To Catch a Shooting Star

Dwayne Fulton red tie

Guided by his faith and heart first and then his ears, producer/musician Dwayne Fulton knows the ins and outs of attracting talent. He has a strong interest in gospel music and is hands-on involved with his church in Pittsburgh.

A focus that sometimes finds him in the wee hours of the morning working on a musical phrase or new idea for an artist he’s working with, Dwayne is convinced that the scene in P’burgh is on the rise.

When did you become interested in music?

I’ve been playing and doodling with music since about eight years of age. My father taught me Chopsticks on an old piano we had.  I then noticed I was able to pick out melodies of songs by ear. It took off from there. My parents identified the musical talents and enrolled me in creative and performing arts schools from middle school through high school and I never looked back.

When did you start producing?

I started my producing journey in high school.

The ability to take various pieces of a puzzle, fit them together and create this magnificent work of art called music, called a song, is a fascinating process! Also, producing allows you to work alone so you don’t have to deal with multiple personalities and egos that are strong in this business. LOL 

Do you perform now?

Yes, in various venues from gospel concerts in churches, opera houses and symphony halls, dance halls and clubs, small pubs and restaurants and private parties; and I’ve been invited to share the stage with a few iconic singers like Stevie Wonder, Barry Magnificent, Michael Magnificent, Kirk Franklin and the late Grover Washington, Jr. 

I currently belong to a local band called The Brydge which is working on their second project. I also play with many other artists and musicians in the area and abroad. Most of my work now is in the studio, teaching, composing and consulting.

Are you primarily a pianist or vocalist?

I am primarily a pianist and musical director for the band. Every now and again I’ll do a little background vocals or lead a song or two. 

What is the jazz/R&B/soul scene like in Pittsburgh?

It’s rapidly picking up nicely. There was a time where Pittsburgh was a major hub for jazz musicians especially in the Historic Hill District. In the early 2000’s live music seemed to have died off here and gigs were hard to come by. 

Live music is thriving once again. It hasn’t caught up with cities like New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta, and Washington D.C., but we’re getting there.

Is the music scene there supportive of the indie artist?

Not as supportive as I would like, but again, we are steadily improving. It appears that the music scene is more willing to support live popular Top 40 music sets versus original material from local artists. 

If you play an original in your set, it better be HOT or you can very well lose the crowd if they’re not feeling it. That might be the case all over the U.S. You’ve got to be able to identify and engage your audience to really be successful and build a following.

How do you discover new talent?

I like to go to obscure places on off nights to see the up-and-coming artists. I sniff out potential and the ones that are skipped over because they don’t have the look or fit the profile but are gifted and just need some guidance and some training. I am called to such people like this. I also get many calls and recommendations. 

Do you have expertise in recording equipment?

Currently I record using HD Pro Tools, and when I’m putting ideas down I use Logic systems. I’m pretty proficient in navigating through both operating systems. As you know, technology is very progressive and constantly evolving. When I master one piece of the latest toy it’s already outdated.  It’s hard to keep up.

What kinds of tips do you give your clients to improve the sound, the quality and the mood of a recording?

Tone, style and passion is something I’m always stressing with artists. I often tell them, “You have to paint the picture with your voice/instrument.” It’s the art of bringing the listener into your space, your world. 

Many artists focus on being flawless and perfect. Such recordings and performances like that to me are very sterile and packaged too pretty. 

A great song has to suffer with some pain, it’s dirty and often bloody. It’s like searching for diamonds which is a tough job. Bono said he knows when a recording is finished not necessarily when it sounds good but when it feels good.

How long is it from recording the final session to producing a CD?

The process it takes from recording to the final product varies from the time the artist has to work, the availability of the studio, the musicians, and the zone or sweet spot to create that mental space. I’ve worked on projects for over a year and as soon as four months.

Do you use local studios? How do you decide which to use?

I use many local musicians and I choose artists based on vocal quality and style to fit the particular song(s).

Do you usually work with single artists or groups?

I mostly work with solo acts and hire out musicians for gigs and recording sessions.

What is the biggest challenge in your line of work?

Most good music comes from inspiration. When there is a deadline to finish a project and inspiration and creativity are not present, it becomes pretty aggravating. Or when that inspiration comes at 3 a.m. and you have to get out of bed to put it down because it may escape you when you get up at normal hours.  The other hurdle is working with very talented people with bad attitudes and unattractive personalities.

How does a producer get paid and by whom? Is it only when the CD is complete?

Depending on the person, the company, and the budget, no one deal is the same. With local artists, I typically charge a flat fee with copyright credits; with more established artists I charge them per song and how involved I am on the track. We negotiate percentage points for royalties.

What would be a typical day for you?

A typical day as a producer may be once the song is recorded. I start the enhancement process, which consists of finding the right plug-ins and effects, equalizing each track and then starting to mix the entire song. I try to dedicate four-hour increments. I also look at my weekly schedule and try to carve out the time for each project especially if I have deadlines.

 What kind of music do you compose?

I am the Minister of Music for a mega-church in the city of Pittsburgh called Mt. Ararat Baptist Church under the leadership of Pastor Dr. William H. Curtis. So of course, gospel music of all styles is a major part of my compositions and music arrangements.

However, R&B, pop, jazz, show tunes, classical, rock and even country are music genres and arenas that I’ve had the privilege of composing and playing in. 

I most recently composed a full score for The Pittsburgh Festival Opera called “A Gathering of Sons” that toured in Pittsburgh in July 2017 and soon to be released on PBS in the very near future. I often have to remind people that I’m not a gospel artist but a musician/producer who is a Christian.

Do you write lyrics too?

I am a complete songwriter, music arranger, lyricist and music producer. I just celebrated my 50th birthday in July and I am finishing up my own project called “50 Ways” hopefully to be released early next year (2018).

Do you have music theory training?

I don’t teach music theory professionally any longer, but I strongly stress to the artists that I work with who don’t have a basic understanding of it to take music theory class. It will open up a whole new world to the music game and their artistry.

Who are your musical idols?

My all-time favorite is Prince…hands down!  Michael Jackson, John P. Kee, Fred Hammond, Kirk Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Chic Corea, Elton John, Jill Scott, The Time, Diana Ross and George Clinton to name a few.

Do you think smooth jazz and soul and R&B overlap with each other?

Most definitely. All those elements of jazz, soul and R&B make up the sound of what we call smooth jazz.

How does a producer grow his or her roster?

Many producers chase the game or the next hot artist. My approach is not to chase it but to attract it.  If you chase it, it runs and avoids you but if you attract it, it comes to you. Even though I’m not this major producer, in my little small world, it’s worked out pretty well for me so far.

What is your vision for your business- to grow it, develop new artists, etc.?

I want to write for and produce a major act one day. I’m currently working on opening up my own sound stage club where live music, local artists and mainstream artists can come and perform.  A modern-day Cotton Club, so to speak. Artist development is a part of my calling so that aspect will be ongoing.

What do you wish you had access to that is not easy to find in your market (specific equipment, or personnel, etc.)?

I believe in many cases, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know! So to be introduced to major players in the field that would give me a chance to get to the next level is next for me.

Any other comments about the industry or your goals?

Thank you for allowing me to share my world of music all the way from the City Of Champions, Pittsburgh.

Photos courtesy of and with permission of the artist.

(c) Debbie Burke 2017

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