By: Phil Cartwright
As good fortune would have it, we had the opportunity to visit with Danielle Engen. Danielle is the studio coordinator for The Village, the legendary Los Angeles studio. Danielle – she’s passionate about music and her work, she’s successful, and she holds onto a strong sense of humility.
The Village www.villagestudios.com is famous for landmark sessions by Steely Dan, Fleetwood Mac, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers, The Rolling Stones (Goat’s Head Soup), Supertramp (Breakfast in America), Pink Floyd (Momentary Lapse of Reason), the last three Smashing Pumpkins releases, Barbra Streisand, the last two Chili Peppers and Korn releases, The Wallflowers, Rage Against The Machine, Melissa Etheridge, Oasis, Usher, Nine Inch Nails, Nelly, Alanis Morissette and many other projects. Our film scores include The Bodyguard, The Shawshank Redemption, Mulan, Tarzan, Almost Famous, Something About Mary, Moulin Rouge, Ali, Walk The Line, and Across the Universe.
The Village has been frequently nominated as studio of the year by the readers of Mix magazine.
Danielle, thanks very much for taking time to tell us about yourself and your workin the music industry.We know you went to the University of Hawaii, you live in Los Angeles and you are working at The Village in Los Angeles….Tell us more about yourself – your background and your career development. What are your goals?
DE: My love for music started when I was just a kid. Some of my earliest memories were parading down the cul-de-sac of my childhood home with a tambourine, following the legendary Eagles’ guitarist Joe Walsh. He was dating my older cousin Kristi at the time and he would jam out on his guitar at family gatherings, awing me and all my friends. It was him that turned me on to the classic grit of the Stones, Zeppelin, and Hendrix. The passion I had developed from that point on, brought me out to Hollywood at seventeen, about an hour’s drive from where I grew up. I attended Musician’s Institute and familiarized myself with every nook and cranny of the music business I could get my hands on. Since then my career has taken me from scouting for A&R at Capitol Records, to producer management with some of the greats (John Alagia, Ed Cherney, Ethan Johns, Jacquire King, Charlie Sexton), to developing my own artist roster on a label called Villa Music Group. Working as the studio coordinator at The Village, I get the privilege of learning from longtime music industry guru and studio owner, Jeff Greenberg, who is always looking towards the future of the business. Goal-wise I think it’s all about fresh ideas and I’d like to expand on what we can offer as a traditional studio. Now days, with home-based recording an industry of its own, our focus is to capitalize on the experience and go beyond just the gear. We are beyond lucky to have amazingly talented artists and bands passing through our lobby each day and we’re moving in a direction of becoming more involved with development and distribution. Ideally, I’d like to continue helping artists build their careers while integrating the resources we can offer here at The Village. I’m also really driven about rebuilding a sense of community in music that can span across local and worldwide markets through innovative technology.
What are you doing at The Village?
DE: As the studio coordinator, I’m basically at the central hub of all our
operations. We have our staff engineers that work directly with clients on sessions to perfect the sound. We have our studio manager that handles bookings and facility management. Our techs contribute to making sure the equipment is working properly and they optimize configurations for each room. The runners act as general assistants and do outside errands based on what the clients need each day. Then my role is to make sure each of these departments work together seamlessly and that everyone’s communicating to get the job done. I’m the first face to greet the artists as they arrive at the studio. I tend to any special requests or needs they may have. I work directly with the studio manager to distribute session set up information and organize the secure delivery and release of any data devices that come through the building. I find the most enjoyable part of my job however to be the marketing aspects – PR, staying current with trends, and making sure our studio stands out through every channel – as well innovating new projects for us to take on as a company. I’m at the forefront of some of the hottest new records hitting the market, so I challenge myself daily on how I can mobilize the opportunities in front of me. My daily tasks could include anything from co-managing bands with Jeff and doing A&R for our side venture (Villa Music Group), to putting together industry mixers here at the studio (we’re currently organizing a pre-Grammy party for the P&E Wing and partnering with Daisy Rock Girl Guitars for a “Women In Rock” event), to teaming up with the LA City Council on charitable causes to bring music into the lives of children. What’s great about it is my day is never the same and working in a studio allows me to constantly mix it up. I love it.
How did you come to find yourself at the Village and how does it play
into your longer-term plans?
DE: My first stint was working as an intern for Sanctuary Records’ producer management department, where I got to see the some fantastic albums come to life and familiarize myself with all the hard work that goes into making them fully mastered products. Several of the producers on our roster were regular clients at The Village and it was fascinating to me to drop by the studio and see all the history displayed on the walls. You can almost feel some sort of artistically charged energy the second you walk through the door. It’s intense. Being here enough and working directly with so many talented producers and engineers, it was only a matter of time before Jeff brought me on as the coordinator and my role here continues to evolve every day. I’ve been blessed to work in an environment where I can appreciate music in it’s most basic state – before the artwork and photo shoots and touring schedules and merchandise ideas are layered on. Those extra elements factor into the artist’s marketability, but they mean nothing without a single melody, a great player, or a page of lyrics. We hear so much about the recording industry fading and there’s always constant banter on what the future of music is. Personally I believe that music lives and my long term vision is to recreate for our next generation the same feelings and
experiences that brought me to this business in the first place – killer live shows, exquisite musicianship, and a tight network of fans. We’re moving towards a digital era that’s driven by interactive, personalized experiences for consumers and being at a studio full of both history and cutting edge technology, I’m in the perfect position to become a part of that.
Tell about your favorite project?
DE: Classic rock is in my blood so I think I was most blown away getting to meet Keith Richards when the Stones came here to work on a track called Rough Justice in 2005. We had a 10am start time scheduled but they didn’t end up arriving until somewhere around 11pm that night. We must have rearranged Studio A a hundred times throughout the day and gone through a case of candles trying to keep the mood lighting going. By the time they came in with producer Don Was and engineer Dave Sardy, we were so exhausted. But nothing could describe the energy that band brought and the way the sound filled up the room. They were phenomenally gracious clients to work with and shaking hands with some of the most epic legends in rock and roll history goes down in my treasured moments.
What are the positives and negatives (or not so positives) of your work
DE: Predictably the biggest plus is getting to be around what I love, every day, all day. There’s not a day of work that goes by where I don’t get to hear live music in one form or another, so that’s a blessing that goes without explanation. I’m also constantly grateful for being part of a such a creative team. Every staff member and client at The Village, despite what they do, is an artistic soul at heart and we all connect on very special level as we share a passion for music. It’s a very exciting time for us as well since the industry itself has begun to evolve on such a large level. We get to be a part of this growth and help contribute to the next frontier. On the downside, the long hours you have to dedicate to a job like this can be exhausting. My day starts early to prep the studio before everyone arrives and often I don’t leave until well into the evening. Then it’s off to live shows so I can stay current on what’s new and continue looking ahead for our next projects. It’s completely rewarding, but it can be draining too. Also it’s frustrating sometimes to see artists or bands with real dedication and commitment struggling, while some of the less musically inclined acts are getting backed by so much funding and press. That’s always a little disappointing.
Have you ever been discouraged yourself or by others about working in
DE: Absolutely. In fact when I attended University of Hawaii to finish my degree, it was because I needed that break from the business – to reassess, regroup, and
make sure it was where I wanted to take my career. During my time scouting for Capitol, it became regularly discouraging to bring in groundbreaking demos from indie bands I had seen out at shows, only to have the execs “pass” on them. I was seeing EMI release records from artists no one would recognize today, and then completely disregard bands I was raving about like the Cold War Kids (who I first saw at the Detroit Bar, Costa Mesa in 2005), or Darker My Love (now on Dangerbird). It was hard to get a grasp on what it would actually take to be successful in the business if what you were passionate about wasn’t doing the trick. It’s truly a game of patience and persistence. You start from the bottom and work your way up and it’s all about who’s gonna pass that test of faith. It’s a huge pool of people wanting to make it in this industry and everyone thinks they have what it takes to bring in the next best act. But the ones that succeed are the ones that are in it for the long run. They don’t take no for an answer and they’re willing to do whatever it takes. So the journey itself can be a daunting one. It’s not for the thin-skinned.
Do you have any advice for others wanting to work in entertainment, and
in particular, music?
DE: Stay humble. Always be open and willing to learn. We all started from the bottom of the totem pole and with exception to a few unique cases, it took hard work and dedication to get where most of us are today. It’s not out of the norm to intern for any given period of time. It’s not beneath you to work as anyone’s assistant. Those are great opportunities to broaden your knowledge and learn from people that are seasoned in the business. Network as much as you can. Book your weeks up with live shows, industry mixers, workshops, conventions, festivals – anything you can attend where you’ll meet other industry professionals. This business is based on relationships and I can’t stress that enough. Almost every job I’ve held working in music has been a result of someone I met at a show or an event or during my tenure as an intern. And those individuals continue to help me on a daily basis, even in my current position. You’d be surprised how small the entertainment world really is. And as cliche as it sounds – don’t ever give up. If this is truly what you love and what you’re passionate about, don’t let anything trip you up. Stay grateful for every experience you gain and keep your goals in sight. When you hit a dead end, find another way around it. Hard work and perseverance always pays off.
Finally, on a personal note, who is your hero?
DE: I’d have to say Alex Patsavas of Chop Shop. She is just the ultimate powerhouse when it comes to helping propel great indie bands into the music world and she is so deserving of all the success she’s had throughout her career. Patsavas has supervised incredible soundtracks for TV shows and movies like The O.C., Grey’s Anatomy, Gossip Girl, Mad Men, the Twilight saga – all of which are often recognized solely for the great music they showcase. I remember first hearing Coldplay and the Doves on the TV show Roswell as a teenager and being completely enamored by the all of the music she continued to include on the show. She’s a true indie music fan like myself, and a role model because she’s such a huge female voice in the industry now. She has such a keen ear for sound and brought phenomenal talent out the hidden, unsigned music scene. She’s never stagnant – always on the hunt for what’s new and great. That’s the same kind of work I hope to be recognized for one day.
Danielle, thanks so very much. Fantastic to have met you here at at HorizonVU Music. You have a fascinating story and great advice. Hope you’ll join us again!
HorizonVU Music celebrates the independent music community by supporting emerging musicians’ efforts to achieve a key business objective - recognition.http://www.horizonvumusic.com