Recently (well, reposted several times now) there was a post in the Toronto Craigslist Musicians section (which I frequent) about "How To Find A Good Producer". While it touched on a number of good points, I'm fairly sure it was written by a Producer or studio posing as an artist's perspective. It got my rant brain going so I thought I'd expand on a few of the points for fun.
Original post is here by the way.
*Update: already flagged apparently.
1. Check & Verify their Credentials. For example, if they say they've been Juno/Grammy Nominated, confirm & verify the claim by going to the Juno or Grammy Web Site. If they claim to have hits on the US National Charts, don't take what's on their web site as fact, check the US National Charts to verify that this is true.
True... always check the facts... but that's part of doing your homework.
There's an ongoing joke I'm a Juno nominated/award winning producer but I can only correct that so much. Yes, I've worked on a few Juno nominated/award winning projects but nothing with my actual name on the award.
In my opinion, if someone needs to boast in order to get your attention... chances are they probably haven't done anything relevant recently in your genre and/or you have no clue where their career trajectory is headed... for better or worse.
2. Check References. Talk to multiple people who have hired the Producer & listen to what they have to say about their experiences, good, bad & indifferent.
True. I always encourage bands and artists to contact anybody on my discography about what it's like working together. Most of the time they already have and that's why they contacted me in the first place. I'd say 80% of my projects are referrals. Reputation goes a long way in any industry.
Sidenote: If none of the bands and artist in your circle have worked with (established/semi-established) producers... you probably need to focus on raising your game and making friends with some more career minded people. Circles are small, but always open to good people and new talent. This is how networking works in the real world.
3. Listen to previous work. Listen to multiple recordings done by the Producer to decide if the sound they provide will be compatible with your style & genre of music.
True. Obviously sonics/end product need to factor into the equation. From there, get their contact and set up a meeting. If the vibe is good, and you feel their quality of work is "commercially viable" and their mindset is professional, odds are you're going to get a solid product at the end of the day.
Oh wait, this might be assuming the Producer also recorded and mixed the project. Make sure you know who else may have been involved on the project(s)... and do your homework on them as well! I chose that pic above for a reason.
Sidenote: Understand regardless of what's on the Producer's reel, you're going to sound like you.
As much as you might like to (or think you) sound like someone else they've worked with, there are too many variables to guarantee you're going to sound just like them or even close to them... and odds are you won't... and that's a good thing.
Every Producer wants the last project they worked on to be the best thing they've done. They're hoping what they do with you sounds better than anything else on their reel. They need it to be... that's how they stay current!
4. Be wary of anyone who over-advertises. Competent, Professional Producers are busy & in demand. They don't have time to post countless ads for their Services on a daily basis, they're already booked & working with their Clients.
Sorta false... because they can just assign the task to someone else.
Yes, they may be busy and in demand, and no they may not be posting ads on Craigslist/Kijiji, but they're still doing as much as they can to keep things rolling... and that means keeping their options open and their name in the fold. You'd be surprised how many producers and studios have their interns/assistants post online, scout bands, listen through demos, go through email responses, etc.
The playing field has changed so much the past decade and with decreasing budgets, even established producers still have their ear (and the ears working in their camp) to the ground for new bands and artists... usually to fill in schedule gaps but still... they want to be in the know!
Just because you don't think someone has the time (and it really doesn't take that much time) it doesn't mean they won't bother... besides, just think about how many household name brands still spend serious time and money to advertise.
5. Be wary of unsubstantiated claims. If what a Producer tells you sounds too good to be true, (promises of airplay, grants, getting your songs in movies, commercials or TV, etc) it probably is.
True... and this is a major red flag... sorta leading back to #1. If it sounds like someone is pumping their own tires to get your attention... they probably don't have anything relevant to support their career right now.
That being said, be open to their ideas regarding what they think you should do with the final product. They want people to hear it and they want your value to increase along with theirs.
Honestly, present day Producers aren't in it for the money... if they were, they'd simply open a studio and hustle to fill the time with corporate clients. Producers want to have their name attached to great projects, that'll get their name out (as much as yours) in order to help attract (and keep attracting) better artists to work with.
Truth is... better artists are generally easier to work with, have better songs, take less time, and have smarter budgets to work with.
6. Money. Get it up front & in writing just how much things will cost & the time-line for getting them done. If they Guarantee to get you Grants or to make you money from your songs, probably best to keep looking, as there's no guarantees in any business, especially Music.
True... and sorta false... since there are two points made here... with another huge waving red flag.
You obviously want to know what the budget is for the project... just understand that the budget agreed upon is for a certain set of conditions. Change the conditions (time, songs, details, etc), the budget might need to change as well.
Also, making your decision should rarely be about the amount of money (investment) involved... because if you manage to get ahold of your top pick and there's chemistry, you're going to find a way to make it work... both parties will. Money is the easiest problem to solve when opportunity presents itself.
Speaking of time and money, it's common for younger/inexperienced bands to not realize how long recording can take... so use those first few recording projects as a learning experience. Keep in mind how long people took to track their parts, how you solved creative differences, how well you handle making changes on the fly, etc. See if your band survives the process.
All that being said, I've had 2 projects (in 10 years) run so far over (our projected) budget that I felt we needed to readdress the budget. The bands understood and all was cool.
If they didn't want to reopen the budget, we would've pushed on to finish somewhat on time... but I'm certain the end result would've suffered.
I've heard a dozen horror stories over the same 10 years where Producers have readdressed the budget just before completing the project where they basically hold the project to ransom. I've never sided with the Producer in this situation.
Sometimes you have to take a hit... often Producers take a hit. If you're a Producer, you have to weigh the pros and cons such a move could do to your reputation... probably bad... it does work both ways though since people on this side of the glass all talk to each other.
Regarding grants... if someone claims they can guarantee getting you a grant... it's more about what happens if they don't.
If they say they can, and they don't, and then suddenly lose interest in the project... or better yet, lean on you to come up with the missing funds yourself... grab your pillow, roll over onto your side, and go to bed knowing you were only a money gig. It happens often enough in Canada because of the amount of grants we have... and like anything political (government = political), if you're working with people who have friends in the circle, you probably have a better chance of getting those grants. So again, maybe ask what the plan is if that grant doesn't come through.
Treat those grants like a bonus... not a welfare cheque you rely on to survive. This will make your business plan much stronger in the long run. If your plan is based around waiting on "maybe money", you've already put up a roadblock you could've dealt with long ago... not to mention a false reality of demand (income) you're working with.
7. One person cannot do it all. For example, if a Producer claims they can Mix & Master your songs, probably best to keep looking. Mastering is an art that most competent professional Producers will admit is not their specialty & refer you to someone who is highly qualified.
False... with a dash of true.
The up and coming Producers can and will be able to do it all. That's the way the grew up, all they know, and how they'll continue to operate given the budgets they're working with.
I've met a handful of Producers in their early 20's (working in basements/bedrooms on laptops, for next to no money or free) making a serious run at established guys in their 40's. It's just how it is, and how it's going to be in the future.
Many current (surviving) Producers are musicians, writers, editors, mixers, and engineers... they aren't amazing in all areas, but more than competent to get the job done.
Regarding mastering, lots of producers/mixers could master their own projects(and I believe mastering engineers are the next to get hit hard just like engineers and studios already have the last 10 years) but they'd rather not because they're too close to the project. It's about getting an extra set of ears (hopefully ones you know and trust) on the project.
Also, simply put, mastering is about sonically balancing the songs on a playlist. There are far too many people out there who think Mastering is this "black arts" voodoo thing nobody understands... well it's balancing songs on a playlist... and in modern day, mixers do way more in balancing the songs on an album/EP than someone could 20 years ago (on tape machines and consoles) because we can jump around from song to song, easily adjusting elements within a mix... not just general EQ curves and perceived volume levels of the final mixes.
That being said, at the end of the day it's about standing behind the product you're presenting. Doing the best you can given the time, budget, and talent you're working with.
... holy crap this is long.
I've been doing a lot of mixing the past few weeks and it's looking like the rest of this month will be much of the same.
One thing I love hearing (and questioning) is when bands talk about attending mixing and mastering sessions... then asking them...
"Why? What for?"
The answer is usually along the lines of ...
"So I can help."
lol... help do what? Be honest, you want to go and hang out... and it's easier to digest (and explain to your loved ones) spending $500 or $5,000 on your project if you're in a studio and around some gear with flashing lights and stuff. I get it.
Here's the truth. Most mix and mastering engineers prefer not having people around during 90% of the mixing and mastering process... and in some cases, it's clearly reflected in their rates by charging more to attend, or less for unattended, depending on how you look at it.
Because we feel you won't get our best work if you're around... so it's a subtle way of giving you the hint.
... but... but why?
Because... well, off the top of my head, here's the quick list.
You're going to talk/make noise/ask questions/etc.
This is a sure way to keep someone from getting in the zone. Even if you think you're being quiet... unless you can sit still, making very little noise, as if you're not even there... you might as well not even be there at that point.
Side note: With the honesty box open, if you're paying hourly/daily for a studio, they might actually love having you attend. They're banking on it taking longer, you not being happy with the mixes the next day, and needing to come back for tweaks... and that's more billable hours for them.
Remember what their business is... and most traditional studios are in the business of selling studio time along with the rock and roll fantasy camp experience.
You're that person in the band looking for a free lesson.
There's obviously stuff to learn from any studio experience, but past the hobbyist curve, there's often someone in the band that wants tips and pointers on mixing, recording, production, etc, so they can attempt to do it themselves to save money... so they want to attend to learn. This leads back to the first point, where there's lots of questions and comments, and it's going to cripple workflow.
(... especially guys like myself who will gladly go through the history of whatever you wanted to know because I love talking about crap I care about!)
Sidenote: Sometimes we factor in their plan (hope) might be to take one mix/master and apply it to the rest of the songs, on their own, to help keep costs low. That's sorta like asking someone to build you one room, and you'll just use it to help build the rest of the house. How hard can it be right? I totally understand wanting to cut costs... but this is not the way if you understand the Time:Money ratio in business.
You have no idea how the speakers or the room sounds.
The bass is too loud right? That's probably because you're sitting on the couch in the back of the room. In a studio, you might be able to listen in context but you don't really know how the room/setup sounds.
I do most of my critical listening in 3 places. Chances are you have 2-3 places you do most of your listening as well. We'd rather you listen on systems you're familiar with, and get a better idea of how it stacks up against other material you've been listening to.
You need your point of reference and it's always better to listen there first, then send/bring your notes in for tweaks.
Sidenote: A personal favorite is discussing sonics, only to realize someone is making judgements on computer speakers, iPod earbuds, or sitting on the left side of their car. I know it still needs to sound like music there because many people are listening to music there... but... nevermind.
You don't have much to contribute early on.
... and by early on, I mean before the first draft ends up in your inbox.
I mean this in the nicest of nicest of ways. Just like how you probably shouldn't show people your song ideas/demos until they're in a presentable form, you should give the mixing/mastering engineer time to get things in a form they feel are presentable.
After the first draft of an album, that's when attending makes sense, if necessary.
Mixing can be a messy and odd process.
How would you feel if your mix engineer spent 45 minutes on a bass guitar sound... meanwhile the snare drum (after they've been working on the drums for a while) still sounds way too loud. It's probably going to freak you out and eventually you'll crack and make a comment along the lines of "is the snare going to be that loud in the mix?"
Again, the "quiet" thing. Please.
Yes, I admit I've sat in on my share of mixes and mastering (hanging in studios is different when you're on this side of the glass for a living... since you're often invited), but I don't question anyones process or workflow. I'm often several steps ahead while I'm working on something. It's not uncommon for me to "compress, eq, balance" several times before feeling like I have something I'm happy(ier) with.
Imagine listening to a mix for 6 hours then seeing your engineer zero the faders and start again.
Yup... glad you're paying for the mix (end product) now and not the process? This leads to what I think is the biggest reason mixers and mastering engineers I've talked to don't like attended sessions.
We're afraid to backtrack in front of a client.
Obviously past a certain point in your career you no longer care what people think... probably because those people don't question the results... but a big part of the creative process is knowing when you should undo/redo something.
Over the years I've seen (and also guilty of) some very creative approaches and explanations for backtracking when there's a client around. Bottom line, they decided, for whatever reason, to try something else... knowing full well they might even go back to what they had before... 2 hours later.
This leads to a big reality in the creative world...
Sometimes no schedule (with a deadline) gives the best results.
One of my favorite perks to mixing is I can can do it alone, whenever I want. I can work when forced too as well... but I absolutely prefer working on my own schedule for editing and mixing. If I had to wait for people to show up to start mixing, that's time/opportunity wasted in my opinion. If I feel like staying at the studio until 4am because I'm in the zone, I can, no problem!
The flipside is sometimes I'm not in the zone or not feeling a particular song/album/ep that day and I'll decide to work on something else.
Better yet, maybe I'll fire up the xbox for an hour to take an ear break, walk around the market, read some blogs, play guitar and watch a history channel doc, etc. All the things I probably shouldn't do if I have people (clients) in... well most people... the xbox usually gets turned on for vocal breaks.
... and yes I know I probably forgot another 50 reasons not to attend... and if you are on this side of the glass, feel free to submit them and I'll add them anonymously.
Don't get me wrong, we do want you to be part of the process... we need to make you happy, first and foremost... but we also want to show you our best work. If you're around, we have to do some form of entertaining and also cater to the experience you're looking for.
An awesome part of hiring a professional is trusting they'll take care of whatever you've brought them onboard for. Again, we want your input once we have a draft we feel is presetable... and we're always nervous waiting to hear back after we hit 'send' on that first draft. It's been over a decade for me now... and it still hasn't changed.
The thing is mixing and mastering is a lot like driving... especially these days where we don't need 8 hands on a console to manually automate a mix... a mix we need to nail so we can move onto the next. If you trust the driver, you're going to get to your destination so it doesn't really matter how you get there as long as it's on time and on budget... just zone out a little and enjoy the trip.
- Mike :-)
P.S. Yes I know that bridge support is actually helping the bridge... but I thought it was too funny to pass up.
... so the 2014 Junos were held last night... the pre-broadcast gala where majority of the award winners were announced and hardware handed out. I found myself checking Twitter for the updates... seeing a few friends pick up awards really helped lift my spirits... even after an amazing day tracking group vocals... it ain't easy being a Leafs fan.
A few shout outs to some artists that hit a bit closer to home...
First off... huge congrats to Serena Ryder on winning Artist Of The Year and basically an insane year overall!
Serena and I went to high school together, and although we never really hung out or talked or anything, we've always said hello to each other around Toronto... high school runs deep... and I think there's a higher level of 'props' to people you know who've continued to grind it out with music as a career.
Again, she's had an insane year... and once Stompa came out... I figured it was officially go time for Serena and her camp. Glad she's been out touring like crazy as well... I've said it 400X, touring is where it's at... it's where you're going to solidify your core fans... and that's how careers are built and maintained.
Also, all the best to her tri-co-hosting the televised show tonight as well... even though I think it's kinda weird to have nominees hosting award shows... but I'll save that rant for later.
Congrats to Strumbellas on their win for Roots And Traditional Album Of The Year (Group)! I've known a few of the guys in this group since back in the high school days as well. I'm pretty sure they've all been in several bands together over the years, probably in several member combinations... but like most good bands out there, eventually there's a combination/chemistry that works and all of a sudden, things start to move forward. Of course that's the simplified version... but regardless, awesome to see!
Also... I'm really happy to seem them take home the award because they were nominated last year as well. I think there's a lot to be said in "not winning" your first time around.... and I can guarantee you at least one person at that table... after hearing someone elses name get called... became more motivated than ever. Congrats on getting the job done this time around! Been there. :-)
... and congrats to Eric Ratz for winning Recording Engineer Of The Year.
This one hits a bit closer to home for several reasons... although I doubt my name would ring a bell, we've crossed paths several times over the years. Like most people on this side of the glass, you eventually start blurring the lines between recordist and producer. He's been one of the careers I've kept an eye on the since I started 10 years ago, and I had my fingers crossed would take home the prize... plus he won it not only on a rock record... but on the Monster Truck record... which sounds rucking fidiculous. Good job Eric!
Congrats to Charlie Hope (Children's Album) and Courage My Love (Breakthrough Artist) on their nominations.
Third trip for Charlie, first for CML. It's always fun to go, but especially for the CML camp... it's great to see their progression over the years.
I typically have a bone to pick with acts that are "developed" but CML was one of the few groups I've heard of actually being discovered and developed... instead of discovered and then told everything they're doing is wrong and needs to be perfected over the next 5+ years until everyone has lost interested. Kudos to Nicole Hughes and Chris Perry for doing their part! All the best down the road... keep that momentum going!
Boourns to Ben Rayner. I saw this in the Toronto Star this morning...
"As for the rest of Saturday night’s Juno gala, it went pretty much where it always goes. Forever. Or for 3½ hours anyway. For the first time this year, casual observers could stream the pre-broadcast Juno gala online at home, but lord knows why you’d actually do that. Most of the people who actually attend the thing start tuning it out half an hour in because, frankly, by then it’s already clear there are several more crushingly dull and long-winded hours to come and everyone starts sucking down as much free booze as they can find until the bar shuts down."
Dude... of course you'd find it boring... it's not for people like you... it's not about entertaining, it's a dinner and presentations! It's a dinner party for those who actually belong in the room. And who would actually want to watch that? Anybody who has friends or family nominated... nothing tops seeing the happiness of people you care about in real time. I'm glad they streamed it... that's the future anyway... it's there if you want it.
Anyway, if you're there to be entertained, yes, you're going to be bored. It's probably similar to going to a party with your significant other, where most in attendance all went to high school or college together... it's going to be filled with inside jokes and you're going to hate it because you can't join in on their level.
You have no understanding how hard people are working to make a living in this industry and how emotionally charged up they are to be there... despite what they're showing on the outside. People aren't wandering around because they're bored or drunk (well... lol)... they're wandering around because it's a dinner, people have loosened up, and because you're allowed to walk around!
In my opinion, between the Saturday (gala) and Sunday (televised), it's all about Saturday if you're part of the business or more importantly, an artist.
You're in a giant room, filled with your friends, peers, probably a few mentors, and likely a few people who've done you dirty over the years... saying hello to people in that environment means a lot... for some of them, that might be the only time they've seen each other in years because we've all got our heads down, on tour or in our batcaves, working our butts off. Hearing your name called on Saturday is just a touch more huge than hearing it called during the nominations.... and once your category has been announced, all that anxious excitement you've been holding onto the past 6 weeks or so finally leaves your body... win or lose... you feel amazing... and you feel motivated.
Finally... finally, finally... a shout out to all those who were nominated but couldn't afford to make the trip. It aint cheap once you factor in travel, hotels, clothes, food, tickets, etc... for me, 2010 was close to $2,000, 2012 was around $1,500 (+$450 for the award! lol).
Obviously you look at the price tag vs. experience and think it's totally worth it... but I've heard of several artists over the years, mainly in the lesser known categories who just couldn't swing it... plus they didn't think they'd win anyway so why bother... which is pretty sad.
With the amount of money organizations like FACTOR have thrown around over the years to artists in that room last night to record, market, and tour... it'd be nice to see them throw a little in the corner of a few artists to help them make the trip. Even $10,000 could've helped send 5-10 people a year who otherwise sat at home last night... who despite having expectations so low, still had a sliver of hope in the pit of their stomach their name would be called... or at least the Leafs could've beat Philly... seriously guys... c'mon.
- Mike :-)
101 Tips To A Better Band: #9. Create ways to constantly get your ideas down... you need more than you think!
... so I have just shy of 25+ blogs and 70+ Tweets in draft form... some are well over a year old but for whatever reason, they were set aside.
Often it's because of the wording/rambling... but usually because of the timing. Sometimes I think some of the topics hit a little too close to home for who/what "inspired" them. Some of the blogs are #DearBands^10.
They always come from a good place in the heart though... but I gotta say... sometimes I just scratch my head as to what some people are thinking out there... or at least wish they'd be upfront and honest with what they're actually thinking.
I'm sorta comparing all these drafts to songwriting... I have lots of ideas in various states. Some flow naturally... some start with (what I think) is a great idea and take a little longer to develop/execute. This way I always have a deep pool of ideas to draw from. It can make all the difference in the world if you're a creative.
... and just like songwriting, you need to develop quick ways to get your ideas down... because you will forget the best ideas you have if you don't.
... so today seems to be the day everyone is chiming in on PONO. I've known about this for a while... and while I think it's a good idea at heart... it's kinda like seeing a concept horse and buggy at the autoshow.
I feel sorry for Neil Young... I think his heart is in the right place but he either hasn't surrounded himself with forward thinking techies and/or hasn't been told the truth about where things are going... or worse, he's surrounded himself with a group of 'yes men' that just want to make a quick buck off his celebrity endorsement.
So PONO... for those who don't know, is a service/device that plays higher quality audio files. Haven't you always wished all those MP3's you bought (or maybe didn't buy) sounded better?
Maybe... if this was 2001.
Things have gotten way better though... in fact, better to the point nobody really seems to care... and by nobody, I mean the general public... the ones who actually consume all this music in the first place.
I just read a post on facebook saying producers and labels should be really interested in the technology but here's the thing... we (producers/labels) don't buy the albums... the fans do. It's like saying the farmers care about the food... no... the people eating the food care about the food. Farmers only growing food with the intention of feeding other farmers is called jazz.
Anyway, if a record sounds that bad, the fans will speak up... and you only hear of a couple notable turd albums/songs a year at most. Often they're the result of someone in the chain screwing things up one way or another. Hell... think about how albums are being made these days.
Anybody coming up is working off their laptop with whatever gear they have. The good stuff rises... the quality is irrelevant if the song's a hit! Making a great sounding recording these days is cheap and easy... and I'd be curious if Neil would be ok with making an album on a laptop and releasing it into the wild for fans to consume for free... because that's basically what's going currently.
... but the main point PONO doesn't seem to grasp... is people don't want to own music... they don't want that even more than they don't want to buy another device that'll become obsolete as soon as they take off the plastic... and risk dropping in the toilet.
Think about it... why did we like MP3 players over CDs? Why did we like CD's over cassettes? Why did we like cassettes over vinyl?
Storage and logistics.
Each has been easier to transport and more convenient than the last... and we're well into the process of replacing our super convenient MP3 collection with streaming... and the bottleneck isn't the playback device. It's our ISP's (Internet Service Providers). Eventually we'll have enough bandwidth and quick enough data transfers to stream high resolution audio on whatever device you want.
Any music, anytime, anywhere.
We don't need to own the music. We just want to stream it.
We don't need to have a copy of the file any more.
We want to be able to pull it out of thin air... via subscription service or simply as part of our Phone/ISP data package.
We've been spoiled and anybody under 20 probably doesn't really know anything different. There's no going back now. We know this option exists and there's always someone who can make this option available. You can't put the genie back in the bottle.
Dare I say we've crossed the "sex" threshold with this relationship.
... PONO... I hope you enjoy your well intentioned milk and hugs... but our smartphones are the ones currently doing the dirty work... soon to be replaced fully by tablets. The killer app for audio quality will be just that, an app... not another device.
P.S. I've heard Pono referred to as an "iPod rival". Apple cannibalized it's own iPod with the iPhone. Just something to consider here.
P.P.S. Sorry if some of this doesn't make sense... only had a short break... back to tracking acoustics. :-)
P.P.P.S The audiophiles who want Pono have been and will be fine without it... and the money they might help generate will be such a tiny drop in the ocean of revenue anyway. Anybody have numbers on Super Audio CD's? Anybody even remember them?
Mike Langford - Official Blog
Being on both sides of the glass, I get the chance to wear many hats in the music industry. This is a place to share my thoughts, views, predictions, rants, stories and news!