Legendary music producer Narada Michael Walden knows exactly how to bring out the very best in people. Even if those people happen to be Aretha Franklin or Mariah Carey. Durtti wants to get some tips from Narada on how he consistently casts his musical spells.
What is your happiest childhood memory, Narada?
My happiest childhood memory is when I received on Christmas Morning toy drum sets called Toyland Drums. The heads are made of paper and they break right away within 5 or 10 minutes of bashing – you know, playing real hard and furious orgasmic in front of my grandma Nellie and her husband at the time and Val and his wife and my dad and mom. That made me very happy. They were watching me ecstatic and I was ecstatic.
To this day I try to achieve that same kind of feeling playing the drums.
How on earth do you go about getting 120% effort out of someone like Aretha Franklin when you know she’s going to give you 110% anyway?
Aretha is one of the most of professional people in the world. She comes in with everything memorized knowing what she wants to do, so it’s a piece of cake working with Aretha Franklin in that respect. She’s so professional. And prepared.
So all I have to do with Aretha is be loving, kind, encouraging and always happy, smiling, funny – you know, looking good, smelling good!
What do you think of how music production techniques have changed in the last 15 years? For instance, have you swapped the huge SSL or Neve mixing desks for an iPad with a Cubasis app?!
No, we still keep our SSL and we use it every time we are mixing with Dave Frazer for the extra sound and the extra compression that it adds that you can only get on the SSL or a Neve. They are a very expensive desk and they sound it.
We also use Pro-Tools along with it and/or Logic, so things have changed quite a bit in how we record on to digital domain instead of tape – which has gone. There’s certainly a big difference in how we can edit things and move things around or change keys very quickly as opposed to having to recut everything.
There’s been a lot of difference in how we record, but basically music is music and great songs are great songs and we are always in the pursuit of greatness.
You were given the name ‘Narada’ by Guru Sri Chinmey in the 70’s. How did that all come about?
I had to wait a long time to receive my name, about three and a half years.
Just before the release of my solo album The Garden of Lovelight 1976, I was asked to come to the church to receive my name. And when Guru gave me my name I was meditating and praying on my knees and he started saying “Na – Ra – Da” over and over and over so many times, I didn’t know if my name was Na, Ra or Da!
Finally he said “Narada”, he says “you are the sweetness of a flower” and “Narada’s soul brings from heaven to earth light, delight and compassion and takes back to heaven from earth, earths sufferings”.
So through music this is my mission. Also in Indian folklore there’s a great Saint Narada who could appear and disappear and play music on his veena divine for God.
What do you think the Spotify and Tidal business models will look like 5 years from now?
I have no idea what it will look like 5 years from now; I have no idea what it will look like a year from now. I am only hopeful that the Musicians and Artists will get paid. It’s important that we who live in the music community and the arts are able to track down our moneys, are able to be compensated for our efforts so that we can stay in the industry and stay creative.
This is my prayer for all people who are in the arts that they get paid and are able to be supported for their efforts.
As well as Aretha, you have worked very closely and extensively with many top artists including the late Whitney Houston, the late George Michael and Mick Jagger. Is there one recording session that will always remain firmly as one of your fondest memories?
With George Michael, I loved him so much, he had to really trust me because he wasn’t used to working with a producer on the song ‘I Knew You Were Waiting for Me’.
I said “George I can’t go back over your early tracks, the early tracks are the hit magic”, so he had to trust me and stop and let me comp and put it all together for the next day when he would hear it back and be blown away. That was great and then he would come in and sing live back and forth with Aretha Franklin.
That whole session was really magical… really, really magical! Working with George was really beautiful.
What are you working on at the moment? (New album? New songs? Your record label?)
I am working on my new album, a new album of dance music and fun music from Narada Michael Walden. So stay tuned, it should hopefully come out this year on Tarpan Records, our label, with President Steffen Franz at the helm and my dear friend, partner Kimrea helping us and my staff of Jim Reitzel and Dave Frazer and all my musicians and friends around the world.
Finally Narada, what advice can you give to someone in the workplace who wants to build a great relationship with their work colleagues and get the very best out of their team members, regardless of what industry they are in?
I would always say, be kind. Be kind or leave, you know. Kindness goes a long way. You want to be able to be with somebody for a long time and stay respectful. Also listening is important, that we slow ourselves down enough to really listen to each other. And bless our hearts, God is in everything.
If we think of it that way to be mindful that God is in everything… and to do unto others as we would want done unto ourselves.
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