I’ve been asked this question a number of times by people looking to do a recording. To break it down for you, in my opinion, a producers’ job is to achieve the best possible version of the material they are given to work with in a reasonable amount of time through the use of arrangement, engineering and editing. It is also bringing in outside players when necessary to capture the best performance and tone for recording because even a great live artist with all the right techniques for stage doesn’t necessarily have the right chops for the studio, and vice versa. This has been common practice since recording began and still goes on today.
Here are two other questions I commonly get asked:
Should I work with a producer?
I would say it all depends on what stage your material has reached, and what game plan you have for when it is completed. Some of the ways to approach the decision so you don’t get ahead of yourself are:
1) If you believe the material is ready, if it is solid and has all the elements - right math, arrangements, melody - you have all the players lined up and practiced enough for a really good quality recording, and the only thing it lacks is a finished sound, then really all you need is a room and an engineer that shares your taste of what things should sound like.
2) On the other hand, if you already took this approach and got a finished product, sent it out to all the usual suspects, beat the pavement with it and exhausted your promo network, got a positive review but can’t quite get it through the door, yet still believe it has the potential, then an outside perspective from a producer could be the key to getting it there.
3) If you are someone that only knows a handful of chords on one instrument, enough to get the basic melody and music idea, but don’t have enough knowledge to translate it to the instruments that you feel it needs, you might be best served by working with an arranger first to help develop the idea to get that first step done before going to a producer. If you are proficient on your instrument, you know how you want things put together on all your instruments and have all your concepts and parts, but don’t really have access to the caliber of musicians you would like to work with, once again a producer can be a great help there because most producers have a lineup of players they’re comfortable working with and know how to work with quickly, to achieve the outcome everybody’s looking for.
How do I choose a producer?
First and foremost, I would say to find a produce that has experience working with the style you are trying to work in, has a good, or at least a generalized grasp of all the different instruments, how they work together, and how they work off of one another, as well as getting the sound and right effects for whatever the style may be. If you find a producer you think may be great, but you’re just not sure how to make that step, take what you feel is your best single and do a bit of testing in the water and get that answer – it’s not always the same opinion as when you’re writing the stuff – and go in with one song and take it all the way to the end. If that experience is great and you want to continue on then you’ve found your producer. If you’re just starting off and don’t feel you could put together the budget to work with a professional producer, it never hurts to find someone who’s just starting off and might not have a big list of credits but has the natural ability and drive – you might find a winning combination and grow together, this approach has yielded some fantastic records over the years. A key point to keep in mind is that you should take the time to get a true vision and understanding of what you believe the sonic outcome should be before you begin this whole process so that everyone involved in a project can at least start on the same page. Because in the end, if it comes out something completely different than what you imagined, and you haven’t taken these steps, you cannot blame the producer. Just remember when the time comes and you start putting together your budget to go into the studio and have a producer, you’ll probably spend twice as much on the marketing later just to get it up above the noise enough for people to give it some attention, so really take the time and think it through and good luck!