A to Z of Making It, Music, My Stories, Unsung Heroes

Mastery

I did a little write up a few months back on Survivor’s debut album for one of my yearly review posts. And I mentioned that the production team for a debut album was impressive.

The producer is Ron Nevison.

The engineer is Bruce Fairbairn.

The assistant engineer is Mike Clink and one of the mixers assisting Fairbairn is Bob Rock.

And overseeing the whole thing is John Kalodner, who was always trying to get inspired people of similar mindsets to work together.

Basically every single one of them would go on to be involved with a lot of multi-platinum albums in the 80’s and early 90’s.

A book came out in the 2000’s called “The Talent Code” by Daniel Coyle and in that book, Coyle quoted a lot from the research work of Anders Ericsson, who came up with the “deliberate practice” model which leads to mastery.

Ericsson also wrote a book called “Peak” with Robert Pool as a co-writer many years later, focusing more on the research. Both of those books mention that in the past, mastery was achieved by people spending time with masters. All of those brilliant Italian painters and sculptors (like Michelangelo, etc.) spent time with previous masters, first as paint brush cleaners, then as canvas makers and paint mixers and then as students. The apprenticeships took years/decades. And by being around masters and learning from masters, they themselves achieved a certain mastery. Which they then passed on to others.

And this form of learning is the first thing I thought off when I saw the people involved with the first Survivor record.

Ron Nevison by 1979 is the master.

He did his apprenticeships with other masters, which goes back to being a sound engineer on “Quadrophenia” from The Who in the 60’s, “Physical Graffiti” from Led Zeppelin, plus he engineered the first three Bad Company albums. Then he started producing, doing “Night Life” with Thin Lizzy, “Lights Out”, “Obsession” and “Strangers In The Night” with UFO and albums with Jefferson Starship and The Baby’s.

Bruce Fairbairn on the other hand is the apprentice. By 1979, Fairbairn had the “Prism” albums under his belt, however their success was largely in the Canadian market.

Mike Clink was also apprentice, however at this stage he had done more time with Nevison than Fairbairn, as Clink was involved in the UFO, The Baby’s and Jefferson Starship albums as assistant engineer with Nevison. And Bob Rock was a protégé of Fairbairn’s so wherever Fairbairn went at this point in time, Rock went with him. Rock would learn from Nevison and then from Fairbairn.

And this form of mastery teaching happened in other recording studios with other producers.

Tom Allom spent time as a sound engineer, learning from Rodger Bain while Bain produced albums from Genesis, Black Sabbath and Budgie. We all know that Tom Allom went on to produce a lot of classic albums afterwards. Roy Thomas Baker also spent time learning from others and then he passed on his knowledge to a new breed like Geoff Workman.

To put into context the reach these producers would have, in the 80’s Ron Nevison produced the “Bad Animals” album from Heart, both Damn Yankees albums, Ozzy’s “The Ultimate Sin”, the other Survivor albums, “Out Of This World” with Europe, the first four MSG albums and “Crazy Nights” from Kiss.

Bruce Fairbairn did a lot of albums in the 80’s, but his biggest being “Slippery When Wet” and “New Jersey” by Bon Jovi, “Pump” and “Permanent Vacation” from Aerosmith, along with all of the Loverboy stuff.

Bob Rock did “Dr Feelgood”, The Cult, Blue Murder, “Keep The Faith” with Bon Jovi as producer and he was also involved as engineer on “Slippery When Wet” and “New Jersey” and his biggest one as producer, the “Metallica” black album, while Mike Clink did “Appetite For Destruction” as his first album and co-produced “Rust In Peace” by Megadeth.

The artists get all the glory and the adulation and the concert revenue, if they can still tour, but it was the magic behind the scenes that made the 80’s one of those decades of landmark album releases.

All of these producers did their time learning from others and once they achieved their mastery, they passed on their knowledge to others and the cycle kept repeating, until it stopped happening from the mid-80s onwards as recording gear got cheaper and more and more independent studios started and eventually, home studios.

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5 thoughts on “Mastery

  1. You are so right about all those guys. Real talents. I’ve been doing a Producer Extraordinaire series since the site started and alot of those guys I have featured. And I think I need to feature a few more of them. I also didn’t realize they were all involved in the Survivor debut. I might need to pull that one out.

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