U of M alumnus David Aron, whose credits include gold and platinum albums, says his time at the University helped send him on his way to becoming one of the top recording engineers in the country.
"Of course I can," says Dave Aron.
It's the U of M alumnus' stock answer when asked if he can do something in the recording studio or with sound machines at a live musical venue. And most of the time it's true: He's widely considered one of the top recording engineers in the country, with ties to - among others - U2 and Prince. Those in the recording industry agree that if he doesn't know the technical trick in question, he will the next day when he shows up for work.
Take, for example, an event during Aron's senior year at then-Memphis State University when he got a call from the R&B group Mason, which needed someone to operate the soundboard at an important gig the next night.
"Can you do it, Dave," was the desperate last minute plea from the group.
"Of course I can," came Aron's usual response.
Never mind the fact he had little experience - after an all night cram session, he pulled it off without a hitch.
Music to the ears
The world Dave Aron (BFA '87) perceives is a musical one, and for good reason.
Born in 1964 - the year the Beatles came to America - he hails from Asbury Park, N. J., which, like Memphis did with Elvis, gave the world a rock icon in Bruce Springsteen. Aron's father Al, and step-dad, Bob Wildfeurer, played the trumpet in New York City be-bop clubs during the 1940s and '50s. His mom, Dorothy Marshall, was a high school band director for 20 years.
"Music was everywhere in my life," says Aron, who played clarinet in his high school's marching band as well as in the school's jazz band. His classmates voted him most musical his senior year. "Everybody I knew when I was a kid had a career in music," Aron says.
But because his family had not been too successful in the performance side of the industry, he was unsure which direction to take in life. "My father and stepfather were both considered struggling musicians," says Aron. "They were very talented, overloaded with talent. Maybe what they didn't have was business sense."
It was Aron's mother who planted the recording-engineer seed in her son's mind.
"I was thinking I wanted to be a lawyer," Aron recalls. "I was attracted to all of that courtroom drama. My mother told me how in reality lawyers spend most of their time reading and researching."
She suggested he pursue his love of the music industry by means other than performance.
"She didn't know the word, but she knew there was a guy in the other room who pressed 'record,'" he says.
Aron's uncle, Dr. Lowen Marshall, provided the final piece of the puzzle. An acquaintance suggested that his nephew explore the U of M's Recording Technology Department, pointing out that the department had state of the art equipment and superb faculty.
"We got into it (recording technology) earlier than most," says Larry Lipman, division coordinator of Commercial Music Degrees in Recording Technology and Music Business at the U of M from 1981 to 2000. "Richard Ranta (dean of communication and fine arts) pushed for it from within the University, as did Knox Phillips, former president of the Memphis chapter of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, on the outside."
A visit to the city in 1982 sold Aron on the University and he enrolled the following year. He split his time between the U of M's recording studios and the football team, where he walked on as a tight end.
"The highlight of my college football career was catching a touchdown pass in a scrimmage game," he says. "It was great. I got to play with future pros, like Derek Crawford."
The plane crash that killed then-coach Rex Dockery ended Aron's association with the team. He subsequently put all his focus on his musical aspirations.
"He was a great student," says Lipman. "Some people come into recording for reasons like glamour or money. Some people are attracted to art and to music, wanting to be involved in the creative process. That was Dave."
Aron formed a friendship with graduate student Dan Pfeifer (MA '87), now a music professor at Middle Tennessee State University. Pfeifer taught Aron the ins-and-outs of live sound in a midnight cramming session after the call came in from Mason, the R&B band.
"One night Dave called and said, 'I've got a live sound gig tomorrow! Teach me live sound!'" Pfeifer recalls. "He came over and we did it all in one night, a crash course."
The show went well and Mason gave Aron a special "thank you" in the credits of their album. It was the first time his name had appeared on a recording. Seeing his name on a record sleeve was a pulsating experience.
"I was so excited, even though I didn't really have anything to do with the album," he says.
Rock and rolling on
After graduation, Aron worked internships at WHBQ radio and at Ardent Studios. He landed what he considers his first real job at Sun Studio in 1987: studio manager and engineer.
At Sun, Aron had his first brush with rock 'n' roll glitz. U2 had the facility booked to record the 1988 album Rattle and Hum. Originally slated for marginal support duties, Aron defaulted into a role as assistant engineer.
"That was a thrill," says Aron. "U2 was a huge deal at the time. Those guys were great people. They were excited to be in Memphis recording at Sun."
Aron also worked with local groups Freeworld and Human Radio, an early 1990s alternative band that was capturing national attention. David Leonard, producer/engineer for Prince, Toto and Morris Day and the Time, was in town to mix and co-produce Human Radio's debut album for Sony Records. It began a relationship that would permanently vault Aron into the national recording scene.
"Leonard basically said L.A. was where it was all happening," says Aron. "If I wanted to do well (in the business), Los Angeles is were I should be. Ten days later, I flew out there and checked it out. I went to studios and they all said the same thing: 'We won't give you a job unless you move out here.' I didn't have anything else to do. I figured it wouldn't be so bad."
Aron hit the ground running in Los Angeles. After a short stint with Meat Grinder Recording, his found his first major career-break at Larrabee Sound. When Paisley Park Records, Prince's independent label, booked Larrabee East to record tracks with singer Tasha Seville, an engineering assistant quit, leaving the project short-handed.
| Aron has worked with an array of best-selling recording artists, including (top left photo, working clockwise): Aron with Edge of U2; with Perry Farrell (center) of Jane's Addiction; with P. Diddy, a.k.a. Sean Combs (right); and with Bob Weir (center), formerly of the Grateful Dead.
"I was listening in and said, 'Let me go in there and help them,'" Aron recalls. "They let me."
While it didn't secure his position as a permanent assistant, it did earn him some clout and his first credit on a major release.
Later in the year, Prince booked the studio again, this time for himself. Prince used Leonard to produce "Willing and Able" for the Diamonds and Pearls album.
"When I saw David's name on the schedule, I got excited," says Aron. "I really wanted to be in the studio for that project. I told (my bosses) I knew him and he was the reason I moved to L.A. They were like, 'Are you sure? He's big-time.' I convinced them."
With this under his belt and now securely situated in the industry, Aron's career flourished. In the mid-1990s, he began a long affiliation with Death Row Records and some of the giants in the hip-hop world. He served as engineer/mixer for Tupac's landmark album All Eyez on Me, and has produced albums for Snoop Dogg, including the recent R&G (Rhythm and Gangsta): The Masterpiece. He serves as live sound engineer when Snoop's band is on the road. When reggae-tinged rock band Sublime wanted a hip-hop producer at the desk for their major label debut, they chose Aron.
Aron now owns his own studio in Los Angeles. Rob Wasserman, jazz-rock innovator with the electric stand-up bass, recorded his 2000 album there and named it Space Mountain, after the studio, which is located high in the Hollywood Hills.
"I've been fortunate to work with groups with integrity," Aron says. "Snoop in 20 years, Tupac, neither will be a joke. U2, Prince, pretty much legendary forever. No flavor-of-the-month pop stars. That's what makes me happy."