Brian Warwick: Working with “Weird Al” Yankovic

Brian Warwick: Working with “Weird Al” Yankovic

“Weird Al” Yankovic’s music may be funny, but the longevity of his career is no laughing matter. The man behind pop culture parody songs such as “Eat It,” “Amish Paradise,” and “White and Nerdy” has been putting out records for more than 30 years, with last year’s Mandatory Fun earning Yankovic his first number one album on the Billboard chart. That album also won Best Comedy Album at this year’s Grammy Awards.

As Yankovic’s vocal engineer for the past eight years, Brian Warwick has had a lot to be excited about recently. But the the root of his enthusiasm is less about the accolades, and more about the fact that the Full Sail University Entertainment Business Master’s graduate has been listening to Weird Al since he was a child.

“I used to play his stuff every night before going to bed. It was a ritual,” he says. “I recently went back to my parents’ house and found a cassette single of ‘Smells Like Nirvana,’ and now it sits on one of my speakers at my home. I had to take it back with me.”

Just working in the recording industry is a dream come true for most people, but Brian recognizes the fortunate position he’s in to be working so closely with someone he was a fan of for so many years. Even eight years into the gig, he still describes the entire notion as being somewhat surreal.

“Every once in a while, I’ll be tracking something with him and just think, ‘holy crap, I’ve been listening to this guy for a long time,’” Brian says. “He’s really cool and very down to earth. He’s very much a normal human being – or at least, as normal as you can be, being a comedy superstar all of these years.”

Joining Yankovic’s circle as an assistant engineer during the sessions for 2006’s Straight Outta Lynwood, Brian quickly ascended the ranks to vocal engineer. He was also one of the lead engineers on Mandatory Fun. Over the course of three projects, he’s been able to observe the attention to detail and professionalism that has given Yankovic such longevity throughout his career.

“He’s an amazing musician. He does a lot of pre-production for his parodies, like walking into a session with a complete score of Pharrell Williams’ ‘Happy’ so he knows what the different instruments are playing,” says Brian. “I’m not even sure that Pharrell has a complete score of ‘Happy’ rolling around, but Al has gone through to figure out how to have that sonic identity of the original. I think there’s something inside him that has to make these parodies. He really enjoys it.”

Brian also theorizes that the political and social climate of the last year may have also had an impact in Mandatory Fun’s unprecedented success.

“The summer that we made this record was heavy – drama, wars, protests,” he says. “And I think that the small moment when the world was able to watch the eight music videos that we released within one week gave us all some sort of release. The world can be so serious, and maybe music like this gives us the opportunity to put a mirror in front of ourselves and laugh a little bit.”

Though he had already spent years working as a recording engineer in Los Angeles, in 2011 Brian enrolled in Full Sail’s online Entertainment Business Master’s degree program because he wanted to develop his own professional brand and learn more about the business side of the industry. Now – with the Grammy win and Al embarking on a 100-city worldwide tour – he’s able to apply to better capitalize on the attention that’s come his way.

“I learned a lot about developing Brian Warwick the engineer as a personal brand. Just to have the confidence to contact newspapers, put out press releases, and create a stronger online presence has been a huge help in making me stand out,” he says. “A lot of people in the industry only focus on the musical and technical aspects of the business. What I learned in Full Sail has definitely helped me expand my career.”