"Know what you are doing, know your craft, be overly prepared for all projects – trust your ears" say's Jack. Watch our seriously in-depth video interview with Jack Hale at Hale House. The videos are in three parts and are for broadband viewing.
Jack Hale was born into a family of musicians. Jack's father and uncle Dr. Ralph Hale have long been well respected within the industry. Embarking on musical studies quite late, at age 13 - as his father did not want to be accused of pushing Jack into the business -Jack began playing trumpet with his uncle. As his teachers and mentors, his father and uncle would play a huge role throughout Jack's amazing career – whether helping with the physical issues associated with brass playing or preparing Jack for his first conducting gig with a major symphony.
Shortly after Jack began playing, he knew that being a musician would be his life’s work. "We were not wealthy, but comfortable and happy as a family – also I was an only child. My father laid down the law about practice, study, etc. so I was not allowed to take on summer jobs. I earned my “allowance” by practicing and studying. I always had everything a kid would want, so I had no excuses about having it hard and therefore could devote the time necessary to develop my talent and skills" say's Jack. This was the start of Jack's single minded determination to making a success and leaving his mark on the industry.
Jack began watching recording sessions before ever playing a note, getting to know the main guys involved in those huge records recorded in Memphis at the time: Al Green, Box Tops, Elvis, Isaac Hayes, B.J. Thomas, Bar Kays and ZZ Top. "I had the contacts that would get me started in my career before I had one! Talk about fortunate!"
"At Christian Brothers High School, I was treated like I was going to be a professional musician, my uncle Ralph was the Band Director/music instructor, and actually everyone who was in his band got the same treatment!" The high school at that time had the highest percentage of graduates who went on to professional music careers in the country.
John Fry owned (and still owns) Ardent studio in Memphis and Joe Hardy (a legendary engineer in his own right) “gave me the keys” to the studio when it was not being used. "This was and still is one of the finest studios I have ever set foot in!" "My goal was to become as knowledgeable as I could about music, music theory, arranging, performing, etc. as well as the technical side of recording – both sides of the console, if you will. To me that is something a producer should bring to the table – the ability to write parts AND record them if need be." Jack jokes that Willie Mitchell could pick out any five guys off the street, hand them instruments and leave that afternoon with a hit record. "He can do it all - listen to the chords he wrote in 'Let’s Stay Together. He wrote the song and produced it. Listen to anything Mutt Lang has a hand in – what a creative musician! I had an inside track to the latest tech offerings like the Fairlight CMI, digital effects processing, MIDI, etc. Remember this was the early ‘70’s."
In 1977 Jack Hale became the “official” trumpet player with the Memphis Horns which led to great things, one of which that was touring with Johnny Cash. "He had a tour of California around 1980, and I had just found out the Memphis Horns were going to take a bit of a hiatus having been going really hard for so long. I got a call from his office to go on a 10-day tour, which ended up being about a 10 year run! During that time I also became his musical director and had the opportunity to do many things and meet some great people. I am the most fortunate guy on earth!"
After that unexpected and rewarding period Jack began making the transition into full time production and started his production company 'Hale House Productions'.
"Remember a producer may be getting around 40% of the gross budget plus points to 'produce', so you can see from an economic standpoint how important it is to make this decision correctly as an artist. Also keep in mind that to call yourself a producer requires only that you claim to be one. There are no tests to pass, licenses to hold. The person who paints houses and the person who painted the Mona Lisa are both skilled craftsmen who work with paint. This is very analogous to being a producer".
Jack believes a producer should be one of the best and most creative musicians in the studio (not to be confused with instrumentalist) and he/she should have enough technical expertise to get the sound they want in case the engineer or equipment is not up to the task. Having good instincts about music in general and having impeccable 'ears' are indespensible tools of the trade.. "Joe Hardy would set me up to get knocked down when I first started out. He’d say ‘which do you think sounds best?' and I would pick one – then he’d say, 'they are the same, you idiot!" “Use your ears and know what you are talking about” say's Jack.
"You can’t have too much knowledge of music, history, technology, human nature, finance, whatever. Never stop learning. You must relate to each artist as an individual entity. Be the 'fifth Beatle' like George Martin. Song selection, album order, instrumentation, even effect usage are critical elements. Remember, when you hear something that has just been released, it may have been 5 years in the making. Keeping an awareness of current trends is mandatory, but don’t limit your creativity to just what’s popular. That’s the past from a production standpoint. You need knowledge to make the right decisions quickly and the time to treat each project, as it’s the only thing in your life."
"Production is not a normal profession – it is a lifestyle, in my experience. You need to be a psychologist at times, a doctor, physical therapist, music educator, instructor, and a friend 24/7 to your artists. I happen to be a people person, so I enjoy making new friends and in general helping people take their music to the next level, whatever that may be. I also like to dig into other’s music to find what makes it cool for me. My way is to write out stuff, and make notes away from the studio environment. I memorize a lot of stuff while doing that, and “play it in my head”. When you do that you don’t hear a lot of the “horrible” things that may be on the track you have to listen to like out of tuneness, wrong chords, etc.. Our memory recollection kind of filters out that stuff…well I know mine does!” I also get arranging and recording ideas that way. Don’t work with someone or a group you don’t get along with, even if you love their music. It’s not fair to the artists and not fair to the outcome of the project. You can end up spending huge parts of your life with these people and if you start off not getting along…well, you’ve heard stories!"
Jack also describes himself as a guy who likes to read manuals, and does a lot of experimentation when not working. "If someone sees and hears me as an engineer, I hope to come off as a great one – like that is all I do - same with arranging, playing, mixing, programming, etc. You can be that good – it does take a degree of talent and a lot of time. I am fortunate to beta test a lot of incredible software and hardware – how cool is that? It’s a lot like seeing the future – what you do with it is another matter. It also helps to have a great support crew - family, friends, doctors, lawyers, other engineers, arrangers, producers, tech guys you can turn to."
Jack thinks that it's a great time that we are in now, with the ability for music as an art to recapture audiences. On the Seals and Crofts’ 'Traces' album that Jack produced, he believes that more revenue is generated from online downloads than actual CD sales. "Granted, you are selling less than the entire CD most of the time and the artwork part of the CD has not really gotten it’s due online yet, but there is no warehousing, 'returns' or physical distribution involved. This makes the potential to realize a profit faster, or put another way more money can be spent “making” the music/record. As for the artwork, I can see where this could be a huge selling point for downloading – imagine video, not just a static picture, for an album cover. The consumer could even design their own cover from elements online pertaining to the record. I think we are still in the early stages of this new era, so it’s anyone’s guess."
There are so many producers and ways to produce it may seem there are too many choices to make. "That is why picking the right producer for your own project will save you time, money and frustration while giving you more for your project than you could imagine. If a producer says they want to work with you, and gives you a price without getting you in the studio or listening to your material, be wary. For me to taking on a project requires that I believe in the project – maybe it’s not going to sell millions, but it will have integrity and a musical statement I will stand behind in front of the world. If you don’t believe something is ever going to sound good, leave it alone."
When you first start out, you take what you can get say's Jack. "You have to in order to build your 'archive' to show others and get more work. Even at the early stage, you can’t hide behind 'there was no money…no time, the guy couldn’t sing, whatever". “That’s where creativity and knowing your craft can at least give you something that has some unique elements to it.” "Think of the public – when they buy a track, they do not know that one artist may have a 6 million dollar budget and another may be recording on a shoestring. All they know is one sounds good and one sounds not so good – you can’t put disclaimers in there saying I ran out of time and money. This starts the first time you call yourself a producer, so it’s good to know before you get involved."
Sensibly, Jack rented expensive mic pre’s before buying his own in order to get the sound he wanted. "I ended up either going in the hole or making very little but I got stuff I could use as examples. Look at it as paying for education – plus you are building your reputation. Never allow others to influence you to the point of “producing by committee” if your name is going to be the only one on the record as producer, you are the person who gets the glory or gets slammed. I have found that pets, boyfriends, girlfriends, wives, husbands, children, strangers on the street, trees, bushes – everyone and everything has an opinion. I only give out early mixes for work purposes and only include what is necessary. You can assume the work track is going to be scrutinized by the entire community, so keep it extremely raw and/or minimal!"
"I know the material better than the artist who may have written it before we hit the record button. After careful thought I’ll discuss my ideas and gather other ideas that may have developed from the artist. I know what I want it to sound like in my head and know how to achieve that sonically and through the music/arrangement end. I like to write a lot of notation and make a lot of notes – even if it’s is just for me. That’s producing in a nutshell as far as I’m concerned."
"Know what you are doing, know your craft, be overly prepared for all projects – trust your ears" say's Jack.
Special thanks to Jack for giving up so much of his time to help us set up this feature - but we would like to add that Jack has been invaluable in helping film our first Nashville producer feature series for 2006. Thank you Jack for all of your help! Special thanks also go to Johnny Jaskot of Babblefish.com for his superb interview, camera work and editing!
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