Michael Lloyd

Michael Lloyd (top center) with his family

Interviewed by Michael Laskow

To say that Michael Lloyd is a record producer is an understatement.

Michael was a Vice President of MGM Records by the age of 20, and for more than 35 years has been producing hit records and soundtracks, earning more than 100 gold and platinum records along the way. Some of the artists he's worked with include, Lou Rawls, Barry Manilow, Dionne Warwicke, The Moody Blues, The Monkees, The Osmonds, Donny and Marie Osmond, Sammy Davis , Jr., The Righteous Brothers, Debby Boone, Pat Boone, Air Supply, and Frank Sinatra, just to name a few—and I mean a few.

Michael was also the Music Supervisor for the film "Dirty Dancing" and produced the "Dirty Dancing" soundtrack album. He's also done the scoring, music supervision, or had songs placed in 38 feature motion pictures. And he's a partner in Curb Records.

Do you remember the moment in your life when you knew that a career in music was what you wanted to do?

Yes, I had a little transistor radio, and all of a sudden, I became aware of KFWB (an L.A. radio station). I could have been nine or ten which would have been in 1958 or so. I somehow remember it was a rainy day. I had a radio, and I turned it on, and I heard this incredible music. Now, up to that point, I had been playing classical piano from the time I was four. I had listened to my mother's albums of show tunes and Broadway shows because she was involved in that. So this was different to me. I listened to songs like "Step By Step" by the Crests, the Kingston Trio's "Worried Man," "Rock Around The Clock" and "Shake Rattle and Roll." All of these songs were all quite different, but they had a certain energy to them.

Even when I was playing classical music, I had this incredible facility to absorb it. It wasn't a chore. I practiced in the morning before going to school, and also when I got home from school—just all the time. So by the time I discovered pop music and rock 'n' roll, I had been kind of initiated into the whole aspect of practicing and trying to get better and learning music.

I used to make tapes of radio programs because we didn't have enough money to buy records. My godfather was Jimmy Durante, and he bought me a Sony two-track 7-1/2 reel-to-reel tape recorder. I put a microphone in front of the radio and recorded all of the records that I liked to hear. I would listen to these things over, and over, and over. I would learn the parts to all the records, and I would teach the musicians in the bands I was in all of the parts. At that point, it was kind of just copying and picking up what was going on. I literally would spend most of my time doing that, to the detriment of my school work. I never was a good student. The kids that I had in bands did poorly in school, too. Their parents yanked them out of the band. "Enough of this ‘hobby.' You've got to get back to your studies and to what is going to be important for you." Fortunately, my family believed that this was what was going to be important to me, so I never had any of those problems. It was a very, very important thing for me.

Did your mom become one of those mothers that had to schlep the Farfisa mini-compact around for you?

Yep. We had a station wagon. By the time I was thirteen and had a band, every time we played—and we played all the time—she drove us all around and picked us up. That kind of thing you can't replace. That was, in a nutshell, the genesis of my interest in music.

What advice would you give to somebody who is just starting out?
There are several things that I think fall under "best advice." There is no one way to become successful. However it was that I was fortunate enough to get the opportunities I got doesn't mean that it's a formula or a path everyone should follow. The thing that is important, though, is that you don't know when opportunity is going to come, so you'd better be ready for it when it does come.

How do you get ready?

You learn everything you can about your chosen field. I was a "rock star." That was my chosen field—in very broad strokes. Okay, you get on stage, you perform, you write songs, you sing them. The reality is that that is kind of a narrow little opening. You put out an album every eighteen months maybe. So every eighteen months you get an opportunity to be successful.

However, if you're a songwriter, or if you're record producer, or doing something else working with lots of people, now your chances for success have gone up tremendously. If you're doing songs for motion pictures and/or television show scores and themes, once again, your chances of some kind of success have increased.

You have to have a dream, and it's great to follow a dream, but don't be afraid to expand your dream to include other things that you might not be thinking about in a primary sense. Maybe you can learn about publishing, learn about songwriting and what it takes to be a good songwriter, how it relates to the music business. What is a good song? What kind of songs are hits on the radio? What kinds of songs are being played on certain types of radio stations? What songs cross over to other formats? You learn about what makes a record sound good. Why does one record sound a little better than another one? You can learn about the technical side of things. You can learn about the musicality of a record, of balancing instruments, of arranging them, the tonal qualities that make something sound good, the colors that you bring in and out of songs. Now you're talking about how the record might shape up. Obviously vocal performances are important. How compelling do you need to be? How much emotion do you have to have in a particular style of music and to be a particular kind of singer?

My point is, learn everything you can about the music business in order to be ready when opportunity comes. It might be, "We're looking for someone to go out to clubs to listen to some bands." "Oh geez, I don't want to do that because I want to be the band they discover." But you go out there, and you find a band. Maybe that band gets signed. All of a sudden now, they are taking you more seriously. And you say, "By the way, I've got something else you've got to listen to," and you play them your band. "Why didn't you play us this before?" "Well before I didn't know you, and you wouldn't have been interested." Something can always be turned around to accomplish your primary goal as long as you're in the game.

The trick is getting into the game. Whether it's easier now or harder isn't so much the point. It's always difficult. But when you hear that knock on the door of opportunity, you've got be ready to take advantage of it. The best way to take advantage of it is through education—whether that's through some schooling, private lessons, or on the street, or programs that ASCAP and BMI offer in the way of workshops, or help that TAXI may offer through its convention or critiques. All of this goes to round out your education.

I think you have to have a hot burning passion to do this stuff. I think that you have to obviously have some ability and be personable in some way. But that hot burning passion has got to lead you by the nose to anything—anything that you can do to be involved. I would do anything. I would engineer stuff for other people. I would go in and sit and listen to other people make records. I went to the recording sessions for Pet Sounds and Good Vibrations. I played on "Bluebirds Over the Mountain," by the Beach Boys. Those were big deals. Obviously anyone would do that. But I did stuff for my friend, producer, Kim Fowley where he'd pay me $50, and I'd go in and record all day long. I'd make up songs right then and there, and he'd put it out as some funny, funky thing. I didn't care. I was in the studio recording and doing something. I would have paid him.

Looking at your discography I think maybe it would be better to call you the "King of Pop Producers." What are the essential elements you need to make a great pop record?

To me, the most important part of rock & roll, and by extension pop music, is the emotional content and excitement that you connect with the record. When I was a kid I listened to "Theme From a Summer Place," which is far from a rock & roll record. It was so romantic. It was this great theme from this romantic movie. When you have that type of thing coupled with certain artists—the traditional pop artists that were idol types like Bobby Vee, Paul Anka, Bobby Rydell, Fabian, Frankie, Elvis Presley—these were life changing events. These became things that when you heard those songs later in life—it could be a year later, or thirty years later—you remember everything about what was going on.

Nothing can touch you like music does in terms of bringing back memories and transporting you there in a time capsule kind of way. Pop music has this unbelievable ability to transport people emotionally and capture their imagination. There is nothing like dreams. There is lots of music that has a social commentary, that has an edginess, that has something to say. That's all fine. This is different. This captures people's dreams and emotions, and you never can get away from it. The basic you-me, boy-girl, new love, found love, lost love, rekindled love thing works. Those are emotions that people are interested in.

One of the reasons that I think Country music is so popular is because it conveys those emotions. There's enough sadness and enough ugliness in the world. If you can escape for a few minutes with some romantic song or just imagine that a singer is singing just to you, I think it's great. That kind of music may be thought of as being kind of sugary, or fluffy, or not as meaningful. Well, I would challenge people by saying I think those songs are more meaningful because they stick with people forever. They become part of your life, as simple as that.

People always ask "How good does my song have to be?" and what they may really be asking is "How good does my demo have to be?" What is your answer to that?

To me, it's about the emotional content, and how that connects to people's hearts and dreams. I'm not talking in musical terms, I'm talking emotional terms. I remember Clive Davis (legendary President of Arista Records) listening to mixes, and to songs for people, and songs that I was working on, and he never reacted like, "Well I don't know if I like the sound of the drums," or whether there was enough guitar, or things of that sort. He would take it all in and react to it emotionally. "It doesn't feel warm. I don't understand the emotion of it. I'm not feeling it." He would use non-musical terms. He was really reacting as the audience would react. They're not sitting there saying, "Oh, that would have been better if they had used a different snare drum… It would be better if the guitars were a little more crunchy." He would react to it as an emotional kind of sounding board. And he is very rarely wrong. My emphasis would always be on the song. And in a secondary sense, who I am playing it for is going to determine who I'm going to get to sing the demo.

Should an aspiring diva send in a demo covering a song that's already been done by a major artist?

I think that's a really bad, dangerous idea. They shouldn't make a demo out of those songs. If people say, "She's great. She's the new Whitney Houston," she shouldn't go in and sing a couple of Whitney Houston songs. It's already been done. It doesn't give a record company, or a manager, or a lawyer, or anybody the chance really to say, "Wow this girl is great." What they'll say is, "Boy she sounds just like Whitney Houston." That may be of little value. I used to go see bands that would do covers, and they would sound terrific, just like Elton John or Chicago. But when the time came for them to do something that wasn't a hit by somebody else, they sounded miserable. No vision, no ideas for what to do with their song, and no songs. That's a problem.

What do you think of the current state of radio?

Well, in some ways it's great, in that you can hear all kinds of different music. The bad thing about it is that it's so splintered and so genre specific, that if you are a Hip-Hop artist, you hear kind of the same records over and over and over all day long. It doesn't promote spontaneous change and growth. It promotes a sameness. It promotes conformity. In a particular genre that prides itself on its non-conformist behavior, it is actually promoting conformity within its non-conformist atmosphere. I use Hip-Hop as an example, but all of the genres do that.

The great thing about radio in the Sixties and even earlier—from the beginning of rock 'n' roll up to about maybe the Seventies or so—I could turn on the radio and hear Dean Martin sing "Everybody Loves Somebody." Then I could hear Lulu singing "To Sir With Love." I could hear "Can't Buy Me Love" by the Beatles, "Satisfaction" by the Rolling Stones, a Four Seasons song, a Beach Boys song, a James Brown song—you'd hear all of this stuff. So it was a giant melting pot of musical styles. And while I might not have been a big Dean Martin fan, per se, I was influenced by that mixture. I was influenced by the Motown songs. I was influenced by the Stones, the Beatles, the Beach Boys. You heard them all on the same station. That promoted the musical diversity. Not just by playing it, but in the people listening to it that were later going to be the ones making music.

Can you describe how it feels to be associated with the number of hits that you've worked on?

Having hit records is interesting because you want success so badly, that when it comes, sometimes it's not elation, it's relief. It's not like, "Oh this is the greatest thing that ever happened to me." It's, "Thank God this happened." It's just the relief that something happened. That's also coupled with the knowledge that after having a #1 record there's nowhere to go but down. There is a certain ability to accept what you're doing and be satisfied with that, juxtaposed with the tremendous insecurity of not knowing what to do next. It's amazing. It's like sports. You win a big game and, well, you've got another big game in two days. You hardly get a chance to celebrate before you have to worry about what you're going to do to follow it up. In any kind of entertainment, it all comes out of the same thing which constantly promotes dissatisfaction, and insecurity, and fear. But you have to stay away from that.

John Wooden, the head coach of the UCLA Bruins for many, many years, had a comment about basketball games and winning and losing that basically said: Don't ever get too high after a victory or too low after a defeat, but rather maintain a certain levelness that you are satisfied that you did the best job that you could do. He promoted that with his players, and they maintained a level of consistency that was kind of unheard of in college sports. It is hard for us in the entertainment business not to get too excited about winning awards. It's great. But you should try to put those same energies back into the next thing and keep a consistency. That's the one thing that's always called for in the entertainment business. Consistently having hits. Consistently having good songs. Diane Warren consistently has great songs. So does Carole King. That consistency is very important, and it's the hardest thing to achieve. It's harder than success. You can always spike and have one hit. But, boy, trying to maintain that consistency is something else.

Is there anything left for you that you haven't accomplished that you want to accomplish?

I feel kind of like I did when I was thirteen. I think that there is so much to do that I get confused about how to pursue it sometimes. I'm writing a screenplay that I've wanted to do. I want to produce some more movies. I've had fun doing that. They were just miserable little teenage movies, but they were fun to do and a great learning experience. I want to do a Broadway show. I've always wanted to do that, I've just never had the opportunity. I never tire of new artists. There is always something fresh and exciting about that... the anticipation and hopes and dreams. And when they get realized, it is just unbelievable.

I also do a lot of charity work with children's hospitals all across the country. The Children's Miracle Network is one of the more outstanding organizations that you can ever find. Those are some tremendous people.

There's a lot that I don't know, and I'm just eager to learn about it. There is always something going on, and there are always people coming along that have better ideas than I do. So I have to learn from them. Just as when I was listening to "Step By Step" by the Crests. If someone had said to me, "Okay, we'll let you make music for the next forty years… that's your job." This isn't work. This is what I do. I'm really, really lucky to have had these chances. I'm looking forward to the chances that come along in the future.


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