A Master Behind the Masterpieces: Phil Ramone

“When I listen to a song and imagine how it might be arranged, I listen for melodic lines in the background – a haunting phrase that’s not fully developed – or another piece of the melody that could benefit from emphasis.” -Phil Ramone, from his book Making Records: The Scenes Behind the Music

Phil Ramone has won 15 Grammy Awards. He produced Billy Joel’s The Stranger, Paul Simon’s Still Crazy After All These Years and Frank Sinatra’s Duets and Duets II, among many, many others. The artists he’s worked with range from Quincy Jones (one of his closest friends) to Bono to John Legend to Chicago to Burt Bacharach. For a more complete list, visit Ramone’s bio.

Ramone, the “Pope of Pop,” was a musical prodigy at a young age on the violin, before starting to record artists in the late 1950s, which was the beginning of a career that would subsequently make him one of the most legendary record producers ever.

Always with a keen eye on technology, Ramone has played pivotal roles in helping bring, and encourage, new technologies to the music industry. From his website, a list of Ramone’s technological achievements:

  • First use of digital live recording for Billy Joel’s Songs In The Attic, paving the way for the widespread use of the compact disc in the pop music world
  • Ardently supported the use of the compact disc, digital video disc, hi-definition recording and surround sound
  • The first CD ever pressed was Billy Joel’s 52nd Street, an album produced by Ramone
  • First use of solid-state console for recording and mastering for Solid State Records
  • First use of fiber optics system (EDNet) to record tracks in “real time” from different locations for Frank Sinatra’s Duets I & II

Perhaps Ramone’s philosophy on where he fits in an artist’s creativity is a large part of his success. If it’s good enough for Phil Ramone, I’m pretty sure it should be good enough for the rest of us. From the book B.B. King: There Is Always One More Time, by David McGee:

“‘Producers are way in the back,’ he [Ramone] told Billboard‘s Paul Verna in a 1996 interview. ‘If our names were on the front cover, it would be different. I don’t think the record-buying public go to the Phil Ramone section in Tower Records. They just don’t. So you have to put your ego where it belongs: with the artist, the song, and the crew you put together. If you think you have a style and you perpetrate that onto people, you’re hurting the very essence of their creativity. The reward of producing comes when someone inside the record company who has a lot to do with what’s going on actually calls you and says, “Boy, this record really came out great.” Or when other artists call you and want to work with you’.”


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