Barb Morrison is a NYC based music producer and film score composer who has worked with Rufus Wainwright, Franz Ferdinand, LP, Blondie, and many more incredible artists. Barb has accomplished a lot over the years and her latest accolade is her first Platinum record, which she recently received for her song contribution (In The Flesh remix) to Blondie's "Sound and Vision" album. In speaking about her experience working with Barb, Blondie's lead singer Debbie Harry said, "Working with Barb Morrison was easily creative and in an entirely positive atmosphere. We wrote songs together collaborating like we had been doing it for years and years and I think some of my best songs came from these sessions."
One of the individuals in the music industry with whom Barb has had an enduring relationship with over the years is legendary music producer and songwriter Charlie Midnight. Charlie's resume speaks for itself, as he has written and produced songs for over 30 films including Rocky IV, The Bodyguard, Bull Durham, and Lizzie McGuire, as well as for artists such as Cher, Billy Joel, Joni Mitchell, Seal, Barbra Streisand, Andreas Bocelli, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, James Brown, Chaka Khan, Joe Cocker, The Doobie Brothers, "Weird Al" Yankovic, Jamey Johnson, George Thorogood, John Waite, Hilary Duff, Dan Hartman and Paul Young. According to Barb, "Our relationship started because he produced a band I was in back in 1990. I kinda hid in the shadows and watched him do his stuff and when it was time for me to become a producer, I used a lotta stuff I learned from him".
For this exclusive interview, Charlie Midnight sat down with Barb Morrison to inquire about her gift for music production, whether she would allow differing political ideologies to deter a potential music collaboration, her thoughts about what makes a strong vocalist and much more. After reading this Q&A, be sure to follow both Barb and Charlie on social media and check out the song (In The Flesh remix) that led to Barb's Platinum record.
We worked together on Gutterboy and I had no idea that you wanted to be a music producer. Was I missing something? If not then when did you discover that you had this desire and ultimately a gift for music production?
I started multi tracking my own music when I was a teenager with a DJ mixer and two cassette decks. I graduated to a 4 track by the time I had met you in the 1990s. Mostly punk songs, industrial and avant garde experimental stuff. By the time a few years had passed I realized I'd been recording most of the cool bands in the East Village but we were still in a living room! So I just took it to the next level, quit my bartending job, quit the band I was in and settled into the life of a studio rat.
Would you refuse to work with someone whose political and world views deeply offended you even if you admired their music. Is it possible to separate the artist as a person from the art they create? If a person commits heinous acts can you separate those acts from their art and view the art dispassionately.
Recording and producing is basically just assembling vibrations so VIBE is actually everything. If the vibe is tense or combative you’ll never get anything done in the studio in my opinion. I don’t think I could work with someone I deeply disagreed with on a political level. When I’m sitting down with an artist I’m trying to help them tell their story. It's crucial that I have compassion and empathy for whatever message they’re attempting to convey. Ultimately it's always the artist telling the story but I’m steering the ship and I totally need to believe in the journey.
You’ve worked with some wonderful artists like Debbie Harry whose voice is distinctive, easily recognizable and a strong instrument of interpretation. What do you think defines a great vocalist?
The voice is the same as any other instrument. Again, its about telling the story. So really being in your pain, your joy and letting the listener hear your raw truth. Debbie is great at that because she has a wide range of color in her vocals. She can soar like a bird in the higher register and really hit you in the gut with the lower part of her range. I think people were really ready when Adele came out because she was so raw. As a listener I want a singer make feel like “Oh yeah THAT'S what i was feeling".
When I produced your band, Gutterboy, we recorded the band live to tape which created a great cross-pollination of ideas and a creative tension in the studio. It is the method of recording that I find most satisfying. Do you have a preferred method of recording that you find most satisfying?
I was really holding on to thinking things sounded better in analog but technology has come so far that anything I’ve done in Pro Tools and Logic in the past few years has sounded phenomenal. The last record I did on tape was nice. It was warm but there were some hurdles along the way that working in digital has made a lot easier now. I know there are purists out there who will throw tomatoes at me about that and yeah sure if I have the time and the budget to work with tape then why not? But if you’re moving fast then I’m fine with the future.
As a songwriter what are your thoughts when you see, as is not uncommon today, 8, 9, 10 writers listed on a song?
Well to me it makes sense. It's a sign of the times. 1-2 people working on a beat, then that gets passed along to 1-2 actual songwriters who bang out chords and arrangement, then you have 1-2 people working on a top line for hooks and melody and you might even have an extra 2 people for lyrics. Right there we’ve counted 8 people. If the producer writes a little something then we have 9. So yeah its easy to be cutting up a pie of publishing. I’m ok with that. I’m also ok with sitting on the floor and banging the whole song out lyrics and chords on an acoustic guitar. whatever gets it done. A great song is a great song no matter how many people worked on it.
The digital age has made it easier for a music artist to record and release their music? Is easier better?
I think its amazing! When I was in bands we had to totally be at the mercy of an A&R guy coming to hear us. Then if we were lucky enough to get a deal, you had to deal with so many cooks in the kitchen. Now artists can set up their social media, make a killer record and videos and talk directly to their fans right there. I get really pumped when I watch someone grow their fanbase right before my eyes just by doing the footwork and reaching out to their audience. I think its exciting.
Human beings need music. Every culture, in all parts of the world, down through the ages have made music: beautiful music without being part of the music business. If the music business ceased to exist would you keep creating music as passionately as you do now? What would you do to earn a living?
I live and breathe music. I don’t even realize I’m doing it all throughout my waking hours and in my sleep sometimes. My wife will tell you there's a new song about our cats every other day! But on the flip side I do enjoy silence. If I had to pick a day job I’d probably be a behavioral anthropologist. Oh wait, maybe I’m already that. Ok I’d sell breakfast burritos on the beach in Vieques.
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