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.
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!