The Production Masters Interview
PM: A lot of people consider you something of a production guru… just what is it you do?
MS: What is it we don’t do? We create all sorts of things… jingles, spots, voiceovers, industrials, music, sound design, re-mastering, making records… we even set up In-Store Broadcasting for restaurants and business’ .. y’know we set up custom radio stations for them and help with the music licensing plus software and hardware to do it …just about anything. I’ve been in Hollywood quite awhile… so if I can’t do it… I certainly know who can. I’m probably best known today as the voice of the Sports Chalet here in Southern California… I’m also the voice of about 15 radio stations coast-to-coast… voice of the Wave for almost 11 years and produced most of their jingles and imaging. We also have a line of CD compilations and a number of syndicated jingles packages. Basically, what we do is try to determine the clients needs and goals… y’know create the vision… then bring all the loose ends together and realize those dreams. I’m the guy that gets together with the client and picks their brain… then translates that information into a product. Y’know create the package, work with the copywriters, actors, arrangers, whoever… give them examples, name the tunes, determine how many of this or that we need, hire the talent, co-ordinate the schedules, oversee the session in a collaborative way, and then help with the mixing… I’m there from the first idea to the last lick… that’s not hype… it’s the truth.. If its got my name on it… I care. Basically, the most important thing for me is, what is it the client is trying to get across… what are they trying to communicate… what is the work telling me it needs… then I try to find a creative way to make it all happen.
It’s sort of like sometimes you’re actually the instrument and sometimes you’re simply the catalyst. The doing is probably the easy part… it’s coming up with the concepts that can be a challenge. And it’s not all me by a long shot… I’ve been blessed to work with some incredible talent. It’s not a matter of just putting lots of notes or ideas out there… it’s putting the right notes and ideas out there… the ones that to suit the project. We very much function on a project-by-project basis… and we bring in the talent to match the work… not the other way around. Basically, we’re a creative community… and outside of Hollywood we have associates in Austin, Nashville, Honolulu, New York, Chicago, London and a few other places… but the project comes first… it dictates everything. As far as I’m concerned, there is no job too big or too small… you give your love and attention to each one equally… it’s just a habit you develop.
I often joke that when I’m in the studio I do two things really well… “stand there and look stupid” and “get the hell out of the way”. Knowing when to quit is also pretty essential too. I have lots of help, but a lot of the time… I’m in the studio by myself… I love getting down in the trenches, getting my fingers dirty and creating the magic. I’ve always been kind of like… just let me go in the studio and fool around and I’ll come out later and blow your mind… I love to watch peoples faces the first time they hear something we’ve done… it’s worth the price of admission. On the other hand, I love to collaborate… because you always want to bowl with someone who’s a better bowler than you are… it raises your game… a lot! Lemme tell ya… I know some incredible players… and come to think of it… some pretty good bowlers too!
PM: Give us an example?
MS: Well… when I’m in the studio I sort of function like a Japanese tour guide… I’m the one holding the flag saying “OK kids we’re heading this direction.” I’m not trying to boss anyone around… most of these folks are an absolute treat to work with… and I’m probably the biggest fan in the room. So I simply try to provide the direction. For instance… if I’m working with Tom Scott… who is an absolute monster talent… here’s a guy who has worked with everyone up to and including the Beatles… am I going to teach him anything? Maybe, maybe not, but I can tell him where we’re headed and where we’d like to end up… then function as his partner on this side of the glass… like another set of ears. When the artist is out there in the spotlight they’re paying attention to a million things… they may know what that last take felt like… but they’re hearing it from a different perspective… if they’re getting honest answers from my side of the glass… they are money ahead. Tell them what you’re trying to achieve and then get out of their way. Many times you just say… go wherever the music is telling you to go… and these folks are at such a high level of talent the results can be absolutely breathtaking. It’s not like they’re trying… they just have it in them and it has to come out. Good players just think it and it comes out… great players don’t even have to think. Make sure everyone’s on the same page… point em’ thataway and get out of the way. When there’s magic happening right in front of you… it can be an exhilarating experience.
PM: What question do you get asked most frequently?
MS: Everyone wants to know if that’s really me as a kid smoking the cigar on our logo. The answer is no… it amazingly looks like I did then… but no I smoked a pipe back then. Actually I quit smoking about 12 years ago… (laughs) and I’ve been fighting the same 40 pounds ever since… but I’d rather be fat and happy… than slender and dead.
Anyway… the picture is from a 1935 newspaper article we found… the kid was supposedly three at the time… smoked cigars and preferred beer to milk… so much for parental guidance… but it makes the point.
PM: How did the company start?
MS: My original partner was Greg Mundy. Greg had worked with the David Geffen Company and had done management work with Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison and people like that… then went on to become a very successful concert promoter in Hawaii. Greg walked in one day and said “Hey, want to be partners? I’ll write… you produce.” I agreed and he said “Great… our first client is NBC.” And they were. We did quite a bit of work for them… would get 10 to 20 spots done a week… actually in a three day period. I’d never done that type of work before… certainly not for a network… so it again was quite a learning curve. We had some fundamental differences though… Greg always thought you needed to explain the story line every time… my feeling was we’ve got :25 seconds to get the idea across… so tease them, intrigue them and get those butts in front of the TV… that’s our job. We had some friendly battles but we actually worked well together… he had a very strong minded personality. Unfortunately, he drowned in Lake Tahoe later that year… so Mundy/Sheehy Productions became Michael Sheehy Productions and we’ve never looked back.
PM: Who helps you do all this?
MS: Well… first off… it’s not them helping me or me helping them it’s this team coming together to put the project FIRST and create something special.
Becky Bonar provides a lot of our writing… she is an amazing producer/director as well… she has tons of little gold statues to prove it… She’s done lots of that network TV promo stuff and things like that …consistent and extremely quick. Becky’s been the voice of Mervyn’s and Safeway… a member and past president of the Groundlings improv group here in Southern California… oh yeah… she was Wanda on a very successful ad campaign the Gas Company ran a few years ago. Becky’s actually a very experienced actress as well… done Shakespeare in the Park and quite a bit of theatre. For the past 20 years or so she’s been working with my hero Dick Orkin at the Dick Orkin Radio Ranch. We have a great working relationship… we compliment one another. Amazing talent.
Don Wright is another one of our core team. Don has an extensive background in radio and production like me… he’s a specialist in Re-Mastering Audio and Sound Restoration. We are coming out with a number of CD compilations and he handles most of that. Don does character voices like you wouldn’t believe… funny funny stuff… you can hear him doing wimpy type characters in our sound design stuff. Donald has probably introduced me to more different musical genres than I could ever imagine… he’s into just about everything… as a result, so am I. There are a lot of worlds of music that make up our musical universe.
Andrew Morgado came aboard a few years ago as my apprentice… and man has he blossomed… aside from the fact he’s now a pretty competent engineer, editor and director… his acting career is taking off, and now he’s booking gigs constantly… plus he’s only 22. We take advantage of the fact he’s young too… it keeps us thinking young. He introduces us to new things daily. For instance, Rap or Speed Metal don’t fill a very big void in my life… don’t get me wrong, it’s a legitimate form of art… just not necessarily my cup of tea… but Andrew knows a lot about both… and shares that information with us and we’ve learned quite a bit we wouldn’t otherwise know… keeps you open-minded. His character voices are right up there with the best I’ve ever heard… and his normal voice is what we use for a lot of our Alternative and Rock & Roll stuff. Someone has to give back… you know mentor a little bit… so he’s had a lot of exposure to music, producing and people he normally wouldn’t have gotten… and Andrew has picked up the ball and run with it… we’ll probably be working for him pretty soon (laughs)… hey, that’s not that funny.
My wife, Denise handles all of our business affairs… she’s spent 25 years as a manager at UCLA… so she knows her stuff. Her last big project there she co-coordinated a $16 million dollar construction job… unfortunately, she doesn’t have to deal with those kind of budgets with us. We out-source our talent payroll. We bring others in depending upon the project… this keeps the overhead down. The funny thing is we all do voiceovers… but many times we’re the last people we’d cast… once again, you have to do what the project calls for… and if we’re not right… we get the person who is… that’s really one of our strong points… knowing who to get for what.
PM: What about music?
We create almost all of our big music projects with Groove Addicts… they are absolutely the best music company around hands down. If someone doesn’t have the budget we have alternative ways to go… but I’ve worked with these guys for 20 years or so… There’s plenty of shorthand going on, so we feel at home… and most importantly, the work is terrific. Groove Addicts owner Dain Blair and I go back 25 years… he’s an accomplished producer and really knows how to create a classy yet productive environment… it’s a wonderful place to work. The whole place is like that… from the people answering the phones to the mail room to the creative team… I brought Dain into Killer Music way back when… and if he learned anything from me… it was a well-fed crew is a happy crew… and oh man am I in trouble when I get there… Tubby here does not need that kind of help. Our arrangers like Al Capps, Howard Pffifer and Jim Cox… are unquestionably at genius level and working with these guys is a really cool. You may be clomping around in the dark… but these guys make your simple little ideas shine and breathe life into the project. They are remarkable.
PM: What about engineering?
MS: Gerhard Joost does the majority of our engineering and mixing… he’s worked with Stevie Wonder, Luther Vandross, oh lord the list goes on… he’s simply the best. Y’know it can get stressful… because it takes long long hours and you’re working on someone else’s dime… so it can get touchy… but we keep one another laughing and productive. Lots of the time I’ll say “why don’t we try this”… only to discover Gerhard’s already been working on it for the past two minutes… it’s mind-reading pure and simple. He does an amazing amount of work that goes on unnoticed… stressful stuff too… but he’s tuned in and controlling the flow of the session to a great degree. He’s also an expert schmoozer as well.
Robert Wear does much of the sound design creation… he created a package for Groove Addicts called “Mindbenders” and I use them all the time. Robert is sort of a quiet secret weapon… and it’s the quiet ones you’ve got to watch out for. He’s a production maniac.
One of the most important things one must stay in touch in this line of work, is that the industry shifts all the time, and it’s an ever-changing learning curve… so it’s a godsend to work with people who get it… not only can they can enlighten you… but they elevate the work.
PM: What do you use for equipment?
MS: For the longest time we’ve used the Spectral Synthesis Digital Engine… but they were bought out a few years ago so that their competition could remove them from the market… it’s been a great workhorse… we still use it everyday… not fancy and an antique by today’s standards… but steady as a rock… having said that I’m sure it’ll now blow up or something. (laughs)
We’ve researched all the industry standards available, and for our money, the SAW system is the best thing going… It’s easy to see, more powerful and considerably quicker to get what you need up and going… it blows the doors off of anything else we’ve seen… we’ve got two of them. I guess the company just went thru some restructuring… but they’re still alive and well and doing fine for us.
PM: What about microphones?
We use a variety of mics… personally my favorite is the old Shure SM5B… it was only a couple of hundred bucks when it came out… and they don’t make them anymore. The one they replaced it with is OK… but just not the same. It really depends on what you’re going for… what does the project require?
The equipment is important… because it opens doors you otherwise wouldn’t have available to you… but it is not the most important thing… that is between your ears… at least on most of us! (laughs) Your imagination is the whole ball of wax… listen to everyone… take in information from all quarters … use all the tools at your disposal… but listen to the work… listen to your imagination… and go forth and multiply… or divide or whatever. In music the song is everything… you can really produce the hell out of a bad song… and then you end up with a wonderfully produced bad song… it’s what they call in the biz “polishing a turd”… sorry Mom… it’s not my phrase. It’s like that no matter what you’re developing… create first… polish afterward. Get to the soul of the matter… the cake… not the icing. Did you know the Beatles first album was produced in a day? ONE DAY… it was a long time ago and technically the work had a lot of flaws. As a matter of fact with today’s CDs you can now hear most of the edits… but the whole thing was done in one day… I think they stopped for a dinner break… but one day… that wasn’t the equipment. Of course, now Paul calls me all the time… can’t get rid of him… he’s really become sort of a pest. (laughs) I’m just kidding… but y’know Helen Reddy won’t make a move without me and look what it’s done for her career… Boy George as well.
PM: Where do you find all these talented people?
MS: Well as I said, I’ve been here awhile and, for the most part, so have the rest of the team. In this town there is no shortage of snakes, pigs and posers… so the good people… the honest people… the truly creative people… find one another… they coagulate. Despite the talent involved… it takes quite a bit of energy to create at this level… Who wants to run around watching your back all the time? You attempt to work with those you trust and respect.
I’m a true believer in… “If it isn’t fun… what’s the point?” We put in some insane hours… but it doesn’t feel like work. Y’know life is too short and there’s a quotient of pain involved… so try to be good and compassionate and laugh all you can… it takes too much energy to be angry or negative. I think it was Quincy Jones that said “a big laugh is a loud noise the soul makes when it wants to say “Ain’t that the truth!”… so I guess you could say in a left-handed way… we spend a lot of time in search of the truth. Hey… if it isn’t fun… what’s the point.
PM: Interesting concept. Give us an example.
MS: Well… one time early on Greg and I had spent all weekend doing promos for Vince Manze and the folks at NBC… I mean 10 in the morning till 3 or 4 in the morning for three days straight… we were absolutely pooped. It was about 2a.m. and Greg had to deliver what we’d produced later that morning about 10… and we were exhausted and getting dingy… really dingy. So I said go away for 15 minutes and I’ll slap something fun together. We had been doing this promo for Steven Seagal’s “Out For Justice”… now you know this kind of movie isn’t Mary Poppins …. Every other word is “F” this and “F” that… so I lifted out all of sound bites we were actually going to use and replaced them with sound bites of the “F” variety… in the movie someone gets thrown off a roof… so I made the splat… just a little too loud. I honestly don’t know if the rest is true because I wasn’t there… but Greg told me he boundered into the room and plopped the tape onto the desk with the explanation “We may have gone a bit over the top… see what you think.” Well according to him two seconds into the spot they were almost apoplectic… then realized it was a joke. Greg said one NBC exec was laughing so hard he ended up falling off the couch and onto his hands and knees on the carpet. They, of course, had to go and play the joke on the head of NBC …he thought it was so funny, he went and did the same thing for the Chairman of GE. Probably never going to win any awards for that spot… but if nothing else… we weren’t tired anymore. Unfortunately, we also had to find a good upholstery cleaner following that little episode… hey, if it isn’t fun what’s the point… life’s too short.
PM: Who have you done work for?
MS: All the major networks including UPN, WB, the Family Channel, and Disney… we’ve done quite a bit of stuff for the BBC in tandem with Groove Addicts… we have work in Belgium, Switzerland, Brazil, Thailand… Warner Brothers and Capitol Records… um… Mad Magazine… Esquire… I produced the Killer Tracks Source Music library a few years ago… can’t watch TV without hearing one of those cuts pop up from time to time.
PM: What about local radio?
MS: In addition to all of the Waves jingles, I did some of the later KNX FM stuff, KKHR, Rick Dees, American Top 40, American Country Countdown, KBIG quite a while ago, KFWB’s been running our stuff since the 80’s… that enough? (laughs).
PM: What talent have you worked with?
MS: Musically, most of the major players in Smooth Jazz… Al Jarreau, Brenda Russell, Bobby Caldwell, Joe Sample, Stanley Clarke, Rick Braun, Richard Elliot, Peter White, Tom Scott, Boney James, Norman Brown, Keiko Matsui… even Lee Ritenour via email… oh man… there’s a ton more…
PM: How about voiceovers… who have you directed?
Well… thousands of people …. some pretty fierce talent too… Burgess Merideth, Della Reese, Don LaFontaine, Gary Owens, Wanda De Jesus, Jimmy Smits, Ed Grover, Michelle Lee, Michael Stull, Brian Cummings, Terry McGovern, Rip Taylor, John Tesh, Dale Evans, Timothy Leary.
PM: What are they like to work with?
MS: As you can imagine most of these folks didn’t need a whole lot of direction… We try to treat people the way the way we’d like to be treated… just because they’re well known doesn’t mean they don’t want to be treated like a normal person… it’s generally the insecure ones that have the ego baggage to cart around. Funny… Roy Rogers used to say… “even if you’re a king… you still have to sit on that big white throne once a day”… that kind of says it all.
Anyway, I probably learned more from a 45 minute session with Burgess Merideth than I did in the next 10 years… whoa what an education… Della Reese is great… she’s a preacher but has some of the best jokes I’ve ever heard… we hit it right off from the minute she walked in… she’s very real and down to earth… I got the long eyeball from Dale Evans… I had to tell her we had to do everything twice for insurance… and boy did I get a look… and when you’ve gotten the long eyeball from Dale Evans you know you’ve been looked at… she was a real sweetie and absolutely down to earth… what a sense of humor… wow… Bobby Caldwell is very intense… an absolute sweetheart… but a perfectionist and completely focused… Jeff Golub was Rod Stewart’s guitar ace for a number of years… he plays like flowing water… I was actually going to buy a new guitar, then I did a session with Jeff and I said forget it… he’s that good… Rick Braun and Richard Elliot got the flow going too… and Joe Sample… oh man… just look out …that man can talk some trash with his hands… funky… but I’m off the track… Gary Owens is a national treasure and one of the funniest people on the planet… he’s a walking talking computer of funny… puts me away every time… Brian Cumming is a good friend and an absolute mastermind at improv as well… you don’t need TV. Just invite Brian over… sort of a modern day Mel Blanc… Rip Taylor on the other hand… You just shut the door behind him and duck. David Crosby was a trip… I can’t really repeat what he suggested I do… but it was pretty silly. Sick puppy that boy! Jimmy Smits was very very nice… and a bit reserved… where I’d use an expletive… he’d say “ah shucks”… I told him if that got out it’d ruin his image… he laughed. These guys were a lot of fun… and a real treat from time to time… but we’ve also done thousands of sessions trying to make civilians sound real… or disc jockeys back off from pukey town. When you’re working with the pros… it’s not work… you don’t get bad takes… you just get different takes.
PM: What is it that makes your work different.
MS: Well… my stuff is probably a little fatter and balder than most. Seriously, I think our approach might be a little different… once again, we let the work dictate where to go… we don’t try to shove it around. If you listen… it will talk to you… don’t want to sound metaphysical or anything… but it really talks to you. If you sit back and LISTEN, the project will tell you where to go and what to do… Try to listen to it and not your ego. It’s sort of like automatic handwriting… when I sit down to doodle I don’t say now I’m going to draw a cat… I mean I can do that if I want to, but usually I sit there like a spectator and see what develops from my fingertips onto the page. It’s coming from somewhere else… God, your subconscious, your higher self, who knows… producing is very similar… only there’s money, outside talent, and schedules involved so you have to be disciplined… follow your instincts and intuition… but be real disciplined.
Bob Wilson (founder of Radio & Records magazine) and I were just talking about this not long ago… he pointed out that the information is coming down from somewhere… but only a few people take the time to tune in and listen to it. We can go years without this or that great idea… then it’ll pop up about the same time at three or four different locations all around the globe… hey some people tune in… some don’t.
For instance, when Dale passed on… or graduated as the family likes to say… I had the privilege of putting the music together for her service… I knew the Western stuff backwards and forwards… but I really didn’t have a clue as to the religious music… which was a lot of what Dale was all about… y’know she was really a preacher. A lot of people don’t realize she wrote “Happy Trails” and “The Bible Tells Me So”… both of which are standards now. Well, we didn’t have much time… I started at 4 in the afternoon and finished about 4 in the morning. Obviously, I had a wealth of music to choose from… but it’s not just slapping things together… it’s putting the right music together… in the right fashion… in the right order… it has to say something… it has to mean something… music adds emotion… and when you’ve got people’s feelings in your hands… a misstep this way or that can come off real cheesy… so I was trying to be cautious yet sum things up… make a statement. Well, I have no idea who was guiding my hands that night… but I honestly didn’t have a lot to do with putting the project together… yes, I was the facilitator… but it really put itself together. This is kind of an extreme example but… that’s the type of thing I mean.
PM: Do you ever make mistakes?
MS: Boy you can’t be afraid to make mistakes… half the time creativity comes knocking disguised as a mistake… so if you’re afraid to experiment, play around a little or, God forbid, make a mistake, you’re probably not going to come up with anything very special. You have to stretch the envelope. The same goes for performing… if you’re afraid to make an ass out of yourself… you’re sunk from the start. It’s much easier to pull someone back in… than stand behind them prodding them to come out of their shell.
PM: What is In-Store Broadcasting?
MS: In-Store Broadcasting is where we create custom made radio stations to fit our clients needs. There are a couple of companies that do this… but honestly, they’re usually too expensive or too generic to meet everyone’s needs… and in a few cases they just plain stink… the quality is non-existent. Remember… music adds emotion… and if you have a shop or restaurant… why would you want to leave a large chunk of your ambience in someone else’s hands… especially when it could be tailor made to suit your needs and style. We provide this service for one-location Mom & Pop’s, as well as the big chains. Some folks simply want to control the music heard and that’s simple… but others want to put together the whole enchilada with announcers, jingles, bumpers, point of purchase spots, weekly updates, co-op spots, satellite driven… y’know the whole kit and caboodle. There’s quite a bit more involved than you might imagine… music licensing, software and hardware… what we do is provide a turn-key service… and believe me it sounds a lot better than what you can get on the radio… they’re trying to please too many masters. We have well over a hundred years of extremely successful radio programming and production experience… we simply put that knowledge to work for you.
PM: Aren’t you telling us too many well kept secrets – sort of giving the store away?
MS: Well… there’s two schools of thought in that department. One says “learn all you can and keep it to yourself” and the other says “be generous and give away everything.” I’ve found the second school to be the most profitable. The more you give… the more you get… so I give whenever and whatever I can. I don’t mean to come off as a goody two shoes… because that’s not my deal… but a few years ago I went through a few challenges and I ended up reading a book that really changed my life… it was called “Angel Unaware”… in it I discovered this little line “If you want to be happy… make other people happy”… well I sort of took that as my mantra and life made an amazing change for the better. It sounds so fundamental it’s almost stupid… but it really works. Get out of the “me” and into the “we” and you’d be surprised the good things that come your way.
My friend Ellis Hall is an incredibly soulful talent… you leave the door open just a crack and he’ll come along and blow it off it’s hinges. You may know Ellis as the lead singer for Tower of Power or the California Raisins. He was one of the dark plump wrinkly ones. (laughs) Ellis wrote a song called “Planet Hope.” It has a line that says “Give while you get… teach while you learn”… and that is what it’s all about. You try to bottle up your gifts and they are going to fade on you… and you’re going to be pretty lonely as well.
PM: You must have started young.
Well… I started banging on pots and pans in Mom’s kitchen just like most kids… but that lead to 26 years of trumpet and just about anything with three valves, bass, drums, guitar, piano, I even terrorized the accordion for a while… I was writing and arranging music by the time I was 11… big dance band stuff… I was the drum major of my high school band, did orchestra and youth bands and of course, rock and roll bands… (laughs) lots of em’. My folks knew early on they didn’t have a doctor or lawyer on their hands. They got me this little Sony tape recorder when I was about 13… and we were immediately off doing ”This is Chet Hunkley and this is David Stinkly” right off the bat… and some things never change. In high school I was head over heels into the blues… you could ask me a question about McKinley Morganfield or Luther “Snake Boy” Johnson and wham bam boy I got yer answer right here. But I never ever dreamed of going into radio.
PM: How did that transition come about?
MS: Do you know the old joke… “What do you want to do when you grow up? Well I want to work in radio! No! No! No! You can’t grow up AND work in radio.” With that in mind, I was a perfect candidate.
PM: You seem to have a reputation for making something out of thin air… where do you get that?
MS: Well I was blessed with the best parents a kid could have… boy I ought to get a good Christmas present outta that line huh? They just celebrated their 63rd wedding anniversary… and haven’t strangled one another yet… well not much. My father was a custom home builder in Sacramento… built classic California Ranch style homes… and he did absolutely everything… the design, the blueprints, the carpentry, the electrical, the plumbing, the painting… he was involved with every little detail. One day there’d be a vacant lot… and two months later this gorgeous home. He had created something out of nothing and I guess it made a big impression on me. Now I’m very project oriented… sort of like having these little love affairs… then moving on… it keeps things from getting routine… keeps you growing too.
Dad’s older sister Eleanor was married to a big band performer named Ray McKinley. Ray was the drummer with the Dorsey’s and Glenn Miller during the war… anyway Eleanor co-wrote the song “Beat Me Daddy Eight to the Bar”… the tune is now a standard but at that time went a long way towards establishing the Andrew Sisters career… so it’s osmosis again. My sister was always a great singer and pianist… and my mother was the organizer… so it’s just in the blood I guess.
PM: Other than your parents have you had any mentors?
MS: Oh lots of them… I’d always like to sit in the back… make mental notes… and then pick their brain later. Don Wright and I have been together almost from the beginning… I was so green when we met… one time I warned him not to hold an LP too near a bulk eraser because he might erase it accidentally… well a bulk eraser only erases magnetic things and certainly not plastic… so I’ve been reminded of that for about 20 years. I just tell him to shut up or I’m going to erase his privates. Tom Yates was a big influence on me early on…. I don’t think he realizes just how big an influence… gave me my first big break. Steve Marshall certainly taught me how to manage with class. Bob Nelson still continues to function as a sounding board and advisor… the man wasn’t with CBS for 40 years for nothing. When I was at Killer Music, Ron Hicklin taught me a lot about producing… just by letting me watch and ask questions later… learned by stealth. He was the singer/vocal producer behind the Monkees and a lot of the bubble gum and pop groups from the late 60’s and early 70’s. As a human, Ron is a pretty insecure guy… but in the studio he was a master, and I learned a lot. Al Capps is a soft spoken genius… I mean a true genius… so I ask and learn… and generally get in his way. (laughs) I’ve had so many teachers I can’t begin to tell you. Give while you get… teach while you learn.
PM: What’s the most important thing you’ve learned ?
MS: Overall, I’d say patience. Y’know it’ll be soup when it’s soup. It’s a hard lesson to learn too. Sometimes you just have to arrive through screwing up… sticking your hand on the hot stove. I think it was Mark Twain who talked about how much smarter his parents became when he was between the ages of 18-22. Everything in it’s due time. I was once trying to help Sac State put together a radio station… but lo’ and behold the kids already knew everything there was… and didn’t welcome the help… I mean they really thought they knew EVERYTHING! At first I got irked and indignant… y’know… “Hey you little dopes, Professor Sheehy is here to enlighten you”… then it occurred to me… I’d had those lessons… I’d learned from my mistakes in my time… this was their time and their mistakes to make… so let em’ go. Remember, if your parents like it… it ain’t rock & roll! Patience …that’s the ticket!
PM: Is there anything you haven’t done that you’d like to?
MS: Yeow… dream time… well given my knowledge of music… I’ve always fancied the thought of someday being a music supervisor for the movies or TV… but it’s a pretty politically charged position… so I’ve never actually pursued it.
PM: Do you consider yourself an artist?
I really don’t spend a lot of time thinking about it. I guess it depends on what I’m working on. Art doesn’t have to serve a purpose… craft does. When an artist is singing a tune they can express themselves pretty freely… but a jingle singer, for example, is told “make this as soulful as you can… billboard the client name here… gimme that little thing you do right at this point and don’t forget we need to understand every single word.” They are two different animals… but it’s not surprising so many great artists have a background in jingles… it’s talent combined with discipline. It’s where you can develop a lot of chops. But to answer your question… I just do what I do and try to make sure it is real and has soul. Is it art? Well… sometimes yes and the rest of the time I’d like to think it’s commercial art.
PM: Have you ever considered doing anything else?
MS: Well the way I look at it… if this doesn’t work out, I can always go back to my old job neutering pets door-to-door! (laughs)