3 essential tips for finding the right music producer

by Liz Moy on October 15, 2012

This is the third in a series of guest blog posts written by music producer Rogers Masson. 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.

You’ve considered 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 artists ask, right behind, “How do I land a recording contract with a label?” Well, I can promise you, finding a good producer won’t be as hard as it can be to land a good recording contract. However, finding a right producer who is the perfect fit for your project can be a bit tougher. So how do you find that right producer?

1)  Search at the right places

Looking for a producer is not all that different than looking for a new drummer. But before you start looking, you need to consider a few factors:

  • How much can you afford to pay a producer for their services? Costs can range from completely speculative (no money up front) with a higher cost on the back end, to upwards of $10,000 per song.
  • Are you willing to travel to the producer if they are not near your location?
  • Do you have a separate budget for an engineer and a mixer? Or are you seeking a producer who wears some or all of those hats? If your budget is tight — as most budgets are — I highly recommend you find someone who wears as many hats as possible but wears them all well. It can save you money and insure continuity throughout your project.

Once you have these questions answered, it’s time to start the search. The best place to start is with other artists you know or admire. Do you love their EP or album? Do their fans love it as well? A great place to find those artists is right on your iPod. Pick out the songs you love the most and find out who produced them, what they charged for their services, what their contract requirements were, and what the experience was like for the artist. Don’t forget your team that is close to you. Ask your manager, booking agent, and/or attorney who they recommend.

If you are hesitant to approach a big name producer, don’t be.

You will probably have to reach out to them through a producer management company, but reach out. You never know who is going to fall in love with you and your music. Like everything else in this computer age, the music world has become very small and good producers are always looking for good artists. A quick Google search usually reveals who represents who. You can also do a search for “producer management companies,” there are some great ones out there.

2) Set up a meeting with the candidates

It’s vital you spend some time speaking with the producers you’ve found. Meeting in person is the best, but phone calls and Skype can go a long way as well. Ask the same type of questions you would ask a potential new band mate, and some that are specific to production.

Rogers producing Lilyphone in Copenhagen, DK.

  • What are your musical influences?
  • What current bands do you love?
  • How did you get in to producing?
  • How long have you been producing?
  • What are your main strengths?
  • Do you write or arrange music as well?
  • Do you prefer to be in total control, or do you prefer to help guide the ship?
  • Do you have your own studio setup?
  • Are you willing to help shop the project to potential labels and or music licensing companies?

Finding the right producer for your project takes time and careful consideration.

Don’t rush this process. Time is your friend before you get in the studio, and becomes your constant enemy once you are in there.

Listen to all of the projects each producer has done and invite each to come see you live. Have them put together a project outline of how they want to approach the recordings in the studio, where they want to take your music, what songs of yours they like the best, and what changes they feel would make your songs the best they can be. In the end, find a producer you feel comfortable being around, is a fan of your music, and you can talk with easily. Communication and trust is key in the studio.

3) Ask for a trial session

Rogers working with mix engineer Mark Needham (Fleetwood Mac, Cake, Chris Isaak, Killers).

When you find the producer you feel is the best fit for you and your music, don’t be afraid to ask for a trial session. This may add to your overall production costs, but it will save you an incredible amount of emotional expense if things go sideways in the studio because of personality conflicts or sonic shortcomings. Go in the studio for a day, run through a few of the songs, try out some of the changes the producer has mentioned, see how it feels, and of course listen to how it sounds. Chances are, by this point in the process, it’ll go great and you may even get a few useable tracks. Don’t lose sight of the fact that there is shared responsibility in the production process.

The producer has the responsibility to present your songs in a way that best represents you as an artist. You have a responsibility to your songs as well, and your choice in a producer is a big part of that responsibility.

You’re all set to move forward… Now what?

When you are working out the final production details with your producer before you head into the studio, don’t forget to get everything in writing so everyone’s responsibilities and expectations are clear.

Don’t hesitate to ask the producer for a reduced rate to meet your budget.

In return, have something valid and fair to offer for their services such as a piece of the publishing. These rate issues can and should be worked out through negotiations based on the scope of work, overall budget, and the potential for success of you the artist and the project you are doing together. Get it all in writing: a solid production agreement is worth its weight in gold. But that’s a whole other conversation…

It’s been an honor to offer my experience and knowledge in these past three posts. I look forward to hearing your projects. 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.rogersmasson.com 

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