ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — When we listen to an album, we hear the instruments, the vocals, the synthesized stuff and all that.
But if you listen very closely you might be able to spot the quiet hand of the sound and mixing engineer – the person puts it all together.
For many well-known albums, that person has been Mick Guzauski, who grew up and got his start in Rochester.
Guzauski has won numerous Grammys, including Record of the Year for his work on Daft Punk’s 2013 album Random Access Memories.
Sunday, he’ll be part of the Rochester Music Hall of Fame induction ceremony (tickets are still available).
This week, he sat down with Adam Chodak to talk about his career and how it started in a makeshift studio in his parents’ basement.
Adam Chodak: So I read how, as you were growing up here, you got into engineering. You actually had your own engineering room that you made. What inspired you to do that? How did you realize this was a path for you?
Mick Guzauski: I just loved music and loved technology, electronics, and sound from when I was a little kid. And when I was in high school, I worked my first job. I worked at a place called Bob Hyatt’s Stereo Center on Goodman. Goodman and Park. It was a record store, a Hi Fi store, and I just loved it.
I just got really fascinated with the idea of making records, of the technology and the art that goes into it. I’m not a musician, so I wasn’t playing an instrument, but I was really attuned to the sonic space and how records were created, how the music lived in a space that was created rather than a real acoustic environment in a lot of cases. And I was really fascinated with that.
So I got some old equipment that was brought in for repair at the stereo store. No one wanted it and I fixed it up and started this little studio in my parents’ basement, you know, usually with a bunch of junk, but it worked and just recorded local bands and local jingles. That was in ’68, ’69, ’70 around then. It grew from there.
I went in with a few other people in the very early seventies. We had PCI Recording here in Rochester and that studio grew. We ended up as a 16-track studio before I left. And just did more of the same, lot of demos, a lot of local bands, a lot of jingles. And I also, at the same time was working for Chuck Mangione doing mostly live sound, which was sort of a secondary thing. It was something I knew how to do. I didn’t really want to do it that much, but you know, to make a living in this business here, I had to have a supplemental job. So I was on the road a lot.
And then Chuck took me to LA to record, it was Chase the Clouds Away in 1975. He actually asked me, “do you think you can handle this 45 piece live orchestra in the studio?” I thought I would crash and burn, but I wasn’t going to say no. So it worked out and I started meeting people in LA.
Our son was born in 1977, so I didn’t really want to go on the road anymore after that. So we just moved to LA in ’78.
I actually moved there as a tech, worked first as a tech for a few months and then started getting, recording gigs.. It just grew from there, met a lot of people in L.A. and did a lot of records there, worked with Earth, Wind and Fire a lot on three albums.
That was probably the most fun part of my career in the early eighties. And worked with Prince a little bit, worked with Burt Bacharach a bit. So really pretty much my career was built in LA. Then I did a record for Michael Bolton in 1992. We went up to San Francisco, actually Sausalito to mix that at the record plant. And that was for Sony. (Sony higher-ups) heard it and liked what I did and hired me to work on Mariah Carey’s record, moved me back to New York, but I didn’t want to move to New York. I loved L.A., I loved the climate and everything.
And then the earthquake hit in ’94 and I called them up and said, “Hey, is that offer still open? You want to move me to New York?” And so we moved to New York and I did a lot of work for Sony there. And then a lot of the industry moved back to L.A. Because so much of the industry moved to New York and Nashville after the earthquake, then L.A started becoming the place really where most of the records were made. So we moved back to L.A. in 2013 and worked quite a bit there.
We engineered Daft Punk’s RAM album in 2013 when we were back and that was Record of the Year, and Album of the Year. And you know, probably the most high profile thing I’ve ever worked on. And just last year, you know, I was still working in L.A. and I am still working, but I just turned 70 and I don’t want to work all the time anymore. And L.A. is very expensive to live in right now. So we moved to Las Vegas. So I’m still close to L.A., still in touch with a lot of people. I have a little studio at home, so I do most of my mixing work there.
AC: Has it been difficult for you to transition from genre to genre?
MG: No, because in most cases the genre of music, I can enjoy anything as long as it’s well done, well played, well produced. And so you find that in every genre. So I really don’t have a problem going from one to another.
AC: I’m going to ask you to not be humble for a minute here. What sets your work above others’ that has continued to attract the attention of top notch artists?
MG: That I really don’t know. I mean, I think I’m probably good at faking it. No, actually, a lot of artists I work with say that even though I’m not a musician, they say I have a very musical sense and really know how to place things and balance things. And modern records aren’t recorded with usually with a band in a room, even if it starts out with a live rhythm section, there’s a lot of overdubs, a lot of production of the record and it’s not all put together, you just play it back. And a mixer’s job is to really create a space for the music to live in, and just to make everything sound palatable. And I wouldn’t always say natural because a lot of records now are very processed, but just to have an interesting presentation of the music and that’s what I do.
AC: You said you didn’t get into music, but what you’re describing kind of sounds like if not an instrument you’re playing a role in the final product.
MG: I don’t know if I would’ve been a good musician or not. I never really tried. I don’t really have the coordination to play something well, and you hear these virtuosos and I just wanted to do something that I’d be good at.
AC: When you are recording in a studio and you are hearing an artist do something special, do you know it in the moment? Do you know that magic is happening while it’s happening?
MG: So sometimes, yeah, I would say the few records I’ve worked on that have been really, really big, I did notice at the time. First was, we did a lot of records with Chuck Mangione and Feel So Good, that one we knew, I just knew that was going to be something then. Earth, Wind and Fire, I did a lot with them. Let’s Groove Tonight. I knew it was going to be a big record and the Daft Punk album, I knew it was going to be a big record, but there are a lot in the middle. And also Dionne Warwick, That’s What Friends Are For, but how could that not be a big record with her and Elton John and Stevie Wonder and Gladys Knight and all the people that were on that?
So of course I knew that one, that was a no-brainer to know that, but yeah, I mean, there’s a lot that have been really big that, that I didn’t really think would be, and there were some that I thought, “wow, this is great,” and nothing ever really happened. So there are many factors involved, the promotion, the visibility of the artist, it’s not all just a great record is going to be huge or a mediocre record is going to just die. It’s not, it doesn’t always work like that.
AC: Before all of that, you did get to work with the Mangione borthers, you got to work with Steve Gadd and Tony Levin. Did you know that they were what they were?
MG: I knew they were great musicians. Steve and Tony. Incredible. I mean, they were actually even down in my basement, my parents’ basement a couple times. I think one was a jingle and then they were down I think it was probably early, late sixties, maybe 1970. They were hired by a guy Doug Brown, who was with Alexander and the Dukes, was doing a record and hired Steven and Tony. And we did that in my basement. And then of course Chuck is a a writer and arranger. Incredible. That was very inspiring to work with really good people early on. We used to record a band that was Lou Gramm’s early band, like way, way, way before Foreigner.
So they were in my basement a lot. There was a lot of great people coming out of Rochester that I got to work with and there was also one of the reasons I got out, there was a lot of bad stuff going on here too. And like the really great sessions and great musicians when they were working in Rochester were in the studio. I knew it was sort of few and far between, and it was just, you’ve got to get out to L.A., got to work on stuff.
I was lucky because I got, even when I was working as a tech, my first mix, I did, which wasn’t really a record. Maybe it was released as a record later, but it was a tribute to Berry Gordy from all the Motown artists. I got to mix it. And then I got to do a record for Glen Campbell called Highwayman. So I wasn’t working as a tech very long, but being a tech sort of helped me in my career twice, one building the studio in my parents’ basement then sort of was a springboard.
AC: Can you listen to music now just as a regular listener? I mean, knowing that you can pick apart everything that’s going funny.
MG: No, I mean, I still enjoy it. I don’t listen as much as I used to. I used to listen to all my waking hours to different stuff, but I don’t as much anymore, as you know, I’ve spent so many years working on and I still enjoy music and I just don’t connect with a lot of the newest, mostly synthesized music. It’s been synthesized pop music. That’s been popular lately it’s because, excuse me, I’m an old fart.