In my very first blog I wrote about the basic, basic differences between a producer and an engineer. The conclusion was that a producer is the ''project manager'' who is in charge of process & creative direction and the engineer captures the creative vision using a variety of techniques and equipment. One has an overall vision, a sonic ''colour pallet'' and the other envisions the 'numbers'/limits/mechanics/theory (Like the matrix code!). So what is expected of a producer? What exactly goes into the colour pallet?! Here's my basic breakdown;
1) Helping direct the journey of the song - This is often overlooked by those new to production and is even more often rejected by younger, newer bands who have no real expectations of production processes. This means that although your song may be very good, it can be better and they should help you get there without getting directly involved in the writing process. Around a month or so ago a very talented acoustic artist came to me with approximately 60-70% of a song. His budget wasn't huge and he couldn't afford a full pre-production session but from what I had already heard I knew instantly what could be done to make it better. To make it THE final take. We sat down, divided the song into individual sections and began re-arranging and re-writing it. My first point was that there wasn't really a chorus, what he already had as a chorus felt like a pre-chorus, the part that helped deliver the big lift. I helped guide him into a new chordal transition and told him to separate the root of the instrumental and the root of the vocal. We have lift off! Long story short - after a 2 hour sit down he went home, re-wrote the song and came back on the day of the session with a fantastically arranged song. We sat down for a further half an hour before we began recording and it was sounding fantastic!
My advice here would be that if you're offered a pre-production session and that you can afford it, take it! If you're not offered one then a red ''warning'' flag should appear in your head...
2) Deciding on 'the sound' - This one gets just as personal as the last and it's a collaborative effort between the artist, the producer AND the engineer. Well, it can be a collaborative effort or it can be more of a stand off! As a guitarist you may love the sound of your vintage Gibson being ran through a vintage Marshall 100w head, it might even be more about the feel of it! But the producer may think that a different combination will help you achieve your end goal a bit better. An AC30, a Fender Bassman or a combination of the 2?! The engineer is there to capture that sound but may also have a slightly better alternative when thinking about the relationship of the guitar sound and the mix. Who wins? Well that depends on the situation and what is deemed most important at the time. On Pearl Jam's song 'Even Flow', Mike McReady's guitar sound was the combination of an MD421 on a Marshall and an SM57 on a Fender Bassman, printed to tape via a Neve 8048 console. Was this his live rig? Not exactly.
3) Managing the band and managing the process - The producer tells you to take a break? Take it. The producer offers an alternative way of working? Try it. The producer wants you to warm your vocals up a particular way? Go for it (no this doesn't make you a wimp). The producer tells your to do 10 press-ups and run down the corridor twice and jump straight into a vocal take?! DO IT! There may be a method to the madness...
Here's a video of Butch Vig describing his difficulties with getting the takes he needed for Nirvana's ''Smells Like Teen Spirit'';
4) Get to know one another - The better the relationship, the easier the work will be. Ask to visit the studio every now and again (if the producer hasn't already invited you), chat over messenger, share songs! Whatever it is, break down those barriers before the session begins and make a new friend. Sometimes this isn't always possible as people lead busy lives but the technology is there to at least make contact once in a while. I believe this is the first thing a producer will aim to do, consciously knowing or not.
Basically, it's the producer's job to get the best out of you. Have an open mind, respect each others processes and the results will speak for themselves. We're all dealing with people, a subtle interaction goes a long way - and that goes for artists when dealing with producers. Have your demands too! But if all you want is a button pusher... then so be it!
Let me know what you think!