Few producers win a Grammy their first time out. But in 2004, Nashville-based producer and music biz guru Tamara Saviano achieved just such a feat with her production win for compilation album Beautiful Dreamer: The Songs of Stephen Foster. She knows the music business well and in 2002 formed the 501(c)(3) nonprofit American Roots Publishing with the aim of completing artistic projects free of financial considerations. In her time she’s assumed many roles including publicist, manager and concert producer.
More recently, Saviano produced Looking Into You, a Jackson Browne tribute album, which dropped in April. “This was a very different project for me,” she observes, “because usually I have an idea and I go off and do it. In this case, it was Kelcy Warren’s [co-owner of Music Road Records] idea. He’s the biggest Jackson Browne fan and I’d worked in his Austin studio before on a Guy Clark tribute. He liked my work, so when it came time for this project, he asked me to produce it.”
One of the primary differences between this tribute and 2004’s Beautiful Dreamer is that in the first case Saviano used a house band to make the record more uniform and recording more efficient. With Looking Into You, she allowed each contributor to use their own band. “In my initial call with Kelcy, he said that he wanted the artists to be able to do whatever they liked,” the producer recalls. “We were then able to give each artist the freedom to build their song in the way they envisioned.”
The challenge, then, became one of arriving at a completed record that wasn’t sonically divergent. “Thematically, you want a sound that can be married so that it doesn’t sound disjointed,” Saviano explains. “When you have artists turning in individual tracks, they can be anywhere from blues interpretations to rock or country. It was a challenge to make the record sound cohesive but I think we pulled it off.”
So what’s the appeal of tribute records? Typically, they don’t achieve astronomical sales. “They don’t make a lot of money,” Saviano concedes. “But they’re deserving in that my goal is to show the songwriter we’re honoring that his or her songs stand the test of time and are still relevant. Figuring out a way to give the songs the kind of treatment, creatively, that you want and still have them make money, that’s a challenge.”
Certainly that’s a business challenge. But what about her biggest production challenge? It comes down to taking the reins in a process where each player has his or her own ideas. “There are hundreds of ways to produce a record and none of them are right or wrong,” Saviano explains. “It’s just what feels right as a producer. When everyone in the room has great ideas but I still want to do something a certain way, I have to make that call. The more I do it, the easier it becomes, mainly because I’ve learned how to speak up.”
Currently Saviano is producing and directing a documentary about country musician Guy Clark. She’s also writing his biography. Along those lines, recently she published her memoir The Most Beautiful Girl.
Contact Tamara Saviano http://tamarasaviano.com