When is the right time to bring in a producer?

This is the second in a series of guest blog posts written by music producer Rogers Masson. If you haven’t read the first one yet, we recommend you do it before reading this one: “Think you don’t need a producer? 4 reasons to reconsider.” Rogers has worked with many independent and signed artists, in a variety of genres. His recent credits include chart topping work with Vintage Trouble and Day of Fire along with emerging indie artists The Riot Tapes and Brian Mackey.

It’s nearly impossible to excel in everything necessary to succeed as an artist. At some point you are going to need help. Having a producer on board who believes in you and is willing to help advance your career is priceless. When you’re ready and decide to take that next step, it can be a game changer for your career… but how do you know when you’re ready?

1) You’ve got a plan

Mixing Vintage Trouble at Bomb Shelter in Los Angeles, CA

First define where you are and where you would like to go. If you’re just starting out, then it is likely way too early to bring in a producer. Focus instead on songwriting and performing. Get to know the songs; fine tune them, play them for your fans, and note which songs work and which songs don’t.

If you’re further along in your career, you probably have a small group around you of trusted friends and colleagues. Your manager, your booking agent, your attorney, even your most motivated street team volunteers can become incredible resources for putting a plan in place. Get them all together and start your plan by setting a finish date — a goal for the release of the project — then work your way backwards to today. Know your budget, how you are going to market the songs, and of course what you want the songs to sound and feel like. This is the information you’ll need to cover with your producer.

Discuss the list of producers you have in mind for the project, and take note of everyone’s opinion. These individuals are your best asset when developing a plan of attack for your next record, and making the decision to bring in a producer. Don’t hesitate to contact other bands that have worked with the producers on your list. Most artists will be more than willing to share their experiences with you.

2) You want to improve your songs

Collaborating with a producer to help with arrangements on existing songs, to co-write new songs, or to bounce ideas off of can be extremely effective. If you feel that you have something special, but need help to push it across the finish line, then reach out to producers. Find one who sees something special in you and is willing to jump in early. Let them know what you are looking to accomplish.

I’ve worked with artists early on with this exact approach. I helped them on their way to finding a sound and a voice, and then came back around much later to go into the studio to record. It usually begins with a discussion of influences and why you like a certain song, a groove, or a particular sound. Once you start thinking in those terms, you can easily begin to dissect your own songs, moment by moment to see if it’s the absolute best that it can be. The best phrase, the best chord structure, the best dynamics. It’s amazing to see the growth in an artist who has really taken the time to focus on songwriting, tone, and performing.

Rogers mixing at Dead Aunt Thelma’s in Portland, OR

3) You need tracks

If you need a producer who can build tracks from the bottom up using samples and or organic elements to create an entire song, make sure you like his/her vibe and approach. Make sure your vision for the songs will be well represented in your genre, and certainly make sure you communicate well with each other. Having a forward-thinking producer who builds tracks with a fresh sound is an incredible asset for a solo artist. If you don’t play an instrument, I recommend you learn piano or guitar before you approach a producer. You only need to know the basics to write great songs. If you can show a producer your song, no matter how primitive the approach, it will give him a good jumping off point based on the emotion and intent in your delivery and will ensure your vision for the songs will be well represented.

4) You want to define your sound

With established artists, bringing in a producer sooner rather than later, even during the initial songwriting process, can save enormous amounts of time in the production process and make it easier to focus on your sound and direction. I love coming in early in the process to hear where songs are headed, what the story is in the lyrics, and if that story supported by the music and tones the players are going for. It’s an initial snapshot that can be incredibly revealing.

Rogers working with award-winning mastering engineer, Bob Ludwig

The focus should always be on the story, and the vocalist delivers that story. Everything has to be in support of the vocals, from the groove to the chord progression. If it gets in the way of the vocals, cut it. Something as simple as the wrong tempo, or misplaced guitar riff, can cloud the story and sometimes even halt forward momentum in the writing process. Digging in at this point in the pre-production process is the surest way to get your sonics right as well. How the bass sounds and how it relates to the kick drum, how the guitar sounds and how it relates to the keyboards. You cannot spend enough time searching for great tone and you should never stop looking! I also like to pop in periodically to have a feel for progress as the shape of the album starts to develop. Once it’s feeling great, I highly recommend the songs be “auditioned” in front of an audience. You’ll know straight away what’s working and what’s not.

The time is right. Now what?

Through careful consideration you have decided the time is right to bring in a producer. Where can you find the right producer? How do you know if they are right for you? How do you know they are going to deliver your vision for your music? Well, there are many places to look, solid ways to find out if they are the right fit, and a consistent way to know if they are going to deliver. And that is the topic of my next post in this series. Now go create some amazing music!

If you have any thoughts or questions about this post, feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below. Or you can contact me directly through Facebook, Twitter, or my website www.rogersmason.com 

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  • 3 essential tips for finding the right music producer - October 17, 2012 reply

    […] the reasons for bringing in a producer for your next project, and you’ve determined the time is right to do so. Now, how do you go about finding the right producer?  It’s one of the most common questions […]

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