September 01, 2004

Mike Mangini - Great Expectations

By Paul Zollo

As expected, Grammy Award-winning songwriter/producer/engineer Mike Mangini creates great music with artists such as Joss Stone, David Byrne and Bruce Hornsby.

Mike Mangini

Mike Mangini

Mike Mangini is at the Hit Factory studio today in New York City, mixing tracks for the first DVD by Joss Stone. Mangini co-produced Stone's multi-platinum EP The Soul Sessions, and co-wrote many songs with her and produced her first LP, Mind Body & Soul, which debuted at #1 on the UK charts.

But Stone is only one of a diverse array of artists with whom Mike Mangini has collaborated, either as a songwriter, producer, mixer or engineer. He's also worked with Run DMC, Brand Nubian, Digable Planets, The Corrs, the Baha Men, Bruce Hornsby, David Byrne, and others.

Born and raised in Baltimore, his first aim was to be a rock star, as he told us during a recent interview conducted during a studio break. He wrote songs, sang, and played guitar in a series of bands. Moving to L.A. with his band, he recorded at different studios, where he found his calling. "I found the process of recording really exciting," he said. "My band broke up, so I stayed in L.A. and hung out at a variety of studios, where I would do anything for recording experience."

In 1990 he headed to New York, and landed a job as an assistant at Chun King Studios, which was a booming nucleus for new hip-hop music. It didn't take long for him to become established there. "Soon I was engineering," he said, "and I was programming, playing on sessions, mixing stuff, writing with people, and it all evolved from there."

While engineering and programming, he kept up his songwriting, eventually signing as a songwriter with Famous Music . "Even when I was working on other people's projects, I always continued to work on my own tracks and my own songs.

In 1993, Mangini opened a little studio in North Bergen, New Jersey, where he made the first record for Digable Planets, featuring the first jazz/pop/hip-hop single, "Cool Like Dat." Asked where the direction for the sound and style of the single originated, he said, "[Digable Planets] had a unique rapping style that was different than anything else going on. At the time, aggressive rap music was popular, such as Public Enemy. And we tried, at first, to do what everybody else was doing -- very edgy, hard rap stuff. But because of their style, the stuff didn't sit right. Then we started experimenting with jazz music, and discovered something unique. That was how we developed the sound. When we hit on the whole jazz/hip-hop thing, we felt it was different and cool. And people really dug it." Mangini was awarded with a Grammy for producer of the album.

It was his friend Steve Greenberg who introduced him to the Baha Men, playing Mike an early demo of "Who Let The Dogs Out." It didn't immediately appeal to him, but Greenberg convinced him that with a contemporary sounding track, it could be a hit. Though Mangini was in the midst of producing David Byrne's album, Look Into the Eyeball, he trusted Greenberg's instincts and created a track for the Baha Men. "I made the record in my apartment and mixed it - all before the Baha Men were even signed to a record company." The single became a colossal hit, selling millions of records worldwide. It earned Mangini his second Grammy as producer.

It was also Steve Greenberg who introduced Mangini to Joss Stone, as Mike recalls: "He called me and said that he heard the most amazing thing, a girl who is 14 years old who sounds like she is channeling Aretha Franklin. I didn't believe it, but I went over to his office and saw a videotape of her, and I just couldn't believe that that voice was coming out of that person. A few weeks later she came to New York, and she stood right in front of Steve and I and belted out a song. And I was blown away." Mangini produced her first EP, The Soul Sessions, and went on to co-write songs and produce her debut LP, Mind Body & Soul. "She's an astounding singer," he said.

Mangini sees a prevailing link between the divergent multitude of musicians with whom he's worked: "When you work with people who are amazing at what they do, it's not about the egos, it's about the music. Whether it's Bruce Hornsby or David Byrne or Joss Stone," he said, "they all have one thing in common. And that is that they are so good at what they do that they're up for whatever challenge you put in front of them. They demand greatness out of themselves, and as a producer and a writer, it brings me up to the next level too."