Brian Malouf is a true music industry veteran. With a resume that reads like a Grammy Awards Who’s Who list, Brian has produced and/or mixed hits for Michael Jackson, Madonna, and Queen, on down to some of today’s most successful acts like Pussycat Dolls, Hannah Montana, and Pink. What’s more impressive is that Michael Jackson, when Thriller was at its peak, enlisted Brian to help him record his Grammy winning, chart topping smash hit “Bad.”
Aside from his monumental accomplishments of 53 Gold, Platinum and multi-platinum album credits, Brian Malouf has also established himself as one of the industry’s most respected record company executives. His history as a top music industry A&R has placed him at some of the most successful record companies in the business, including Disney Records where he currently holds the title of Vice President of A&R.
I Am Entertainment Magazine had the pleasure of speaking with Brian about his amazing track record in the music business. All of you aspiring music professionals should get out your pads and pens.
Please tell us where you’re from and what got you interested in a career in music?
That happened at a very early age. I always say that the luckiest break I ever had was knowing what I wanted to do very young. I wanted to be a percussionist so when my parents took me to see a live production of ‘Damn Yankees’ I peered over the orchestra pit during intermission and watched the drummer set up for the second act, it was then that I knew I wanted to be that guy. About a year later I saw The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show and that pretty much cemented it. There was nothing cooler than Ringo Starr (The Beatles’ drummer). Although I didn’t end up doing exactly what I wanted to do when I was 7-years-old, I’ve had enough fun to stay interested in it.
What was your first professional job in the entertainment industry and how did that come about?
If, by professional you mean something I got paid for, it was definitely as a musician. I started when I was 14 playing professionally on weekends. But my first official “job” outside of being a musician came in 1980 when I became the Chief Engineer at Can-Am Studios in Tarzana (California). That place has stood the test of time and it’s still around, but under new ownership. The studio was built in 1978 and we started remodeling it around 1982, and in 1987 we built the second room. I was there for about 10 years and had a lot of fun. Then the next leap I took was in 1994, when I landed the job as Vice President of A&R at RCA Records in New York.
What was it like to work with Michael Jackson on the “BAD” album?
Amazing! The ‘Thriller’ album was on its 2nd or 3rd single and Michael was quite literally the biggest star on Earth. There I was sitting right next to him almost every week for about a year or so. The way I met him was through working at Can-Am. I’m there and the Jacksons (brothers) were making the Victory record and one evening Michael walks up to me and says, “Hey Brian, I want to come back tonight and start working on my own stuff. Would you engineer for me?” So I thought about it for a half a second and said sure. [laughs] We did a lot at Can-Am in the evenings and then a bunch more at his studio in Encino (CA). He was just a wonderful, wonderful guy. He was very musical and very directive. He knew what he wanted. Although he wasn’t a player he knew chord changes, theory and melody very well. He was terrific to work with.
You have a longstanding history as a producer/mixer, what have been some of your most memorable projects over the years?
Michael’s project sticks out the most, but the Madonna stuff I did also sticks out. Working with Pearl Jam on their very first release was a great moment. Nobody knew them at the time, but I was turned onto them by their A&R, Michael Goldstone. The buzz was getting crazy and you could feel something special was about to happen. I remember seeing them perform and all I could say was “WOW!” I also liked working with Kenny Loggins. People don’t really get how very talented he is and how musical every bone is his body is. That was a privilege. I got to spend a week with one of my heroes, Steve Wonder. We were working on a Take 6 album and he was a guest vocalist for one song. Spending time with Steve Wonder was extremely precious to me and I was so nervous, but he’s very disarming. The first thing out of his mouth is a joke and it’s usually a self deprecating one. He’s pretty sharp witted and free to take the piss out of himself. [laughs] That really broke the ice. When you put the microphone in front of these guys who have an iconic sound like Stevie has, there’s really nothing you have to do, it just comes out of them. It’s the same with Michael MacDonald. You put a microphone in front of him and that voice comes out. There’s nothing an engineer has to do except press record.
As the VP of A&R at Disney Records, what do you do?
I’m working on Brian Wilson and we did a record with him last year called ‘Brian Wilson Re-imagines Gershwin.’ We have started working on album 2 of his deal and he’s doing a list of Disney Classics in his own way. That along with work on the DVD Blu-Ray release of The Lion King will about bring me to the end of my wonderful employment at Disney Records.
What would you recommend someone to do if they want to get into the music industry?
I think there’s a good deal to be learned actually doing it. Whether that’s an internship, formal or informal, I strongly recommend kind of tagging along with someone. My mentor was Dave Jerden at Eldorado Recordings. It’s different for everybody; you may want to be a marketer of music, in radio promotions, or an A&R person. There’s no real training ground for those jobs. In A&R it’s really about learning from someone who has the experience doing it, just like engineering was for me with Dave. I think there’s a number of good programs and universities that deal with the music industry throughout the country. USC and UCLA both have really good programs, but there are the private colleges like Full Sail and Dick Grove (which became the Musicians Institute) in LA. Your desire will take you lots of places, so immerse yourself in the music and you’ll find your way into the mechanics of it soon enough.
What is your favorite musical style and what speaks to your soul?
I like melodic Rock the best, but barely second is melodic R&B. I like The Beatles, Stevie Wonder, The Police, and Earth, Wind and Fire. Sting and The Police were the first really new sound that I was truly attracted to after Beatles reign. I liked their approach to fusing Reggae with a rock undertone. It was pretty extraordinary and a fantastic melding of a couple of styles and influences. You can listen to those records to this day and not get bored. Another one on my list would be Prince; he obviously blew everyone’s mind in the early 80’s. The biggest challenge to A&R today, although there are a lot terrific artists and producers like Bruno Mars and Dr Luke, is that the playing field has become overcrowded. The bar has been set very high from the artists that I mentioned earlier. I love a great song, a great melody, and I love something that speaks to me about things that I’m interested in, in a clever way. Everclear was a band I produced which was also a very memorable experience. This was around 1993-94 and the lyrics that Art Alexakis wrote in those days just took me by the collar and shook me to the core. He was one of the most clever lyricists I’ve ever heard in my life and he really knew how to turn a phrase and keep me interested in a story. The songs really made people, including me, believe that they were not alone. That’s the essence of finding and nurturing new talent. Sometimes it’s a table to be standing on for a long time because it’s a very subjective business and it’s hard to get a consensus. With record companies today, a lot of it’s based off of consensus building and finding something that the person above you likes as much as you do. That’s just as big a battle as it is to find the talent.