Boston-based Berklee College of Music launched its online master’s degree program with a video illustrating Professor Susan Rogers’ work as Prince’s recording engineer.
The Berklee Online video series for the master’s program — applications for the fall are now being accepted, noted a PR guy — highlights teachers’ stories. The message: Students will be taught by teachers who have worked with legendary artists. The first video features Prince (http://bit.ly/2Njk0eS). The second focuses on hip-hop, specifically the Notorious BIG, followed by videos about Lou Reed and the Civil Rights anthem “We Shall Overcome.”
Prince’s recording engineer from 1983 to 1987, Rogers got a Ph.D. when she left the music world, and is now a professor of music production and engineering at Berklee. Rogers credits Prince with helping her make the transition from technician to the engineering chair. She engineered “Purple Rain,” “Around the World in a Day,” “Parade,” “Sign o’ the Times,” and all but one song on the “Black Album.” This is Part 2 of our conversation.
Q: Among your perks when you worked at Paisley Park was a car?
A: We agreed that I would get a car. Not a car to own, but that they’d provide me a company car. That was a big deal.
Q: What if Prince wasn’t happy with your work? How would you know?
A: [Long laugh] Oh my gosh. He’d let you know. It’s well known by anybody who knows anything about him — he was a man of few words. My job was to make sure current was flowing in those wires as long as he was making music. And he needed to make music as fast as possible. He was so prolific a writer and so exceptionally, extraordinarily, once-in-a-life-time gifted on so many different instruments, that he could move from instrument to instrument much faster than any other average artist. That meant there could be no technical issues, and if there were, they had to be fixed right away. That was one of the reasons he wanted a technician working for him, someone who could [be] in Minneapolis or his home. Somebody who could repair something if it broke down at 2 o’clock in the morning and somebody who had the stamina to stay up with him all night. I could hang with him. And I had the ability to do anything that he asked. He was totally the captain of the ship, he’s the one who decided what sounds he wanted. My job was to realize those sounds, to give him the sound he wanted and needed. He taught me his ear. He taught me what he was going for. He would get unhappy when there were things beyond anyone’s control. He was a reasonable man. He understood if stuff breaks, it breaks and that would make him upset. But if you were doing the best that you could and he wasn’t happy with it, he’d let you know. He’d kind of tease you about it. Other than that, he kept people around who could give him what he wanted.
Q: If you challenged him?
A: You wouldn’t stay around very long. He didn’t need that at that time in his life.
Q: You had really odd work hours, right?
A: Oh yeah, because he was constantly thinking. His well of creativity was so deep that he didn’t run out of ideas. Typical musicians, they’ll get two, three, four original ideas, and that’s if it was on a good day on tape. If you’re in the studio or whatever and you’ve got two or three new parts done by the end of the day, that’s a good day in the studio. Prince would get a whole song done in a day. A whole song. And those days were long, with being 20 hours, 24 hours often. There were many, many 48-hour days, where we worked two days in a row because he had two songs in a row. He’d finish one and then another one would come to him. For example: “U Got the Look” was one of the exceptions that proved the rule. “U Got the Look,” we spent like three days on that song. A long time. On the “Sign o’ the Times” album, because he was really taking his time with it because he had so many different ideas, he was trying it in different iterations. Typically, his ideas came so fast that those days had to be real long. It’s not like he was going to run out of ideas and go to bed. He always had some ideas.
C.J. can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and seen on FOX 9’s “Buzz.” E-mailers, please state a subject; “Hello” does not count.