Mega-DJ and producer Tony Moran creates hits for the dance divas, cranks out masterful mix CDs, and even scores movies! Is there anything he can’t do?
by Matt Kalkhoff

Remember everything you had to worry about back in your senior year of high school? You were probably deeply focused on college admissions, planning the right career path and coming to terms with having to take a girl to the prom instead of that hunky guy on the swim team. Now imagine if you also had to worry about whether Diana Ross was going to like the way that you edited her new record. Such was the case for a very gifted 17-year-old Tony Moran, and that was only the beginning of his remarkably prolific musical career.

Initially inspired by DJs Kenny Carpenter and Jellybean Benitez, as a teen Moran honed his skills as a mobile DJ playing street parties in Brooklyn while accumulating “a discotheque’s worth of equipment.” In time, Moran taught himself to splice together different sections of songs on reel-to-reel tape to extend the intros and breaks which allowed for much greater artistic freedom. As his edits grew in complexity, he began arranging entirely new rhythms to form frenzied hybrids of his favorite records at a time when only a handful of others – most notably legendary producers Arthur Baker, Shep Pettibone and Nile Rogers – were experimenting with this uncharted, innovative format.

When, in 1985, WKTU’s program director Carlos DeJesus heard one of Moran’s mix tapes at a local record store, he quickly moved to put Moran and his remix partner, Albert Cabrera, on the air under the moniker “The Little Rascals.” The popularity of their radio mix show soon caught the attention of Arthur Baker who recruited the DJ duo to work with him at his Shakedown Studios.

Moran went on to produce numerous dance acts like The Cover Girls whose chart-topping gold single, “Show Me,” helped initiate the mid-80s “freestyle” movement. After making an indelible mark on the music industry by producing a string of hit dance records for TKA, Safire, Lisette Melendez and others, MTV asked the charismatic Moran to host a program called Second Generation. It was an opportunity he couldn’t pass up, but the change of focus inadvertently put his thriving musical career on hold.
When the freestyle phenomenon expired, Moran’s showbiz career almost ended with it. Despite his past success and enviable Rolodex, Moran found himself faced with some unexpected obstacles while trying to break back into the music industry. Dance music had evolved during his extended absence, so the resilient musician immersed himself in the burgeoning house music scene and set out to reestablish his relevance.

As the 90s progressed, work started trickling as Moran intensified his networking efforts. A phone call to Epic Records’ Frank Ceraola finally opened the right door for Moran – the opportunity to do a spec remix of Gloria Estefan’s “I’m Not Giving You Up.” “I said, Look, just let me do it, I’ll do it for nothing,” Moran recalls. “I don’t care how much it costs me, just give me a chance. He gave me that chance and it led to me not only doing her next record, but then for Gloria and Emilio to ask me to produce their next album [Gloria], and then to produce Jon Secada.” Moran’s career was firmly back on track.
Over the next several years Moran added an impressive array of artists to his discography, including Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson, Barry Manilow, Celine Dion and Whitney Houston. He also worked on many of his own original productions and mixed several compilation CDs for Centaur Music, like the recent Party Grove: House.

Now the two-time Grammy-nominated producer has just conquered yet another facet of the music industry. Merging his songwriting, production, remixing and singing talents into one ambitious project, Moran scored the entire movie soundtrack for Dirk Schaffer’s new film Circuit. Released on his own label, Emerge Records (a joint venture with Centaur Music President Nick DeBiase and Amy Chanos), Moran found the project both challenging and rewarding.

“I had worked on movies before doing a single song or licensing, but it’s certainly not the same doing the score through a whole movie because there are a lot of cooks in the kitchen and you have to work with people who are all very passionate – you have your view and they have their view. It was really a compromise,” he acknowledges. “But at the end of the day, I really felt good about the movie. I felt like they were telling a particular story rather than sending a particular message, and that was important to me because I didn’t want to be involved in something that was going to judge people or actions or anything.”

Showcasing a wide range of musical styles, the Circuit soundtrack maintains a festive party vibe throughout most of its 19 tracks. Moran co-wrote and/or produced many of the songs, including Kevin Aviance’s “Ready Set Go” and Elle Patrice’s spirited “Emotions” and “Rising.” He also expressed himself vocally on “Follow Me,” “Let The Music Fill Your Soul” and “High.” Circuit standards “Love Divine” by Ron Perkov, “Can You Feel It” by MarQus and “Been To The Mountain” by Francesca are also included on the soundtrack along with new music from Taylor Dayne, Lonnie Gordon and Paul Lekakis (who plays Circuit boy “Bobby” in the movie).

Moran also graces the album credits of Cher’s Living Proof for his production of “Body to Body, Heart to Heart.” And he’s been spending much of his time in the studio lately working on songs with Donna Summer for her new album.

“Sony sent me over to Nashville to write one song with her and we totally bonded,” Moran proudly reports. “Next thing I know I’m back in Nashville three more times and she’s recording three songs here in my house [in New York]. I was really happy because she was working with a bunch of new people and she wasn’t singing on anybody’s demos, but we were having such a good time that she came and sang on all of them which was such a fascinating experience.”

Always on the lookout to develop fresh talent, Moran is hoping to help transform two up-and-coming female vocalists into tomorrow’s superstar divas. He is currently producing full-length dance albums for Elle Patrice (whose music is featured on the Circuit and Queer As Folk soundtracks) and new discovery Becky Baeling, a 19-year-old performer who was recently signed to MCA Records.

Also under Moran’s guidance is actress/singer Martine McCutcheon whose song “This Is My Moment” – already a #1 hit in England – became an international Circuit anthem when Mary Griffin recorded it under the title “Perfect Moment.” McCutcheon’s already scored several Top 10 records and a multi-platinum album in the U.K., and now Moran is hoping to help her make a name for herself in the U.S. with a new album that includes a collaboration with the London Symphony Orchestra.

Simply put, Moran’s vast contributions and pioneering spirit have changed the face of contemporary music. Taught by the best to appreciate the value of a good song, he has excelled in each and every endeavor over the years thanks to his savvy and talent, but also because of his engaging personality which is one of his greatest assets.

“I never was intimidated being surrounded by talent, because since I was a kid I was surrounded by great talent,” he says. “I think maybe that was the most valuable lesson that I learned. I could be in the studio with Cher today and Donna Summer tomorrow, or Gloria or whoever, and I would respect them and love them for who they are, but they’re not going to scare me. I told Gloria to sing the same thing 50,000 times – I told Donna that I wasn’t going to let her out of the room unless she did this note that I wanted her to sing. They don’t intimidate me. But I respect them greatly, and I think because of that, it makes it easy to collaborate because I don’t feel restrictive about giving anything of myself to anybody. I think once they feel that from you, then they feel a little bit more open about giving back.”

© 2002 Matt Kalkhoff
Featured in Next magazine's May 10, 2002 issue, and was subsequently featured at in July 2002.