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Behind The Glass: An Interview With Producer/Engineer Trina Shoemaker

A candid look into the industry, her career, and thoughts for aspiring engineers

Maybe it’s just a side effect of the Starbucks jet fuel she gulped down as we conduct the interview, but a couple of things soon become abundantly clear about Trina Shoemaker: one, she is supremely confident in her abilities.

And, two, she takes no shit from anybody.

Shoemaker grew up in Joliet, Illinois, a small town near Chicago, where her hobbies included buying every album she could get her hands on and disassembling her dad’s hi-fi equipment.

At the age of 19, she moved to Los Angeles, with the express goal of becoming a record producer. “Mind you, I didn’t know exactly what a record producer was at the time,” she is quick to add.

“But I had spent my entire youth looking at pictures of control rooms on the insides of album jackets and I knew that I wanted to be there.”

“I would see photographs of Lennon or Hendrix sitting by a console and there would be some guy smoking a cigarette sitting next to him, and I just thought, ‘I want to be that person.’”

Despite applying to every major studio in LA, Shoemaker was only able to land a secretarial job, albeit one at Capitol Records. “Unfortunately,” she recalls, “it was soon made clear to me that the record company and the recording facility were two separate entities.”

“Eventually they told me to stop lurking around in the hallways outside the studios!” Frustrated and pissed off, Shoemaker’s next move was a long ways away: 6,000 miles, to be precise, where she had to make ends meet by working in a London pub.

Fortunately, it was a pub frequented by a manager/film producer who needed someone to run his office while he was away in the States for a few months. Shoemaker took the job, and quickly discovered that a Capitol artist of her acquaintance—English singer Hugh Harris—had set up a demo studio in the basement.

Without any fanfare, Harris put her to work punching in his vocals. “I peppered him with questions,” Shoemaker remembers, “and his answers were classic. I once asked him, ‘What’s amplitude?’ and his reply was, ‘Volume, love; it’s all just volume.’”

Unfortunately, the gig ended all too soon, and Shoemaker returned to LA, broke but more determined than ever. While there, she briefly attended a small private recording school, where she learned how to line up tape machines and make cables.

One day, out of the blue, she decided to relocate once more, this time to New Orleans (“Odd, considering I didn’t know anybody there and had never even been down south,” she reflects), a move that proved fateful in that it led to her meeting famed Canadian producer Daniel Lanois. Lanois and his staff at Kingsway Studios took Shoemaker under their wing, utilizing her considerable soldering and tape editing skills . . . as well as, she notes wryly, her ability to keep the kitchen area clean.

The rest of Trina Shoemaker’s biography reads like a chapter out of A Star Is Born. One day in 1995, singer Sheryl Crow turned up to begin recording her eponymous follow-up to the immensely successful Tuesday Night Music Club.

On just the second day of the sessions, Crow had a falling-out with her producer. . . and discovered that the not-so-shy female engineer standing in the shadows had an uncanny ability to punch in vocals—a skill she’d honed years before at a basement studio in London.

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Two Grammys later—including the 1998 Best Engineered Album (for Crow’s The Globe Sessions)—Shoemaker’s career was firmly established. In the years since, she has worked with an eclectic group of artists, including Emmylou Harris, Blues Traveler, Queens of the Stone Age, Nanci Griffith, and Steven Curtis Chapman (whose 2004 All Things New netted Shoemaker her third Grammy).

Following the birth of her son and the terrible destruction of Hurricane Katrina just months later, Shoemaker relocated to Nashville in 2005, where she continues to be active in the music scene while balancing the demands of being a new mother.

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