We’ll have to wait for recording engineer Susan Rogers’ book about working for Prince from 1983 to 1987.
Rogers engineered “ ‘Purple Rain,’ ‘Around the World in a Day,’ ‘Parade,’ ‘Sign o’ the Times,’ the ‘Black Album,’ all but one song,” she told me.
After working with her music idol and making lots of money as producer and engineer of a Barenaked Ladies album, Rogers decided to get a Ph.D. in music cognition. I talked via phone to the music production and engineering professor at Berklee College of Music in Boston. She teaches record production and analog tape recording and engineering, psychoacoustics and music cognition at Berklee. She just returned from Barcelona, Spain, where she gave a speech at the Sónar+D Festival on the “neurobiology of creativity.”
“If you include the visitors who come at night, roughly 125,000 show up, and they have 5,500 people like me who just come and speak, or deejays,” Rogers said. “I learned much more about techno music. It was really eye-opening. Exciting.”
No memoir is in sight. “Prince fans have asked me to write a book, but I’m busy with teaching — so maybe when I retire in another five or six years,” she said.
Until then, here’s part 1 from Rogers, whose calming demeanor and gift for simplifying information probably make her a good professor.
Q: How did you get from recording engineer to Ph.D.?
A: I was in the music business as a record producer and recording engineer and a mixer for 22 years and then I had a hit album in 1999 with Barenaked Ladies, and I left the business and went to college and earned my Ph.D.
Q: Barenaked Ladies. I only know one song by them, from CBS’ “Big Bang Theory.”
A: [She gave me a pity laugh] Yeah. They were huge in the ’90s and produced their biggest album in the States, the “Stunt” album; 1998 was the year that was released.
Q: So you made so much money from the “Stunt’ album that you were able to pursue your true passion or your other passion, academia?
A: My other passion. I started in the music business in 1978. You can’t be a woman succeeding in a male-dominated profession, [laugh] profoundly male dominated, unless you have a passion for it, so yeah, I’ve been a successful record maker for a long time and I loved it tremendously. Once I was in my 40s, I had achieved everything I ever wanted — including working with my favorite artist in the world, Prince. I left the music business and thought I would enjoy the career of a scientist and it’s been pretty great.
Q: When you worked with all those guys, did they appreciate what an intellect you were?
A: Oh, I’ve got to tell you, C.J., they’re all intellects. Really they are.
Q: What was your background that got you to being a music engineer?
A: I’ve loved music and records my whole life. I wanted to be where records were made. I grew up in Southern California, close to Hollywood. On my own, I studied audio electronics, acoustics and things like that, so I could get a position as an audio maintenance engineer, the person who repairs the equipment. I was a huge Prince fan. He was funky. He reminded me of my favorite artists, James Brown and Sly Stone and Al Green a little bit, too, and of course, Stevie Wonder, who is practically his own category. In 1983, I heard through the professional grapevine that Prince was looking for a technician, he had just come off the “1999 Tour” and was getting ready to do “Purple Rain.” I got that job. I said to the grapevine: Their search is over, that’s my job. I was made for that job. He hired me and he liked me. By the time I left and came back to L.A. in 1988, I was an experienced engineer.
Q: Do you remember your interview with Prince?
A: Oh, I would if it [had] happened. I was interviewed by his management. Prince had just finished recording the August 3, 1983, First Avenue show, the show that became the [foundation] for “I Would Die for You,” “Baby I’m a Star,” “Purple Rain.” I worked with him finishing all that stuff up and recording “Let’s Go Crazy,” in order to finish up the “Purple Rain” album, do the movie and do the tour. Onward from there.
C.J. can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and seen on Fox 9’s “Buzz.”