Editor’s Note: Conversations with Maine is a new weekly column that will appear in the Bangor Daily News. The state of Maine is peopled with multigenerational natives and newcomers, young and old, influenced in one way or another by mountains, lakes, fields, forest, sea and coast. We are solid, down-to-earth workers, entrepreneurs, inventors, wanderers, artists of boundless imagination, thinkers, doers, loners and leaders. A lot of us are many of these things all at once. As a writer, I consider the people of Maine to be a treasure trove of stories that, pieced together, will create a mosaic that tells the tale of the state of Maine.


Ever since the age of 1, when his enthusiastic drumming with spoons broke one of his mother’s plates, Andrew Clifford has been someone who crosses the boundaries of expectation. President and owner of Bangor’s Main Street Music Studios, Clifford loves music, lives music, but more than that, he aspires to carry central Maine across the threshold of a new musical movement.

“The movement” is a multi-faceted, dynamic integration of musical education, performance and production in this age of digital media. After spending an hour with him in his studio, I am convinced that Clifford is the kind of inexhaustible young innovator that could make it happen.

As an entrenched member of the old pre-digital musical movement, I tried not to miss a beat with this professional drummer, teacher, engineer, producer, DJ and — young father? Yes, that was one of the myriad stereotype-altering facts of Clifford’s life.

On the stage, in his hip clothes and dark glasses, he gives off the aura of cool star appeal. Behind the glasses is a kind face, a highly approachable young man, a natural with children who flock to his studio for drum lessons.

Clifford’s music production room has a large fish tank, a sofa, two computer screens glowing with the “Green Tank Productions” logo, and a vast mixing board. When Clifford told me that his 3½-year-old son often joins him at work, I remarked that it must be hard to keep him from pushing buttons and levers on the board.

“I want him to — I tell him to!” Clifford replied. He is a firm believer in exposing children to the wonders of making music as early as possible. He is particularly excited about the parent-child music lessons offered by one of the studio’s teachers and the fact that the studio hosted a class trip from Camden-Rockport Middle School.

The son of a music teacher in Newport, Clifford grew up with instrumental students in and out of his house all the time. “I’d be in the living room, and a saxophone would go by.”

Though drumming was always his favorite, Clifford loved all aspects of music. After two years studying music education and performance at the University of Maine at Augusta, he struck out on his own. In trips to New York City he learned more about the music business, taking chances, DJ-ing, drumming and production. New York connections got him jobs for TV stations and well-known artists.

In today’s digital era, music producers “make beats” for artists and performers, who integrate them with their own sounds. With his MPC 4000 (“The first piece of equipment I saved up for,” he remembered with satisfaction) Clifford can layer multiple tracks of beats and electronic instrumental sounds.

“But I don’t like quantizing [which makes rhythms perfectly uniform],” he told me. There are producers that use drum machines exclusively. Clifford’s music always includes “organic musicians,” real artists performing on real instruments, in order to give the music a more natural feel.

I wondered if electronic musical production might make human musicians obsolete, but Clifford asserts that there is more need for live musicians today than ever. “If you want to have soul in the music,” he said, “you need real people.”

It is the soul in both the music and the man that makes Clifford so appealing to real people, whether hip-hop artists in New York or 8-year-old drumming students in Bangor, Maine. His is the soul of the musical movement that Clifford and his colleagues are so excited to push forward. I had to admire the work they have done, and said so on my way out.

“This is just the beginning,” he said.

Robin Clifford Wood is a writer, musician and recent empty-nester. The state of Maine captured Wood’s imagination as a summer visitor in 1979 and became her full-time home in 2002. Feedback is always welcome through her blog about sunrise and life transitions at www.ayearofgettingup.blogspot.com or at robin.everyday@gmail.com.