Tonight I am meeting with a new client who wants me to produce some music for him and it got me to thinking about choosing a producer and about being a producer. And yes, you need a producer. You need someone who is outside of the creation of the music to hear what you are actually doing. As a creator you can easily get lost in your intentions and not hear your actual work. You’ve coloured it with time, ego and intention and you may not hear what is there.
Let’s start with choosing a producer. Unless you have a large budget and a label that is willing to go to the mat for you promoting your CD, you are not going to have the kind of choices that you would like to have. No world famous producer is going to work on a recording he thinks no one is going to hear, no matter how good it is. Now if you have a small budget, you can still contact whatever producer you choose. Sometimes they take on a client that has no backing because they like the artist or the material. I am just saying that that happening is really a long shot. Try to contact them. You have nothing to lose but a little time and postage. But that very rarely actually happens. So let’s assume you haven’t signed with the Capital Music Group and you are putting the recording out yourself. Now what kind of choices to you have?
First consider the budget. How much money do you have? Enough for recording, mastering and manufacturing? How much actual money to do you have to pay the producer? Secondly, is he or she also an engineer or will you also have to also pay an engineer? Thirdly, does the producer or the engineer have a studio or will you have to be paying for the studio time as well?
Unless you have a lot of money to put into the project, I suggest that you work with a producer/engineer/musician that has his own studio. That way you can negotiate a flat rate per day that includes the producer, engineer, studio and musician costs. Any additional musicians or singers that are needed would be extra, but you can talk about that in advance and, more than likely, there are musicians that the producer you hire frequently works with, and he can, perhaps, get you his rate for their services.
So now we know what we need from this producer, how do we choose one. Start here: of the local recording artists in your area, are there any who have a CD that you think sounds really good? That’s the first step. You want the recording to sound really good. Secondly, of these same local artists, is there a producer that has captured that artist on CD; has he served the artist and the songs?
(By the way, these suggestions are all for the artist who wants to make his or her statement from their artistic perspective. Making radio hit recordings requires a lot more involvement from a lot more people, all of whom are either very expensive and/or will own the lions share of the project and will call all the shots. In that instance, you will simply be the product, the clay that they will mold. I have never been able to turn myself over to anyone like that, so you have to ask yourself my favorite question again...what do you want to have happen here?)
To return, you can also contact producers whose work you admire who don’t live anywhere near you. I know that I have produced a number of artists who came here to Los Angeles from Chicago or Seattle or Denver and stayed in a hotel and worked with me. They heard a recording of me or someone that I produced and they liked what they heard, so the emails started and before to long, we were working together.
You want to contact several people because you never know how personalities will mesh. You need to find someone you can be in the trenches with, who has or appreciates your sensibilities. On one project, I worked with a producer who was always on the phone talking to his next client or project. I mean he was spending a lot of my time doing business not connected with what I was paying him to do. I spoke to him about it and it let up a little, but never really stopped. You don’t want a person like that. I never worked with him again.
And regardless of what you’ve heard or seen or read about, you don’t want a producer who’s getting loaded on your time. Nobody works better loaded than they do straight. I’m not against getting high. As a matter of fact, I believe that all drugs should be legalized just like booze is, but I don’t get loaded and try to engineer or produce a project. There is a time and a place for everything. And I mean everything. More tomorrow on what the actual costs are.