Dan Wood: The man behind the music

Deep in the basement of Tyler Hall rests a room that few who go to SUNY Oswego know about, let alone get to see. In a dark, and obscure corner lies a recording studio, only open to a few people who hold the knowledge to operate it.

There’s only one man who holds all the keys. Protecting what he’s worked so hard to build, Dan Wood, also keeps tight lipped about his prior career, working alongside some of the biggest recording artists in the world.

“I walked in the room, and it was Chuck D [of Public Enemy], Branford Marsalis, and Spike Lee sitting in the control room,” Wood said. “They were working on the music for ‘Do The Right Thing’.”

Dan’s first individual project was with Public Enemy , where he helped create their album ” Fear Of A Black Planet”       [su_media url=”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mGLhx3oiU3M” width=”200″ height=”200″]

Despite his unassuming demeanor, and modesty when speaking of himself, Dan Wood has worked at the highest level of professional audio, working with acts such as Madonna, Sonic Youth, and Public Enemy to name a few.

Currently the coordinator of the Audio Design and Production minor, Dan teaches Oswego students the art of recording and mixing music, but he didn’t always want to be a professor, or even an audio engineer.

[su_pullquote align=”left”]Like many of the students he teaches today, Dan had no prior knowledge of recording technology prior to attending SUNY Fredonia, where he received his bachelors of science in sound recording technology.[/su_pullquote]

“I was always into music as a kid in high school, and I started playing trumpet and that was actually what I liked most about school,” Dan said. “I got A’s and B’s without really struggling too much, but I didn’t really like it. It wasn’t what I was passionate about.”

With senior year coming to a close, Dan knew that he was good at playing the trumpet, but knew he wouldn’t make a living doing it. And with little career guidance he had to make a decision about what he was going to do with his future.

“I was thinking that I’ve gotta figure out what I want to do, and I figured I might as well do something I enjoyed,” Dan said. “I wasn’t going to be a professional trumpeter, and I still wanted to be around music. So I had this idea that since I was pretty good at math and science, maybe I’d be good at the technical side of music.”

Figuring that college was the only option he had to learn the tools of the trade Dan secretly applied for college, despite his parents expectations.

“My family didn’t go to college. My dad wanted me to get a job at Niagara Mohawk power company, and I would have been gainfully employed without having to go to college,” Dan said. “That was their plan for me, and I kinda knew that, so I did the undercover school application thing on my own.”

There weren’t a lot of college audio programs at that time, and the few that existed were highly competitive. The technology was still far too expensive and space consuming to be as consumer friendly as it is today.

Dan applied to every audio program he could, including one at the University of Miami, one of the best audio programs in the nation.

He was accepted, and proposed the acceptance letter to his parents, only to find out that they had no money saved up for his college education. Making the best of the situation, Dan decided to attend SUNY Fredonia, which also had a renowned audio program. It was there that Dan got his first taste of professional audio.

After years of studying under Fredonia’s extensive audio program, Dan had prepared himself for getting a job in the field, but the realm of professional audio was something that  outsiders didn’t have access to.

“There was no way to get into audio, in the analog days, the good old days,” Dan said. “It was a very closed system, and there was no way to get into audio, until you got into audio.”

Dan knew that if he was going to make his big break into audio, he would have to go to where music was happening, and signed acts were recording. By chance, an old friend of his had lost a roommate in his New York City apartment, and gave Dan a call to see if he was interested.

[su_quote style=”3″]” New York City is a really expensive place so I had a place to stay, but I had no job and no way to pay rent,” Dan said. “So when I moved down there, I wrote up a resume that was impeccable, went through the listing of all the recording studios in Manhattan, and sent about 200 resumes out.”[/su_quote]

New York City is a really expensive place so I had a place to stay, but I had no job and no way to pay rent,” Dan said. “So when I moved down there, I wrote up a resume that was impeccable, went through the listing of all the recording studios in Manhattan, and sent about 200 resumes out.”

Two weeks later Dan had heard nothing, and his savings were winding down. With little to no options, Dan began calling anyone he knew from college that was in the city.

Greene Street, NYC. Dans career started here in the mid 1990s
Greene Street, NYC. Dans career started here in the mid 1990s

“I just hunted people down, and asked them if they knew of anything that was available, or if they could point me in some sort of direction,” Dan said. “Some people were like, oh yeah I remember you, other people were like, I don’t even know you.”

Finally by another stroke of luck, he called up one of his friends who had just left Greene St. Recording, on of the most prominent studios in the city, on good terms.

“Sure enough, the same place that I had sent my resume, and the same place where I couldn’t get passed the door,” Dan said. “Once I met up with my friend, they let us right into the studio.

With an inside plug at a great studio, Dan was ready to get to work, but the opportunity did come with a grain of salt. Even though he was hired for his engineering knowledge, he was to start as the night manager, a position that involved little to zero time making music.

After a few weeks Dan wasn’t sure if he was ever going to get a chance to get inside the studio and actually work with artists. Feeling like the position was never going to lead anywhere, he actually decided to quit and try and start somewhere else.

“I went in the morning after two weeks, and when I walked in he was on the phone, and looked at me and said he was just trying to reach me. I told him that I wanted to talk to him about something,” Dan said. “But before I could finish he said, ‘there’s no time for that, I need you in studio A.’”

That would be the beginning Dan Wood’s career.

His first project involved assistant engineering for the “Do The Right Thing” movie album, and afterward he went straight to working with Public Enemy on their “Fear of a Black Planet” album. By the time the album was wrapping up, Dan started getting more responsibility and started moving up the professional ladder.

Do The Right Thing, a movie released in the 1990s that Dan helped create the musical album for.
Do The Right Thing, a movie released in the 1990s that Dan helped create the musical album for.

“After I went through that experience, The Bomb Squad, Public Enemy’s producers were very happy with working with me, and wanted to work with me every time they came to Greene St. I was still a staff engineer at that point,” Dan said. “There was a point where they couldn’t get in and they wanted me to work with them in other studios, so I made the transition to a freelance engineer.”

As a freelance engineer in New York City, Dan worked at numerous studios, and with numerous artists like Ice Cube, A Tribe Called Quest, Paula Abdul, Sonic Youth, RUN DMC, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Queen, and Bruce Springsteen.

Dan worked with Ice Cube and " The Bomb Squad" on their album " Americas Most Wanted"
Dan worked with Ice Cube and ” The Bomb Squad” on their album ” Americas Most Wanted”

“Then one day I was home, and I was never home, and my phone rang. I picked it up and there was this guy with a crazy french accent who wanted me to go to Marseilles [France] and make my record,” Dan said. “It was so ridiculous at that point that I thought it was one of my friends, messing with me, so I kept asking him these ridiculous questions, but the accent never went away.”

The call would eventually take him to France to work with one of the country’s pioneering hip-hop groups, IAM.

[su_spoiler title=”Dan’s work with IAM” open=”0″ style=”1″][su_media url=”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NNvlSehhiPU” width=”200″ height=”200″][/su_spoiler]

“At that point, hip-hop had went from the thing I really enjoyed doing, like Public Enemy to some of the more gangster stuff, which I didn’t really feel a need to be a part of, and was getting dangerous quite frankly,” Dan said. “So I said heck yeah, I know nothing about France, I know no french at all, and I don’t know where Marseilles is on a map, but I can probably slide out of New York for a bit.”

Dan would end up spending the next 4 years of his career working between Paris, Marseilles, Naples, and Capri.

“In New York they paid me really good. I had an apartment in Manhattan, and I wasn’t struggling,” Dan said. “When I got to France it was even better.”

Dan would work with the band on their next few projects, which all went platinum, before thinking about returning to America. Staying in France wasn’t something that he wanted to do, and his career overseas had taken him off of the radar as far as popular music in America.

[su_quote style=”1″]“The lifestyle was also starting to get to me,” Dan said. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in the studio for 24 hours straight. That’s the usual, go in the studio for and work for 24 hours.”[/su_quote]

Still in his mid-30’s, it was getting harder for Dan to spring back from the grueling hours. Also, even though he was more than financially stable, and partied with celebrities, he missed having a life.

In another odd string of events, while he was back in Central New York visiting his family, he was looking through the classified section, and found a position available at SUNY Oswego.

“I wanted to move back to Central New York, so I said I don’t know what this is but I’ll try it and see what happens,” Dan said. “I got an interview, got the job, and thought about not accepting.”

Dan was familiar with college-level audio programs, and quite frankly there was no audio program at Oswego. There were no audio courses, no audio students, and the recording studio on campus at the time was dated by 20 years.

Over the next few years Dan would pave the way for audio in Oswego. He would create the foundation for the curriculum that is still used today, and build the studio into a modern recording studio on par with professional studios. In the process Dan would earn his Masters Degree in Vocational Technical Education.

In recent years, he’s been involved in a project that brings a simpler version of this curriculum to middle school and elementary school students. Working with Paula Myers, a local teacher who has worked at Oswego Middle School, and currently works teaching elementary school students, their work garnered a lot of attention.

[su_media url=”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tUnVp4mTSmw&feature=youtu.be” width=”200″ height=”200″]

Aside from that Dan has taken on the role of a mentor in many of his students lives, not only academically, but also on a personal level.

Oswego student talks Dan Wood

Student Manny Greene talks about how Dan helped Manny with his career aspirations

Whether teaching students at a college level, or working with elementary school students, Dan centers the learning on the individual in an earnest attempt to prepare them for the harsh job market that awaits them.

“The saying is something like, luck comes to those who are prepared. I have been lucky, but I’ve also been prepared for any opportunity,” Dan said. “And that’s what I tell [my students]. I can’t prepare them for exactly where they are going to land, everyone has their own paths, but I truly believe that most students who leave here, and have done what they’re supposed to, are better prepared to land than I was.”