A Legacy Behind the Console
David Thoener working on an SSL console in a recording studio facility. Image courtesy-- Mr. David Thoener.
David Thoener working at Dick Charles Recording Studio in New York City in the summer of 1973. Image courtesy-- Mr. David Thoener.
In 1973, when David Thoener first walked into a recording studio environment, it was such a different world than it is today. Digital audio workstations dominate the music recording landscape of today and much of the music that we are able to listen to and purchase online is being created in home recording studio environments. If a large-scale A-list recording session is done in a major recording studio facility today, there are digital audio workstations, based around powerful computing systems that can record forty-eight tracks or more with ease at incredibly high sampling rates. A drum kit in a recording session today may have sixteen microphones (or more) placed on it. But, in 1973, many of the major recording facilities around the world were still using sixteen-track analog recording machines, because twenty-four track machines which would become a standard format until the late 1990s had just been introduced a year earlier. Engineers not only had to record music, many of them also developed pieces of outboard gear and even constructed consoles for the studios in which they were working until about 1973, when Trident, Neve, Helios, API and a few early companies began manufacturing consoles for sale and not just as custom-built models for recording studio facilities. Personal computers did not yet exist, in fact, a computing system was about the size of an average control room just by itself in 1973. In 1973, it was not uncommon for the great engineers of the period to place just three microphones on a drum kit. It is in this recording studio environment in which David Thoener came of age as a young engineer.
David Thoener learned from the masters who had worked in the Golden Age of Music from 1960-1975. His early mentors included Roy Cicala, Shelly Yakus, and Jack Douglas— who are all pioneering engineers that had recorded such legends as Elvis Presley, John Lennon, Jimi Hendrix, Aretha Franklin, Elton John, Frank Sinatra, Miles Davis, Alice Cooper, David Bowie, The Band, Queen, and The Who— and many other great acts from the Golden Age of Music. In the recording studio environment of today, young engineers are missing major components of their education— mentorship, working as house assistants in large-scale facilities, and or, working on a production staff where a young assistant engineer would be exposed to working with a number of great engineers, which were excellent learning opportunities which do not readily exist in the recording studio business landscape of today. While there are far more opportunities to be able to attend a recording school per se, the opportunity to learn on the job is lacking— and, for engineers like David Thoener, it is how they were able to start the process of learning, which allowed them to be able to both critically listen and grow on the job. But, an equally important component of this process is also lacking. As recording studio facilities close and give way to home-based facilities, it takes away from the opportunity to learn your craft from the perspectives of a variety of great engineering minds. Though it was much more difficult to get your foot in the door to find a job at a facility and you had to work your way up the ladder of success just to get to even stand by the tape machine (much less sit behind the console) there is something to be said about the process that gave us the gift of a David Thoener, as a recording studio engineer.
David Thoener visits with David Johansen of the New York Dolls at the console at The Record Plant in 1978. Image courtesy-- Mr. David Thoener.
David Thoener went on the road with the J. Geils Band on the Frampton Comes Alive Tour in 1977. He learned quite a bit from his experience as a live sound engineer. Image courtesy-- Mr. David Thoener.
David Thoener has engineered a number of live albums and worked with other great engineers. He is pictured here working with fellow legendary engineers: David Hewitt, Elliot Scheiner, and Ed Cherney. Image courtesy-- Mr. David Thoener.
David Thoener is among those legendary master engineers who have come to us from the twilight of the Golden Age of Music. He has given us the gift of all of the techniques that he had learned at the Record Plant while working and listening to master engineers who had recorded the music that he had grown-up enjoying as a young man and that inspired him to step into the field of music recording. He learned by doing, and his work with the J. Geils Band was both pioneering and also, a step into giving us the sounds of the 1980s. He even challenged himself to go out on the road and to engineer their shows live, which in today’s world of only working in a safe home recording studio environment would be absolutely unthinkable. He learned from legendary producers such as Robert “Mutt” Lange, and he took those lessons and improved upon them in his own work. In today’s recording studio world there are engineers who only work in hip hop, for example, and will never see a jazz, or a classical recording session in their home studio. He was mentored by engineers who had recorded Jimi Hendrix, Frank Sinatra, and David Bowie— you would be hard-pressed to find an engineer who works in today’s landscape being able to work with such a diverse range of clientele, in terms of their music, style, substance and personality. And yet, David Thoener, throughout his career has done all the same, working with such diverse clients as Aerosmith, Willie Nelson, Santana, Miyuki Nakajima and Michael W. Smith— all of whom are critically acclaimed and commercially successful artists in different genres of popular music. He is among the last of the great masters of the recording studio landscape and his impact upon the evolution of popular music from 1976 to the present is only a very small part of his incredible legacy as a recording studio engineer.
The legacy of David Thoener reaches deep beyond the console. It extends from the songs that he has engineered that have both become hits and impacted our lives; the pioneering sounds in the studio that were created both during his formative years and throughout his career; and certainly it comes from the three Grammy-Awards that he has been awarded. If it can be said that a band or an artist or performer has a definitive sound, then it is a recording studio engineer who is truly an important component of the process of creating it. While producers certainly play a critical role in this process, ultimately it is the sound of what an engineer has created with what musicians and performers have given him or her that is what the listeners of popular music will hear and come back to listen to, time and time again. If this is the case, then the legacy of David Thoener can certainly be found in the great music that he has engineered that has had a lasting impact.
I would make the argument that the work of David Thoener as an engineer was instrumental in giving us the sound of the 1980s in both pop and rock music with his formative and even pioneering work with both the J. Geils Band and AC/DC. I think that it would be fair to argue that David Thoener was one of the truly great engineers whose work has had an impact on both the critical and popular success of Aerosmith, one of the most iconic bands in the history of popular music. In fact, the band’s only number-one hit song, “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing,” came from their work with producer Matt Serletic, and it was mixed by David Thoener for the soundtrack of the popular feature film, Armageddon, in 1998. In the beginning of their rise to fame as a band with their first major album success, Toys in the Attic, it was produced by the legendary Jack Douglass and engineered by Jay Messina— who would come to define the sound of the group, and David Thoener began his association with the band at that time, as an assistant engineer on this ground-breaking project in 1975. He would be one of the cadre of legendary engineers who would work on a number of their projects beginning with the release of Pandora’s Box in 1991, and since that time has continued to work with the band on a number of albums that have been both critically acclaimed and commercially successful. As I have argued in this essay, his work has also resurrected careers— Cher and Santana, come to mind. From the late 1980s and into the early years of this century, if there was a powerful love ballad playing on your radio, there was a great chance that it was David Thoener, who had engineered it. His work has been rewarded with three Grammy-Awards, and he has the deep respect and admiration of his peers. But, I would argue that there is another important component of his great legacy, that to borrow a catch-phrase, that goes beyond the music.
Pictured here at the 2000 Grammy-Awards, David Thoener, has been nominated for three Grammy-Awards and has won each time that he has been nominated. He is deeply respected by the artists, producers, and production personnel who have had the pleasure of working him throughout his career. Image courtesy-- Mr. David Thoener.
The legacy of David Thoener does go beyond the music. In order to be a highly successful engineer you not only have to possess a track record of hits in different genres of music, have pioneered successful and original sounds, have won critical and commercial acclaim for your work and have the respect of your peers over the breadth and depth of a long and successful career, you also, have to be a person that others want to work with time and time again, because of the way in which you have treated them throughout your career. I saw this whenever I had the opportunity to work with him. His leadership, character and spirit are that of a person who inspires those who work with him in the recording studio environment to give their very best performance. He is generous with his time, always willing to teach, and throughout his career has made it a point to bring out the very best in each person— whether they be a session musician, artist, producer, or even an assistant engineer— who has the opportunity to work with him. He was always willing to listen, to learn, and to improve upon his work. These are qualities that we associate with a great student, but also with people who are highly successful and truly the greatest leaders in any field of endeavor, in that, they never stop the process of learning. He realized from an early age that the music business was about forging lasting relationships, and not just about having the ability to engineer great sounding music in a recording studio. He made the phenomenal work in the recording studio seem so effortless, that it seemed to be second-nature to him. But, he also excelled in making the people around him better— better at what they were trying to accomplish while working with him and too, better for having worked with him. Ask anyone who works in the music business who has worked with him and they will give you the following three observations— he is an amazing engineer, he is great to work with in the studio, and he is a great person to have the opportunity to get to know. In today's world-- it is becoming increasingly rare for us to be able to say that a person was brilliant at what they were able to do for a living, but, also, that they were a wonderful person of both genuine integrity and character, too, while doing their work.
Enjoy the Music from the Articles About the Life and Career of Legendary Recording Studio Engineer
With either the Apple Music, the Spotify or the YouTube playlist, 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, David Thoener, has engineered some of the greatest and most memorable songs in the history of popular music. Each of these very special playlists feature an extensive collection of songs that he has chosen for you to enjoy.
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A Gallery of Gold and Platinum Albums
David Thoener is an engineering legend whose work has resulted in both gold and platinum albums for a number of artists. The photographic collection featured below has images of a selection of some of the albums that he has worked on that have been highly successful. This is by no means an exhaustive list of all of the highly successful albums that he has worked on during his legendary career in engineering, but it does represent a small sample of his work. The collection includes the following gold and platinum albums from his legendary career presented to you in the photo gallery below:
Freezeframe-- The J. Geils Band
Emotions in Motion-- Billy Squire
Uh-Huh-- John Cougar Mellencamp
Smashes, Thrashes and Hits-- KISS
No Brakes-- John Waite
Farenheit 7800-- Bon Jovi
Pandora's Box-- Aerosmith
Get a Grip-- Aerosmith
Big Ones-- Aerosmith
I'll Lead You Home-- Michael W. Smith
Bat Out of Hell II-- Meat Loaf
River of Dreams-- Billy Joel
Live- 30th Anniversary-- Bob Dylan
The Armageddon Soundtrack-- Aerosmith
(All of the photographs in the collection appear through the courtesy of Mr. David Thoener.)