Considering the premium he places on rawness, Neil Young may have seemed an unusual choice as the honoree for the 7th annual Recording Academy Producers & Engineers Wing’s Grammy Week event at the Village Studios in Los Angeles on Jan.y 21. Yet the 68-year-old rock deity displayed a producer’s mentality from the first moment of his acceptance speech, walking past Recording Academy president Neil Portnow’s live mic at the podium, and instead taking up a perch at a performance microphone center stage.
“I like this one better,” he said.
In a lively, witty address, Young thanked the assembled technicians for the recognition with a series of self-deprecating asides, saying, “I’m a producer and an engineer, partially, and I’m not really good at either one.” He went onto emphasize a producer’s duty to capture the magic of a particular take in the studio, no matter how rough it may be, discussing his sessions at the Village in the mid-1970s.
“The idea is to try to get magic,” he said. “Who knows where the hell it’s coming from? I don’t. So please record. It’s expensive to sit here and not push that red button.”
In front of a crowd that included Kris Kristofferson, Colbie Caillat, Jeff Baxter, Jakob Dylan, Liz Phair, Peter Asher, Al Schmitt, the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Chad Smith and Young’s old Buffalo Springfield bandmate Stephen Stills, Young applauded the abilities of modern producers to nail down perfect takes and mixes, while emphasizing the value of his more immediate approach.
“There’s nothing wrong with it, it’s just a different way of doing things,” he said. “I have so little ability to do that, playing it over and over again, getting (the take) right. That’s why I’m flat sometimes, 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.”
Seguing into a discussion of digital recording – “Digital isn’t bad, but Xerox isn’t good” – Young noted that his long-in-the-works digital music player, Pono, will debut at SXSW in March, and also pledged to donate one percent of the company’s equity to MusiCares.
“And that’s my commercial,” he deadpanned, turning the stage over to Dave Matthews, who performed a trio of tunes including the Young standards “My My, Hey Hey” and “The Needle and the Damage Done.”
(Pictured: Dave Matthews and Neil Young)