Grammy-winning music producer says JMU prepared him for the big time

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Scott Riesett Grammy1
Music producer Scott M. Riesett ('93), center, accepts a Grammy for Musical Theater Album at the 66th Grammy Awards in Los Angeles, California, on Feb. 4, 2024, alongside others from the cast and crew of the musical “Some Like It Hot” on Broadway. Also pictured are orchestrators Bryan Carter and Charlie Rosen (first and second from left) and cast members Natasha Yvette Williams, J. Harrison Ghee and Adrianna Hicks (third, second and first from right). Photograph by Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

SUMMARY: Scott M. Riesett (’93) studied Business Administration with a concentration in Music, expecting to pursue a career in film and TV scoring. Instead, he became a music producer and has worked with the likes of Ariana Grande, Dove Cameron and Harry Connick Jr. A recent Grammy winner, he credits his years at Madison with helping him write a unique and successful career path.

Taking home a Grammy Award is rarely a given. After two other nominations spanning a 30-year career, music producer Scott M. Riesett (’93) didn’t expect his third nod to earn him a win. “It was a surprise but a thrill,” said Riesett, of Maplewood, New Jersey. “You never know what’s going to win.”

Riesett won a 2024 Grammy in the Musical Theater Album category for the original Broadway cast recording of Some Like It Hot. “We really didn’t think that we were going to win this year. There were a lot of other strong contenders,” he said. “It’s the recognition from the industry that they like what you’re doing, that they respect what you’re doing.”

Riesett, who hails from Caldwell, New Jersey, and later lived in Baltimore, Maryland, said JMU was his top choice when he was looking for a college with a music program. “Oddly, even though I didn’t join it, I first heard about [JMU] because of the marching band,” he recalled.

Earning a Bachelor of Business Administration in Marketing with a concentration in Music, he planned to write TV jingles and pursue film scoring. Then, after earning a master’s in music from the University of Miami, he said, “I went the writing or studio route instead.”

Scott M. Riesett at the Grammys
Scott M. Riesett (’93) at the 66th Grammy Awards in Los Angeles, California. Photograph by Gilbert Flores/Billboard via Getty Images

He credits the late Robert W. Smith, a professor of music industry and media arts and design and a prolific composer, with encouraging him to go to graduate school and setting him on a career path that’s led him to work with the likes of Ariana Grande, Carly Rae Jepsen, Dove Cameron, Keegan-Michael Key, Jane Krakowski, Jennifer Hudson and Henry Winkler.

“That’s been amazing to be able to work with some of those really talented people,” Riesett said. Jazz artist, actor and three-year American Idol judge Harry Connick Jr. was a big influence on him in college, “and then later I was able to work with him very closely over a 10-year period,” he said.

Smith, who was chosen to write a theme for the 1996 Summer Olympics and later worked for Warner Brothers Publications, wrote Riesett a recommendation letter for graduate school. “I certainly have him to thank for that,” Riesett said.

After grad school, he headed to New York, where he met the multi-award-winning film composer Marc Shaiman, who was working on the stage production of Hairspray at the time. The two hit it off and have since collaborated on Hairspray Live! (2016), plus multiple other projects including NBC’s Smash (2011-2013), Bette Midler’s It’s the Girls album (2014), Mary Poppins Returns (2018), Hocus Pocus 2 (2022) and the (2021) Hawkeye Marvel series on Disney+.

Riesett was executive music producer for the Apple TV+ series Schmigadoon! as well as music producer for Grease Live!, and music producer of songs for the upcoming Agatha: Darkhold Diaries Marvel series on Disney+.

Among many others, he’s been a music producer for the cast recordings of the Almost Famous: The Musical original Broadway cast album, the Annie Live! original television soundtrack, and the Up Here TV soundtrack with composers Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Bobby Lopez of Frozen, Coco and WandaVision.

Each experience is different, Riesett said, and sometimes sets a new bar for industry achievement, such as the 2016 Grease Live! production, which livestreamed from three sound stages on a Hollywood backlot, requiring the crew to keep disconnecting their cameras as they transported everyone around the lot between scenes.

Describing the performance as “one of the most harrowing projects” he’s ever done, Riesett said Grease Live! took more than its share of risks. “Visually it all paid off,” he said.

He recalled the Flying Over Sunset Broadway cast recording as a standout experience, because “the music for that was really amazing” — even though the show was cut short due to its late start during the COVID-19 pandemic. “That’s a project I still think is one of the best albums I’ve ever done … and collaborated [on],” he said.

Another disappointment was when the album for the TV show Rise on NBC was released immediately after the show’s cancellation was announced. “But they live on,” he said. “The albums are there. Hopefully someone will find them.”

Though he pivoted early in his career from his dream of being a composer to pursuing music production, Riesett has no regrets. “I’m an OK composer,” he said. “These are great composers. I’m a great producer.”

Riesett was nominated for a Grammy as music producer of the Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations 2019 original Broadway cast recording as well as the Schmigadoon! (Season 1) 2021 original television soundtrack.

His Grammy win was for his work as music producer on the Some Like It Hot cast album. “I haven’t gotten it yet,” he said of the award. “That’s the thing they don’t tell you. You have to wait at least three months until the award shows up.”

He only held it for a short time, while taking photos at the award show. “They keep handing you a trophy and then taking it away,” he said, laughing. But he’s not concerned. “It’ll find its way there eventually.”

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by Josette Keelor

Published: Friday, April 19, 2024

Last Updated: Monday, April 22, 2024

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