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Volume 2, Number 8, September 2004
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Digital Discourse: David Gamson on Producing, Songwriting, and Hitting Miles Davis
By Marsha Vdovin

Songwriter, Producer, & Engineer David Gamson
Does every generation think that their 'coming of age' music was the most exciting and creative? Probably, but I still believe that that the Punk/New Wave era was it. I'm so happy that was mine.

I love synthesizers. I can't get enough. I recently went on an eighties synth pop craze. Bringing out my old New Order and Scritti Politti records. When an engineer friend mentioned that David Gamson the keyboard player from Scritti Politti owned a UAD-1 card, I jumped. Scritti Politti was instant fun, get happy music. Downbeat party and you want everyone to dance? Put on Cupid and Psyche 85 and you wouldn't be able to get them to stop!

David Gamson has had such a rich and varied career. After a great run with Scritti he went on to a five-year in-house staff producer/songwriter job at Warner Brothers Records in LA. During that time he produced four albums with Me' Shell NdegéOcello and several with Chaka Kahn among others. David now works as an independent songwriter/producer.

"I always used the LA-2A for tracking vocals. Always on Chaka Kahn, because of the smooth expensive sound."

Do you enjoy working in so many different styles?
Yes, it's always great to find some artist or style of music that suddenly gets me excited about making music all over again. There's so many ways to go about making a record and different styles of music call for very different approaches. I never want to feel like there is one way to do things. By working in various styles I always feel like I'm discovering something new about the process.

What do you think your greatest strengths are as a composer?
I think I'm probably more of an arranger than a songwriter. To me, songwriters can write a whole song (music and lyrics) and I've always been limited by my inability to write lyrics. I enjoy the collaborative process, though, and I think I'm good at finding some small idea and developing it into a complete song.

What are your strengths are as a producer?
A producer can perform a lot of different roles depending on who the artist is. Sometimes, when an artist's greatest strength is as a singer, the producer writes the song, plays all the instruments and creates almost the entire record. Other times, you are a sounding board for someone (or a group of people) who can do it all themselves, but need some objective ears to know when they've done their best. I guess my strength as a producer is that I equally enjoy songwriting, playing, programming, engineering, and also just listening to really talented people make music, so I can find a role for myself that best suits the needs of the project at hand.

I thought you were a Pro Tools guy?
I was, and I was a Mac guy too, but I switched over to Nuendo on a PC about two years ago. I bought a UAD-1 right away and soon realized that I was going to need another one because I loved the thing so much. I'd love to get a third one. The sound quality of Nuendo was so much better then Pro Tools was at the time. Nuendo also took care of the plug-in delay compensation.

What is your main gear set up?
My monitors are Genelec 1031As and Yamaha NS- 10s and I have a Genelec sub. I do most everything else in the computer.

Do you have any favorite processors?
I use everything all lot except for Nigel. I love the Cambridge EQ - that's my basic. I use the 1176 and the LA-2A all the time. I just recently got the Fairchild. I don't have set ways of doing anything. I try different settings every time. The UA stuff is my basic EQ and compressors. If I need quality then all I need to do is to the UAD-1. Usually I use the LA-2A and 1176 on vocals. I've got to say the Bomb Factory plug-ins don't sound anywhere near as good as the UAD-1. With the Bomb Factory plug-ins, all the compressors sound the same.

Do you have experience with Universal Audio hardware?
I always used the LA-2A for tracking vocals. Always on Chaka Kahn, because of the smooth expensive sound.

I've done everything in my home studio for the past five years. The one interesting thing with DAWs is that it's changed the mixing process. Before this I always like going to outside mixers and outside studios. What happens more and more is because I'm able to get everything so dialed in, whenever I go to an outside mixer the A & R guy likes the work mix better and I end up doing some type of hybrid between what I mixed at home and running thru a board or just using what I did at home so it's really seems like we're almost at a point where you can do everything at home.

Do you have a career highlight you'd like to share?
Yes, doing a trumpet overdub with Miles Davis on a Scritti Politti album. It was about 1987, 1988. I've been lucky that I've been able to work with a lot of really great people. He was on the Provision album. He played a solo on a song called Oh Patti. He had done a cover version of Perfect Way on the TuTu record so kind of like a payback he did a guest spot on our record. He came down to the studio all alone and it was really a great moment. He had Green (Scritti singer) and I stand on either side of him because he could never remember when to come in and basically he wanted both of us to hit him on the arm when to play and when to stop. So we were standing in the studio hitting Miles Davis. Unbelievable!

The way I got [into the business] was Fred Maher, (the third Scritti), had been in Material and did a thing for ZE records and I did a demo that he played on. I said what should I do now and he said oh just call Mike Zilkha. I called and got him on the phone, the President of ZE Records. The idea that you could just call the President of an Indie label, just cold call him and get him on the phone and he said to me 'Oh yeah! Come on down.' I basically went over, played him some stuff and he said 'Yeah, this is good. Here's some money. Go make yourself some more demos'. That would never happen today. The recording business has changed a lot but the good news is there s more of a grassroots thing happening.

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