Michael Omartian: Faces New Challenge In ‘97

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Christian Producer of the Year Michael Omartian calls the award “a real honor and very flattering,” but modestly adds, “It’s funny though, because awards can be a double edged sword.  It’s great to be recognized but so many deserve it.”

It’s difficult to imagine anyone more deserving than Omartian, who was the first producer with number one records in each of the past three decades and who is still going strong. 

Christian Producer of the Year Michael Omartian calls the award “a real honor and very flattering,” but modestly adds, “It’s funny though, because awards can be a double edged sword.  It’s great to be recognized but so many deserve it.”

It’s difficult to imagine anyone more deserving than Omartian, who was the first producer with number one records in each of the past three decades and who is still going strong.  He recently started his own label (Soundhouse, affiliated with Warner Alliance) for which he will serve as sole producer.

If all goes as planned, Omartian will add an exciting chapter to his career within the next year.  He and Donna Summer have co-written a musical based on her life, which should open in Nashville late this year and on Broadway in 1998.  “It’s a departure for me and it’s really exciting,” Omartian tells us.  “We’re still trying to land on the proper name for it, something that’ll grab the ear.”

He has other major projects already on the drawing board for the upcoming months: producing Wayne Watson for Soundhouse, a Christmas album in April for Gary Chapman and his own instrumental Christmas album for Warner’s, as well as working with Kara Williamson.  “She’s the first new artist that Soundhouse has signed and is a young, very talented singer, writer and piano player.  My son, Christopher, and her brother, Scott Williamson, are putting together a production team, and we’re very excited about Kara,” he enthuses.

Omartian, who has produced such artists as Rod Stewart, Amy Grant, Whitney Houston, Vince Gill, Reba McEntire, Christopher Cross, Michael Bolton and Peter Cetera (to name a few) in his hit-packed career, says he can “sense right away” whom he’ll feel comfortable producing.  “People who need what I can bring to a project know what I can do, so that alleviates and eases the pressure because of the familiarity.  And a lot of friendships have come out of my work.”

One of those friendships is with Vince Gill, with whom he co-wrote “When Love Finds You.”  He worked with Vince in concert for two weeks last December “and it was a ball.”  I’ll probably write again with him this fall.  He’s one of my favorite people, and what a gentleman.  He has so much talent and doesn’t even realize it.  He’s so casual and cool about it.  A lot of times, we’ll stay up ‘til 3:30 in the morning talking.  He’s a great guy.”

Omartian feels the relationship between a producer and his artists is vital.  “When I was producing in L.A., I started going to sports events or to a nice dinner with my artists before we recorded.  I believe what happens out of the studio is as important as in the studio.  Winning the confidence of the artist is important.  I have the reputation of relaxing, laughing, and having fun – enjoying the process.  I think it absolutely has to be fun.  I think the concept of staying in the studio for hours is counterproductive.  Everybody gets too tired and it’s just not going to work as well.  That just perpetuates tiredness and people aren’t clear-headed.”

He believes there is a big difference producing a new singer and a more established recording artist.

“A lot of times with new artists, you feel wide open and you hope they have a sense of what they’re about.  With Kara, it’s fresh and new with no preconceived ideas.  With veteran artists, the trick is staying ahead but not losing their core audience.  Sometimes there’s a restraint then on what you can do.  There’s a sense they want to push for something different but not lose their audience.”

Singers often are as diverse in their approach to studio work as to the music itself.  “I worked with Barry Manilow this past fall on Summer of ‘78 and he’s a perfectionist.  We had a great time, but it’s very important to him to pay a lot of attention all the time and to really work while in the studio, not to take phone calls or things like that.  But I worked with Wayne Watson out at Gary Chapman’s and Amy Grant’s.  Gary and Amy have a pond filled with fish, and it was important to Wayne to take his fishing pole out to the pond and fish.  Every artist demands something different.”

Omartian admits he has “never felt totally comfortable in making choice alone for songs.  I like to do what’s great.  A&R people are dedicated to listening for the right song, so I rely heavily on them and on the artists for a nice combination.”  Omartian himself still writes, so-writing last year alone with Amy Grant, 4Him, Point Of Grace, and Donna Summer.  He enjoys co-writing, which he calls “a nice feature.”

Though it doesn’t seem he’d have time for a life outside the studio, Omartian says that since he moved to Nashville from L.A. in June 1993 he’s become “very involved in the local community.  It’s great to feel I can do something with a charity and actually see the accomplishments.  I’m the president of the Friends of the School of Music at Belmont University and am on the board of governors of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.  I’d have to say that there’s a higher percentage of nice people here than in L.A., where I lived for 25 years.  I love it here and don’t even mind the cold weather in the winter.  I’m from Chicago, and the air off the lake there is so cold it’s unbelievable.”

Omartian is a devoted family man, calling his wife Stormie and kids Christopher and Amanda “wonderful.”  He’s especially proud of Stormie’s career as an author of inspirational health books and conference speaker to women’s groups.  A new addition to the family is 17 year-old John Kendrick.  “We lost his parents unexpectedly in a car accident.  The whole family was just shattered.  Stormie and I had been named in their will as John’s guardians, and we took guardianship of him at Christmas.  He’ll be with us permanently this summer.”

It seems Omartian was destined for a career in music since he began playing piano at just four years old.  He’s produced and/or written in nearly every style of music, including Christian, pop, country, rock, blues, classical, and R&B.  He’ll no doubt easily conquer Broadway next year.



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