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Rising Stars: Meet Dana Nielsen

Today we’d like to introduce you to Dana Nielsen.

Hi Dana, we’d love for you to start by introducing yourself.
I grew up outside of Chicago, the middle child in a very musical family. I started Suzuki piano lessons when I was about five years old and continued piano lessons until I was nine when I switched to saxophone. I was in 4th grade when my parents rented me a student-model Bundy alto sax from the local music shop. I’ll never forget that afternoon we took it home and passed it around to each other, laughing hysterically as we each tried our best to press down some keys and make a sound — it sounded like someone had captured a very large, very loud DUCK! Haha.

I fell in love with the saxophone, had incredible teachers along the way, played in some amazing bands and ensembles, and wound up studying jazz in New Orleans at Loyola University, which is where I also caught the recording studio bug.

My senior year as a saxophone performance major, it dawned on me that I LOVE being in a studio… I LOVE being a part of other peoples’ music, seeing and hearing their vision come together. I realized that my BRAIN is the musician, my BODY is the musician, whether I have a saxophone in my hands or not.

I certainly didn’t stop playing saxophone – I still play all the time! I sing and I write and play piano and drums and make beats. I perform live and play on sessions all the time. But for me, that final year of college was a turning point. I really started paying careful attention to the way recordings are made and the way things sound. I shifted my focus from that of a performer to that of a producer. I fell in love with gear and equipment and knobs and VU meters. I delighted in the hosting aspect of running a recording session — making sure musicians feel comfortable and have everything they need to be free and creative. The recording studio itself became my instrument, so to speak. And I loved it, and I still do!

After college, in 2000, my wife Charissa and I moved to Los Angeles to start our new lives and careers in music. Charissa and I are high school sweethearts and went to Loyola together, too, so we have a ton of shared history. We got married that summer of 2000 and have been working in the L.A. music scene ever since.

Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
It’s been an exciting road for me and fairly smooth. I mean… life is life and is inherently full of struggle. But professionally speaking, overall, it’s been a wild and fun ride for me. At 22, I got to play sax solos each night on stage to sold-out arenas on tour with Toby Mac and DC Talk. A year or two later, I was mixing a Neil Diamond album in my bedroom studio for Rick Rubin, with whom I’ve continued to collaborate to this day. In 2012, I got to hang out with Bob Dylan every day for months while recording his amazing album, “Tempest.” That same year I was nominated for a Grammy with Rihanna. I have jaw-dropping saved voicemails from Carlos Santana from when I was mixing his “Africa Speaks” album a few years ago. Neil Young and Daryl Hannah invited my wife and I to their wedding… I mean… WHAT??!

To be fair, of course there have been setbacks, gigs lost, missed opportunities, slow patches here and there — all par for the course for any freelance business. But the highs have far outweigh any lows or lulls and looking back over the past 20-plus years, it’s been a pretty smooth road.

Thanks – so what else should our readers know about your work and what you’re currently focused on?
These days I’m juggling my normal workload of freelance mixing, producing and writing, plus the enormous undertaking of starting another new business, our record label and artist services division, Neon Tusk (www.neontusk.com). My wife and I are learning everything from the ground up …. distribution, direct marketing, advertising, web traffic, mailing lists, lead times, Photoshop, Adobe Premiere Pro, etc etc.

Some friends and I also have a brand new keyboard instrument bundle out, called Hammers + Waves by our new company, Skybox Audio, of which I am co-founder and lead audio engineer (www.skyboxaudio.com).

My wife, Charissa, and I are also releasing new music of our own using some alter-ego artist pseudonyms. She is Roxi Jet (roxijet.com) and I am Beni Sway (benisway.com), and we’ve got lots of new music, videos, and collaborations in the pipeline. Check us out, and stay tuned for more to come!

What matters most to you?
What matters most to me is care. Quality work. Connection with people. Establishing a bond with an artist. Learning about each other in verbal conversation and nonverbally through music. I’m just riffing here, but I think what matters most to me in my career is also what matters most to me in life: being with good people and making something together.

Contact Info:


Image Credits:

Portrait of Dana & Charissa Nielsen (Dana_03_0156) by Joe Pugliese Dana at console (DSCF4058) by Michael Bonfiglio Young Dana saxophonist (Dana_RPM_Recitals) by Nancy Nichols Dana with Rick and The Avett Brothers (2014-12-04_Avett_Bros_Shang_Mike_Cracker-3085) by Mike Cracker All others by Dana Nielsen

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