The Pro File - Dave Pensado and Herb Trawick

Production tips and industry advice from the Pensado's Place duo
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On the eve of their 2020 NAMM TEC Hall of Fame Award, the team behind the popular web series Pensado’s Place talk about tech, tenacity, and tips for success in the music business.

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The team behind the weekly web series Pensado’s Place know a few things about what it takes to succeed in the music industry. Grammy-nominated engineer Dave Pensado has worked with everyone from Michael Jackson and Christina Aguilera, to Frank Ocean, Kelly Clarkson, Beyoncé and beyond. And Herb Trawick has worked as a manager and producer with artists like Brian McKnight and Earth, Wind & Fire’s Maurice White.

Launched in 2010, Pensado’s Place is a weekly web series focusing on excellence and innovation in audio. With a regular roundup of storied industry guests, the show is watched by six million viewers each year. For these reasons and more, the duo will be inducted into the NAMM TEC Hall of Fame at the 35th Annual NAMM TEC Awards, on Saturday, January 18, in Anaheim, California.

As they prepared to receive their award, Pensado and Trawick spoke to us about what it takes to make a mark in music.

What does it mean to you to receive the 2020 NAMM TEC Hall of Fame award?

Dave Pensado: I think any creative person is always looking for certification. It helps you keep going. I don’t think anyone can view themselves the way an outside audience can. So it’s a test that we’re doing something that reaches people.

Herb Trawick: We’re both being inducted, and it’s for the course of our careers, not just for Pensado’s Place. Dave was one thing as a mixer, and I was another thing as a manager, so there are those years and you reflect on the impact of that. But by and large from my perspective, it’s the idea that you’re in there with such hallowed other names and that somehow your work over the course of your career could be held up and on some par with giants like Quincy [Jones] and Arif [Mardin], and Phil Ramone and Phil Spector. It’s pretty amazing.

From your perspectives, what kind of advice can you impart to budding engineers about what it takes to succeed in this ever-changing industry?

DP: For me, engineering is a lot like typing. You can become the world’s greatest typist and type 150 words per minute, but the whole point of typing is to write a novel or poem that can reach someone. So I look at the engineering elements of the process like typing… Until you can convert that skill into the ability to reach people somehow, you’re not really a true engineer.

HT: I think if I were to try and catalogue what guests say to us that I think are unique, I’d say number one: stay curious. Number two: use technology, don’t let technology use you. Number three: don’t get caught into a box. There’s what we call “hybridism” going on – with different musical influences and components coming together. The late, great [producer and songwriter] Busbee would use an [Roland TR-] 808 on a Keith Urban record and Country music would think it sounded wonderful. And now you see Hip hop and pop elements coming together. Number four: think in terms of audio and don’t get caught in a box. There are unbelievable opportunities in places like Netflix for people who have audio skills, and those are different skills than what might be required for someone to mix. There are all kinds of opportunities in tech and streaming. Number five: education is important. Not education that can hamper you, but education that unlocks your creativity. And last but not least, sometimes accidents are good things. A musical accident can become the hook or the very thing that makes your song or your project hip. So don’t be afraid of them!

Are you happy with the democratization of the recording and producing process nowadays? Or do you long for the days of recording in a proper studio, onto tape with a set of session musicians and trained engineers?

DP: For me, I never really liked the sound of tape. I was always disappointed by not receiving what I put on it. It was something you had to learn how to use and work with its limitations. In terms of today’s world, I’m 100% convinced that the best music that’s ever been made is being made today, because so many people have access to the process. So mathematically speaking, it has to be the best music that’s being made. Simultaneously, it’s the worst music that’s ever been made. Now more than ever, we need filters. It turns out that labels did a pretty good job of filtering the good from the bad. Now we have curated playlists, and there are a lot of opportunities for people to find those little gems.

HT: Technology allows people to collaborate in impersonal ways. We have a whole lot more people who can deal with music, but they’re not necessarily gifted with something that’s insightful. Sometimes community creates creativity. There used to be creativity that came from people coming together. We wouldn’t have a show if it wasn’t for the technology available today. So the commoditization of the process allows much broader access, but not necessarily genius coming through. When you’re sitting with a group of really genius people in the studio, as Quincy Jones would say, “A studio is like Church and God will come into the room.” So I think if we combined a little bit of the old - the old idea of getting really gifted people together, with some of the new advances in technology, we’d have more inspiring music.

For more information visit www.pensadosplace.tv

Jon Regen is a singer, songwriter and pianist and the Editor of Keyboard Magazine. His latest album “Higher Ground” features musical performances by Andy Summers, Benmont Tench, Chuck Leavell and Nick Rhodes. Find out more at jonregen.com