Producer Crosstalk With Chris Dugan

Drummer, engineer and producer Chris Dugan’s intro to audio came when he was a teenager. His band wanted to record some songs and he was able to score a four-track recorder. He soon moved on to a reel-to-reel, later advanced through a series of multitrack recorders, upgraded to an ADAT and graduated, ultimately, to Pro Tools.

When he was tapped to record a friend’s band, he knew he’d found his calling. He’s since engineered—and recently waded into production—alongside several legendary artists including Green Day, Alanis Morissette, and U2. As a result, a pair of Grammys glitter on his studio shelf and he now works full time with Green Day. Between projects with the emperors of California's East Bay, he continues to record with a range of other bands.

Dugan finds that there’s great value in recording a demo, if for no other reason than it charts a path to a song’s heart. “I try hard to get bands to demo their stuff first, even if it’s done on a rough boom box in a rehearsal space,” he explains. “That’s an immediate telltale sign about a song in general and it tips me off to what it needs. For example, big roomy drums or perhaps that it works better on a much tighter room sound. It helps guide me and to know what I’m getting into right from the start.”

Over the years, Dugan has learned how to overcome the challenge of overthinking a song. “Keep your attention span in check,” he says. “If I stew too much and try to chase something down, I can lose focus. I can get lost in that process. I grew up listening to songs and the more I listened, the more things I’d find. Now I listen and take note of what I get initially; I go with the things that jump out immediately.”

Any engineer who’s spent substantial time in the trade has experimented with a range of gear. Usually a favorite emerges. “Right now I love my vintage [circa 1959] AKG D30 mic,” Dugan says. “I take that to every gig. It’s full of character and is different sounding. They’re kind of hard to find; it’s something the Beatles used. It’s often [employed as] an overhead mic while the D12 was used on Ringo’s kick drum.”

With decades of engineering experience, Dugan has amassed countless studio anecdotes. But the two that stand out for him would trigger envy in any audio aficionado. “Around 2007 I was working with Green Day at Ocean Way,” he recalls. “I got to meet [famed engineer and producer] Jack Joseph Puig. I was a big fan and he invited me to checkout his room.

We nerded-out on gear for quite a while, so much so that I got in trouble because the band was waiting on me. Another time Green Day was recording a song for the Hurricane Katrina Relief Fund along with U2 at Abbey Road [Studios]. When I bumped into Adam [Clayton] in the hall, he greeted me by name—later so did The Edge—and offered me a cup of tea. They were the nicest guys on the planet.”

When Music Connection spoke with Dugan he was in the midst of work with bands including the Gaslight Anthem, Cincinnati group The Dopamines and Birmingham, U.K. rockers Lovebreakers. 

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