Doug Fenske

By Dani Felt (May 1, 2017)

1.When did you realise that music was for you? Can you recall a point in your youth when you thought, ‘That’s what I want from life’?

When I was playing alto sax in the 7th grade school band, I went over to a bandmate’s house to play some music.  His brother had a keyboard in the basement, and we started experimenting with some sounds and drums. I watched him record a kick pattern and I thought to myself “Eh, not that big of a deal”.  Then I watched him overdub a hi hat, and my mind was blown. This was my first experience with multi-track recording, and it was an epiphany. I thought it was the coolest thing I’d ever seen or heard.  By the time I was 17, I decided I wanted a career in record production.

2.Did learning to play the saxophone at a young age inspire your career in the music industry? What drew you towards that particular instrument?

Learning to play the sax at a young age was the foundation of my musical career.  I was initially drawn to the sax from seeing it on TV and hearing it on old swing records on the oldies station.  My cousin had an old sax laying around in his attic, and he gave it to me the summer before my 5th grade school year.  Through the first few months of learning how to play, I was frustrated. I was having a hard time coordinating my breathing, embouchure, fingerings, notes, and rhythms.  This is a lot for any 10 year old to coordinate, and I was considering quitting the band and the sax. My mom wouldn’t let me quit mid year, and said I had to stick it out for the rest of the semester.  She said it would be OK with her if I didn’t want to join again next year. Then, out of nowhere, everything clicked. By the end of the year I was first chair and completely obsessed with all things music.

3.What swung the decision for you to become more hands on in a production role? Did you plan for things to be that way?

There wasn’t really a specific moment where I wanted to cross over into a hands on production role.  I knew always wanted to write and record, and I found a career that allows me to do so. However, it has taken years for me to sharpen my decision-making to a professional level.  In my opinion, being a record producer is all about knowing how to make decisions. If you don’t have the proper knowledge AND experience, your decision making will suffer. If your decision making suffers, so will your records.  Great producers know how to make musical “moments” in songs, and sharp, quick decision making creates those moments.

4.Who has had the most influence on your career?

There are plenty of people who have had a musical influence on my career, but the people who taught me how to be a professional are the management team at Westlake Recording Studios.  Steve Burdick, Al Machera, and Sara Clark are the ones who took me from intern to engineer, and guided my early career. I still have regular contact with all of them, and I’m very appreciative of the time they invested in me.    

5.Looking back and seeing what you have achieved in your career must make you feel very humble. How proud are you of what you have achieved?

I’m proud of where I came from, unsatisfied with where I’m at, and optimistic about where I’m going.  Always push yourself.

6.How do you think you’ve developed as an industry professional over the years? What is the key to success for you?

In order to be a successful industry professional, you have to have the business and administration part of your operation running as smoothly.  Things like following up on invoices, calling clients to see what they need this week, and paying taxes on time go a long way in making your business function on the highest level possible.

7.Do you feel grateful for the successful advice you’re been given in your career, or would you put success down your individual motivation?

Both.  It’s great to have industry veterans give you insightful advice, but that advice means nothing if you don’t apply it to yourself and your current position.  Take the advice, figure out how it applies to your situation, and have to drive to make things happen for yourself.

8.How can others go forth and live their dreams in music and production like you have? Do you have any tips you’re willing to share?

Quincy Jones said that you have to have at least one core skill in order to be a record producer.  Being a musician, songwriter, or engineer is a great place to start. Fortunately I have a strong background in engineering and musicianship, so the transition has been pretty easy.  I would advise the people who want to be in the back end of music to practice one or two of these core skills, and to go to school! There are tons of recording schools across the country, and the interns with formal education almost always get further than the ones who don’t.