Howard Massey - producer crosstalk

Producer Crosstalk: Howard Massey

Engineer, music journalist and newly minted novelist Howard Massey came to the business as many do: as a musician. After a move to London and an inked publishing deal, he logged hours at Pathway Studios. When the engineer there told him he was leaving, he asked Massey to fill the vacancy. As his repertoire broadened, he found that he was something of an expert on the Yamaha DX7 synthesizer. So good, in fact, that a friend suggested he write a book on it. He’s since scribed Behind the Glass and co-authored Geoff Emerick’s 2006 acclaimed Here, There, and Everywhere. Recently he has branched into fiction.

Howard Massey's career has been shaped by a series of “left turns,” as he calls them. “I started out wanting to be a rock & roll star,” the writer explains. “I discovered that I had good ears. When I returned to New York, I was offered a job at Electric Lady Studios and when the [Yamaha] DX7 came out, I got one of the early ones. I found that no one really knew how to use it, including the people at Yamaha, surprisingly. So I locked myself in a room and learned to program it. A friend said I should teach other people. Later, someone else suggested I write a book.” In 1986, The Complete DX7 was published and his literary career thereby drew its first breaths.

Howard Massey 3 lessons learnedWith such a level of studio acquaintance––37 featured in Behind the Glass––Massey has thoughts on what signifies a space with staying power. “If people are flocking to book a studio, there’s something they’re doing right,” he observes. “Of course these days any studio that’s still in business, by definition, is successful because everything’s changed dramatically. Clients demanded more and record companies insisted on lower hourly rates. Studios got caught in the cash crunch. Of the 36 discussed in my book The Great British Recording Studios, only three are still in business.

“People today don’t feel the need to go into a professional studio,” he continues. “That’s a bit misguided. There are few artists in history who’ve had the ability to produce themselves well and view their work objectively. You can probably count [them] on one hand. If nothing else, having an objective third set of ears is invaluable. These days everybody thinks they can be a musician, songwriter, engineer and producer wrapped into one. It’s not that easy to be good at different things. I’m not saying nobody can do it. I’m saying few can. It’s hard to master several crafts at the same time and exceptionally hard to be objective about your work.”

Among his favorite anecdotes is one from Here, There, and Everywhere. “For ‘Yellow Submarine,’ Geoff put the Beatles into one of the Abbey Road echo chambers—as opposed to feeding their voices into the room. They wanted to sound like they were in a submarine and the chamber had that feeling. It was only three feet high with water dripping off the walls.”

Behind the Glass is a compendium of producer interviews Massey wrote for various magazines. 2016’s Roadie represents his first foray into fiction. It is loosely based on the little-known story of Rolling Stones founder Ian Stewart who was fired––weeks before the band leapt into stardom––because he lacked a rock-star bearing. He accepted a roadie position, a comedown but a sliver of the action nonetheless. “Entering the world of fiction is freeing, creatively,” the writer says. “Even though it’s fiction, the most outrageous stories are completely true.” Currently Massey is crafting another novel, Stand-up, about the world of stand-up comedy.

For more information, visit roadiethebook.com