The Legend Behind the Console and the Music
David Thoener works at Ocean Way Recording Studios of Nashville, Tennessee. Image-- courtesy of Mr. David Thoener.
I opened the door to the building. It had grown dark outside and the air had a chill to it, as what had been summer was slowly becoming fall. As I walked past the front desk, I looked down a dimly lit hallway to find the door to Studio A. After a few steps, I reached the door, and as I opened it, I could hear the sound of music coming from the control room where it had been wedged open with a small doorstop. Seated at the console, a Neve VR60, was a true legend, simply listening to music and taking a moment to gather his thoughts.
His work needs no introduction. His credits include: AC/DC, Aerosmith, Bob Dylan, Bon Jovi, Brooks and Dunn, Bruce Springsteen, Cher, Dan Hill, Faith Hill, Heart, The Hooters, Jaguares, the J.Geils Band, John Cougar Mellencamp, John Waite, Matchbox Twenty, Meatloaf, Michael Bolton, Michael W. Smith, Miyuki Nakajima, Ricardo Arjona, Rob Thomas, Rodney Crowell, Roseanne Cash, Santana, Wheatus and Willie Nelson— and, this is— but, just a brief sample of his discography which includes almost 600 album credits in an accomplished career that had its start in New York City in the summer of 1973. He has won three Grammy-Awards for his engineering work with Santana — featuring Rob Thomas and also, with the Latin musical group, Jaguares. If you have been listening to the radio, watching television, or enjoying the movies since 1976, then you have been listening to his engineering work.
In a masterful way, his work as an engineer has made a powerful connection with each of us as listeners. It is the songs that he has engineered that we may have danced to such as "Freeze-Frame," by the J.Geils Band, celebrated our milestones in life by listening to such as, "I Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing," by Aerosmith, or repaired our broken hearts with such as, "I Found Someone," by Cher, that have had such a tremendous impact. I am among the relatively fortunate few who have had the opportunity to both work with him as an assistant engineer in a recording studio and to be able to know him as the genuine and caring person who has mentored so many young engineers and music production personnel over the course of his storied career. I knew that evening who I would be meeting and then working with in a recording studio for the next two days of my life. Like so many wonderful and talented people in the engineering community, he is one of the truly unsung heroes of the world of popular music. It is now both an honor and a privilege for me to be able to introduce to you, the man behind the console— and the man truly behind the music that has touched the lives of so many of us— David Thoener.
By 1966, David Thoener, at the age of twelve was already developing an interest in music recording. This machine was his first tape recorder. Image-- courtesy of Mr. David Thoener.
In 1964, at the age of ten, David Thoener discovered his love for music. Image-- courtesy of Mr. David Thoener.
David Thoener was born on June 12, 1954, in Yonkers, New York. From an early age, he had an interest in popular music, but, on February 9, 1964, just a few months shy of his tenth birthday, an event occurred that changed the trajectory of both his life and that of the history of popular music as the Beatles made their debut in America that Sunday evening on the Ed Sullivan Show. He was hooked. Every single day he would take a radio to school with him, so that he could listen to the great music of the era everywhere he went— on the way to school, at lunch, and of course, on the way home, too. The music that he was listening to was changing rapidly, as new technologies such as multitrack analog tape machines, and large format consoles enabled musicians, engineers, and producers to be able to experiment with new musical creations in large state-of-the-art recording studio facilities.
In 1967, the Beatles released Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band— and the experimental sounds that were featured in the songs on that album inspired him to want to learn more about the process of recording popular music. It was the Golden Age of Music and the revolutionary sounds of the British bands of the period— the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, The Who, Cream, and later, Led Zeppelin, captured his imagination and by the age of seventeen in late 1971, influenced him to pursue a career as a music recording engineer.
The road to becoming a recording studio engineer in 1971, was very different from the pathway most young engineers take today to get their start in the music business. There were no such educational entities as recording schools, or comprehensive college or university degree programs which prepare a person for the vocation of becoming a recording or broadcast engineer. If a person wanted to become an engineer in a recording studio, they just simply had to go to work in a facility and learn on the job from more experienced engineers. In 1972, David Thoener would begin the four-year odyssey toward attaining his goal by enrolling in the New York Institute of Technology which was located on Long Island. He decided to major in communications. However, in the evenings, a small local recording studio was offering a course for those who were interested in becoming an engineer and he took advantage of the opportunity to learn. It was a breakthrough moment for his dream.
Armed with the knowledge of what it took to work in a recording studio, he made his way to New York City to look for his first job in a major recording studio facility. In the summer of 1973, he landed his first job as a tape messenger for National Recording Studios. After a few months of delivering tapes, he landed another position at Dick Charles Recording Studio where he would learn so much more about the recording process— tape editing, disc mastering, and how to use both a large-format console and work with a sixteen-track analog tape machine. Before long, he was engineering demo sessions for both songwriters and artists who were seeking their first recording contracts. It gave him a chance to shine and to develop his own signature style of using equalization as a tool and balancing. His formative work even helped some of the artists land the recording contracts that they had coveted. The experience and hands-on approach to learning gave him the confidence to seek a role in one of the largest and busiest state-of-the-art recording studio facilities in New York City— The Record Plant. On April 4, 1974, nineteen-year-old David Thoener, landed a job at The Record Plant, and this is where his career stepped into a whole new dimension.
David Thoener behind the console at Dick Charles Recording Studio in New York City in 1973. Image-- courtesy of Mr. David Thoener.
Working at the Record Plant would eventually put him on the pathway to becoming a recording studio engineer, but it did not happen overnight. It was a process. In the beginning, he was assigned to work in the tape copy room— and after three months in the position, he quite literally put his own foot in the door. In a 2001 interview with Mix Magazine, he told the story of how he stepped into the role of becoming an assistant engineer at the Record Plant. After being asked to make a cassette which looped over and over again, he took matters into his own hands. Hoping to get the attention of the chief engineer, Roy Cicala, he created a loop of microphone stands that his boss could no longer ignore. Fearing that it might get him fired, to his pleasant surprise after having a brief meeting with his boss, he was elevated to the position of an assistant engineer. Though Roy Cicala already had an assistant engineer, Jimmy Iovine, the other lead engineer, Shelly Yakus, did not, and took him under his wing as his assistant. At the time, Shelly Yakus, was one of the hottest engineers in New York City, and it gave him the opportunity to work on a number of major projects in 1975. He also began to assist other experienced engineers, as well, and eventually would work on a number of memorable album projects including: Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run, John Lennon’s Walls and Bridges and Menlove Avenue and David Bowie’s Young Americans. He also had the opportunity to work on an album project as an assistant engineer with Aerosmith, on their album, Toys in the Attic, and this began an association for him working with the band that would last throughout his long and storied career.
In a short time, Shelly Yakus, gave him the opportunity to record the overdubs on their projects. It was a great experience and it gave him the confidence to step into any recording situation. For example, when his friend, Jimmy Iovine, was granted the opportunity to work on the Bruce Springsteen album Born to Run, he asked him to be his assistant on the project. One evening, after working late night after night on the project, Iovine, accidentally fell asleep at the console. The producers turned to him and asked, “Dave, you can do this, right?” He said, “Sure.” He then picked-up his friend’s legs, slid him over to the end of the console and recorded Bruce Springsteen’s vocals. He would never forget that moment.
Working at the Record Plant as an assistant engineer gave him the opportunity to both work with and learn from older, master British and American engineers who had recorded the music in the 1950s and 1960s that had influenced him to become an engineer. He began to develop his own style. He learned both how to listen and how to use his imagination in tandem with the vision of a producer to create sounds that were on the cutting-edge. It was 1976, and David Thoener was on the verge of sitting in the center seat behind the console, he just needed an opportunity to become the lead engineer for a major album project. It all began— as the launch of any legendary career does— with a great story.
The formative association between David Thoener and the J. Geils Band began almost by accident. In 1975, Bill Szymczyk, had worked on an album by the J. Geils Band called Hotline. The next year, Szymczyk was busy working with the Eagles, and the band was looking for an engineer. The J. Geils Band then booked Roy Cicala, the owner and chief engineer at the Record Plant, who promptly named David Thoener as his assistant engineer for the project. In a later interview, Thoener would recount that after setting-up for the session, so that his boss would have to just be able to sit down and record it with ease, to his surprise, his boss walked into the control room, saw everything was working perfectly and then left it in his hands to complete the project from start to finish. The 1976 J. Geils Band album, Monkey Island, was his first opportunity to work on a major album project and he had to do it alone— with no assistant engineer. He was just twenty-two years old. It took nine months to complete, but, as it hit the airwaves, it gave him an opportunity for the very first time to hear his own engineering work on the radio.
The door to the iconic Record Plant, one of the greatest recording studios in the history of popular music. Image-- courtesy of Mr. David Thoener.
David Thoener— pictured here working with Corkey Stasiak in 1976 on the album Monkey Island for the J. Geils Band at the Record Plant. Image-- courtesy of Mr. David Thoener.
David Thoener— went on the road with the J. Geils Band as their FOH engineer in 1977 for the “Frampton Comes Alive,” tour. Image-- courtesy of Mr. David Thoener.
It was at this juncture that his career took an interesting turn which would help to both shape his philosophy and work as an engineer in the recording studio environment. In 1977, David Thoener left his position as an assistant recording studio engineer to become the live, front-of-house engineer on tour with the J. Geils Band, who opened for one of the hottest acts at the time— Peter Frampton. The “Frampton Comes Alive,” tour was a hot ticket and it enabled him to be able to engineer live to audiences that ranged from 3,000 to 20,000 people in live concert halls and stadiums. The experience taught him how to work quickly to get superb sounds, an attribute that he would carry with him throughout his career while cutting basic tracks in the recording studio environment. He also learned what he would later coin as, “Survival EQ.” In essence, “Survival EQ,” meant that you would use equalization as a tool for clarifying the sound of an instrument by taking away muddy or problematic areas as quickly as possible.
While the experience taught him how to work quickly to get great sounds, and he developed a healthy respect for those who work in a live sound environment, it also made him realize how much he both enjoyed and missed being in the recording studio environment. The recording studio environment allowed him to do what he loved best— work on developing unique sounds and while doing so, not be constrained by having to work against the clock. He went back to work at the Record Plant as an assistant recording studio engineer. But, his association and groundbreaking work with the J. Geils Band continued and ultimately, it would change his life.
From 1977 to 1981, the J. Geils Band changed tremendously, and during that time, David Thoener, worked with them almost every step of the way. At the time, we have to remember that disco was tremendously popular and so the new sounds of the J. Geils Band and the engineering of David Thoener were actually quite revolutionary. By 1978, the group had changed record labels and began to forge a new sound as the keyboard player, Seth Justman, began to take the production reins for their next series of albums— beginning with the album, Sanctuary. While their success grew, each album project was recorded and mixed by David Thoener, who by this time had virtually become like a member of the band. The next album, Love Stinks, increased both their popularity and commercial success. However, it was the release of Freeze Frame, in 1981, which gave the group its greatest commercial success as two of the singles from the album— the title track, “Freeze-Frame," which worked its way up to #4 on the Billboard charts, and the very next single, “Centerfold,” became a #1 smash hit and helped define the new sound of a new decade in popular music. With the tremendous radio airplay of his ground-breaking engineering work on display for the entire world to be able to hear, now David Thoener was an engineer in high-demand. It was a major turning-point in his life as a recording studio engineer and in the world of popular music. It also led to the first of many major album projects for the young engineer, as famed producer, Robert “Mutt” Lange, booked him on a flight to Paris, France, the day after he had completed his work on Freezeframe. He needed an engineer to finish another ground-breaking record that would open the decade of the 1980s— For Those About to Rock, by AC/DC.
David Thoener— pictured here working with Brian Johnson of AC/DC in Paris, France in 1980. Image-- courtesy of Mr. David Thoener.
When David Thoener arrived in Paris, France, the recordings with AC/DC had already started, but the engineer who began the process of tracking the project, Mark Dearnley, had a commitment to another producer and was unable to complete the work. David Thoener stepped into the void and the rest is history. While the drums had already been recorded, he came in and finished the guitars— rhythms, leads, and vocals. The sounds that were created during those sessions on the AC/DC album For Those About to Rock became legendary. It introduced the world of popular music to the crush of the heavy metal guitar sound for the first time that would define the hard rock edge of the music of the 1980s. While recording the guitar sounds, he employed the techniques that he had learned from the engineers who he had worked with in the past and through his own experiences, but he also learned a great deal from his producer, Robert “Mutt” Lange, as well. The project moved to Battery Studios in London, in the United Kingdom, to be mixed— with David Thoener, at the helm of the console. It was in the mixing process, where the drum and electric guitar sounds that would come to define a generation of hard rock music were born.
After the release and subsequent success of both Freeze Frame by the J. Geils Band, and For Those About to Rock by AC/DC, David Thoener was now an engineer in demand. He then made two major decisions that would influence his career and those of the other top engineers who would follow in his footsteps. First, he realized that it was important not to work for the money by receiving points off of the sales of an album, but rather to achieve the credits that came from working with successful clients. At the time, the credits for a project were listed on the inside jacket of a vinyl album sleeve, cassette housing, or later, of a compact disc case. As an engineer, it was the credits that you acquired with successful clients that enabled you to be able to gain new opportunities to work in the future. For David Thoener, the second element to his success as an engineer was a process— forging long-lasting relationships with both performers and their producers. Though he would make the Record Plant in New York City his base for working throughout this stage of his career, he would also travel to work in other recording studio facilities on album projects. During this time, he began to employ a manager to help him handle his business affairs and to negotiate contracts with both producers and record companies. Throughout his career, David Thoener was represented by first Bob Buziak (later the head of RCA Records), who he credits with helping him land a number of early working opportunities and later by Frank McDonough. Both men represented other artists and engineers and had relationships that helped him throughout his career. He also credits another long-time friend, John Kalodner, who he met while working with the J. Geils Band on Monkey Island in 1976, and was a record label executive first for Atlantic Records and later for Geffen Records, as an instrumental figure who gave him a great deal of support during his career. He also made it a point to forge great working relationships with the assistant engineers who worked in the facilities, so that he could learn how to use their knowledge to benefit both his clients and the production of their music. It gave him the reputation of not being just one of the top engineers in the world, but also, of being someone that everyone wanted to be fortunate enough to have the opportunity to work with, too.
David Thoener works at the console in 2002 with the son of his manager, Frank McDonough. Image-- courtesy of Mr. David Thoener.
An original master disk, given to David Thoener, by the legendary mastering engineer, Bob Ludwig for the John Cougar Mellencamp album, Uh-Huh. Image-- courtesy of Mr. David Thoener.
As he became an engineer in demand, it was his work that helped launch the careers of some of the most famous acts in popular music in the decade of the 1980s. From 1981-1994, he would work on seminal albums with acts such as Heart, John Cougar Mellencamp, Bon Jovi, the Hooters and Roseanne Cash. The album, Private Audition, by Heart has been labeled by critics as an underrated classic and marked their transition from the band of the 1970s to the power balladeers of the late 1980s. John Cougar Mellencamp began his long association with David Thoener with their collaboration on the album Uh-Huh, in 1983, which gave him his first critically acclaimed success with the protest song, “Pink Houses.” And the next year, his engineering work on the album 7800 Fahrenheit helped launch a new group onto the scene, Bon Jovi, who would have a hit single, “In and Out of Love,” from the album in 1985. With each of the acts listed above, David Thoener, would continue to work on other great projects for them throughout each of their storied careers. In 1985, he would engineer a cult classic with the fun-loving musical group, the Hooters, as their song, “And We Danced,” from the album, Nervous Night, became a number-one smash hit. He would also make his first foray into country music in 1985, by engineering the ground-breaking crossover album for Roseanne Cash, Rhythm and Romance, which featured the smash hit singles “Hold On,” and “I Don’t Know Why You Don’t Want Me,” the latter of which would win a Grammy-Award in 1986. It was at this juncture in his career that David Thoener would also step into the new role of producing hit-making artists.
In 1984, David Thoener, would begin the process of not just engineering hit-making artists, but also producing them. The John Waite album, No Brakes, marked his first time to step into the role of a producer and it began his collaboration with artists as an influential producer. For John Waite, the album No Brakes was his second solo effort after leaving the popular rock group, The Babys in the fall of 1980, but it was his first critically acclaimed and commercially successful album which featured the smash hit single— “Missing You.” The song, “Missing You,” would rise to number-one on the charts and led to John Waite being nominated for a Grammy-Award in 1984 for the Best Male Pop Vocal Performance. The album was certified gold, after selling over 1.5 million copies and marked a milestone for David Thoener— his first major success as a producer. While he was engineering smash hit songs, he was also producing great albums for such artists as Jeff Paris, Sammy Hagar, Triumph and the Del Fuegos. In 1990, he stepped into the role of producing a new act, Nelson— the twin sons of pioneering rock and roll legend, Ricky Nelson. Their 1990 album, After the Rain, was a tremendous commercial success. Throughout his successful career, he continued producing great albums for such artists as Billy Joel, Allgood, Roseanne Cash, Triumph, and John Waite— plus, a live album for Meat Loaf. But, it was also during this period that he began to engineer a series of memorable hit-making ballads. These songs have both stood the test of time and have come to define his signature style of engineering popular music that has connected with audiences in such an intimate manner that very few engineers have ever been able to achieve.
David Thoener engineered and produced the album, No Brakes, for John Waite which contained the hit single— “Missing You.” Image-- courtesy of Mr. David Thoener.
As pop ballads became a major feature of popular music from 1987-1994, it was David Thoener who would also engineer some of the most memorable hit songs of the period through his work with four artists who came to define the era— Cher, Dan Hill, Michael Bolton, and Meat Loaf. In 1987, Cher was attempting a musical comeback in her long and storied career after having made a splash as a film star. The album, Cher, would launch her into a new phase of her career in music, and contained the classic hit single, “I Found Someone,” which was mixed by David Thoener. The song has become one of the most memorable ballads of the late 1980s and featured the trademark sounds of his engineering prowess— the ominous keyboard sounds which open the track, the kick drum which sounds just like a heartbeat, the driving snare sound, the powerful, but artistically blended guitar sounds, and of course, the perfect melding of Cher’s intimate and powerful vocal into the mix. His work does what one aspires to do as an engineer, it puts you directly into the midst of the story that is being told by the lyrics of the song and it makes you feel as if you have an intimate connection with it, even as a casual listener. His very next project, also in 1987, was Dan Hill’s self-titled album, Dan Hill, which contained another chart-topping single that showcased the same elements of the Thoener style of engineering, but this time it was on a song that was a duet with Vonda Shephard, the unforgettable, “Can’t We Try.” This beautiful ballad, a masterwork in engineering, became Billboard Magazine’s Number #1 Adult Contemporary Song for 1987, and has had a profound impact on many of its listeners throughout the years, as there are fans who credit the song and its message as having saved their marriages and or personal relationships. In the song, the powerful, but intimate instrument sounds are ever-present, but it showcases his ability as an engineer to do something that is special— to use the power of engineering to make a person feel the intensity and the intimacy of the message of the song. In 1991, it was his engineering work with another balladeer that turned an album into a long-revered classic, Michael Bolton’s Time, Love and Tenderness. Mixed by David Thoener, the album would contain the title track and timeless hit classic song, “Time, Love, and Tenderness.” Though, it was one of his most difficult projects to engineer— having to work with three 24-track analog machines locked together and running at the same time, his work with Meatloaf in 1993 not only provided the performer with a career comeback in style, but it also produced one of the classic ballads in the history of popular music, “I Will Do Anything For Love (But, I Won’t Do That),” which became a smash hit around the globe and in 1994, it garnered the artist the Grammy-Award for the Best Solo Rock Vocal Performance. For David Thoener, as an engineer, it was a period of great success, but, by 1994, country music had become incredibly popular and an old friend, who he had engineered a successful album project for in the past, Rodney Crowell, convinced him to make the move to Nashville, Tennessee, and this would start a new chapter in the life and career of David Thoener.
David Thoener mixed the hit song, "I Found Someone," for the album, Cher, which marked the beginning of her musical comeback in 1987. Image-- courtesy of Mr. David Thoener.
A Message to David Thoener from Meat Loaf— Dave: You are truly blessed at what you do and I was blessed that you did it for me! I love you— Meat. Image-- courtesy of Mr. David Thoener.
Michael W. Smith benefitted from the magic touch of David Thoener on his album, I’ll Lead You Home. Image-- courtesy of Mr. David Thoener.
When David Thoener arrived in Nashville in 1994, he landed in a town that was experiencing a boom in the popularity of country music. Armed with his tremendous track record of success and having worked with highly successful former clients in country music such as Rodney Crowell and Roseanne Cash, one would have thought that he would have been in high-demand immediately, but this was not the case. In Nashville, at that time, producers hired their own staff of engineers, studio facilities would have assistant engineers, and it was rare for someone from the outside to come into the town— except on occasion, to break the mold. But perhaps the greatest fear that Nashville producers had was that he would not be able to stay in one place for very long working with just one producer and his or her stable of acts. He also had a reputation, as a rocker, and clients in Nashville thought that he could not easily make the transition into their genre of music— meanwhile, his rock and pop clients feared that his work would veer too much in the other direction. It was a difficult transition, and though he would work with a series of high-profile clients in country music including: Brooks and Dunn, David Lee Murphy, Faith Hill, Keith Urban, Pam Tillis, Sugarland, Travis Tritt and Willie Nelson, and his work would bring them both commercial success and critical acclaim, he continued to be a man in demand by the same pop and rock groups that he had forged highly successful relationships with for more than a decade. However, he was able to make a breakthrough in Nashville in the contemporary Christian market where he would work on a series of albums for artists such as Nicol Smith, Jars of Clay, Point of Grace and Petra. His greatest success in the Christian contemporary market was when he brought his magic touch to the album, I’ll Lead You Home, for Michael W. Smith. It became one the most highly successful and acclaimed albums in the history of contemporary Christian music, winning the 1996 Grammy-Award for the Best Pop-Contemporary Gospel Album.
David Thoener— pictured here with his daughter, Austin, after a marathon recording session. Image-- courtesy of Mr. David Thoener.
Just two days after he arrived in Nashville in 1994, and before he had even unpacked his bags, he was asked to go to New York to work in Electric Lady Studios. From there, he traveled to both the Netherlands and to Germany to work again with Meat Loaf, and a few months later, made his way to California to work with Sammy Hagar and Eddie Van Halen. He continued engineering projects for— Bon Jovi, Bruce Springsteen, Cheap Trick, and John Cougar Mellencamp. It was a period of transition in his life, but in the studio he remained the same creative force that he had always been. This period in his career showcased him moving as an engineer into working musically in four different genres at one point in time. It would set the stage for perhaps the greatest work of his career. It is this work, with Aerosmith, Santana, Rob Thomas, Matchbox Twenty, and later, with the highly popular Latin music act, Jaguares, for which he would win three Grammy-Awards for engineering— a high point in his long and storied career. But, at this time, that point in his life was a step away and the difficulties of being an engineer were also beginning to take their toll at home.
David Thoener and his family and friends. Click the gallery to enlarge. Images-- courtesy of Mr. David Thoener.
Being an engineer in constant demand had taken a toll on his personal life by the mid-1990s. At that time, the profession involved constant travel, unless you could be partnered exclusively with a single producer and even this was not always able to guarantee an engineer a stable income or work environment. An engineer could be expected to work as much as ninety-hours per week and the work did not just demand a high-degree of creativity, but also the ability to work in an intense environment where perfection was the goal and had to be obtained time after time. It was not uncommon for him to work five or six months away from home on an album project. It took a toll on him personally and on his family, as well. Despite the long hours away from home and his family, he made every effort to forge a strong relationship with his daughter. He also tried to make the time with his wife and family count, as much as he possibly could. But, in 2001, while at the height of his acclaim as an engineer, he and his first wife divorced after twenty years of marriage. Happily, in 2010, he remarried. His wife, Tamera Thoener, had also worked in the music business at Soundstage Studios as both a manager and a producer. She has been highly supportive and understanding of the demands of his life and career and he has worked very hard to forge a better life for his family.
In 1998, David Thoener would engineer a song that has become a masterpiece for Aerosmith, one of the most iconic musical groups in the history of popular music, but his association with the band has been one that has lasted for more than four decades. The association between David Thoener and one of America’s most celebrated musical groups— Aerosmith, began in 1975 while he was an assistant engineer at the Record Plant in New York City. At that time, Aerosmith had already put out a self-titled album, Aerosmith, and had already had a cult classic hit single, “Dream On,” by 1973. By 1975, Aerosmith was about to put out their first commercially successful album that would chart their success as one of the first truly great rock groups of the era, Toys in the Attic. The album was produced by the legendary Jack Douglas and engineered by Jay Messina, and David Thoener was an assistant engineer on the ground-breaking project. It was his first opportunity to have an association with the band, and even early on he was able to make a connection with one of their members almost from the beginning, as both he and lead singer, Steven Tyler, had both grown-up in Yonkers, New York. From 1976-1991, David Thoener, would cement himself as one of the greatest engineers working in popular music, but Aerosmith during that period largely suffered through a period of both turmoil and a lack of solid commercial success. In 1987, the band released the album Permanent Vacation, which was their first commercially successful album in more than a decade and it began one of the most storied comebacks in the history of popular music. With the 1989 release of the album, Pump, the band had solidified its comeback, but it still lacked a chart-topping smash hit single. For their next album, Pandora’s Box, the band would rekindle their legendary association with David Thoener and would enjoy the commercial success that had proven so elusive for them.
David Thoener worked with Aerosmith on the album, Pandora's Box, in 1991. Image-- courtesy of Mr. David Thoener.
David and Tamera Thoener were married in a beautiful wedding ceremony in 2010. Image courtesy of Mr. David Thoener.
David and Tamera Thoener work together as a part of her twin healthcare ventures to save lives and to make their community a better place in which to live in Nashville, Tennessee.
This is a picture of Austin Thoener and a friend of the family-- Steven Tyler who is the lead singer for the iconic rock group, Aerosmith. Both David Thoener and Steven Tyler grew-up in Yonkers, New York.
David and Tamera Thoener were married in a beautiful wedding ceremony in 2010. Image courtesy of Mr. David Thoener.
David Thoener would mix one of the classic songs of all-time, “I Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing for Aerosmith in 1998. Image-- courtesy of Mr. David Thoener.
It was Pandora’s Box, released in 1991, that would be the first album to feature David Thoener in the role of a mixing engineer for Aerosmith. It was an album that was partly a collection of their earlier hits from the 1970s, but it also included new material. It was a commercial success, but it was the critical acclaim that sealed the album as one of the best released by the band during its successful run of hits from the late 1980s and into the mid-1990s. It led to another album release that contained a number of cult classic hits, Get a Grip, in 1993, in which he was able to make an early contribution. His work would appear on their next three albums: Big Ones (1994), Box of Fire (1994), and Pandora’s Toys (1995), each of which were, for the most part, greatest hits collections that featured a few new song releases. In 1997, David Thoener, would once again find himself working on another new Aerosmith album, Nine Lives, which was a new release for the band on a new label, Columbia Records. However, though the album sold well, it was just a precursor of what was soon to come. In 1998, I found myself working with David Thoener, just when he was on the verge of engineering one of the greatest songs to be recorded in the history of popular music for a generation. His engineering work served to give Aerosmith a classic, and their first and only chart-topping hit song that would be nominated both for a Grammy-Award and an Academy Award in 1998— “I Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing.”
In 1998, an old friend, John Kalodner of Geffen Records called upon David Thoener to work his magic with Aerosmith on a song that was going to be produced by Matt Serletic and would be a part of a new feature film soundtrack. The song, “I Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing,” was written by the incomparable Diane Warren, performed by Aerosmith, and engineered and mixed by David Thoener for the soundtrack of the feature film, Armageddon in 1998. As the mixing engineer for the song, David Thoener leaves every single viewer and listener with a masterpiece. From an engineering standpoint, the song both breaks new ground and is a return to the style in which David Thoener had made a reputation for himself with the great pop and rock ballads of the late 1980s— such as, “I Found Someone,” for Cher and or, “Can’t We Try,” for Dan Hill. “I Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing,” is without a doubt, a true masterpiece of engineering and has lessons that could be taught to the engineering community of today in how to achieve through the application of great engineering, a song that will have a reach with listeners for a long time to come. It is also worth noting that the collaboration between Aerosmith, and David Thoener did not come to an end in 1998. It continued into the new century. His friendship with John Kalodner also helped open-up another window of opportunity to work with a new set of artists who were produced by Matt Serletic— such as Santana, Matchbox Twenty and Willie Nelson. For David Thoener, another masterwork of engineering also lay just over the horizon, and this time, he would achieve both the critical acclaim and the accolades that he had truly long deserved for his work as a recording engineer.
In 1999, David Thoener began working on a project with Carlos Santana for an album that would be entitled, Supernatural. It would win critical acclaim for him, the artist, and those who collaborated on the project. It would garner a whopping ten Grammy nominations for the album and the songs that were on it and would win eight awards— and this also included a pair of awards for David Thoener, as an engineer, which would be the first two of his career total of three Grammy-Awards in 1999. The album Supernatural was produced by Matt Serletic, and featured collaborations between Santana and a number of other prominent artists— but, it was his collaboration on the lead and smash hit single, “Smooth,” with Rob Thomas of Matchbox Twenty that garnered him a number of Grammy-Awards and showcased perhaps some of the best work of the engineering prowess of David Thoener on the album. The song was tracked at Fantasy Studios in San Francisco, California, and the work on the project went quite quickly. According to an interview with David Thoener in 2001 with Mix Magazine, the project faced two challenges from the beginning: to create a recording environment that was comfortable for the performers and to step right into the process of working. It took five takes to achieve the basic tracks and less than a week to complete this masterpiece recording from start to finish. The crisp guitar sounds, lively percussion, and experimental vocal track were all organic recordings and the pure engineering work of David Thoener. The song would be the second-highest grossing song of all-time, behind only Chubby Checker’s classic hit from 1961,” The Twist.”
Pictured— David Thoener would win the first two of his three lifetime Grammy-Awards for his engineering work on the Santana album, Supernatural. Image-- courtesy of Mr. David Thoener.
Pictured— David Thoener would engineer the Santana album, Supernatural, one of the hottest selling albums of all-time. Image-- courtesy of Mr. David Thoener.
After the success of working on Supernatural, David Thoener continued his legendary work with Korn, Plumb, Sugarland and Jason Mraz which introduced his engineering to a new generation of listeners. But, it was his work with Matchbox Twenty which helped define the new fun-loving popular musical sounds of a new century. The Matchbox Twenty album, Mad Season, which was released in 2000, contained two hit songs— “If You’re Gone,” and “Bent,” which became a number-one smash hit single. The album would be nominated for a Grammy-award. Also in 2000, David Thoener would bring his engineering touch to another band, Wheatus, who would have a hit with the song, “Teenage Dirtbag,” from their self-titled debut album. The song was originally recorded in the basement of Brendan Brown, who was the lead guitarist and vocalist for the band. With its unique guitar sounds, and catchy lyrics, it was mixed by David Thoener at Soundstage Studios in Nashville and became an international sensation and a cult-hit that has been featured in a number of film soundtracks. In 2005, when Rob Thomas released a new solo album, Something to Be, David Thoener was once again behind the console for the project, which contained the hit single, “Lonely No More,” which would receive a Grammy-nomination in 2006 for the Best Male Pop Vocal Performance. He worked with Matchbox Twenty on their 2007 album entitled, Exile on Mainstream, which was both critically acclaimed and commercially successful. Throughout this period, David Thoener also continued to work with the acts that he had developed long-standing relationships with over the course of his career, such as Heart, Faith Hill, Santana, Brooks and Dunn, Cyndi Lauper, Bon Jovi, John Cougar Mellencamp, Cheap Trick, Meat Loaf, Willie Nelson, and of course, with Aerosmith. He remained an engineer in high-demand and even branched-out into doing live albums and events— with the legendary Bob Dylan, and being behind the console for the last two Woodstock events. And he also began a trend of working in foreign music and this time it was with a producer and an artist that he had forged a lasting connection— Japanese musical icon, Miyuki Nakajima, and her producer, Ichizo Seo— for whom he had worked on album projects for twenty-years, beginning in 1999 and culminating with her 2019 release, Contralto.
It was during this time that David Thoener began to work his magic as a recording studio engineer with a new set of clientele— foreign artists. His brilliance behind the console with the Latin musical act, Jaguares, landed him a third Grammy-Award for his engineering work on their album 45, in 2008. The music from the album would feature the same creative trademark sound for which he had been famous for more than three decades— his work was smooth, dynamic, and offered a punch to the drum, percussion, and electric guitar tracks. The album was well received by Latin music fans and critics alike, and it offered a window for him to continue to work with other popular international artists. One such international performer who would benefit from his magical touch from behind the console was Ricardo Arjona, one of the most successful Latin pop artists in the new century. He would make engineering contributions to the album 5to Piso, which contained a pair of hit singles that put the popular Latin star back in the limelight in 2008. But, in 2011, David Thoener, would be the mix engineer on the incredibly popular album Independiente which contained the smash hit singles, “El Amor,” and “Fuiste Tu,” both of which reached number-one in 2012 on the Latin Pop Songs chart. The two chart-topping singles marked the first time in the career of the legendary Latin artist that he had a pair of songs reach that high on the Latin Pop Songs chart from the same album. The song, “Fuiste Tu,” also was a sensational hit on the charts in Mexico, Columbia, and in Venezuala— where the song also rose into the number-one slot in both the Record Report 100 and Top Latino charts. For David Thoener, it would add another layer of accomplishment into his career, as he would become one of the very few American recording engineers to achieve a high level of success by engineering a number of hit songs on the international stage.
David Thoener is at home behind any console in any recording studio where great music is made. Image-- courtesy of Mr. David Thoener.
However, by this time, even the venerable David Thoener had begun the process of doing quite a bit of his work in the digital realm— using Pro-Tools, plug-ins, and even smaller recording studio facilities to do his engineering work. For him, it was exciting to be able to have plugins to be able to emulate the analog gear that he had loved so much to use throughout his career with precision. He continued his work into the new century with high-profile clients, while the recording industry made its slow devolution. But, he would also acknowledge that it has precipitously been accompanied by a slow decline in the music industry. People began to record at home. It led to a lot of the famous, large-scale studios closing their doors over the course of a decade. Music sharing online meant that record company profit margins declined— and this meant less investment in projects for artists, which also hammered the recording studio business and soon, even the engineers who worked in the process were feeling the crunch, too. While the way in which music was produced had changed, his ability to incorporate new technologies with the ones that he had used throughout his career never changed. If anything did change, it was the business. It was a floundering business. Music changed— no longer was there a country music, a blues music, or a jazz music, and the rock music that he had forged a reputation in as an engineer was long gone by this time— only to be replaced by pop music and hip-hop with only a smattering of highly successful female pop artists that one could count on a single hand; a number of highly successful hip hop artists and hundreds of one-hit wonders, with thousands more producing music that is heard by a market that grows smaller and more and more segmented by the moment. While it is way too early to write the obituary for popular music as a business, it has changed into something virtually unrecognizable for those of us who had worked in it prior to the digital revolution which occurred at the beginning of the new century. But, from 2007-2019, David Thoener, remained a highly-sought after engineer. For him, it was a matter of working with a new generation of clientele, while continuing to work with a steady stable of clientele from his past. Then, in the blink of an eye, everything changed for all of us.
David and Tamera Thoener work together to save lives today through her twin healthcare ventures in Nashville, Tennessee. Image-- courtesy of Mr. David Thoener.
Just after the completion of his work on the album, Contralto, in early 2019, with the Japanese pop icon, Miyuki Nakajima, the COVID-19 pandemic struck the globe and brought both the music recording industry and his more than 46-years of working as a recording studio engineer to a halt. It was a devastating time for so many people— around the world. But, through it all, he has remained the same— generous, devoted to his family, and a person of impeccable character who loves to reach out and help other people. While he continues to work on the occasional project and can be found on occasion teaching a course on recording at the academy that has been developed by Blackbird Recording Studios in Nashville, Tennessee, he continues to help other people throughout this time of great difficulty. His wife, Tamera Thoener, runs two healthcare businesses— the Nashville Health Pro Clinic, which is a primary care facility, and Hangover Healthcare, which is an outpatient care venture. While his larger-than-life heart remains in the music recording industry, throughout this time both he and his wife have been helping countless patients to be able to weather the storm that has been the coronavirus pandemic. He has also taken this moment to reflect on his life and career as a legendary recording studio engineer and the journeys that he has taken. Currently, he is working on a book about his life and career in the studio. He is a master storyteller. When it is published, I want to be the first in line to get a copy, so that I can read about his amazing work and the experiences that he has had in the music industry through a career that has changed the course of popular music for the better, for all of us, to be able to both listen to and enjoy.
Throughout his career, David Thoener has had a number of people who have assisted him and he has always been incredibly appreciative and thankful for all of their efforts. He has had two managers— first, Bob Buziak, and later, Frank McDonough, who he will tell you have played an important part in managing his business affairs and providing him with working opportunities with great producers and artists throughout his career. He also credits, an old friend, John Kalodner, for opening doors for him and providing him with some of the opportunities that he had to work with a number of great producers and artists— including, producer Matt Serletic, which led to his work with Aerosmith on the Armageddon soundtrack and later with Santana, Matchbox Twenty, Willie Nelson, and other artists, as well, throughout his career. He has always been very thankful for the producers, engineers, and also, each of the assistant engineers who have worked with him on album projects throughout his career. He is also incredibly thankful for the support that he has had from his wife Tamera, and his wonderful family, as well. If you have never met David Thoener in person— he is always quick to praise, enjoys teaching, constructive with his critiques, has a passion for bringing out the very best in those around him and at the end of the day, is always very appreciative that he had the opportunity to work with you.
— And, if you have had the opportunity to work with him during your career, you should consider yourself to have been very fortunate—
When I gently pushed the control room door open for Studio A at Seventeen Grand Recording Studios to see who was sitting at the Neve VR60 console, I knew that I would be meeting the legendary recording studio engineer, David Thoener, for the first time and that I was very fortunate to be able to have the opportunity to work with him. His work speaks for itself. The great music that he has engineered has touched our hearts and our souls, and it has given each of us moments of tremendous joy. His contribution to the art of music recording and engineering is immeasurable. He has both taught and inspired a generation of engineers, musicians, production personnel and educational professionals. For me, it has been both a privilege and an honor to be able to author this series of articles and in doing so— to honor both him and his outstanding work. He is truly the man behind the music that we have come to know and to love.
David Thoener works at Ocean Way Recording Studios of Nashville, Tennessee. Image-- courtesy of Mr. David Thoener.
Enjoy the Music from the Articles About the Life and Career of Legendary Recording Studio Engineer
With our Apple Music, Spotify or YouTube playlists, you can listen to the music from the groups and artists who were listed in the articles that have been written about the life and career of the legendary recording studio engineer, David Thoener. From 1973- to the present, he has engineered some of the greatest and most memorable songs in the history of popular music. This playlist features the songs that were discussed in the articles about his life and career as a legendary recording studio engineer and producer. On the Engineering Legend webpage, there is a much more extensive playlist on Apple Music, Spotify and YouTube that was composed by David Thoener himself for you to check-out and enjoy.
Click to Listen or Watch
Click to listen to the podcast episode about the life and career of David Thoener, our first legendary recording studio engineer in the spotlight on The Recording Session Vault educational website project. You can find our podcast episodes on Amazon Music, Apple Podcasts, Spotify or iHeart Radio.
Special Thanks and Acknowledgement
I would like to take a moment to thank Mr. David Thoener for his time, energy and immense contributions to the development of popular music over the course of his life and career. It is an honor to be able to take the time to honor him.