During the week before the 2014 Grammy Awards, Los Angeles was abuzz with parties and events tied to Music’s Biggest Night. Case in point: the Producers and Engineers Wing’s seventh annual Grammy Week event, held January 21, to honor two-time Grammy Award winner Neil Young at The Village Studios in West Los Angeles.
Over the course of the evening, Young accepted the Recording Academy Producer’s Merit Award from Neil Portnow, president/CEO of the Recording Academy, and a Commitment to Excellence Award from P&E Wing co-chair Mike Clink. The event was emceed by Maureen Droney, senior executive director of the P&E Wing.
During a lengthy acceptance speech, Young touched on a variety of topics, kicking things off by cracking, “I know almost everybody here. If I don't know you, I thought I did when I saw you.”
We think about the equipment, we think about what are we using, what do we have, what are we recording on, what are we singing through, where is it going, how long is the wire? Why is that piece of s--t in the wire between me and where I'm going? Get that out! Don't join the wire together, get one wire, because every time you go through one of those pieces of crap, something happens. We paid big bucks for this place, and we're going to use every bit of it. And we're not going to use what we don't want….
On his recording style:
I love you all people, because I know what you're doing. I know how crazy you are about all the things that I don't care about. Sometimes you make great records, and it's fantastic. They're not like my records – sometimes I can't feel them, but I really appreciate them. No, sometimes I can feel them and I go, "Holy shit, how did they do that? How did they make that record? I know they layered it; it's not like a documentary where something happens and you take a picture, cinema verité. This is a movie: somebody created all the scenes, and there was the dialogue, and then they did the dialogue again, and there was the foley to do the sounds, and they did all the stuff, and everything's perfect – but it's still good." There's nothing wrong with that; it's just a different way of doing it than I could ever do, because I have so little ability to do that, that it would really suck: over and over again, getting it right. That's why I'm flat, that's why it doesn't matter that there's bad notes. That doesn't mean it's not production; it just means it's the kind of production that we do.
On digital music and his upcoming Pono digital music player:
Digital is not bad, but Xerox is not good. I always like to say Picasso was really happy to see original Picassos everywhere, but when he went into some places and saw Xeroxes of Picassos, it didn't make him as happy, because he thought people thought that we was making those things. The thing we do is, we make great stuff in the studio and then we kiss its ass goodbye, because nobody's ever going to hear it. That's unfortunate, and it didn't use to be that way. That's something that happened to us; that's an injury we sustained, and it deeply hurt us. So the time has come for us to recover and to bring music back to the people in a way that they can recognize it in their souls, through the window of their souls, their ears. So they can feel and vibrate and so that they can get goosebumps. We cherish those f------g goosebumps. We really need those. Being impressed by something, and how cool it is, and how sharp it is, and how snappy it is, is one thing, and that translates into almost any media. But when you're singing something very soulful from your heart, and the echo is perfect and everything's great and you're using maybe an acoustic chamber and everything sounds great. And then you listen to it and you love it, but you hear it somewhere else and it's gone. That's terrible; we don't like that—not many of us like that; we're not happy about it, so we're trying to change that, and we're trying to make it better. We're trying to make music sound technically better, and that's what I want to do. We have a player that plays whatever the musicians made digitally, and that's going to come out. We're announcing that at SXSW, we're introducing it; it's called Pono, and that's my commercial.
Young noted that 1 percent of Pono sales would go to the Recording Academy’s MusiCares charity, and also discussed an upcoming recording project with Al Schmitt. The legendary engineer was in attendance at the event, as were many other recording luminaries, from AES executive director Bob Moses to musician/actor Kris Kristofferson.
Closing out the evening, Dave Matthews played a surprise three-song acoustic set that included two Young staples, "My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue)" and "The Needle and the Damage Done."
As the Producers & Engineers Wing 2014 honoree, Neil Young joins past honorees such as Chris Blackwell, T Bone Burnett, Tom Dowd, Ahmet and Nesuhi Ertegun, Jimmy Iovine, Quincy Jones, Arif Mardin, Al Schmitt and Jerry Wexler.