Born 1971 in Columbus, GA; raised, along with one brother, by mother after father left family; moved to Atlanta neighborhood of Highland Place in 1983. Education: Attended M.D. Collins and Lakeshore High School; dropped out at age 17. Addresses: Record company--Rowdy Records, 75 Marietta Street, 6th floor, Atlanta, GA, 30305.
As one of the most sought-after songwriters and producers in contemporary music, 25-year-old Dallas Austin is in select company. His name is mentioned in the same sentence as legendary producers Phil Spector and Berry Gordy, and any artist looking for an Austin signature tune must be willing to write a $75,000 check for his services. He is personally responsible for over 15 million records sold; there is no shortage of artists willing to hand over such a sum because Austin possesses a musical Midas touch, turning nearly everything he touches to platinum rather than gold. Austin has produced and written for Boyz II Men, Madonna, and TLC in addition to working with performers signed to his own label, Rowdy Records, based in Austin's hometown of Atlanta, Georgia.
As an adjunct to Rowdy Records, in 1992 Austin opened Dallas Austin Recording Projects, a production facility whose sound rooms have hosted Illegal and Ya'll So Stupid, two rap acts on the Rowdy label. Austin also has A&R (Artists and Repertoire) deals in place with EMI and Motown Records, allowing him to scout and sign talent for those labels as well as his own. After eight years in the business, Austin has reached the top of the profession and has been recognized by Billboard magazine as a top songwriter and producer in both R&B and pop music. With the corporate structure established to sign, produce, and release records the way he wants, Austin plans to concentrate on acts more alternative than those he has worked with previously. "I want it to be, like, a real creative, artsy label. I'm not going to say it's not to make money, but it's not geared toward commercial acts. I'll see a guy playing a saxophone on the corner with a guy with bongos and give him a record deal, you know," he told the Los Angeles Times.
Austin represents a growing number of streetwise producers churning out hits for big-name artists in a manner that hearkens back to Motown's heyday. Sean "Puffy" Combs and Teddy Riley are fellow members of this informal conglomeration of hitmakers and have crafted successful tunes for Michael Jackson, the Notorious B.I.G., and a host of other chart-topping hip-hop and R&B artists. They share a friendly rivalry that raises the stakes for each successive project, pressing them to produce better and better songs for stars from contemporary music's short list. Combs told Newsweek, "When I heard Dallas's track for "Creep," [written and produced by Austin for TLC's 1995 release, CrazySexyCool] I said, 'Damn, I've got to come strong for TLC.' We push each other to do better." Like Combs and Riley, Austin grew up listening to R&B and witnessed the birth of rap and hip-hop in the early Eighties. Austin credits his brother for introducing him to a steady flow of new music as well as schooling him in the virtues of long-established artists. "The whole time I was growing up I was into music. My brother always had bands, so I was like the little kid that they'd tell to get out. I loved George Clinton, Earth, Wind & Fire, I listened to a lot of Chili Peppers...," Austin recalled in the Los Angeles Times.
Born in Columbus, Georgia, Austin would stay up late into the night playing along with recordings by his favorite performers on a keyboard. While this wee-hour apprenticeship served Austin well in the successful career that followed, his teachers found him tardy and generally inattentive. Austin told Newsweek, "I would get to school at 10 or 11 and the teachers would give me grief so I would just leave." He dropped out of high school during his junior year but his musical penchant quickly led to a job in the business, manning the lights for Atlanta's Princess and Starbreeze. Shortly thereafter, Austin moved from behind the lights to the stage after being asked to play keyboards for the group.
Austin then met Michael Bivins, a former member of the rap/R&B group New Edition, who moved Austin to the production booth to work with former Klymaxx singer Joyce Irby. Austin helped Irby craft "Hey Mr. D.J." and the song became a modest hit. On the heels of this success, he went to work for Motown acts Boyz II Men and another Atlanta-based act, Another Bad Creation (ABC), leaving more hit singles in his wake. He was responsible for ABC's "Iesha" and "Playground," two songs that helped spring the group to national prominence. With Boyz II Men, Austin wrote and produced eight of the ten songs on the R&B group's multiplatinum debut, Cooleyhighharmony.
Austin's musical prowess also brought attention from Antonio "L.A." Reid, an executive with Arista Records, after Austin's own demo tape crossed his desk. Then only 17, Austin signed a contract with Reid as a performer for Reid's Atlanta-based LaFace Records. LaFace had recently signed an all-female Atlanta trio now widely known as TLC. With Austin's help, their 1992 debut, Ooooooohhh ...On the TLC Tip, went platinum and established the group as one of the hottest acts in music of the Nineties. He wrote and produced "Ain't 2 Proud 2 Beg" and "What About Your Friends," with the former reaching platinum status and the latter going gold. Austin grew up with two TLC members in his College Park neighborhood in Atlanta. He told Atlanta's Journal and Constitution, "I knew Tionne from the skating rink, and Rozonda ...so I pretty much had a feel for TLC and what they were like already." Austin continued to work with TLC for the group's 1995 release, CrazySexyCool, writing and producing the wildly successful single, "Creep."
Between working as a freelance producer and managing his label and production studio, Austin is a member of a rock and R&B band, Highland Place Mobsters. The association dates back to 1983, when the preteen Austin moved from Columbus to the Atlanta neighborhood of Highland Park. With the Mobsters, Austin displays his more cutting-edge musical tastes, rebuking his mainstream commercial pedigree. The group's 1992 album 1746DCGA3005, while definitely showing a much different musical side to Austin, did not sell. He told the Journal and Constitution, "I didn't expect people to get it because it was way out there. Most good stuff doesn't really sell a lot anyway." While an unexpected comment from a producer responsible for millions of purchased records, it reflects Austin's competitive edge over his competition. "My gift is knowing what other people could like," he remarked to the Journal and Constitution.
by Rich Bowen
Dallas Austin's Career
Began career as lightshow supervisor for Atlanta act Princess and Starbreeze; became keyboardist for same group; signed to La Face Records at age 17 as performer; produced single for Joyce Irby, formerly of Klymaxx; moved on to produce for Boyz II Men, TLC, Madonna, Lionel Richie; started Rowdy Records and Dallas Austin Recording Projects in Atlanta, early 1990s.
Dallas Austin's Awards
Named Billboard Producer of the Year, 1991; placed second in Billboard~s 1995 Top Ten Pop Songwriters of the Year and first in Top Ten R&B Songwriters of the Year.
- Selective Works
- (With Highland Place Mobsters) 1746DCGA3005, LaFace Records, 1992.
- As producer Another Bad Creation, Coolin' At the Playground Ya-Know (contains "Playground" and "Iesha"), Motown Records, 1991.
- Boyz II Men, Cooleyhighharmony, Motown Records, 1991.
- Madonna, Bedtime Stories (contains "Secret"), Maverick Records, 1994.
- TLC, Ooooooohhh... On the TLC Tip (contains "Ain't 2 Proud 2 Beg" and What About Your Friends"), LaFace Records, 1991.
- TLC, CrazySexyCool (contains "Creep"), LaFace Records, 1994 .
- Billboard, June 3, 1995.
- Journal and Constitution (Atlanta), June 6, 1993.
- Los Angeles Times, December 6, 1992.
- Newsweek, May 8, 1995.
- Rolling Stone, August 24, 1995.
- Schwann Spectrum, Winter 1995.
- Additional information obtained from Rowdy Records publicity material, 1995.