Here is a recent interview I did for a student about how I see my role as a producer. Hope you find it interesting.
1) What are some of the most difficult aspects of this career that you have come across?
Trying to stay current on the newest studio equipment and gear in general. I learned Pro-Tools in the early days and got hooked into the system I learned on. I am much more of a right-brained creative person. The only reason I learned how to use studio equipment at all was to give me freedom. Of course, now I love it and find it fun. Another part that can be difficult, is keeping organized data files, especially when working with other engineer, mixer, or producer who is uses another organizational system. It’s so important that files do not get mixed up or lost. Budgets are also a critical part of producing, but can be really confusing, especially when it comes to paying from union scale, rates, etc. I have found it is best to hire someone to handle the booking aspect of a record; studios, musicians, engineers and the overall recording budget.
2) What inspired you to go from being an artist to a record producer?
Learning Pro-Tools while I was still making records and producing my own albums, was invaluable for my future as both an artist and a producer. It gave me the freedom to record whenever I wanted without waiting for a studio, engineer, or having to watching the clock. At the time, I had no idea I was heading towards producing for other artists. Once I learned Pro-Tools, it just seemed natural.
I was doing a lot of producing all along, I just didn’t know that I was doing it. It was mostly just a conscious decision of putting on a different hat and being comfortable with it.
3) What are some important interpersonal skills needed for this career?
Being able to bring people together. Not only do you need a great network of musicians, engineers, studios, etc., you need to be able to create an environment that encourages and fosters creativity. That can be tricky if people have just met and they are doing a session for the first time together. It is the producers job to “get the party started “ so to speak and keep the energy positive.
Being positive and appreciative. If you let others know that they are appreciated, they’ll want to give you their best and love working with you. It’s important to maintain a positive attitude about work and about life. Sometimes, it can get very stressful in the studio, and it is my job to keep it to a minimum and somewhat away from the artist.
Observe what’s going on in other people’s lives. Sometimes an artist will just have a bad day. You can’t personalize it. Yet, I always try to open the door for a conversation and let an artist know they can talk to me about whatever they need. This may include any issues they may have with the project or with me.
Listening actively and openly shows that you intend to hear and understand another’s point of view. I always try to follow up on artist’s suggestion or request, even if I don’t think it will work. If they see me as someone who will listen to their ideas they will grow to trust me.
Know how to resolve conflicts. There will always be some conflicts, and how you handle them is very important to the vibe of the project. I always find it best to resolve conflicts when they arise and to not let things build up or linger. Once it is cleared up, it is important to go right back to work and have a positive demeanor. This can be hard sometimes but it is important to model “no hard feelings” to your artist or anyone you are working with. I have also found it essential to know how to be an effective mediator. It has been more than once, when the artist wanted something different than the label. Usually, but not always, the manager takes care of that, but many times I was the one whom the artist asked to represent them, because as a fellow artist and having been on labels myself, they have felt I could “express” their case better.
Being able to communicate clearly avoids misunderstandings and mistakes. I knew a producer who asked his engineer and Pro-Tools guy to do something, and when he realized that he hadn’t done it, he blew up. It was a misunderstanding between all parties. They hadn’t gotten the request right, and made a costly mistake. This could have been avoided by checking in more often and making sure that everyone knew exactly what they were supposed to be doing.
Have a sense of humor and in general keep things fun. Most artists are children in many ways. Tapping into that innocent, unfiltered creativity can usually get the best performance. Plus, it is the “entertainment” business so it is important to keep the fun in the mix.
Seeing it from their side. This is one of the greatest gifts you can give someone and a great quality to develop. Being an artist, I have a lot of empathy for my artist. It is easy for me to understand how they feel and to relate to them.
Don't be the venter. If I simply have to vent about something, I try and save it for my journal or personal friends and family. If it becomes impossible, because the issue is affecting work, I wait for an appropriate time and check to see if the person is open to discuss it. Then let it go! I try and keep it a rule to not talking bad about others no matter what you may feel about that person.
Never let ‘em see you sweat! Artists are sometimes like children. They look to their producer almost as a parent. I know I did! I have parented many artists. Sometimes they need you to just listen and be their friend. Sometimes they need the security of seeing you be in the final decision making position and being very sure of something.
4) What is your musical educational background?
I participated in all the music programs in school that I could. I also learned to play guitar. I think maybe some formal music and business education could be useful for being an artist or a producer. I always like to encourage artists to learn more than one aspect of the business. These days as a producer knowing pro-tools is pretty much a required skill. So learning how to engineer and being a musician are both necessities in today’s producing world. The most important part of being a producer to me is to have a music background. Whether is because you studied at MIT or because you were road musician. No one looks at a producers college resume when they are thinking of using them to produce and album. They look at their credits as a producer and listen to their product.
5) What experiences prepared you for this job?
My whole life prepared me for this job. As far as hands on experiences that prepared me for being a producer being a musician and an artist with a lengthy recording background are at the top. This combination has made me perfect producer in many ways because I completely understand what an artist is going through as your digging in their soul to get the most out of them and on to a recording.
Since music producers are responsible for all stages of production, they usually have quite a bit of music and performance experience themselves. That is part of the job, to be able to communicate to the artist the changes that need to be made to make the song work better from all aspects such as lyrics, music, arranging, layering, vocals, I also need to know what works and what doesn't, so my live performance experience has been indispensable.
As an artist I can’t imagine working with a producer who couldn’t play an instrument or didn’t understand song structure. I did work with a producer once who didn’t sing. It was a very hard session as he tried to talk to me about voice in shades of color. “Try singing it orange”, was just too ethereal for me.
When I need to communicate something vocally to my artist, I just sing it.
Also learning pro-tools while I was still making records and producing myself was invaluable for my future as an artist and a producer. It gave me the freedom to record whenever I wanted with out waiting for a studio, engineer, or watching the clock money wise. At the time I had no idea I was heading towards producing for others. Once I learned pro-tools it just seemed natural. At the same time technically I can get in there and run pro-tools and engineer all while working with the artist in a very intimate way. I don’t need an engineer in the beginning stages when it’s just the artist and me.
6) Besides working with the artists and many other people involved in their career, what are some other crucial areas that you focus on as their producer?
As a music producer I am responsible for all stages of audio development.
Songs are at the top. They have to have great songs! Song analysis and development, song writing and arranging are all a part of that.
Part of my job can also be to make sure emotions stay balanced during the production. An instinct of knowing how hard to push musicians and when to back off and let everything breathe is essential.
Besides focusing on the songs and the artists well being during production most producers will do some or all of the following: studio and session musician booking, actual recording of the songs, budget management, artist promotion.