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Many know him as the rough-around-the-edges frontman of The Black Keys, but behind glimmering disco balls and screaming amplifiers, Dan Auerbach is becoming one of today’s most accomplished producers.
Hailing from the verdant farmlands of Akron, Ohio, music surrounded Auerbach’s early life. The stylings of Junior Kinbrough specifically and blues music in a larger sense inspired him to drop out of college and pursue music more actively. With little classical training, earlier works such as The Big Come Up (2002) feature loose, heavily distorted guitar, shifting tempos, and a surging, raw energy that hits you right in the chest on powerful tracks such as “Busted.” As The Black Keys’ sound became more refined and as years of touring and composition became ingrained in Auerbach’s style, this raw energy began to emanate throughout his career as he ventured into production and collaboration.
Auerbach boasts a portfolio that seems far from lacking: nine albums with bandmate Patrick Carney, six corresponding Grammies, a Brit award, and a solo album titled Keep it Hid (2009). In addition to this, he has participated in some form of production on over 30 recordings outside of The Black Keys with many more on deck.
The spotlight began to focus in on Auerbach’s under-appreciated skill when he won the 2013 Grammy for Best Non-Classical Producer for his work with Dr. John and Hacienda and his role as co-producer of his own El Camino (Nonesuch Records). More recently, Rolling Stone announced that Auerbach is slated to be the producer on the upcoming Lana Del Ray album, titled Ultraviolence. This marks a big step in his career as a producer where he is serving as a creative force behind the works of increasingly popular acts and genres outside of his usual niche. In the past, he has produced a diverse array of styles, from African tribal-rock artist Bombino to garage punk upstarts Jeff the Brotherhood. Names like Michael Kiwanuka, Ray LaMontagne, and Grace Potter also adorn his impressive clientele list. Loyal customers keep coming back for more. An increase in recent years in his production projects coupled with residual touring from the Keys’ most recent release in 2011 of platinum-selling El Camino leave little room for relaxation in the involved career of this renaissance man.
As contemporary musical architects, such as Auerbach become increasingly involved in other assets of the industry, we are witnessing a transition to higher flows of creative influence with an emphasis on collaboration to create powerful pieces of music. While Auerbach serves as a model case study in the musician-turned-producer complex, many others have followed this lead. Pharrell Williams was the winner of this year’s Grammy for Best Non-Classical Producer along with other nominations for his collaborations with the likes of Daft Punk on the international mega-hit “Get Lucky.”
Brian Joseph (aka Danger Mouse) is another case in point for the powers a masterful producer has on the direction of sound and composition. Aside from Grammy hardware for work on The Black Keys’ last two releases, he has produced a litany of masterpieces including Gorillaz’s Demon Days, Electric Guest’s Mondo, Norah Jones’s Little Broken Hearts, and Portugal. the Man’s Evil Friends. Perhaps his most well known collaboration was with Gnarls Barkley where he and bandmate Cee-Lo Green won Best Alternative Music Album in 2007 for St. Elsewhere featuring “Crazy.”
Auerbach is hardly the only producer in his genre. He draws from the success of other masterminds such as Jack White who have also proven themselves as worthy competitors within the production ring through their blend of knowledge in band politics, songwriting, and performance. As an active band member of the White Stripes, The Raconteurs, The Dead Weather, and as a solo artist, White played an active role in the production of his own creations much as Auerbach has done. He has garnered much attention for collaborations with Norah Jones and Danger Mouse on Rose and has worked closely with groups such as The Black Belles.
Production not only serves as an outlet to further develop the musical palate of musicians that make the crossover, but also enriches the entire process of recording and songwriting by inspiring collaboration amongst artists in a language that transcends restrictions on representation. This fusion of influences gives rise to albums and tracks that are abound in complexity and it is transmitted through the final work to inspire emotion and response in the listener. Accomplished producers play a vital role in shaping a band’s sound and through their inputs, which can make or break an album with respect to its execution and impact. As new wave producers begin to shift the balance within the industry to a more integrated system, diminishing gaps between production, performance, and artistry tear down walls around creative thought and open the floodgates for true expression to flow.
Article by Conner Smith