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Industry’s Got Talent: Dan Daley’s Journey Through Live Music, Songwriting And Production

Becoming a songwriter, the differences in how music is made today vs. the old analog days, and the satisfaction of working in the commercial electronics industry.

Industry veteran Dan Daley has a unique perspective on the professional A/V market. Viewed through a professional lens as a songwriter for artists such as Charlie Daniels and Johnny Winter, Daley has experienced the music industry from every angle: live performance, songwriting and music production.

Turns out Daley found the pro A/V market as rewarding as the music industry, and has built a successful writing career contributing to publications including Commercial Integrator.

Taking a few moments to reflect on his career, Daley explains how he became a songwriter, the stark differences in how music is made today versus the old analog days, and the satisfaction he derives from working in the commercial electronics industry.

Going back to the early days of your affinity for music, what were some of your influences, and how did they help to shape your songwriting career?

When I was still in my teens I was fortunate to have met and become friends with Doc Pomus, who wrote songs like “This Magic Moment” and “Save The Last Dance for Me.” Doc and I wrote a few songs together, none of which were ever cut, but spending time with him was an education in itself.

Some years later when the last option on my first publishing deal with United Artists Music wasn’t picked up, Doc steered me to a small new company that I was able to make an even better deal with and led to several hit singles.

Did you go to music school or was your musical training the result of playing clubs, bars and other shows?

When I was 12 I took three lessons from an Albanian music teacher with stunningly bad breath. That was all I could take, but it got me through the first three strings on the guitar. I figured out the other three on my own. The rest you learn on tour, on records, on jingles and in the clubs.

Do you have a specific approach to songwriting or is the approach dictated by emotion, the purpose of the song or other circumstances?

I purposely avoided analyzing my own approach to writing, fearing it would cure whatever it was that made it work in the first place.

Looking back, I’d say I was a product of my times; when the industry began to lean towards contemporary urban genres in the early 1990s, that’s when I mostly let go. Ironically, my first real hit was a disco record, “This Could Be The Night” in 1977 by RB Hudmon on Atlantic Records, which ended up in the top 10 on the soul charts a few weeks that year.

Looking at specific songs like “Still in Saigon” and “Rain” that were recorded by the Charlie Daniels Band and Johnny Winter respectively, did you write those songs specifically for those artists? Why do you think those songs did well commercially?

My publishers and I knew we had something unique in “Still in Saigon” so they went long on it out of the box. The first pitch was to Bruce Springsteen who listened but passed [on it].

Then they sent it to Charlie, who initially also passed on it, but then we got a request for license from them out of the blue. Neither artist had ever recorded a single they hadn’t written themselves. It seemed to resonate with Charlie’s own endorsement of Vietnam veterans’ causes.

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I knew Johnny’s manager, so we pitched “Rain” directly to him and Johnny liked it. Writing specifically for a particular artist is too limiting from a commercial point of view.

“Still In Saigon” did well because of Charlie of course, who brought a huge measure of authenticity to it. And because it came at a time when the culture was beginning to reverse a negative view of its military in the wake of the Vietnam War. Ronald Reagan was president, the first “Rambo” film had just come out, and “Top Gun” was germinating.

In fact, my first article for the NY Daily News business section, which I wrote for years, was on how “Top Gun” (the movie) reflected advertisers’ renewed willingness to embrace military themes to sell stuff.

As for “Rain” … a good blues song is always timely.

Do you think the Nashville songwriting scene has changed over the years because of the success of “new country” and artists like Taylor Swift, Brad Paisley, Keith Urban and others? What do you think about the “alt-country” movement that is gaining momentum as counter culture to new country’s mainstream status?

Keith and Luke Bryan and others are taking some 1980s rock elements and 2000s production techniques (Auto-Tune, etc.) and applying them to pickup trucks, mamas and the other standard tropes of country music.

Nashville’s songwriting culture undergoes periodic tectonic shifts — it always has — and generally incorporates pop music influences from a few years earlier.

The themes remain the same — the guitars and drums just get louder.

The lyrics, however do seem to have gotten a bit dumber. But then country lyrics were never about smart, they’re about clever: “How can I miss you when you won’t go away?”

Do you write on a piano or guitar? Do you have a preference?

I play guitar and pedal steel. I’ve got a 1965 Guild D-25, the first year they were made. It’s beat to hell and was sold to me by Tommy “T-Bone” Wolk, who I toured with in the Frank Morgan Band before Tommy became Hall & Oates’ bassist and co-producer.

The pedal steel is a 1968 Emmons 10-string single neck and it’s been around the world, literally twice. I have a [Fender] Stratocaster and a [Fender] Telecaster built for me by Perry Magouleff, and a Washburn 22-fret prototype that is just the greatest guitar I’ve ever owned.

In addition to your experience as a songwriter, you also have experience as a producer and engineer. How did you get into those fields?

I made my first record with a band from high school, so I’ve been in studios for a long time. When I got my first publishing deal with United Artists Music, in the mid-1970s, it was SoP [standard operating procedure] to make piano-voice or guitar-voice demos of songs. I suggested to the late, great Stu Greenberg there that we might have better chances with placement of some types of songs if we could give them more context — full production.

They O.K.ed some budgets and we had a few successes out of the box so that became my M.O. [modus operandi] from then on. It was a wonderful time to record — there were so many great studios — Greene Street Recording, Music Farm, A&R, Automated, Celestial, Pilot, and so many great studio musicians to choose from.

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A/V was a natural extension of the music market. The huge number of people in it who originally came from recorded and live music production underscores that.

Dan Daley

I worked with some excellent engineers at the time, too, like Joe Blaney, Steve Ett, Roddy Hui, and Vickie Fabry, and learned a lot from them.

In the late 1980s I became a partner at Pyramid Recording Studios, a two-room facility in midtown Manhattan. I learned even more working as an engineer on productions like MTV’s “The Big Show,” but I also saw the business side of the business, which is what helped set the course for me to transition to journalism, staring with magazines like Circus and Mix. I’d gone back to college and gotten a degree in journalism for mixed media from CUNY/Baruch in 1986.

How has music production evolved or changed over your career? Do you think it has changed for the better?

This would require book-length treatment to do it right, but I will say this: The shift to nonlinear digital recording allows the use of a nearly unlimited number of tracks; however, that hasn’t been an overall positive development.

When you were limited to four, eight, 16 or 24 tracks, you had to make artistic decisions as you went along and as the production became more complex. There were physical limits you had to deal with, and those decisions became part of the creative process.

Today, with virtually unlimited tracks, creative decisions are being put off until the very end, where the sheer amount of information causes creative paralysis.

I have mix engineers tell me they’re getting Pro Tools sessions with 150 tracks and 15 versions of guitar solos and vocals that no one made a decision on at the time.

The constraints of analog recording are, I think, one of the things that made records from that era as good and durable as they’ve been. Why else are we still listening to Boston’s first album when no one remembers Bieber’s last one?

It would seem that songwriting and music production would be exciting fields to participate in. What drew you to writing for and covering the professional A/V market?

A/V was a natural extension of the music market. The huge number of people in it who originally came from recorded and live music production underscores that.

It’s remarkable how often I can make a music-production reference during an interview and the person I’m talking to picks it up immediately.

I’m not sure I’d recommend it as a career choice today, however. In fact, I’m disturbed by the amount of student-loan debt I see graduates coming out of the pro-audio academies with in recent years.

Do you get the same satisfaction writing a good song as you do writing a good story that engages readers of publications like Commercial Integrator?

Anytime you can make a reader or a listener think or feel, you’ve done your job.

Commercial Integrator is profiling musicians who work in the AV industry. If you would like to participate in CI’s “Industry’s Got Talent” series please submit your information to Bob Archer at [email protected] You can read and comment on the article here.

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