We had the pleasure of interviewing award winning musician and producer Chuck Wild, who spoke candidly with about his music and his career path. Chuck has brought some of the most beautiful and relaxing music to audiences with a message of love, peace & togetherness. We were honored to present this interview and profile.
Chuck at what age did you begin to play music?
When I was 4 years old, I was diagnosed with a congenital hip problem that required me to not bear weight on my right leg for 2 years. You can imagine I became a bit fidgety at that age, so my late Mother and Father hired a wonderful gal by the name of Edna Amos to take care of me during that period. Edna would carry me downstairs to the piano every day and teach me simple pieces like Chopsticks
and Heart and Soul
. As well, my Mom had studied music at Wellesley College
and was an accomplished pianist, so I had the treat of hearing her play often. I started piano lessons at age 6 as soon as I was healed from the hip problem. I studied piano for 10 years, and started singing in church choirs at the age of 6 as well. Though my college degree is a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from the University of Kansas
, I always took lots of music courses in parallel. I’ve continued my music education at UCLA
Extension over the past 20 years, studying composition
, composing to picture, orchestration, etc.
Your earlier career includes studio and live work, how did you break into that?
After serving as a Navy officer from 1968-72 (ages 21-25), I was anxious to give earning my living from music a try, so I joined a band in Kansas City, which eventually went on the road. After a few years on the road, I wound up (out of work) in a small town (300 population) called Bailey, NC, where there was actually a wonderful and well-equipped recording studio, mostly used by blues and R&B
bands. I offered to work full time for them practically for free, in return for cleaning the studio, and some engineering lessons from the owner, Richard Royall, who was a fine producer/engineer. So, in short, it was offering to intern that was my first break. I actually lived out of my van for a year during that period, sleeping in the van or the recording studio
office in a sleeping bag, and showering in the studio bathroom.
I went back on the road after a couple of years there, playing with several different bands before landing in New York in 1977, and eventually Los Angeles in May of 1979. Within a couple of weeks of securing a live gig in Los Angeles, the drummer in our band was a friend of Eddie Money’s
, and Eddie needed a pickup studio band really quickly to record the song Get A Move On
for a cult classic called Americathon
. That was my first break in L. A., as it gave me not only the confidence, but also the funds to stay in LA. Since it was both for film and phono record, a double length 6 hour session, at double scale, and recorded on a Sunday (holiday pay), it paid 16 times union scale, which I lived on for six months (things were a lot cheaper back then).
Did you meet adversity along the way and was there ever a time where you considered a career other than music?
Part of the skill set required for music is the ability to overcome adversity, and yes, many times over the years I’ve had the conversation with myself (and others) about music vs. money. I’ve always been grateful to my parents for pushing me to get a business degree, as it helped me to be able to read contracts, negotiate, to know when a situation was financially viable, how to budget, how to plan, and importantly how to resolve and move beyond obstacles. All of that is critical to surviving in music, where the competition can be stiff, especially in the digital age. Rising above the herd requires a lot of courage and persistence. Today’s music reality shows can unintentionally downplay the amount of effort and perseverance required to get a great recording contract and
have sustainable success.
In my earlier years, some bands I played in ran into hard times on the road, so I always liked to have a “Plan B”…. but not
one that would entice me to leave music. In my case, I learned how to type about 80 words per minute, and work a 10 key calculator, so I could easily get a temp gig as typist or assistant accountant whenever I needed a few bucks for rent. After moving to LA, I did quit music for one year and worked a day job with the sole purpose of making time for me to search for the right ‘original’ band, one I felt *really* had a chance to make it. I’m glad I did that… During that year, I went to over 100 auditions and got many offers (keyboard players were really in demand in 1980), but when I heard theMissing Persons
4 song demo that Ken Scott had produced, I knew where I belonged.
Tell me about your experience with Missing Persons.
I failed my first audition because I’d never played left-handed bass and right-handed keyboards at the same time, a feat that requires a lot of hand independence. But a band with legendary musicians Terry Bozzio
, Warren Cuccurullo, and Dale Bozzio (all Zappa alumni), produced by Ken Scott (producer of David Bowie’s
, Ziggie Startdust and engineer for the Beatles) was exactly the kind of gig I wanted.
I wanted in the band so badly, I got up every morning before work (at 5 am) and practiced those four songs in slow motion until I could play them perfectly and up to speed. Then after two weeks I called and asked for a second audition, and was hired. That led to four years, and two albums, both produced by music legends… Spring Session M
produced by Ken Scott
, and Rhyme and Reason
co-produced by my dear friend five-time Grammy winner Bruce Swedien
. BTW, after the group was signed to Capitol Records, the wonderful bassist and composer Patrick O’Hearn
, another Frank Zappa
alumni, joined the group. Those early experiences in the studio laid the foundation for what has now been a 40 year career in music for me.
You’ve cited a wide range of influences for your music, from Brian Enoto Bach, as an example. Have you always had an eclectic taste in music?
Yes, I studied piano performance by playing classical masters, Rachmaninoff, Bartok, Beethoven and Bach, and still love classical music, which is now my primary focus of music creation. At the same time, I was a teen when the Beatles were popular, and have always loved pop music, and have enjoyed most of the twists and turns it’s taken over the years.
When did you decide that you wanted to move away from the more traditional forms of music and explore electronics? Was there a learning curve? What are some of the earlier instruments you’ve used?
It wasn’t actually a conscious move… As the instruments being used in recorded music changed, I adapted. In about 1973, I bought my firstMiniMoog
, and loved the sound possibilities immediately. I was pretty much on the road from 1973 to 1984, and had a collection of about 20 keyboards, ranging from Arp 2600 to PPG Wave 2.2 and Wavestation, to Prophet 5, Korg
Wavestation & M1, Oberheim SEM modules and OBX-8, Roland D70 and several Roland 760 samplers, too many to remember. I always carried a Yamaha Electric Grand, and Hammond B3 with me as well. All that stuffed into a Chevy Van lol!
The learning curve wasn’t too bad in those days. Even the earliest synths were laid out fairly logically. Also, life was simpler back then. Without social media and computers to occupy many hours a day, we had a lot more time to rehearse, learn new instruments, jam, write, arrange and hang out. Record labels in those days did virtually all the promotion work, with the exception of a few personal appearances and interviews. Today, new artists (especially on indie labels) are expected to shoulder a large portion of the promo burden (both financially and time-wise), which leaves less time for creative pursuits.
Can you take us on a virtual tour of your studio today, coffee cups, patch cables and all?
Here’s a link to photo of my little studio
at FB. The studio used to take up 3 rooms of my house… now it’s mostly digital, and in a much smaller space, so I actually have some furniture in my home! Since almost everything is virtual, the only keyboards I have are Keystation controller, Roland D70, Roland D50, plus 2 acoustic pianos. Everything else is contained within the Mac. I use Digital Performer 8
, and have always preferred that workstation since the late 1980′s, because of its simplicity and speed. I have a MacPro with 3 monitors, and that’s about it. My plugins are from various manufacturers like MOTU, Waves, FabFilter, UAD, Antares, Arturia, Focusrite, etc. My VI’s are Spectrasonics (all), Synthogy Ivory, Korg Legacy, MusicLab, LA Scoring Strings, UVI, Vienna VSL, and Native Instruments.
The selection available of both plugs and virtual instruments is overwhelming today, I think it just comes down to buying and using the ones that capture your imagination, that sound great, and that you caneasily navigate. I’ve always believed that it’s not how many toys you have, but how you use the ones you have. Trying to know everything about every instrument and plugin distracts me from composing & songwriting, so I try to balance the “tech vs creative” to make sure the tech serves the creative, and not vice-versa.
When did you move towards a more holistic approach to life and composing therapeutic music? What part did Michael Jackson play in that process? How did the concept of Liquid Mind come about?
It’s funny you asked about coffee cups in the last question. There are no coffee or tea cups in my studio, as I’ve been caffeine-free since 1987, when I was over-working and became sleep deprived on the Max Headroom
TV show. I realized quickly that if I continued to abuse my body, that my career (and life) would be short lived. I’d already given up smoking, drugs, and alcohol, and foregoing caffeine seemed like a natural extension of healthier living. In the fall of 1987, after working 20 hour days, 7 day weeks for 3 months on ABC’s Max Headroom, I started having panic attacks, and was in a constant state of anxiety. It didn’t help that five of my friend/associates died of HIV that year. I was signed as a staff writer toLorimar
Telepictures/Warner/Chappell Music at the time, and was having a lot of success, but became so stressed out from the sleep deprivation and grief over my friends that I couldn’t work for several months.
That was really a turning point in my life (1988). At age 42 I was making decent money, but the working hours were just insane. A counselor suggested I compose the kind of music that reflected the way I’d like to feel — relaxed. I couldn’t figure out how to do that at first, everything I played was high energy and fast, fueled by nervous energy and not relaxing at all. One day I was sitting on the rocks at Laguna Beach here in southern California, and I noticed I wasn’t anxious, that the panic attacks that had plagued me seemed to disappear while I was sitting there. I thought to myself, it could be the sound of the ocean, constant, deep, but ever changing. That day I made the decision to compose music that sounded like the ocean, like the sound of liquid
calming my mind
. That’s how the music and the name Liquid Mind®
came about. I recorded hundreds of cassettes with my early Liquid Mind music and gave them to hospitals, hospices, and family members, friends, anyone who said they were stressed out. I never thought to sell it at the time, just to give it away. I listened to it 24 hours a day while recovering from panic and anxiety, and working through the issues (with a counselor) that would cause me to work such insane hours. More details on that here if you’re interested: http://www.liquidmindmusic.com/anxiety/index.html
It was 6 years before I had the financial means to release Liquid Mind commercially in a meaningful way. One day in 1994, I got a call from my good friend and mentor Bruce Swedien, and he asked if I’d like to create some soundscapes
for Michael Jackson. I agreed, and subsequently worked on and off for Michael for four years, 1994-98, doing sound programming and some minor arranging. I took every penny I made working with Michael and started a small label to release the Liquid Mind music. After ten years (and six Liquid mind albums), by 2004 the series had grown, and became administratively burdensome, so I licensed those albums to a wonderful healing music label called Real Music
in Sausalito, CA. There are now twelve Liquid Mind albums, and my relationship with Real Music continues. We’ve ridden the ups and downs of the radical changes in how music is distributed and consumed in the digital age, and I love the continuity of working with the same folks year after year.
Can you work through your creative process? Once you get an idea for a composition, what happens?
I explain the process of Liquid Mind composition and record in detail at the below link… it’s a very slow process to create long-form sedative music:
The process starts with several weeks of sketching 30 or 40 pieces, from which I choose 6 that I like the most. Since the compositions are long-form (some over 15 minutes length), it can take me a week or two to arrange each one. Since the music is so slow, and I don’t do caffeine, I can only work 6 or 7 hours a day, it’s just difficult to stay awake. I do take 20 minute power naps nearly ever day, which replaces the coffee I used to drink (without the caffeine hangover). The arranging is followed by recording of live voices singing chords to bring a more organic feel to the tracks, then mixing, remixing and mastering.
Do you feel a spiritual influence when you create?
Spirituality is such a personal thing, I think it’s different for everyone. Yes, I have a serenity and feeling of deep peace while working on Liquid Mind, and also my classical piano music. I feel a connectedness that’s hard to describe, but I’m hesitant to label what that is.
Who do you envision as the intended audience for your music?
My mantra has always been to get the music to whomever can benefit from it… For those who can’t afford the music, all twelve of my albums are on YouTube in “full album” format, as well as virtually every US streaming service, and some overseas. I’m grateful for SoundExchange, Pandora
and others who are now paying artists a share of performance royalties. There are over 100 Liquid Mind YouTube videos that fans have created, including one by the amazing pixel choreographer (from Cirque du Soleil), Alain Gauthier. That video can be seen here:
Anyone who’s ever been stressed out is my audience. I’ve received over 3,000 emails, and hundreds of FB messages from folks who use the music for sleeping, relaxing, meditating, yoga class, churches, guided imagery sessions, anger management clinics, drug rehabs in correctional facilities, maternity clinics, grieving therapy, time-out rooms in schools, special needs educational settings, surgical recovery, pain management, PTSD treatment at VA hospitals, and many more locations. Here’s a little study that was done several years back if you’re interested:http://www.liquidmindmusic.com/splash.html
Can you share any special feedback or comments that you have heard about your music?
So much of it is deeply personal, I hesitate to quote any, out of a need for privacy by those who contact me. Some of the emails just bring me to tears, especially the life and death situations we all go through as part of being human.
Have you ever been asked to compose music for a specific individual or for individual private use?
As I just don’t have enough hours in the day, I’ve only done this once, and not for an individual, but rather an institution. The army general in charge of the Liberty Memorial Monument and Museum
in Kansas City Missouri asked me to write a song about the concept of “liberty” for the 2005 rededication of the memorial as the National World War I Monument. The piece was premiered by the Kansas City Symphony featuring Nathan Granner to a crowd of 30,000. A studio version of Oh Liberty!
can be heard here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z-OnQHWHu2g
What are your most recent projects? What was the inspiration for these?
My most recent Liquid Mind studio album (there are also two collections) was Liquid Mind X: Meditation
. Meditation has been an important part of my life since 1987, and I wanted to share that with others. I’ve found a simple clearing meditation which is described here to be of great benefit to me over the years:
As well, I’m increasingly drawn to classical piano composition, and have composed seven short preludes which can be heard and seen (free pdf sheet music) here: (the page takes a few seconds to load since there are 7 pieces)
I’m currently working on an 18 minute, four movement piano sonata. It’s the most challenging piece I’ve ever composed, but also a process filled with joy, as it is renewing my connection to the classical tradition.
What words of encouragement would you have for musicians/composers who try to make careers out of music?
The world needs music, society uses it for very important functions: Birth, death, coming of age, joyous celebration, grieving, spirituality, and hundreds of other purposes. So there is always a demand for great music.
That said, encouragement is a tricky thing. Though there’s always a need
for music, in the 21st century there isn’t always a willingness to pay for the music. So if you have talent, and have your heart set on being a music creator, you need to be aware that your financial compensation may not always be in proportion to the work you put in. If you’re willing to play the game with those rules, you may have a good chance. There is money to be made, and required reading is the book Music, Money and Success
, available at Amazon.
The reason I said encouragement is tricky is that I believe that encouragement also needs to come from within, from your own strength of character. That said, it’s important to have opinions from folks that count — I suggest you solicit honest opinions about your creative work and performance chops from decision-makers in the business, rather than family and friends (who may be biased).
My experience is that both financial and creative success are needed to sustain a career, and those are two different skill sets. If you’re only interested in creating music (without taking responsibility for the business aspects), then I’d suggest making music your hobby. If, on the other hand, you have creative skills and some business acumen, and a strongly persistent streak in your character, then music is a possibility for you.
There are significant changes in the last ten years in how money flows: Performance income, especially for independent artists, may soon be more important than sales income, which continues to decline. Live performance helps somewhat, but there are limitations to fans’ willingness to spend money on live music, so you need to be a realist, especially if you have a family to support.
For those non-artists (songwriters & composers), every genre of music (classical, TV/Film, new age, jazz, contemporary instrumental, blues, fusion and many others), has niches that can earn you a living.
For classical and jazz, I think having a solid music education is helpful (Berkley, Curtis, Julliard, Colburn, Musicians’ Institute, North Texas State, Cal State North-ridge, USC, come to mind), because those institutions (and others) will help you jump-start your career. Music is highly competitive, but if you have persistence and talent, a positive and friendly attitude, along with a sharp business sense, you have a chance to make a decent living. A music career is highly demanding, and not for the weak willed or undisciplined person, but it is possible to have a career.
What about DIY, isn’t the playing field more level now?
Actually, although anyone (and everyone)can afford a home studio and put music up online for sale, sustainable success isn’t any easier then it ever was. When you start out, I highly recommend partnering with a company, be it a publisher, record label, production company, or other music & media organization. They have economies of scale, connections, know how and resources that you don’t, and importantly, they can give you the constructive criticism you need to grow as an artist, songwriter, musician or composer.
Is it important to be unique?
If you’re an artist, yes. In pop music, you can break through (as long as you have an edge) within the confines of what’s on the radio, and then hopefully morph into something even more unique. So you get on the radio being a part of the genre, but perhaps you stay on the radio being unique, and rising above the commonalities of just one genre. If you’re an artist, study the sustainable careers of long-time artists you admire to observe how they grew and changed as time went on.
Uniqueness as a composer or musician may be a disadvantage in some areas (TV/film). My experience is that media composers/musicians must be musical chameleons. It’s one of the reasons I didn’t stick with TV/film composing (other than songs for TV) or doing session work. I wanted to have a unique identity with Liquid Mind, and the classical piano music, and the musical chameleon model just didn’t fit for me.
A last word for artists: Major labels and their sub labels are still the arbiter of what will and won’t get an artist or group signed, but the AUDIENCE is always the final arbiter. If you want to go for the gold, write incredible music, music that people want to hear, and will stand in line to pay for, and be very persistent getting your music to industry decision makers.
What are some of your favorite forms of relaxing?
Working in the yard, gardening, tinkering around the house, riding my stationary bike all help me to stay grounded. Too much time sitting at the computer can be stifling creatively. Meditation, massage, and seeing films with my best friend are three of my favorites means of relaxing.
What are some of your favorite artists?
To be honest, when I’m composing I don’t listen to much other music. I do occasionally attend recitals at the Colburn School here in Los Angeles, to hear up and coming pianists. If I’m arranging or recording in a pop genre, I will definitely listen to reference material that is current, becoming familiar with the top 20 or 30 bands at that time.
I don’t have a favorite artist, but here are a couple of groups I really like:
Have you ever been approached to produce an album?
I’ve done a little production over the years, but my focus is mostly songwriting and composing. I’d be interested in producing an up and coming classical crossover vocal artist, along the lines of a Josh Groban, or perhaps a unique classical or classical fusion group or artist.
Chuck, thanks for taking some time to share with us. We have a signature closing question that is inspired by the musician Roy Ayers who said:
The true beauty of music is that it connects people. It carries a message, and we, the musicians, are the messengers.
What message do you hope to bring to the world with your music?
My intention with Liquid Mind is to bring peace of mind to those who need it. The deepest compliment to me is when folks fall asleep to my music. I believe that music can be a powerful form of nonverbal communication, to help bring people together and engender peace.
About the interviewer:
Thomas Mangano is a composer and a performer living on Long Island, NY. He is the owner of a production services company that provides music, soundscapes and effects to professionals in film and media industries. He is also the founding member of the Boutcher/Mangano Jazz Trio and currently serves as the Music Director for the Custer Observatory.
To learn more about Thomas, Please visit his website: Thomasmangano.com
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