Real World Stories: How to Survive in the Music Business w/ Scott Greiner – For Musicians, Engineers, Developers +

In this series, Dubspot contributor Michael Emenau a.k.a. MNO introduces you to some people who have carved out careers in the music business, and followed their passion without becoming rich and famous. How to Survive in the Music Biz  - Real World Stories begins with California-based producer/engineer/composer and gear developer Scott Greiner.


In this ongoing series, we’ll get to know some people who have carved out careers in the music business, and followed their passion without becoming rich and famous. Looking at concrete examples of what others have done may help to inspire you to make your own path to success.

Meet California-based producer/engineer/composer and gear developer Scott Greiner. Scott has been in the business for 20+ years doing everything from touring his own group through Europe, to composing music for Nickelodeon. He’s performed with Liz Phair and engineered for Maria Carey.


Scott in a happy place

“You should do music not because you want to be famous, but because you love to do music. I have never been famous and the people I know that are, that wasn’t their goal either–they just wanted to make music.

-       Scott Greiner

Early Life/Music Introduction

Scott’s first memory of music was listening to “Abbey Road” while in kindergarten: “It was the sounds and the variety of songs which caught my attention, and I wanted to be a Beatle since I was a teeny kid.” Scott started playing a toy guitar, pots and pans, anything to make music. This passion fuelled his early experiences making music, playing in bands with friends as a teenager.

By the time he entered high school, the sounds of the Sex Pistols and the The Clash were in the air and his sonic pallet was expanding with every new music experience.

Simultaneously, he was developing as a producer/engineer. As early as the fifth grade, he was doing very basic recording/overdubbing with tape recorder and a friend’s boom box. The sound was horrible, but gave him a taste of the power of overdubbing, and taught him his first lessons about pushing the technology available to him. Eventually, he purchased a second tape recorder and a mixer, which improved the audio quality. These were followed by four- and eight-track recorders, and he started making multi-track recordings for himself and his friends. To fund this gear habit, Scott took any job he could find Washing cars in Detroit in the winter was not a pleasant experience, but it provided the money to pursue his interest in music.

“Every ounce of money I ever made, and every gift ever given was all about guitars or saving up for a microphone or some piece of gear”


The good old days

The good old days


“Higher” Education:

By the end of High School, he owned enough gear to start making records for people, and knew this was where his future lay. He put together a jazz guitar demo to get accepted to Berklee School of Music, but found he would not be allowed to learn recording and production until he had completed two years of jazz guitar studies. This was of little interest to Scott, so he spent most of his time recording local bands. Realizing that this school was not for him, he left Berklee for Columbia College Chicago, where he studied animation and film production, and freelanced as an engineer/producer.

This was a defining moment in Scott’s career. Instead of following the well-worn path of traditional music education, Scott moved on to follow his passions. To know when to leave a situation that is not working is just as important as knowing when to persevere. Even though he did not know this at the time, his seemingly odd decision to go to film school led him to make contacts that would later open many opportunities for him.

The Real World:

Scott soon got a staff position at a studio where he had brought many bands to record. Once through the door, he was full time, recording jingles during the day and rock bands at night. The studio owners shared with him a wealth of knowledge and experience and Scott’s career took off.

“I don’t know how I learned to do a lot of this stuff. I think I just asked questions to people who were already doing it”

Two years later, he moved California and quickly found himself working as an assistant to Walter Afanasieff (Mariah Carey, Celine Dionne) at The Plant in Sausalito California. This certainly seemed like a move up the ladder, but he spent most of his days loading samples and doing other mundane tasks. He could see the future of the recording industry, and knew his job would not be around for long. Things were changing fast–home studios were appearing everywhere, the record companies were bleeding money, and the big studios were going bust.

Colleagues from film school started contacting him, and he landed post production audio jobs in Chicago and then San Francisco. At this studio, he met and later joined the band “100 Watt Smile” fronted by former Breeders singer, Carrie Bradley. He was now touring and recording while holding down a studio job.

“We toured around Europe and the US for a year or so, it was great fun but it was also really fatiguing and then the money dried up and it was time to move on.”

Scott dove more deeply into composing and producing. He started a music production company called Little Green Men with a group of composers who had been working for various music houses. Together, they created music for film, animation, and advertisements. Here, he gained a wealth of knowledge about the business environment, and formed a realistic view of music business survival. Scott’s excellent advice for getting jingle work is this: “Your clients will be the advertisement agency creative directors, so the best agent to have for your music house is a former ad-executive, they open the doors.” 

Here are a couple advertisements Scott has written music for:

In 2005, Scott went to Paris and began producing and recording bands, while performing on guitar and laptop, and working on an animation series for Nickelodeon called Wubbsy based in LA. Eventually, he was offered a job as the music supervisor for a European animated series for Disney.

“They needed a lot of Pop songs, so I would help them pick songs, get everything composed and produced, go to Disney corporate in London to manage the players….composers were in Brussels, Production company in Paris, Animators in Lille, writer in LA…a lot of time zones and a lot of languages…it was a cool job, but when the contract finished I knew it was time to move on, back to SF.”

Recently, Scott’s life has taken another seemingly surprising turn. Scott’s never-ending interest in tinkering with equipment got the best of him, and he started developing a piece of gear he wanted but did not exist: a fully automatable analog summing box. From tinkering with tape players, to finding schematics for old compressors and reverbs, Scott’s drive to make the most of technology has served him well throughout his career.

“I would find the schematics for whatever gear I wanted (reverb, delay, etc.) and get the tools and a soldering iron, and make it. Once I understood how it worked, I could then modify it to what I wanted”.

Not for the feint of heart

Not for the faint of heart: schematic for an analog delay pedal


MNO: As a guy who just designed an analog summing box, do you feel that analog is inherently superior to digital? 

Scott: I think that the digital equivalent is just as viable as the analog antique. The reason I prefer the analog antique is because I know it better… I can get the sound I want… there are people that have grown up entirely in the digital plug-in domain that are making great mixes, churning out hits, fat sound…. I think you need to fully understand the tool-box that you are working from… and it’s a hell of a lot cheaper.

MNO: What would you tell an 18-year old about how to approach the music biz?

Scott: I encourage everyone to get involved, either for monetary gain or for getting kicks, but you should have a marketable skill alongside of that.

MNO: Are there any marketable skills in the music biz?

 Scott: Absolutely. I recommend that everyone learn a computer programming language…or all of them. C++, Python, Java. They are not going away–they will only be more prevalent…programmers are the rock stars of today…If you want to really make a unique sound, then if you can get inside the programs… you can download the SDK kits from VST and Audio Units and create new ways of making sound, much like I would do with altering schematics. You can design your own plug-ins, put them up on itunes/App store and sell them.

 MNO: How do you recommend getting into programming?

 Scott : Start with MAX, it’s object oriented but you can get to the code quite simply… most of the people that I know that are computer programmers are also musicians, working jobs, making music, living very full lives… alongside making music, manipulate gear, learn how to program it, learn how to make it… it’s very empowering. Sometimes I wish I could program better, because there is a plug-in that I want but it doesn’t exist. I guess that’s why I developed this summing box–it didn’t exist and I need it.

Scott is a pragmatic person, but this should not be looked as compromising. By making tough choices, keeping focused on the bigger picture, and never ignoring his natural passion in music, Scott has made a successful and fulfilling career, and that’s all that most of us really wish for.

“Even if you do become famous, it doesn’t last forever…. Then what are you going to do?…. you had better be doing something you like”

make music because you love it, not to get famous

“make music because you love it, not to get famous”   -  Scott Greiner

Michael Emenau a.k.a. MNO has worked professionally as a musician (vibraphone, percussion, laptop), producer, remixer and arranger for 25 years, playing such diverse genres as, jazz, rock, drum’n’bass, salsa, techno, country, Hindustani, gospel, baroque and orchestral music. He has recorded on over 150 CDs, composed music for eight films, toured internationally, and lived on three continents. Michael was the house studio mallet percussionist for Sony Records (Japan) in the 90s, was a founding member of the award winning “Jazz Mafia” as well as working as a producer/remixer for Six Degrees Records in San Francisco, arranged and produced contemporary multimedia productions of the 16th-century composer Henry Purcell in Paris and is now writing a musical based on the life of Dionysus and dividing his time between Montreal and New York.

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