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The Beginning of a Beautiful Friendship: Finding The Perfect Producer

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As an indie artist, you are both blessed and cursed by having to make the decision of who will produce your record. This decision should not be taken lightly: the producer you decide to work with greatly impacts the sonic identity of your record.

When I was planning to record my EP, I was approached by a few different producers – each one very different from the others – and it was a bit overwhelming. I knew whoever I chose to work with would have a profound effect on the record. I wanted to make sure that the producer I chose would deliver what I envisioned for my sound (Loretta Lynn meets Led Zeppelin).

The producer you decide to work with greatly impacts the sonic identity of your record. Click To Tweet

Every producer has her or his own strengths, weaknesses, vision, creative style, vibe, and process. As you are deciding which producer to work with, there are a few key things you will want to keep in mind:

All that glitters is not necessarily gold

Just because a producer has won a Grammy (or a few) does not definitively mean they are the person for the job. Do your homework. What did she or he win the Grammy for and what does that recording sound like? Does it jive with the vision you have for your project? It’s easy to be sucked in by a producer’s impressive resume, but if their style does not match what you’re looking for, then it may be wise to keep looking.

Is this thing on?

A producer’s main job is to listen – to you, to your vision, to your music, and to your goals. Collaboration is powerful, and having a producer that has creative and exciting ideas can be exhilarating and exciting. However, if your producer is telling you how your project should sound before you even express your vision, that is a red flag. At the end of the day, you are the artist (and if you’re an indie artist, you’re also the one paying for it) and the producer needs to listen to what you want from your project.

Money, that’s what I want

This is a real downer but it’s extremely important. You may fall head over heels in love with a producer, only to realize that their rate is way more than what you can afford. The same can be said for the timeline. Depending on your genre, you may have a specific time of year that is ideal for releasing a new record. For example, in the country genre, most singles and albums drop in time for the summer because it is the most lucrative season for country music. The rate and ability to meet a deadline are definitely the less exciting qualities of a producer, but no less important.

Get by with a little help from your friend

You’re going to be spending a lot of time with this person — and I mean a lot! George Martin, the brilliant producer that worked with the Beatles, was often referred to as “the fifth Beatle” because he was so much a part of the band’s sound and process. It may seem like an obvious point, but if you’re going to be spending that much time with this person, you want to make sure that you get along and that you enjoy each other’s company. It’s important to feel comfortable around one another so the creativity can flow. It’s also important that you both feel comfortable enough to be honest with each other.

It’s important to feel comfortable with your producer so the creativity can flow. Click To Tweet

Skills to Pay the Bills

We all have weaknesses. If you take some time to reflect and think about where you need a little extra help as an artist, you are also simultaneously identifying the strengths you need your producer to have. For example, if you feel your lyric writing needs a little help, then you may want to search for a producer who specializes in songwriting. Maybe you need someone who can orchestrate parts or work with your rhythm section to create a solid groove. Whatever it is, you want to find a producer who offsets your weaknesses, not augments them.

Come Together

Depending on the scope of your project, recording a new record is akin to raising a child: it takes a village. You may need to hire studio musicians, engineers, assistant engineers, someone to edit, mix, and master, etc. Ideally, your producer has a large network of folks she or he can pull from to make your project truly special. Never underestimate the power of a well-connected producer.

I thought long and hard about each of these aspects before I ultimately chose to work with my producer, Johnny Duke. Johnny proved to be exactly what I needed in a producer; he listened to what I was envisioning and elevated my record to a place I could not have even imaged. He brought killer players in to record with me (Laur Joamets, Nate Barnes, Chase McGillis, and Ben Haggard), worked out arrangements and parts, and he even played and sang on them. And now that my EP is almost done, I can honestly say that this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

About
Leah Waldo is the Curriculum Manager for massive open online courses at Berklee Online. She is a Berklee College of Music alumna and received her Master’s in Education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Leah is also a songwriter and front woman of Elisa Smith & The Tiny Little Lies. She finds her musical inspiration from country greats like Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, and Tanya Tucker, and through her songwriting, she tells the stories of strong women across the country.
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