Dave Fridmann - Music Producer

Due to my interest in the sound of 1998 album “Eleventh Avenue” by Australian ‘90’s band Ammonia. I decided to investigate the career, life and techniques of Music Producer and Engineer Dave Fridmann. This album contained many techniques essential for the budding producer/engineer. I was immediately drawn to Dave’s use of panning, the range of contrast in the recording and was in wonder of how he achieved such a massive ambient sound. Upon investigation it was apparent that many of the techniques used in this recording had been honed for more than a decade with bands like Mercury Rev and The Flaming Lips.

Dave was born in 1968 and grew up in Williamsville. (A suburb of Buffalo, New York) He recalls the period when sound began to fascinate him.

“I'm not sure if it is the sound so much as it is the emotional impact that is attached to it. I remember being around 10 and having my own radio. Sometimes I would just burst into tears while listening. I would also listen until late at night. There was a station that played "Headphones Only" entire albums from midnight to 6AM and I would lay there with my headphones "seeing" the music.”[1].

While at junior high Dave heard of a new engineering program at the nearby University of New Yorks (SUNY) Fredonia campus, through his music teacher who had attended the University. Fredonia is a town between Buffalo and Erie near Lake Erie, New York State. At SUNY at Fredonia, Dave studied the engineering course where he now teaches as part of the four year Bachelor of Science in Music with an emphasis on sound recording technology program. This program also teaches piano and voice classes so it is no surprise Dave writes, plays bass/guitar/keyboards, programs and arranges. Dave started producing Mercury Rev as a student in this same recording program after meeting Revs’ Jon Donahue and quickly became their bass guitarist. It has been his philosophy to “fill the gaps” [2] when helping a band realize their vision. If this means collaboration, it’s something he’s ready for.

Engineering/Mix/Mastering (EMM) his first release in 1989 and the following year he Co-produced EMM, The Flaming Lips album “In a Priest Ambulance” that was widely acclaimed. He was a touring member of Mercury Rev until 1993 when he re evaluated what was important for him.

“I wanted a family, I wanted to work with other groups, I wanted to a lot of other things that weren’t being in a band. Now it’s really good, because when we do get together I can just concentrate on them when they (Mercury Rev) come in."[3]

In late 1997 Dave set up his studio Tarbox Studios on Tarbox Rd. Cassadaga with partners Greg Snow, Andrea Wasiura and his wife Mary [4]. Cassadaga is 10 miles from Daves’ home in Fredonia. Daves’ main partner in the studio is Greg Snow is also the electronics expert at SUNY at Fredonia [5]:

"I’m incredibly lucky with the gear that’s up there. My partner Greg Snow takes great care of everything, so that everything always works all the time.” [3]

It’s this sort of stability that his studio creates for artists. Bands live at the studio whilst recording and often come down to record in their pyjamas as they would at home. No city distractions at Cassadaga, although Dave tries to squeeze in a quick trip to nearby Niagara Falls for visiting bands if time allows.

Producers Fridmann admires are John McLaughlin for Miles Davis’ In a Silent Way, Tchad Blake, Jon Brion, Nigel Godrich, Bryce Goggin, Jim O’Rourke, Brian Paulson [4], Rivers Cuomo, Mark Linkous (Sparklehorse), Teo Maceo and good buddies Jon Donahue (Mercury Rev) and Wayne Coyne (The Flaming Lips).[6]

Dave continues to be very busy with a steadily growing discography. A small list bands he’s worked with are The Delgados, Regular Fries, Elf Power, Number Girl, Grand Mal, Mogwai, Ammonia, Jane's Addiction, Bass Piggy, Weezer, Wallmen, Luna, Ed Harcourt, Gemma Hayes, Sparklehorse, Bodega, Cotton Mather, Cafe Tacuba, The Dissociatives, Modest Mouse, Sleater-Kinney, Brazil, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Mercury Rev and The Flaming Lips.
Most of these bands are repeat customers with Mercury Rev and The Flaming Lips using his services consistently for nearly two decades.

Fridmanns’ top three microphones are the tube based Neumann U47 (pictured), the RCA 44 ribbon microphone and the Shure SM57 “workhorse”. [4] When at his studio he uses an Otari Concept Elite mixer with automation and 40 channels of dynamics, his favourite reverb is AKG BX20 spring reverb.[3] He combines his Otari 24-track analogue reel-to-reel, an Otari RADAR hard disk multitrack, a Pro Tools system, and an Alesis ADAT digital 8-track tape recorder, constantly working with all formats. I describe “Daves sound” as powerful and spacious, regularly containing mini symphonies. He has a philosophy “to fill up tracks”, that “everything is ON all of the time” [4] and “why talk about it when we can just do it and see” [3].

Dave blows my mind with how busy he is creating the product. Some producers may record and mix a band largely how they sound, stereo the guitars and add some reverb but Daves sound is always on the move:
- Panning from left to right with an electro noise before a contrasting build up.
- Dry sounding snare for two bars then slight decay industrial sound for two bars.
- Guitars bouncing left, right, centre, stereo, dry, wet with the song.
- Ping Pong effect, use of Contrast, orchestral programming, loops, electronic sounds

I believe he is making a valuable contribution to the field of sound technology.

His experimental attitude and “can do” approach evident with his selection of projects (see Zaireeka by The Flaming Lips). There is large number of alternative bands seeking his involvement not only as a Producer/Engineer but as a collaborator.

Passionate and experimental with a very high technical ability Dave is well deserving of the accolades he has received including three Grammy Awards, many Grammy nominations, Mercury awards and MOJO magazine: one of the top 100 sonic visionaries of all time. He is an inspiration for someone such as me who likes living in Adelaide, South Australia, but wishes to work globally.

Dave Fridmann : Discography
[1] Dolomite.Net interview, David Fridmann: Like Standing under a Waterfall by Charles Austin, December 1, 1998.
[2] Pop Culture Press interview, DAVE FRIDMANN: COUNTRY LIFE-from Mercury Rev to Mogwai, magical things happen in the little house on Tarbox Road! By Caliban Jones, winter 2001.
[3] Sound on Sound article, DAVE FRIDMANN. PRODUCING FLAMING LIPS & MERCURY REV by Sam Inglis
[4] Tape OP – The Creative Music Recording Magazine.No.17 May/June 2000. Article: Dave Fridmann by Roman Sokal with Photos by Mary Fridmann.
[5] SUNY Sound Technology Webpage – Faculty and Administration
[6] Interview for Barcelona “Go” Magazine, Feb 2001.


Alyssa said...

I really enjoyed your presentation! I think you used your 10 minutes productively and your online blog was great too, with the extra info like the microphones! The pictures were great too! Great job!

beto said...

very cool article,


I am a fan of sound someday a i want to be great like Dave Fridmann

My music

DigMeOut said...

Check out a podcast review of Ammonia's Dave Fridmann produced album Eleventh Avenue on Dig Me Out @ digmeoutpodcast.com, a weekly podcast dedicated to reviewing the lost and forgotten rock of the 90s.