Ed Cherney is an incredibly talented producer/engineer—and also one of the funniest and most down-to-earth. 3 GRAMMYs, 5 TEC Awards, and an Emmy aside, Ed takes nothing for granted, knowing his job is a “killer” one. If you hadn’t heard his name already, he’s one of the great rock engineers of all time. A short list of his 350+ credited albums includes work by the Rolling Stones, Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Iggy Pop, Bob Seger, and even Spinal Tap.
Ed is the founder of the GRAMMY’s Producers and Engineers Wing and a governor of LA’s chapter of the National Association of Recording Arts and Sciences. He’s also a frequent guest lecturer for recording programs at colleges and universities including Berklee College of Music (which offers an Ed Cherney scholarship), the USC Thorton School of Music, Citrus College, and CalArts.
Getting His Start
As Ed puts it, he “became an engineer because [he] knew how to drive a truck.” This is a little known prerequisite to becoming one of rock music’s greatest engineers!
Growing up in Chicago, Ed was a huge fan of R&B and had always studied musicianship on instruments like the piano and guitar. Like many of us, he didn’t consider himself a very good musician and never saw an opportunity to have a career in music outside of his wildest dreams.
By the time he started college he still wasn’t sure of himself or what he wanted to “be.” Ed’s parents wanted him to go to law school, but he certainly wasn’t interested in pursuing it himself. During his senior year in college, his friends who were in a band were planning a tour and asked him if he wanted to drive their truck. Oddly enough, Ed had the experience from paying for college by driving a truck for his uncle during summers. He agreed to help out his friends, driving them around and moving their gear—eventually running their board as well.
Live Sound & Visiting a Studio
One night, on that same tour driving a truck and setting up equipment, Ed was elected to mix the band’s performance. He recalls sound reinforcement being pretty rudimentary in those days, but taking an interest in it very quickly.
Whether the band’s live sound engineer had quit (or was drunk and didn’t show up, as Ed has joked) he was chosen by the group to mix the show. Again, like so many engineers before and after, he didn’t have a clue what he was doing but managed to push faders around and get a good balance. This is what we’d call a “trial by fire,” but he had a natural inclination for it.
After their tour that summer, the band entered the studio to track demos and invited Ed to tag along. “I didn’t even know studios existed,” he remembers. He had nothing short of an epiphany at that moment, right after stepping into the studio. From then on he knew right where he wanted to be and what he wanted to do for the rest of his life!
Law school was a short-lived endeavor, especially after spending time on the road doing live sound and visiting studios. Ed switched up the plan and enrolled at DeVry where he studied electronics.
At the same time, he continued working with other bands before being hired by a local P.A. company in Chicago. He did much of the same work he did that first summer with his friends’ band, lugging around P.A. systems, mixing monitors, and doing front-of-house for groups coming through the area.
Ed also spent plenty of time cruising around the city looking for a proper studio job, as well. Studios were fairly sparse at the time, and it took him almost two years of once monthly “shopping around” for a gig, with very little luck.
Meeting Bruce Swedien
By happenstance, Ed was flipping through a popular recording magazine and came across an ad for a recording course in Chicago, taught by Bruce Swedien (Quincy Jones, Michael Jackson). He signed up for the class, (not even knowing who Swedien was, but that’s beside the point) which was held in a studio in Chicago. Naturally the pair hit it off and became close acquaintances from the start. After the course, Ed started carrying Swedien’s briefcase around to different sessions in Chicago, keeping in contact with him as much as possible. Essentially being a real “pest,” as Ed has put it!
Paragon Studios: Starting at the Bottom
A year after meeting Swedien during the recording course, on one of his monthly rounds hitting Chicago studios searching for work, Ed stopped by Paragon Studios.
In what was both an incredible stroke of luck and Ed’s being prepared to take the right opportunity, Bruce Swedien was in the studio that day. Even further, one of the studio’s personnel had recently quit! An employee at Paragon gave Ed a test to take, which he humorously didn’t know any of the answers to.
However, at a moment when Swedien stepped out of his session, he saw Ed and remembered him. As he recalls, he asked, “Bruce, what’s the answer to this?” Bruce would give him an answer, chuckle to himself and return to his session. Ed put down Swedien’s answers, and every one was wrong—he was messing with him!
Needless to say, Ed was hired as an apprentice engineer by Paragon Studios in Chicago that afternoon. He would work there for three years, starting from the very bottom cleaning toilets and taking out the trash.
Ed Cherney Learned Fundamentals at Paragon
After what basically amounted to an internship, scrubbing toilets and handling the dirty necessities of a professional studio, Ed was able to help set up sessions, make tape transfers, and handle other audio-related work. The studio’s owner, Marty Feldman, took a sincere interest in the young people he hired. As Ed remembers, it was quite literally an apprenticeship. You would start at the bottom, but learn how a studio works, how to set up sessions, and, most importantly, how to record music!
At the time, Paragon was doing the Ohio Players records, Tyrone Davis, the Chi-Lites, and other similar R&B artists. It was a great opportunity for Ed to work on much of his personal favorite music. Of course, the studio was also doing rock and jingles consistently as well. Paragon was diverse in the music that it recorded, which Ed was able to learn so much from.
It wasn’t necessarily an “easy” place to work, though. Paragon would put its apprentices through the ringer, and if you messed up, you’d be fired! But if an apprentice make it through to see the end of the “program” there, they would be remarkably well trained engineers.
Ed recalls preferring “being in the studio to sleeping and eating” for a long time. After a couple of years working around the clock, he was burned out, making no money, and longing for a change of scenery.
Boston’s debut album had come out with guitar sounds Ed hadn’t ever heard before. He did his research and found out it was tracked in California, deciding then he wanted to be a part of that scene.
Migrating West…to Westlake Studios
Immediately after getting acclimated to life in Los Angeles, Ed went to Westlake and was hired on the spot! The very next day, he was working as an assistant at Westlake. His first gig as an assistant engineer was on a tracking date for a George Duke session. Tommy Vicari was engineering, from which Ed learned so, so much. To this day he considers many of the things he learned from Vicari to be essential to his own work.
A month or so into his stint at Westlake, and, of course, Bruce Swedien and Quincy Jones came to the facility. They were working on Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall record at the time, for which Ed became their assistant through sheer coincidence.
Ed wound up becoming Bruce Swedien and Quincy Jones’s assistant for six years! He assisted on The Dude, Lena Horne, Rufus, Chaka Khan, Patti Austin, James Ingram, and many others. Swedien and Jones dominated the music business throughout those years, and Ed was able to assist them on those records.
Through a phenomenal start to his career as an assistant to industry titans Bruce Swedien and Quincy Jones, Ed Cherney has since established himself as one of the great engineers of all time. He considers himself very well rounded, familiar with many genres, and stubborn to the point that he doesn’t give up until something sounds amazing.
He’s worked on film/television scores and soundtracks, rock music, R&B, blues, folk, and just about everything in between. Ed’s selected discography includes greats like the Rolling Stones, Elton John, John Mayer, Buddy Guy, Willie Nelson, Bob Dylan, and Iggy Pop.
Ed Cherney currently works out of Studio Ed at the Village in Los Angeles, where he’s held a private room for nearly a decade.