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Peter Rafelson

Peter Rafelson

Songwriter, Musician, Producer
Peter Rafelson

Songwriter, producer and musician Peter Rafelson’s work is responsible for more than 300 million worldwide record sales by artists such as Madonna, Jackson Browne, Stevie Wonder, Elton John. Stevie Nicks, Britney Spears and The Bangles.

Madonna , Jackson Browne, Stevie Wonder, Elton John. Stevie Nicks, Britney Spears, The Bangles
Peter uses these Aston mics:
Origin
Spirit
Acquisition mode

Peter’s father, the famous film director Robert Rafelson, and his partner came back from London having seen the Beatles film A Hard Day's Night. Inspired, they set about creating a USA TV show with a brand-new boy band format. That show became the winner of Best TV Show at the Emmys, namely The Monkees. When the show eventually ran its course and the band broke up, a young Peter Rafelson showed early signs of his future business acumen:

“I secretly stashed all their instruments in my basement!” he remembers.

"I've grown up in a very liberal family which essentially meant I looked like a hippie child. Between playing instruments and having long hair I was able to appeal to females. I think the social aspect of being in the music world, because it wasn't a business for me, created a way for me to be cool enough to have friends

By the time I finished high school I had already enrolled and taken a number of courses in music colleges and schools, I was literally taking vocational training.

I was, and am, dyslexic and I had to fake my way through every course I had an incredible ear and an incredible memory, but I could not read anything - English, music you name it - So I would memorize music and pretend to be looking at the staves on the stand, pretend to be playing guitar and reading.”

Tech revolution

“By the time I was 18 I had honed professional skills such that I was not only playing in bands, I was leading the R&B music sessions with some of the greatest artists around LA.

That had a rude awakening the day I was finally playing at the Troubadour. The band I was part of had a bunch of girls who had been drinking. Half the band didn't make it to stage and a couple of them passed out. I finished the set alone singing and playing guitar on stage and I realised I didn't want to depend on other people to have a career.

So I went out the next morning and bought my first technology which was a Sequential Circuits voltage controlled synthesizer and a TR808 drum machine. I also got a Pro 1 monophonic synthesizer and the first thing I did on that became the first song I ever had recorded. It was on my 21st birthday and it was a song for a band called Rufus, called Blinded By The Boogie.

My guitar playing, which I had focussed on, plus drums being my first instrument and being trained on piano, all coupled with technology, meant I was now producing and laying down entire tracks for huge records; Sister Sledge, Jackson Browne The Eagles, Elton John.”

Breaking through

Before the era of computers and home studios Peter managed to get time in a friend’s manager’s studio to record a song he had written in the hope of somehow getting it to Cyndi Lauper.

“As I was leaving the studio with the final mix I noticed there was a reel-to-reel with a tape on it in the lobby. The engineers there told me it was a demo that’s going out to a new artist on Warner Brothers called Madonna. I pleaded with them to put the song on as it was the only shot I had but I was denied. I felt dejected.”

When the engineers weren’t looking Peter, using his Sony Walkman cassette machine, managed to record his demo onto the end of the reel to reel they were sending.

 “A month later a friend of mine said he had this recording of the great percussionist Alex Acuna doing overdubs on a new track by Madonna. I didn’t want to hear it, but before I could stop him he pressed the play button… and it was my song! They’d used the last song on the tape but nobody knew it was mine.”

Credit where it’s due

“Once I heard that they’d pressed 600,000 units of this album called True Blue I thought it was safe to let Madonna's lawyers know. They told me I was full of s*** and I said ‘if that's so why is this me singing the demo?’ and I played them the original cassette!

They called me back and said ‘let’s just say this was your song, if you don't give up the rights to Madonna right now it will never it will never see the light’. I thought, imagine telling that to the head of Warner Brothers who’s just spent millions of dollars pressing up 600,000 copies, so I called their bluff and said ‘fine take it off the album’. And of course they couldn't so I ended up with all the rights and that turned me into a businessman, because this young kid now owned the rights to a song that sold over 30 million copies."

A story to dine out on by any standards, but for Peter this was also a reinforcement of his belief in self-sufficiency and a call to action.

“It forced me almost by proxy to start my own publishing company, and a label, and a distribution company.”

Moving with the times

His business flourished but not at the expense of his songwriting credits, which now read like a who’s who of popular music. He even had Stevie Wonder record one of his songs. As Peter says: “Can you think another songwriter where Stevie Wonder has recorded their song rather than one of his own?!”

Among other interests Peter now has several recording facilities at his RMC Studio Group complex, and uses all the popular DAWs, although his personal preference is Digital Performer “as it supports the largest number of plugin formats.”

“Although we have SSL mixing consoles and Neve sidecars, with all vintage classics and newer replicated outboard gear, I tend to avoid my past audiophile snobbery and work primarily in the box.  That said, it is my decades of experience working on classic vintage gear that has allowed me to strive for equal or greater sonics using all digital tools.”

His selection of go-to mics, including a Neumann TLM170 and an AKG C414, was added to when Peter received an Aston Origin and Spirit to try out:

“The first thing I thought was holy s*** these are the coolest looking mics. I don't care how they sound I'm going to put them up! And again, to my surprise, I hooked them up and of all the mics, I now have the Astons up in my studios constantly connected.”

The sweet spot

Peter considers recording vocalists as his ‘sweet spot’ as a producer and has found the Origin in particular an ally, both in his own work and for the many and varied clients of his studios.

“It's great to have a choice of sounds but the Origin, the smallest and simplest of the mics, it just sounds great from right out of the box. It doesn't require a whole lot of compression or EQ. It's simple to use quick to set up. People are coming and going with their own computers and software so I just leave the Origin hooked up to the interface so everyone can just come in and quickly get a good vocal sound.”

“I have used the Origin and the Spirit but the Origin is the one that has ended up on most commercial releases.”

Running a successful multi-faceted international music business surely has its challenges but it does not seem to have diminished Peter Rafelson’s bond with the music itself of its emotional roots:

 

“I remember back to being that long haired kid when all I wanted to do was get laid and now I'm the CEO of eight freaking companies! Now all the hair’s gone - but the passion’s still there!”

Out-takes

Q. If you weren’t working in music what would you be doing?
A. Something to do with inventing and physics.

Q. What would your fantasy mic be?
A. A sensitive mic that has a huge range of sound pressure capabilities and that can deal with dynamics, the broader the better. It would not distort under different conditions. In a performance that’s important for me. Also it would be super-cool to have different polar patterns on a mic simultaneously and have separate outputs.
And maybe a variable roll-off and pad.
And wireless.

Q. What are the 4 words you’d chose to describe Aston, or your experience with the brand?
A. Cool, Slick, Smooth, Aesthetic

Q. What is the first song that made you cry?
A. From Both Sides by Joni Mitchell. It’s the song she wrote about the first time she was able to see the clouds from both sides, from above and below. I don’t want to be grim about this but at my memorial service that song is something I’d like to hear.

Q. Who are your favourite artists?
A. Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Elton John, Stevie Wonder, Billy Holliday, Charlie Christian, Freddie King. 

Credits

Erika Jayne

Compton AD

DJ Young 1 aka Nhandi

Zebulon Raphael

Bellaire

Major Myjah

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