On the beach near my house in Brighton & Hove, I popped out in the cold with my hot cup of tea to share some thoughts about what it’s like being a Music Producer / Entrepreneur / Freelancer in Feb 2020. It’s not easy but I feel lucky to be doing it!
What goes into the arrangement, production, recording and mixing of a song?
Here’s a walkthrough of one of the tracks I recorded, produced and mixed for Brighton project Wounded Gods.
Its called Ghost and is a synth-funk-pop banger about how we relate to the people we love.
When you think about your favourite songs: the greatest artists, the biggest selling albums and songs of all time, how many were made without a Producer, Recording Engineer or Mix Engineer?
Hard to think of any right? Not even Prince engineered his hits.
In this blog post, I’m going to make the case that a successful record needs a Music Producer (Record Producer). If you’ve already made several records, you’ll no doubt agree but if not, it’s food for thought and if you have any feedback about what I say, please get in touch.
Back in the golden age of huge budgets and big posh studios, there were Tape-Operators, Assistant Engineers, Technicians and Runners all on the payroll helping to make a record.
These days, budgets are smaller and a Producer / Engineer will do most of the work, but the credits will always include them (also the Producer & Engineer are often the same person).
I’m a big fan of D.I.Y, Lo-Fi and Independent music! A lot of cool stuff is self-made and put out directly by bands and artists skilled enough in recording and mixing to match their tastes with their audiences’ expectations – perhaps a band member or friend has enough studio gear and know-how to make a cool EP.
I’m all for that: It’s creative, liberating and fun, and really what the Indie scene is about, but it’s rare for successful career-making albums to become
At the very least, a self-producing artist will have their music mixed and mastered by a pro before it’s released (I recently mixed an album that was recorded really quickly in the artist’s bedroom).
It’s common for an artist or band to make their debut EP/album themselves for next-to-nothing (GarageBand is called that for a reason), pick up some interest via gigs and radio, before getting signed to a label who – you guessed it – wants to make that band ‘successful’, so they hire a Producer, Recording Engineer and Mix Engineer to either re-record it or go straight to the follow up.
Of course, many artists also record their own demos to try and impress managers and A&R but that is becoming much less common in the self-releasing era where an A&R rep isn’t such a key gatekeeper.
Arctic Monkeys’ hugely successful debut album was nearly all re-recorded versions of the band’s rough demos, which were leaked online and had a life of their own before the major label Domino signed them.
Elsewhere, Mix Engineer / Producer Owen Morris (who cites Tony Visconti and Phil Spector as inspiration) is responsible for the success of Oasis’s debut album. The initial mixes of Definitely Maybe were weak and thin – no label was interested – but then they hired Morris who remixed and sculpted it into the fastest selling UK album of all time.
You don’t have to be an Oasis fan to appreciate how the sound on that album was like nothing we’d heard before. If they didn’t hire Morris, they wouldn’t have made it (I’m not really a fan but I still remember hearing Definitely Maybe for the first time!).
Michael Jackson & Quincy Jones. David Bowie & Brian Eno / Tony Visconti. Radiohead & Nigel Godrich. Blur & Stephen Street. Red Hot Chili Peppers & Rick Rubin. The Beatles & George Martin. Eminem & Dr. Dre. Taylor Swift & Jack Antonoff. Billie Eilish & Finneas. Countless artists & Pharrell Williams… Timbaland, J Dilla, DJ Premier, Nile Rogers, Pete Rock, Steve Albini, Tyler The Creator, Mark Ronson, Danger Mouse, Sylvia Massey…. right back to Sam Philips recording Elvis in Sun Studio in the 50s. The list is endless (and mostly men – but that’s another blog post).
From this list along, it’s clear that Producers are an invaluable prerequisite for success. These names and countless others helped make the music we love, dance to, share with mates and listen to in the car. Without them, the sonic landscape of our lives wouldn’t be as rich or inspiring.
So, back to my question. Can you afford a Producer?
Well, if you’re serious about your music and career, the question should be ‘can you afford not to?’
At any stage of your career, badly produced or poorly mixed music won’t engage listeners and the listeners you do get probably won’t stick around – especially since they listen to music on playlists where your track needs to hold it’s own. Better gigs, more fans, more followers and greater industry attention all stem from great recordings and excellent production.
Integrity and artistic vision is important to your fans and I believe the most important part of an idea is its execution. A Music Producer’s role is about delivering a songwriter or artist’s vision so it should be something every artist considers.
As I’ve talked about in previous blog posts; a Producer does a lot more than just make the song sound great. They’re a trusted partner, another pair of highly tuned ears with years of listening experience, someone to help push you to your best, to have fun with and collaborate so you get results that you would never get on your own.
So, can you put a price on excellent execution when it comes to music production?
Yes you can… and of course it depends on what music we’re going to make and how you, the artist wants it to sound.
Artists should be budgeting between £1000 – £300 for recording, production and mixing for one song.
That’s obviously a very broad range but some songs can be made in a days, some take much longer – and really, time is the most critical factor when it comes to the project price.
My clients are often independent artists who are taking the steps to invest in their music and career. Budgets are always quite tight but I build the process (and sound) around what is possible for them. The value of investing in your music is much larger!
Hopefully this post has made the argument for hiring a Music Producer & Mix Engineer like me. Please do contact me if you’d like to discuss your music. You might be surprised at what can be achieved.
I’m always happy to chat music and process, find out what you want to achieve and how I can help you to achieve it.
As a Music Producer, solo artists and songwriters hire me to achieve and often develop their musical vision. This can start from the song-writing process, right through to recording, production, arrangement, editing and mixing.
If you’re aiming to get the attention of new fans and the industry, then the Producer’s role is essential to create impactful recordings that ‘right’ for your unique vision.
Sharing your music in its best form is the starting point for feeling proud and confident in your career going forward.
A lot of my clients are singer-songwriters who don’t want the pressure or high costs associated with big studios where the clock is ticking & the Engineer is there just to do their job, not to get involved with the music.
As well as creating the best environment for the artist, a Producer offers fresh ears, musicality and objectivity to help make choices and get tracks finished.
Whether you have a recording on your phone, a GarageBand project or a full band recording, I can develop that into a finished track to share online or to send to gig bookers.
A Producer doesn’t need to be a musician but it really helps. In my case, I’m a musician with 25+ years experience across a huge range of styles. Like the artists I work with, music is my obsession. I spend a lot of time at gigs, clubs and in record shops so I’m constantly exposing my ears to the characteristics, aesthetics and performance style of a huge range of genres.
So, I can play the instruments, program the beats & synths, record your vocals and do the mixing!