5 Things To Expect From A Great Music Producer

(From a guest blog post I made on my producer and partner Stevie Adamek’s website on 1/08/2012).

You’ve been a musician for a while, maybe been in a few garage or cover bands, and perhaps performed live around town. Recently you’ve begun trying your hand at writing your own original music. Now, you’re ready to take the next step and get your original material out there. A set of high quality demo tracks is the first step to getting visibility for your songwriting talents and musical capabilities. Most bands just get themselves recorded – not produced. I think that’s a mistake. There are many talented producers out there, and your original music can go from ho-hum to off-the-hook-competitive with good production. I’m going to cover what to look for in a producer, because in my experience, there are many people out there who call themselves producers, but don’t really provide the 360 degrees of services that a great producer does.

These days, it’s easier than ever to get yourself a copy of ProTools and record your own tracks. But learning any software package involves technical skills and a steep learning curve. It also takes more than just recording skills to make a fantastic demo CD. Even if you are savvy enough to be your own recording engineer (a complex skill), any music industry professional will suggest that you get your tracks professionally mixed, produced and mastered. Not to mention the fact that recording vocals and live rhythm instruments (piano, drums, percussion) requires skill and often specialized mics, unlike direct-inject (plug-in via cable) keyboad or guitar recording. A good producer should have excellent sound recording AND mixing skills. He or she should also be able to master your tracks or recommend someone experienced to complete that final step of the process.

In addition, there are a few things that truly separate a talented and experienced producer from the rest of the pack:

1. A great producer recognizes a marketable song in the raw, identifies blocking factors in your music or lyrics, and creates new arrangements that improve the presentation of your songs. He or she should be present at rehearsals as needed (BEFORE you record) to tweak and polish arrangements  – and ensure everyone is fully practiced and ready to record. His or her objectivity is invaluable.

2. Along those same lines, a great demo track demands excellent musical performances from all involved. Unless you are a 100% solo artist (really? can you play everything?), be sure that everyone who performs on your demo tracks is as amazing a musician as you are. A good producer can help tactfully suggest musical lessons or coaching if he feels it’s needed for you or your band members. He or she is also extremely well-connected in the local professional music scene, and can bring in studio musicians (usually for a small fee) to play on your tracks as needed. Studio musicians are cheaper than you think these days. Working with professional musicians to back you up can make your tracks really outstanding. (A good producer can also recommend auxiliary support for you in the form of lawyers/managers/promoters if needed, but that’s probably not necessary until you’ve completed your demo CD.)

3. If your producer is acting as your recording engineer, he or she should schedule his clients promptly, be on time and already have all equipment set up and ready to record. In general, a good producer recognizes that both your time and his or her time is valuable. He or she always acts like a professional and is clear in communicating schedule changes. Because a good producer is busy with other people besides you, scheduling changes WILL happen. Like any consultant, the best producers are worth waiting for in terms of getting on their schedule – because they are in demand.

4. Transactions in the music industry often work on a smile and handshake. If you’re paying money to anyone, including a producer, however, I highly recommend that you have a written contract with a timeline, deliverables and price. Pay with a check, not cash. Your cashed check is your receipt. In any business deal, it’s important to understand that a contract is merely a snapshot of your mutual understanding at the time it is created – but it’s an important snapshot. In my experience, it’s critical for people to see things in writing to make sure everyone is on the same page (literally), and best prevent misunderstandings from the beginning. It could be as simple as an email, or a more complex Word document or Excel spreadsheet. Just make sure it includes the holy trinity of timeline, deliverables, and price. A contract is a tool for facilitating project management and codifying changes as they happen (and they WILL).

5. Most important, but sometimes easiest to forget: a great producer delivers final tracks that encompass your musical vision – but also expand and enhance it. If you have a musical vision for your songs, great – but if you need direction, cohesiveness, and/or refining of “your sound,” a great producer will step in to provide all of that, while still working closely with you to express your own inner vision. He or she doesn’t take over your vision, they work to help you fully express it.

Whether you work with Stevie or another producer, I hope you consider these 5 characteristics when hiring a producer, and may your music soar!

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How About Standardizing The Technologies That Enable Artist Compensation?

I am concerned that the music licensing/compensation issue has created a polarized debate, but I don’t see a lot of discussion of how to fix the model. I think we all agree musicians (and producers and engineers, for that matter) should be fairly compensated for creating music. We also all agree that there is an increasing amount of music available to consumers for cheap or free, and that is unlikely to change. How do we reconcile these conflicting ideas? Because my business background is in software marketing, I always see things in terms of the opportunities created by technology advancements, bounded by the disorganized nature of the marketplace, especially in new or changing businesses. The music industry is certainly in flux – both in terms of production and compensation. That makes it both frustrating and exhilarating.

One thing I find interesting is how the opinion of the musicians (producers) differs from that of music consumers, and also from that of  industry commentators (who are not creating music themselves, but make money indirectly from  musicians and the creation of music.). We all have different points of view because they are informed by where we make our living. I think there is money to be made in nascent and confused markets, more than in organized ones, and that factor, to some extent, is preventing a model that is more streamlined and thus fairer to the musician/producer.

By bringing down barriers to both the creation and sharing of art, technology advances have resulted in the exponential growth of the number of hobbyist artists creating and distributing art for their own satisfaction and self-expression. This is true not only in music but also in publishing of the written word, movie-making, and photography. Along with some really awesome artistic content, there is also a lot of crap out there. But… everyone’ can be an artist, right? Art is all subjective, isn’t it? Isn’t it just a mater of visibility, rising above the noise? Just find your niche, and you will find someone who will pay for your art…. right? This is the perspective that daily keeps me from quitting making music.

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The Instrument of Creation

I’ve been through the wringer this week. I don’t quite know what to do with it all, so I am going to write about it here. This post has nothing to do with social media or marketing, but everything to do with music.

Tuesday, I found out  that someone I had once loved deeply had suddenly died. Wednesday, I attended his memorial, burial and reception. Twelve years after we last saw each other, I was embraced again by his family and close friends. It is Saturday, and I am still struck bolt awake every morning, the knife edge of sudden, painful realization again in my chest. People around me are mystified by my devastation.

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4 Factors That Encourage Hashtag Spamming of Twitter Chats

I was physically present (IRL, In Real Life) recently at an event where the Twitter hashtag stream was completely co-opted by twitter spambots. I’ve live-tweeted from a half-dozen tech and cultural events since the beginning of this year, when I first immersed myself in Twitter. I’m very curious about how social media interactions work – and when and why they can go very off-track. When I live-tweet, I try to observe the hashtag stream in real time, usually using Tweetchat.com or setting up a Hootsuite stream. I’ve followed a handful of events remotely via the Twitter hashtag as well, including a recent conference in Boston called Rethink Music (#rethinkmusic). In addition, I participate regularly in a weekly Twitter chat called #ggchat, one of thousands happening all the time in the Twittersphere. Following Twitter hashtag streams has become an integral part of my participation, and that of many others, in this virtual global sociological communications experiment called Twitter.

Maybe because I’m relatively new to Twitter, I’ve never seen a Twitter stream completely taken over by spambots. I found it fascinating and dismaying at the same time. This article in The Atlantic Wire by Rebecca Greenfield gives a good overview of some of the different ways in which Twitter hashtag streams can get co-opted or become annoying. The stream I was on recently was taken over by the Types 1 and 2 spammers which Rebecca mentions: Porn Bots and Jokesters. I didn’t click on any of the links; I could tell the Porn Bots by their Twitter avatars of scantily clad women and the fact they had few tweets, no followers and were following no one. The other category of spammers I saw which Rebecca doesn’t mention I’ll call Job Bots – these are the same as Porn Bots, except the links they promote are to scammy Craig’s List ads, you know: “Easy job! Earn $500 a week using your computer…”

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Interview # 2 With Brian Thompson of Thorny Bleeder

This is the second half of my hour-long interview with Brian Thompson (theDIYDaily.com), a Vancouver-based music industry entrepreneur, record label owner, artist manager, marketing consultant, digital strategist, brand architect, web designer, blogger, podcaster and industry speaker. Formerly the corporate head of buying and marketing for a large Canadian music retail chain, Brian faced a crossroads when his long-time employer went bankrupt. Using social media, Brian has since re-created himself over the past three years to become a well-respected voice on the convergence of independent artist development, music marketing, social media and technology.

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Interview # 1 With Brian Thompson of Thorny Bleeder

As a student of social media, I am interested in the role that content plays in the development of a personal brand. To get some firsthand insight into the processes and dynamics that are involved, I interviewed a social media marketing influencer I met through Twitter, Brian Thompson (of theDIYDaily.com).

Brian is a Vancouver-based music industry entrepreneur, record label owner, artist manager, marketing consultant, digital strategist, brand architect, web designer, blogger, podcaster and industry speaker. Brian’s been in the music biz for twenty years. Formerly the corporate head of buying and marketing for a large Canadian music retail chain, Brian faced a crossroads when his long-time employer went bankrupt. Using social media, Brian has since re-created himself over the past three years to become a well-respected voice on the convergence of independent artist development, music marketing, social media and technology.

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