Posted: June 12, 2008
By Bob Grossweiner and Jane Cohen
Jeff Dawson is a Vancouver, BC based producer/engineer/mixer, whose musicality and innate ability to hear a potential hit is making him a favorite of artists and labels alike.
Among them is songwriter Daniel Powter, whose breakthrough debut album, Bad Day, was developed and produced by Jeff. After working on Powter's songs and helping develop the project's sound over three years, Warner Bros Chairman/CEO Tom Whalley took one listen and knew he had something extraordinary. "Bad Day" was #1 for five weeks on Billboard's Hot 100 in 2006 and has become a worldwide hit with almost 2.2 million downloads and nearly 3 million albums sold.
Don't let the A/C sounds of Daniel Powter fool you. Jeff's diversified musical background runs the full gamut. From his roots as a guitarist in many bands--from metal to pop-rock to a grunge band--to the musical extreme of being a piano player, his musical interests are all over the scale. He counts Neil Diamond, Justin Timberlake and Iron Maiden as his dream artists to produce.
There is one constant in his production choices and that is melody.
Recent projects include JD Fortune's (INXS) upcoming solo project, Calgary buzz band The Dudes, Chicago darlings Dotdotdot and R&B diva Kelly Rowland.
Most notably, Canadian pop-rockers State of Stock, a melodic rock band that has taken Canada by storm and just penned their deal with Universal Republic Records. State of Shock's success is thanks in part to Jeff's ability to work with the artists' songs in the writing stages and focus on commercial catchy choruses and strong hooks - his specialty.
"It's all about the song," he says, whether it's an edgy EMO band, heavy rock act or a singer/songwriter - the same constant applies to every act Jeff works with - focusing on song structure and arrangement and making the players and vocalist's performance the best they can be.
"Do it once and do it right" says the driven and focused producer. Jeff prefers to start the process by listening to an artist's upcoming material and using his keen ear and musical spidey-sense to pick the gems and focus on their potential in the writing stages before hitting the studio. Each project has its distinct sound: Jeff's diversified musical background is reflected in his project choices and these projects successes.
Jeff still likes to work with unsigned acts and most of these are in the process of becoming signed acts. Some of these include Birds of Wales, 5AM, Beyond the Fall, Fully Loaded and The Dudes.
Other recent projects that Jeff has wrapped up include the latest from Tal Bachman (Artemis), John Wozniak's (Marcy Playground front man) solo record not yet released and platinum selling singer/songwriter Holly McNarland (Curve/Universal).
What makes a good producer?
Being able to get what's in the artists' head out as well as developing absolute trust. If the artist 100% trusts you, the sky is the limit.
How can a producer enhance a project?
I can't speak for others, but I believe in serving the song first. Also being an objective outside opinion, and in my case, helping the artist focus ideas.
How did you and Daniel Powter get together?
I did a radio remix for Dan. He lived in a small town far Vancouver at the time--Vernon about 5 hours away from Vancouver. He came down, played some piano on the track and we clicked. We started doing demos together after that. The demos became the record.
Why did it take three years to complete the album?
Dan was unsigned when we made the record. I took him on and developed him over three years. We demoed about 30 songs over that time due to funding or lack of. I'd a home studio then so we worked there. We originally sent a batch of five songs out which immediately sparked interest. So we sent more and more. From the time we started writing together to when the record came out was three years. Incidentally four of those five original songs made the final record. Dan was signed by Tom Whalley at Warner in L.A.
Did you sense that "Bad Day" would be such a big international hit?
Dan came to me with the idea of the melody for Bad Day about a year before we finished it. I said it's not quite there. He went away and worked on it. We changed it from a straight groove to a swung groove and finished it quickly after that. And to answer your question, Yes, and not to sound too cocky, but the minute we finished it we knew it was a smash hit.
Do you have a certain producing style or sound?
I listen to music a certain way and definitely build records in a certain way.
I'm blessed however to be able to work on many different styles of music and always take a fresh approach to every project.
How do you decide who you want to produce?
I'll quickly listen the songs because I don't want to get too used to the arrangements should I decide to work with the project. The melodies and singer's voice are big selling points for me.
First concert attended
Iron Maiden with Twisted Sister at the Palace Coliseum in Vancouver in 1985.
First industry job
Assistant engineer at Mushroom Studios in Vancouver
Getting fired from Mushroom Studios in Vancouver-- I was a threat to the head engineerr.
When the albums you work on don't get released for various music business, crap, political reasons.
Finding the time to play more golf.
Best business decision
Working with Daniel Powter. Having a gut feeling when I hear an artist, seeing it through and knowing that my musical instincts were right when it has such huge success.
Best advice you received
Never stop learning.
Mistakes you've learned from
I've learned from every mistake. I plan on making a ton more. You won't learn by doing the right thing.
Most memorable industry experience
Having dinner with Brian Johnson and friends at my manager Mimi Northcott's house in North Vancouver. AC/DC was in Vancouver recording their upcoming CD; Mimi also manages Mike Fraser who was recording and mixing their record at the time. Plus Mimi is a killer cook.
What friends would be surprised to learn about you
I have a phobia when looking at the back of turned on guitar amps. I always think they'll blow up in my face.
Industry pet peeve
Stop talking about how bad it is. I'm having a great time.
If I weren't doing this, I would be...
...still living at home with my parents.
Mitchell Froom and Mike Fraser: both show you the importance of being humble.
Jeff can be reached at 604-985-0679 / 866-888-6464 e-mail: mailto:info@canadianrecordingservices