Tony McAnany...The Man Behind The Music
By Jasmine McNealy
Behind every funky track, every beat laid down at that perfect moment in the perfect place, every remix that enhances an already excellent original (or a mediocre one), is the record producer. Producers do a job that is often unheralded by the music industry and listeners alike. Producers don’t go on tour, or have their pictures in the jacket of the CD, but they do influence the trends in music, and introduce our favorite artists to new styles that allow the state of music to be every changing, never static.
“I really enjoy watching artists find their way,” said Grammy winning and Oscar-nominated producer Tony McAnany. “If you are a part of that, making them click or exploring different kinds of music, the gratification is the same. I think I became like a music junky.”
McAnany is not new to the music industry or the role of producer. He’s worked with heavy hitters like Jaci Velasquez, P.O.D., and Nicole C. Mullen, and can recount days of working as a producer for Angel AMI records. But his first actual time in a recording studio happened when he was only ten-years-old. “I had the opportunity to see what all that was like early,” he said.
A child of a single-parent household, McAnany grew up in what he described as the “low income department.” “We lived in the ghetto region of the cities,” McAnany said.
Although he lived in these areas, Tony didn’t recognize his supposed station, which has helped him as he’s grown older. “This was great because I got to grow up without any preconceived notions about people,” he said. “I was free of any of that kind of stuff, the negativity.”
Although he had a childhood he describes as the same as any other child, he experienced another side of life. “I grew up in pretty much an artistic background,” McAnany said. The child of a dancer, his life included attending modern dance shows, and touring with his mother.
Although she exposed her children to her work, his mother did not push them into art activities. McAnany believes that this is because she knew the pitfalls of not being number one and didn’t want her children to be hurt by what could happen. But this didn’t deter McAnany who studied trumpet and won a scholarship to study at Widener University because of it.
It was at Widener that McAnany got exposure to the production aspect of music. While studying business, he worked in a recording studio and was able to observe what producers did and their interaction with artists.
But it was in the summer before his junior year of college that solidified his drive to be a music producer. That summer McAnany interned at the Federal Reserve Bank in Philadelphia and rode the train back and forth to work. It was on one these train rides that McAnany got his first job as a record producer.
“I used to always make it my business to sit next to a business man and chat with him…One day I sat next to a guy who described the program he was about to start for his company, ARA Food Services, which was the largest food service company in the world at the time. He was going to start the program “It’s a Pizza,” throughout the country. This conversation led to in three months I produced and wrote three national commercial for them, which was a big start and paid for the last two years of college,” McAnany said.
However, everything wasn’t smooth sailing following this first experience. Although he did get jobs doing interesting things with music and technology, he didn’t really get his big break for a while.
“The big break comes in a long period of time,” he said. “ A lot of little events develop you into what you’re going to become. Getting into the record business proper was a long struggle, probably about 6 or 7 years.”
McAnany persevered through those years and is now very well known and respected in both the secular and Christian music worlds for his work with artists such as Jennifer Knapp, Jaci Velasquez, Missy Elliot, and Amy Grant.But he didn't just jump into producing Christian music, though he was always interested in doing just that.
I never did because I didnt want to commercialize my beliefs,he said. I didn't want the frustrations as I had in the regular music business with something that was related to my pursuit of God in my life.
In the end
McAnany did get involved with producing music while at Sony and worked with
Word Records, signing acts like Nicole C. Mullen and introducing other
Christian acts to pop record
By doing this,
McAnany hoped to help break down the barriers that the two genres of music
have between them. With his
current project, “Let’s Roll,” he hopes to accomplish this.
McAnany became involved with this project through a personal relationship. Lisa Beamer, whose husband Todd was on United flight 93 on September 11, formed the Todd M. Beamer foundation and asked McAnany to write a song.
McAnany was no stranger to Todd Beamer, who is one of the passengers attempted to take back control of the airplane from the terrorist. Together they attended a men’s breakfast group, which McAnany describes as a “group of guys trying to walk right.
“The last thing he said was his trademark, ‘Okay guys you ready? Let’s roll,’ McAnany said of Todd Beamer. “Coupling that with the Lord’s prayer, flying 5000 feet up in the air, going 500 miles per hour, trying to take the airplane back from a group of terrorists, all of a sudden made lets roll something more important. That’s why we wrote a song.”
The story of Beamer and the other passengers’ bravery, and Beamer’s action leading up to the assault on the terrorists, touched McAnany and gave greater importance to a project like Let’s Roll.
“The mission of Let’s Roll is a national mission, a mission of patriotism,” he said. “One of my hopes is that our Let’s Roll album serves as a warm American blanket. Where you put the flag around you, but its heated by the intensity of God’s love.”
The CD is packed with songs sung by heavy-hitters in the music business, both Christian and pop. Artists like Lila McCann, dcTalk, Nicole C. Mullen, Wynonna, Yo Yo Ma, Chaka Khan and others lend their voices to make the Beamer Foundation’s goal of helping the children affected by September 11 possible. But even with this in mind, the record was painful for McAnany to make.
“Having to retell the story over again was difficult,” he said. “God got us though it. What’s most important is that people can listen to it and see it a more than just a record. It is a record of substance first. The heart of the record is built around wanting to be apart of the healing of the country.”
His perseverance through the difficult time he experienced in making the album demonstrates the determination that he developed early in life. McAnany’s first audition for a music company was won only after persistently calling the office of a record executive.
“I worked hard to get a meeting with ABC records’ music director. I stayed on a payphone and called him every five minutes,” he said. “After about 45 calls I got to talk to him…and had a two hour long meeting. But he said I was just like everybody else. And he told me to go do something, accomplish something different.”
McAnany has made it his business to do just that; from working with the earliest stages of sampling to mixing Christian artist with popular rhythms, it seems he has accomplished this goal, and learned a lot about the game of life along the way.
“Its like a soccer game. If you watch, you might get one or two goals but they play for longer, 45 minutes each side. There’s no breaks, just constant running, strategy, activity, always trying to defend and attack,” McAnany said. “This year I’ve realized how important soccer is as a metaphor for life. We may not score a lot of goals in life that we see, but we may make a thousand passes, that put people in new positions. We do different things; we may defend somebody from some injustice. It may not look like a big deal, but it changes the flow of justice in their life.”
This idea of perseverance and living life to the fullest is what McAnany would like to pass along to youth.
“Stand strong on your faith and go for life,” he said. “Offer some friendship outside of the norm.”