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First Salon Series focuses on intimate environment

Michael “Mike D” Diamond addresses a crowd on Wednesday, Aug. 20, at an installment of the Malibu Cultural Arts Commission’s Salon Series. Photo courtesy of Keegan Gibbs
Michael “Mike D” Diamond (right) addresses the Salon Series audience at his home on Wednesday, Aug. 20, while Malibu Mayor Skylar Peak and Malibu Arts Commissioner Richard Gibbs look on. Photos courtesy of Keegan Gibbs
Suzanne Guldimann, Staff Writer
3:55 pm PDT August 25, 2014

Participants in the Malibu Cultural Arts Commission’s first-ever Salon Series event had a chance to learn how hip-hop musician and music producer Michael — “Mike D” — Diamond creates music on Wednesday, Aug. 20.
Two dozen audience members gathered at a private recording studio for an informal discussion of the art and business of music. The conversation ranged from the creative process, to electronic technology, intellectual property rights and even the evolution of high definition audio formats.
Cultural Arts Commissioner Richard Gibbs, who proposed the salon series last year and has worked to make the project a reality, opened the event with his vision of things to come.
“We do have grand plans,” Gibbs said. “This is a small toehold for what we want to accomplish. We have the highest percentage of artists per capita anywhere. This is an artists’ bedroom community. I want it to be an artists’ community.”
Gibbs also shared how he met Diamond. Although both men were members of influential 1980s bands — Gibbs was the keyboard artist for Oingo Boingo, before moving on to a successful career as a film composer and music producer; Diamond was the cofounder of the Beastie Boys — the musicians met surfing in Malibu.
“Skylar Peak [the current Mayor of Malibu] was teaching Mike to surf,” Gibbs recalled. “He dropped in on my wave two times and I thought, dude, I know it was Skylar who pushed him.”
“It’s true,” Diamond said. “After the second time, Skylar had this demonic grin.”
“I choose to live here for a reason,” Diamond said. “It’s a beautiful place. We are raising our kids here.”
Diamond shared sections of a song from an album he is currently producing for a well-known band, demonstrating how he uses the music production software ProTunes to composite multiple sound samples. The recording sessions for the album recently took place at the historic Shangri-La studio in Malibu, once reportedly owned by Elvis, and famous for being used for recording sessions by artists like Bonnie Raitt, Eric Clapton, Mark Knopfler and longtime Malibu resident Bob Dylan.
“You are not going to get a better vibe,”  Diamond said, describing the recording studio’s vintage equipment and convenient location. “It’s a real luxury not to commute.”
“I call it a pajama commute,” Gibbs said.
Diamond demonstrated how he builds complex and nuanced sounds from dozens of samples.
The informal setting encouraged discussion between Diamond and the audience. Questions flew. Several participants asked for details on the differences between analog and digital music production.
“It’s hard to quantify in time because the process is so different,” Diamond replied. “It’s radically different. You could never record as many tracks [using analog], digital is different. It’s not shorter, it takes longer because there are more options. It opens up the process.”
Diamond explained that digital tools include massive libraries of electronic samples that can be loaded—and even played during a performance—off an iPod or smartphone.
Diamond said that he spends a lot of time with the artists “getting the right sound.”
“Sometimes it’s one take, sometimes you go through [a song] in small pieces,” he said. “They are both good. It’s the end result.”
Six days of recording, in addition to several days of “compositing and cleaning up,” yielded three songs for the band whose album he is currently producing. “It’s a prepped, prepared situation,” he said. “They sent me the songs. It’s not like going in blind. It makes sense thT when you go into the studio you are prepared.”
Diamond said his role as a producer includes keeping the key elements of the band, in this case, the vocals and melody, while pushing the sound “in a different direction.”
“One of the great things about music, you’re always learning,” he said. “It should be an adventure.”
Part of that adventure is the impact of social media and the internet on the music industry. “[Artists] can communicate directly with their audience, connect with millions of followers. The plus of the digital world is so much diversity it’s almost overwhelming,” he said. “Electronic music is very important now, but will it gravitate back to guitars? Probably.”
Diamond also spoke a little about his life, “Jazz is a huge, huge, influence,” he said. And about  his children. “They sort of grew up touring. Their world is electronic music. I’m really hesitant to force them [to take up music]. I just hope that they find whatever speaks to them and that they love doing.”
“I feel really blessed to travel the world with music and with surfing as another component. Surfers are unique in the way they see the world. Some friend of a friend who knows you surf will take you to surf, because they know it will make you happy. It makes them happy to make you happy.”
Malibu residents can sign up for the Salon Series on the Malibu Arts Commission website. The next event will take place in September. Participants are selected based on responses to a registration questionnaire: http://www.malibucity.org/index.aspx?NID=677.