Not many producers can shift from urban to Keith Urban--then again, Mike Elizondo is as renowned for his diverse studio smarts as he is a songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and a music executive with magic ears. (He serves as senior VP of A&R for Warner Bros.) "Not being pigeonholed as a one-trick pony was 100% calculated," Elizondo says. He first gained attention as a key sideman to Dr. Dre, moving up to co-producer/songwriter on game-changing hits for Eminem and 50 Cent, and cemented his A-list status by producing Fiona Apple's critically hailed "Extraordinary Machine" (2005). Since then, he's helmed projects spanning from Maroon 5 to Mastodon to Gary Clark Jr.'s 2012 breakthrough "Blak and Blu." "Bouncing around genres allows me to borrow from each project and apply it to the next, even if it doesn't make sense on paper," he says.
For the past year, Elizondo has been making the magic happen in his multiple-room setup at Tarzana, Calif.'s legendary Can-Am Recorders, where classics from Pink Floyd, R.E.M. and Madonna were forged, and their gold and platinum plaques line the halls. The space has a special history as well for Elizondo, who first encountered it while playing bass on Nelly Furtado's "I'm Like a Bird" in what's now his control room. The studio was also a favorite of Dr. Dre's, and Tupac Shakur allegedly preferred to work in what's now Elizondo's domain. "We have a running gag--if Pro Tools crashes, we figure the ghost of Tupac isn't feeling it," he jokes.
Elizondo started as a session player, so he understands how amazing gear can kick-start a track. As such, he keeps on hand everything from classic basses and guitars from Fender, Gibson and Rickenbacker to '60s Ludwig and Gretsch drum kits and a bevy of vintage amps, pedals, keyboards and drum machines. "Having an inspiring instrument that makes someone want to create--that's one of the things I always have ready to go," he says. Sometimes it's important to take the edge off, too: For that, Elizondo-a confessed "Star Wars" fanatic--has a talking Yoda figure overlooking his mammoth 48-channel SSL 4000 E mixing board. "It's a good ice breaker," he says. "If things get a little tense, I'll ask Yoda, 'Was that vocal take good enough?' If he says 'yes,' we'll keep it and move on."