Producer, guitarist, arranger and composer Terry Wollman was born and raised in Miami. When names such as Quincy Jones and Dave Grusin began to leap out at him from record jacket credits as a youth, he knew that was the business in which he was born to work. He graduated from Boston’s Berklee College of Music with a degree in arranging in 1981 and immediately set out for Los Angeles. In his time, Wollman has worked with a diverse range of artists including Dionne Warwick, Melissa Manchester and even Little Richard.
To draw the best from an artist, Wollman sits down with him or her, has an exchange and explores their aims. “We have a conversation and then it’s a journey,” he explains. “I also ask them to give me a few examples of records or songs that they love. This gives me an idea sonically of what makes them happy. I’ll analyze what things are in common about these pieces of music. It might be that a record sounds organic and natural. Maybe it doesn’t have a lot of reverb. It might be that vocals are mixed up front or perhaps tucked in with the band. I analyze the production, arrangement and engineering point of view and then go back and talk to them about it. My goal is to make their album, not mine. I always serve the song, even when I’m the artist.”
Whether he’s producing for himself or for someone else, he places a high value on acquisition of the strongest talent possible. “I made the decision to use the best musicians I could get for my first record Bimini in 1988,” Wollman recalls. “I wanted to make the same quality record as other artists I knew with a major budget. So I started at the top of my list. I invited the best musicians I knew and they said yes.
“When I make a record, I’m as prepared and open-minded as possible and I surround myself with greatness,” he continues. “That formula continues to work for me. I create an environment that’s exciting, stimulating and inspiring for the artists and each of the musicians.”
Among his long list of credits (not the least of which is musical director for a pair of late-night shows), Wollman has scored a number of documentaries. The best approach he’s found for setting tone and emphasizing scenes across all genres is to apply a technique he learned from composer Jan Stevens while working on the NBC/ABC comedy Scrubs. “He explained that if it’s a funny scene, it’s already funny,” he recounts. “You don’t need to clobber it over the head with something funny. You can play against that. With documentaries, I take my lead from the director and producer. Then I give them my point of view. A lot of filmmakers have a strong idea about what they want and where they want it. The challenge is to get the emotional content of what they’re going for and make it my own. To me, dialogue is king; it’s the melody.”
Wollman’s latest album is a 25-year retrospective of his own music entitled Silver Collection. In January, he aims to release a new, blues-influenced single called “No Problem.” Music for a number of other documentaries is also in the works and his Internet radio show and podcast “Making It With Terry Wollman” continues to feature interviews with various industry entrepreneurs and artists including Seymour Duncan and Ray Parker, Jr.