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A Fireside Chat With Producer John Snyder

By Published: September 30, 2003

With Junior, it was a question of how do you get him to overdub vocals, one word or one phrase at a time and then at the end result, it comes out singing like he wrote the song. And if you listen to the song, if you can find it, you will see that it sounds like his song. That was the goal with Junior, to get him through the material that he wasn't familiar with so it sounded like he was.

FJ: How do you record an 'avant-garde' musician and make it sellable to Main Street America? Is that even attainable?

JS: No, it is almost impossible. I would hasten to add that not only did I record Ornette, but I recorded Art Pepper. Not only did I record Paul Desmond, but I recorded Don Cherry. Not only did I record Sun Ra, but I recorded Thad Jones and Mel Lewis. Not only did I record Cecil Taylor, but I recorded Dave Brubeck. I have existed in several worlds and then I have added the blues world to that and the difference between James Cotton and Bobby Short is almost the history of American music.

But to answer your question more specifically, Fred, when I was asked to do a series on A&M including Cecil and Sun Ra, of course, I mentioned that fact that it was unlikely that they would recover their costs. The A&R guy at that time said that he was the head of pop A&R and he made his money there and he wanted to allot some of that money there to making art.

I thought that that was a very enlightened point of view that would no doubt get you fired. He survived long enough for us to make ten or twelve pretty good records.

So how do you take Sun Ra, who made fifty records, and make another record that is worth listening to? My theory was to rehearse it and record it in a state of the art way because most of his recordings previous to that were two-track recordings. Not to diminish the value of the performance, but if the performance was so valuable, why not spend a little bit of time making sure you could hear everything. So that was my thinking.

FJ: Is there a mission statement behind the Artists House label you are involved with currently?

JS: Most definitely. One of them is to embrace technology and the other is to give consumers more for their money and give artists more ways of communicating with their listeners. The record business is suing college students. I am trying to give college students an extra disc, a DVD, free DVD packaged with the CD that has session footage, interviews, music lessons, and the music itself can be printed out from the DVD.

It has state of the art audiophile sound. It is loaded with context. I was trying to create a context for musical life to bring people into the creative community and to show people how it was done and that it is worthy of respect.

I am all for downloading music. I think it is a great development. But I think it is also true that kids who download music are victims of the record business making music a commodity. Music isn't a commodity. It is an art form. And if you know more about it, you will respect it more and you won't view it as a commodity, at least exclusively. I am hoping that offering consumers and listeners more for their money, for less money, a $16.98 list price and not an $18.98 list price, that they will be persuaded to join the community and then after that, have some respect for the creative process so that it is not a matter of downloading music, anytime, anywhere, but it is a matter of considering the consequences of your acts.

FJ: Kids are oblivious to the inner working of a corporate record company.

JS: They don't know.

FJ: And I don't think they care because if I am a high school student making minimum wage at a burger joint and I walk into Tower Records to buy a 50 Cent CD, out the door, I am out twenty bucks and I listen to the thing and like two tracks, I was taken. Then it isn't a stretch for me to sit at my computer for an hour downloading those two songs. Record companies need to follow the path of film studios and the revolution they have created with the DVD. A DVD is often times cheaper or equal to the price of a CD and as a consumer, I get deleted scenes, commentary, behind the scenes material, and outtakes.

JS: While the movie industry has enjoyed its biggest year since the 1950s... last year, they sold 9.3 billion dollars worth of tickets. Also the DVD player was experiencing a growth spurt that makes it the fastest growing home electronics medium ever introduced. At the same time, downloading movies from the internet is proliferating. So they are selling more tickets, there is increased competition with DVD, and downloads are occurring on the internet, but they are selling more tickets.

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