‘Glee’ Music Producer Tommy Faragher Discusses the Warblers’ Success, Working With Chris Colfer + Darren Criss
Everyone knows the show ‘Glee’ and its notable competitive vocal group the Warblers, but many may not know the brilliance behind their creative and tightly unified a cappella arrangements. Meet Tommy Faragher, music producer for all of the Warblers hits. With the success of the Warblers debut album (which was released this week), PopCrush chats with Faragher about working with Chris Colfer, Darren Criss and producer Ryan Murphy, the success of ‘Teenage Dream,’ and how he’s applied his past songwriting and producing experiences (as well as his part in a family band) to his new and extremely successful ‘Glee’ endeavor. After all, he’s quite the song arrangement veteran.
You are getting a lot of recognition for your production on 'Glee' arrangements, but you have so many other attributes over the decades. What's are some of your most memorable accolades?
Well, [I was] nominated for a Grammy, and I won that [songwriter’s] ASCAP Pop Award for the Taylor Dayne song [‘With Every Beat of My Heart’]. I've received about 15 Golden/Platinum awards over the years, worked with classic artists such as Ringo [Starr], Dusty Springfield, Jermaine Jackson, Al Green and Taylor Dayne. I was [also] the executive music producer to the show that spawned ‘American Idol’ in Australia, ‘Pop Stars.’
Would you say you applied your 'Pop Stars' producing experience to your 'Glee' experience?
Absolutely. So much about recording vocals is making the artists feel comfortable, understanding how to work within limitations (in terms of time), varying vocal abilities with all the people you are working with, and understanding where you’re going to get the sweetest part of their voice -- and how far you can push them and how much you want to push to get there.
Working on that TV show in Australia there were constantly cameras in the room, so you were always under the observing eye of the camera, and everything that you did was being recorded for posterity. So, it was a bit nerve-wracking at the time. [But] I really got a clear understanding of what it takes to work at that kind of a pace and what’s required.
Working on ‘Glee’ has been one of the most amazing and gratifying experiences of my career. Everyone on the team – from the assistants, to the singers, to the producers – every person involved has been amazing to work with. And I quickly realized why the show was so successful, because everyone is pulling for success and works long and hard for it.
Working with the singers on ‘Pop Stars' -- making them feel comfortable, and finding out their vocal abilities and their vocal range -- where does that experience stem from? Do you have vocal training from growing up? How did you become such a great mentor?
Originally, I was in a family band [the Faragher Brothers]. We did four albums. When I was a little kid, our mom used to sit us down at a piano and teach us all [of the] harmonies and learn how to sing within a unit, and as background singers as a family, we did background vocals for Ringo … We even sang background vocals for Wonder Woman [and] Melissa Manchester – there were quite a few artists we would end up singing backgrounds while on stage and in the studio. So I have a lot of experience coming from just inherently growing up with [it] as part of my family experience and then as professional singers and musicians through all of the decades I’ve been doing this.
How did you become involved with 'Glee'?
When I got the call, they needed someone that was on the East Coast to produce a cappella tracks for a competing group on the show called the Warblers. It’s turned into a multi-city project and I have to hop back and forth between Boston (where I record the backing vocals) to New York (where I record most of the leads and mix the tracks). A few of the lead tracks we recorded in Los Angeles as well.
The Warblers cover of Katy Perry’s ‘Teenage Dream’ (which you produced) is currently the highest downloaded 'Glee' song on iTunes. Can you talk about the song?
Well I feel really lucky -- as opposed to just duplicating a track that’s already been recorded and has been a hit, and to just do an imitation of that track and put vocal on it. To actually have the assignment to do a cappella versions of every song for me has been a blessing because it’s kind of like a painter that’s been given a certain pallet of colors to work with and still [have to] come up with a product that’s appealing to the eye. It’s like having one hand tied behind your back, and sometimes it sparks a creative aspect of what you’re doing. And in that respect I feel really fortunate to be involved on this level … To work with such talented singers and people who help put [‘Glee’] together.
Could you tell us a little bit about working with Chris Colfer and Darren Criss?
Oh, yeah. They’re great! When I first heard Darren’s voice on the audition tape that they sent me, I knew immediately that he was a star and I knew that we could make great music together. And so I was definitely asking them to please select him [laughs]. He’s the guy – he’s got such a warm, thick soulful sounding voice that I knew in the studio we would get a really great result. And then when he flew out [to New York] to do the vocal, when he came in the door, [I knew] this is going to be easy. We laugh, we joke about everything. We work really, really hard but then between takes we always find a moment to somehow ease the stress of the whole arrangement and just have fun. [We try] keeping it serious in terms of achieving the work that’s important but then realizing that the best way to get that result is to make everyone feel comfortable and not stress about it, you know? It’s a hard balancing act, especially when someone’s coming out doing something that know one’s really done before. It was all new for everyone.
… And working with Chris as well. Chris is a complete sweetheart of a person and just the easiest person to work with in the studio. When you need him he’s already at the mike ready to go. We would get a lot of work done. He was so willing to do things over and over -- just a true professional. You’d understand why these people are really successful when you’re working with [them] and realizing the work ethic that they have.
Do you get to pick the songs that you rearrange, or is that something that you collaborate on with Ryan Murphy?
I really wanted to work with Ryan because I think he’s brilliant. Ryan Murphy is the co-producer of all the Warbler songs. I’m proud to be working on a show that pushes the envelope and reaches [out to] so many people. [Ryan] will find a song that is appropriate for the scene and then he’ll communicate that through all the different people that are involved with the show. The primary focus is all about the feeling, and capturing the appropriate emotion.
The day the Warblers album debuted on iTunes, it was at No. 2. Did you expect it to be this successful or were you surprised?
I am a little surprised, but in a very positive, excited way. I’m surprised because it’s the first non-traditional cast record that they’ve done, and [Ryan] wasn’t sure how it was going be accepted by all the ‘Glee’ fans. I’m really pleased and excited that everyone seems to recognize its musical value.
What's your favorite song on the Warblers album?
Well, I have a special attachment to 'Teenage Dream' just because of the magic that it created it for everyone. No one expected it to happen like that and it just came out of the blue and blew up. And it changed [everything], because originally the group, it was kind of a one-off thing, it wasn’t meant to be such a game changer in terms of how many songs the Warblers ended up doing. Because of the success of ‘Teenage Dream,’ they kept getting written back into the script. I was happy to be there to provide production for it.
Do you prefer rearranging recent Top 40 hits or more classic songs for the Warblers?
I think I like both, because they each appeal to different audiences and we like to reach as many people as possible. It’s nice knowing that ‘Silly Love Songs’ is being appreciated by Paul McCartney fans as well young people who had never even heard of Paul McCartney. And then at the same time it’s great to work on something like ‘Raise Your Glass' [Pink], and then have older people who would never listen to something like that on the radio or ‘Teenage Dream’ and just go like ‘I love that!’ It’s just been a great opportunity to reach cross-genre and generational audiences.
Watch the Warblers Perform 'Teenage Dream' on 'Glee'