PRODUCING A RECORDING PROJECT
Most people struggle and strive to get their foot in the door of the music industry, they give it years of their lives, sometimes. They push and push and push to make connections, build up a backlist of work, and find a means to make a living off of their art. This is the journey, it’s a part of what every creative person undergoes.
It’s not easy to admit, but after you’ve learned the ropes of a little bit, there’s a whole OTHER ecosystem to navigate. You’ve learned your way around the music industry a little bit, you’ve decided to try your hand at producing, and you’ve found a band or artist you think is worth recording. What now?
What actually goes into producing a recording project? Obviously, the answer to that question can’t be found in one short article. However, a producer wears several hats in the recording process, and by understanding the various roles, you will be at least heading in the right direction. Here are some of the basic elements involved in producing an artist.
1) ARTIST DEVELOPMENT
After you’ve broken in, on the creative end, the producer is sort of a coach for the band or artist. They give them advice, guidance, and inspiration. They help them navigate the back alleys of the industry, while also enabling them to find their sound. To produce well, you need to allow yourself to become invested emotionally in that artist’s growth.
You need to really care about the people involved, not just the music. Listen carefully to the band or artist’s work, and make suggestions for fine-tuning both the technical and musical elements of their performance. This will obviously happen with the songs you choose for the recording, but each song is a reflection of the artist.
The producer sees the bigger picture, not just individual songs, and is helping the band or artist find their creative voice. Think of the role of producer almost like a film director. They’re guiding the artist through the scenes of the album, but they’re also helping to guide the artist in real life too. They’re attempting to set everyone up for success, connecting them to people who would find value in their work.
As the producer of the recording project, you make the final call on choosing the right songs for the record. If you’ve done your homework with the band, you will be able to determine which songs best showcase their talents and creative expression, as well as which songs (or sequence of songs) provide continuity to the record and make a cohesive musical statement.
This might sound easy, but it’s harder than it would appear at first glance. You might be selecting 10 songs from 30 or 40 possibilities. You’re going to be making hard calls and difficult decisions that not all of the band members agree with, but that’s how it works. You’re going to be the leader, you’re going to be making some rough decisions.
There are lots of criteria to consider; many times the producer and artist will weed through a seemingly endless amount of material. The producer also oversees selecting and renting the studio and hiring additional musicians for the project.
Working with the recording engineer, as a producer you will oversee the execution of the recording. You will listen for errors in pitch and harmony, technical issues, and anything else that could lessen the quality—continuing to coach the artist to create the best performance possible and capture it in the recording. The good producer is meticulous about these, acting essentially as quality control for the music.
Sometimes you might even be dictating the scope of the soundscape. Literally saying, “I don’t know guys, this song doesn’t feel big enough, I think we need to start over again.” The balancing act of being a producer who has the ultimate power over a recording session is both exhilarating and also a grave responsibility. Don’t abuse your power, take it seriously.
On the financial end, you as the producer are responsible to make sure the project is properly funded (by record labels or independent investors). You will also oversee the budget itself, making sure bills, studios and musicians are paid, and making financial decisions to make sure the project stays both on budget and on time.
This, as well, is a big responsibility. If the record comes in over budget, want to guess who’s going to be on the hook for it? It’s not going to be the band. It’s going to be you. You were the one who was steering the ship the whole time. If things go off the rails you’re going to be dealing with quite a few upset people.
If there is a record label involved, as producer, you are the point-person between the band/artist and the label. You will walk the delicate balance between making sure your artist’s needs are properly represented to the label and making sure the artist is meeting the label’s requirements.
If the band or artist and the label aren’t in agreement on the direction to take the music, you’re the one who is going to have to find a middle ground. You’re the person who’s tasked with making this project find a path to success. There’s no other way about it.
As you can see, producing a recording project is a complex process; but for the passionate producer, meeting these challenges is both fulfilling and invigorating. There’s nothing better in life than sitting in the studio late at night and hearing someone say, “I think it’s time for the car test.”
And then everyone runs outside and plays the song while sitting in a car, sitting in the parking lot of the recording studio. It’s a unique and bizarre type of euphoria that most people will probably never experience in their life.