interesting, and I tell you why. I was working with B5 - they were on Bad Boy Records at that time - and so their manager Jim Mcmahan got me in touch with Danni Markman at Disney, along with Jane Landers. So they called me up and said, “We have this little project I want you to work on.” And he said, “It’s called ‘High School Musical’. It’s going to come out on the Disney Channel.” And so they had this song called "Get'Cha Head In The Game" and it was done really pop, and they wanted it with just a little touch of hip-hop and urban, so they wanted me to redo it. So I got together with B5 - who co-produced it with me - and we came up with the concept, and it was the first single ever released on ‘High School Musical’.
You also worked with B5 creating a new version of Earth Wind & Fire's 70s funk classic "Shining Star" for the hit ‘’Hannah Montana’ soundtrack – how did that one come about?
Yes, I did. It came about again through Danny Martin and Jim McMahon and all the Disney staff. It’s been really great to me. It needed to be redone, except the voice, but I wanted it to still maintain the integrity of Earth Wind & Fire. The players were Verdine White, Maurice White and all those guys like that. I used live players on that. I used a live bass player, guitar player, then I added programmed drums and horns. But I wanted to keep the heartbeat of that song together, and that was with the bass and the guitar and the drum element.
And were Earth Wind & Fire satisfied with the final result?
Very satisfied with it! I kept the integrity of it. That’s what I grew up on - Earth Wind & Fire. That’s where we all learned how to play - with great songs like ‘Shining Star’, ’Getaway’ and ‘Devotion’.
How do you normally choose your projects?
I choose them because I look at how bad they want it. I don’t look at how bad the parents want it - I look at how bad the artist wants to do it.
What artists are you working with right now?
Clique Girlz on Interscope Records - HWY 535 also on Interscope Records - a group called From Above - they work with Matthew Knowles’ label, the father of Beyoncé. I also work with a ton of Nickelodeon and Disney acts, developing them.
What do you think has been your key to getting to work with so many exciting artists?
Basically through networking, and also a good reputation in great songs is like your business card. So when people are looking at what you’ve previously done and that you’re staying in the business, then that’s what contributes to a great name and a great reputation.
What was your vision for your company Drew Right Music Inc?
The vision was to create an entity and a company that totally looked at the music industry as a whole and to find out what needed to be added to it to make it a better industry - such as improving artist development, making better songs, creating a better infrastructure for the industry… basically to create a better environment so that even young people can look forward to the music business now - and so rather than making it just a passing fashion, to make it a way of life and a career.
So talking about the music that’s key to this vision, what do you think is important to keep in mind when working within the mainstream pop genre?
You have to keep it simple. It can’t be so complex with lots of bells and whistles. You have to really keep it simple and you have to allow room for the melody to speak for itself. And when the chorus comes in, it has to be undeniably and unequivocally there. When that chorus comes in, it has to speak for itself and it has to stand alone by itself. It has to be simple enough so that everybody can get the sense of what the chorus says.
I read an interview somewhere where you said that a crucial aspect of your production is to let your music “breathe”. What did you mean by that?
It means that the instruments can’t be so flooded in with the instrumentation that it crowns off the melody. It has to have pockets where the music speaks for itself. And in those little pockets where it's allowed to breathe, it really helps the lyric stand out.
As you are not only a producer but a songwriter too, I wanted to touch on the key aspects of your writing style…
It’s great, you know, I love writing because it tells a story. I have a new artist named Celeste Kellogg, she’s 15 years old. I love writing in Nashville, because we write like country/pop songs, and it forces you to tell the story. And that’s where I really cut my teeth in songwriting - where you have great writers like Gary Baker, Frank J Myers, Walt Aldridge, Ken Follese, George Teren, Jason Blume, all those guys like that really helped me and took me under their wing in becoming a writer, because you have to be able to tell a story because a story really sticks with you rather than just creating a novelty of a song.
How do you think you manage to create music from your heart and soul, and keep the business, corporate aspects at bay?
Well, I’ve had this ability ever since I was younger to hear the finished song before it’s actually been started. So, before approaching a concept of putting the music instrumentation together, I actually hear it before I begin composing it. That helps to guide me along to put the right components together for a great track.
As somebody that’s clearly aware of the legacy of great songwriters and producers in popular music, do you think of the music you create in the long term – whether your catalogue will stand up in 30 or 40 years – and if so how do you do that?
I do that by studying the great writers from Holland-Dozier-Holland, the Motown sound of Ashford & Simpson the James Taylors, Carly Simons, Rod Templetons - who wrote a platter of Michael Jackson hits - the Jimmy Buffins, Roberta Flacks, Stevie Wonders, even your Neil Diamonds - all your great writers like that. To go back means to go forward into the future. So I keep the catalogue strong by following those great writers and following the same format. The instruments might change, but the format and simplicity will stay the same.
So for inspiration you look to the past greats, but as a producer you obviously have to stay current. How do you manage to keep things fresh?
I stay current by really going through the rough sometimes, you know - somebody is using this sound a lot, then I tend to alter that sound a little more, alter the drumbeat a little bit more, and just think about whatever I write. I write like two years ahead of time, because that’s the time, you know, it really starts to happen. If it happens then you catch on quick and then we have a new sound. But when I do something I just think about writing or producing with the sounds I think about two years in advance.
Those past giants seemed to benefit from a time where there was less ‘cookie cutter’ type of music than today, where there was greater freedom to do what you wanted to do. Do you think this is true and if so how has that affected you?
Well, you’re right about that. You have to start creating the cookies rather than having a cookie cutter, you know [laughs]. And so that’s what I’m all about now, just making a new brand of a cookie - it’ll still be a cookie but a new brand with new flavours. With the advent of MySpace, Facebook, YouTube, there are new ways of marketing things and it gives us the opportunity to experiment, and that’s all about creativity and giving the artist their own sound and their own blueprint. Now we have avenues to do so to have a freedom of expression so that you can be unique in your image and in your sound.
What advice would you give up and coming writers/producers who are just entering the industry
Please, study the great writers and producers. Never be caught up with your own egos and your own abilities. Always keep a humble spirit. Always acknowledge those who helped you along in the business (Lane reserves a special mention for his manager Joe Quaranto, "who is very instrumental in placing songs and developing talent"). Always keep relationships current and keep them going. Never burn any bridges at all. And if you do that, then you’ll stay around in the business.
If you could dramatically change some aspect of the music industry, what would you do?
I would take the politics out of the industry. It has to be for the love of music not the love of money - if you put the love of money into the equation then it takes away all the love of music.
I want to bring the passion back into the music. I would like to give everybody a fair shake. Like with Mama Cass and The Mamas & the Papas, and groups like that where you didn’t really have to depend on the cosmetics of somebody’s look, rather you’d be admiring their sound and their passion in their songs, and that’s what I’m going to bring back in the music industry.
What gear can’t you live without in the studio?
Oh definitely ProTools HD3 [laughs]. Great preamps - you know, Manley, Avalon preamps are great to have around. Also new preamps - MPC3000, Yamaha Motif, Roland fantom xr. Of course, you can’t go without Sony C12 or a U47 and U87, those are great benchmarks for creating a great record.
Who do you still want to work with?
I would love to work with Beyoncé, Gwen Stefani, I would love to work with Aerosmith, I would love to work with the Rolling Stones, I would love to work with people like Paulina Rubio , Julio Iglesias , Katy Perry, and of course Amy Winehouse because she’s so different. Those are the ones I really would love to work with.
To round things off, what can we expect to hear from Drew Lane in the near future?
My new venture is to take everything they did really well in the 30s and the 40s, with the Shirley Temples and Judy Garlands, and create a great venue for bringing back the triple threat in artists.
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Interview by Kimbel Bouwman
Next week: An exclusive Artist Diary from Dead Like Harry
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