Cubase and Nuendo Championed by Celeb Producer David Kahne
Kelly Clarkson, The Strokes, Bruce Springsteen and Paul McCartney are among the impressive list of artists who have been produced by David Kahne. Employed by some of the biggest record labels throughout his career, Kahne has simultaneously been working on various projects, producing songs for TV shows, the latest blockbusting movie and for various artists while never concentrating on a single music genre. In 1994, he was awarded a Grammy in the category Best Album of the Year for producing Tony Bennett’s MTV Unplugged. Somehow it is easy to fathom that with his continual success over the years David Kahne now holds a prominent place in the history of established pop and rock producers.
How did you first get started in the business?
I was teaching high school and got a record contract so I quit. I worked as an artist and performer, and didn’t like it. I decided I wanted to be a producer, and I got a job at Wally Heider’s studio in San Francisco. I started doing demos on the side. We could use the studios after hours if you were a runner, which is not allowed today in most studios. I would be there all night working after everyone else had left. There were a lot of cool bands happening in San Francisco at the time.
I did some demos which turned into successful albums which led to my A&R position. The president of Columbia heard two separate new projects on the same day and noticed that I was involved with both of them. He liked them so much that he flew me to NY and hired me.
How long did you work as an A&R person?
I worked at Columbia for about 15 years and then Warner for 5 years. I worked with The Bangles, Fishbone, Presidents of the United States of America, Tony Bennett, Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen amongst many others.
How did you transition back to studio work?
I was in the studio almost every day as an A&R person. I was looking for good music, how to make it better, right and get it to the market. You could sign stuff back then. It is a much more difficult process to sign music now. When I left Columbia in 1995 there were over 200 artists and now I think that there are about 35 active artists.
When did you first get exposed to Steinberg products?
I was a Logic user and saw a demo of Nuendo at Sam Ash. I was walking by and heard low end being added to a bass track by the guy who was demonstrating the software. It sounded like real low end. I got Nuendo that day and have been using Steinberg products ever since.
Describe your studio?
It is based around an AMD PC running a MADI system. It has 64 outputs which are fed into Dangerous Music summing boxes. I have a bunch of analog processing gear routed as outboard effects. I use them as external FX in Cubase when I bounce them back in for drums where the phase is so critical. If you bus the signal out to a Fairchild and bring it back in it is always in phase. If it is off, a tiny bit off, it is a total disaster. My studio is located in a room at Avatar Studios in NY.
I have a traveling computer that I use when I work with Paul McCartney in the UK. I keep both computers identical so that I can bounce projects between them seamlessly.
How did you first start working with Paul McCartney?
He called to talk because he had listened to a bunch of stuff I had done. We talked about music, he liked my ideas and we agreed to do a record. He had heard my work with Sugar Ray, Fishbone, Sublime and Tony Bennett. He liked the variety, I think. I wasn’t just doing one type of thing. I worked on the two live recordings Back in the U.S. and Back in the World and the studio albums Driving Rain and Memory Almost Full. We are now producing a project together.
What was it like to work with Kelly Clarkson?
She is an amazing singer. And she had all of these songs that she had written. She was doing the lyrics and melodies. It was a lot of fun, she was really fast. She is a great singer which is a lot more fun than working with a bad singer. Two members of her band saw Cubase in action on the project and switched over immediately. That has now happened a few times with different people I've worked with.
Do you mix on a console or are you doing it in the box?
I don’t have a console at all. If I use the console, it’s as purely a summing box, all faders set to 0 dB. I don’t do that much automation as I use the volume handles on the clips extensively. I do the rides on the file as opposed to the fader and usually end up printing those. I use the Envelope Shaper and love the original VST2 Multi-Band Compressor. I have never heard anything like it, it is still so powerful. The FM radio preset is a great place to start.
Do you do a lot of MIDI sequencing in addition to audio engineering?
I just scored a film in Cubase 5 and used the VST Expression. I have a really elaborate MIDI setup with lots of key switching libraries and it turned out great. You don’t get those low notes on score. I use the HALion ONE plug-in constantly too, great library, fast, and easy to use. I use it for sketching ideas. It is a quick effective solution for writing and arranging.
Have you experimented with LoopMash yet?
It is amazing, and I am still trying to figure it out. There’s a random possibility feel to it, yet it’s so musical. You can spend the rest of your life working with it. It’s a better time suck than Facebook.
What are your impressions of Groove Agent ONE?
I'm using it a lot with the Beat Designer MIDI plug-in. It is really fast. I have thousands of kicks and snares and I am building my own kits. I can randomly grab different samples and drop them on pads while it plays, easily switching between velocity layers. The swing function on the Beat Designer is so subtle and good. One step and you’re there.
Have you had a chance to use the PitchCorrect plug-in?
The formant controller is amazing. The color of the voice changes a bit without any artifacts being introduced at all.
Do you have an A&R advice?
It is a very trite thing. It is essential to have the best absolute product to start with. The labels are very picky. They want to hear a finished project and be able to put it out tomorrow. They have less money, less artists and less releases. The development process is almost non-existent. It’s better to do the hard work early as opposed to later on. I am currently developing something and I am not letting anyone hear it until I feel that I have two singles done.
How do Steinberg products help you work?
I can go to rehearsal and record it and I know that the sound quality is there. I can use it later in the studio and have it accessible on several computers. I can do so much with very little gear. I carry a little set of speakers everywhere with me and I get the same consistent result wherever I am. All of the plug-ins and instruments come up every time without incident. The REVerence reverb, the EQs and the compressors all sound great. I feel secure and free to operate how I want knowing that Cubase will work. It is a good feeling to have the confidence of such stability.