Telling an audio engineer to listen is like telling a doctor to heal. Of course we’re going to listen! How else do we get a great-sounding recording?

You’re good at listening to the music, but how well do you listen to the artist?

I’m producing an EP for a really talented singer-songwriter named Whitney Winkler. She asked me to play acoustic guitar on the project. Once we had the guitar and scratch vocals recorded, she went home and left me to add various elements to the songs to fill them out.

Her songs have a killer groove to them, so I naturally thought some light drums would be perfect. I worked for a couple hours, programming a quirky little drum groove and recording some extra percussion.

She had mentioned that she really liked the song “I Won’t Fly Away,” from my album, which features a very unique blend of acoustic instruments with a hip-hop-sounding drum loop/percussion. So I thought I’d take this song in that direction.

The song quickly took on a very different feel. I kinda liked it, but before I dove in and booked a bass player and really committed to the arrangement, I emailed Whitney a bounce of what I had done so far.

She wrote back that she really wasn’t crazy about it.

As it turns out, she wants the EP to have more of a “coffee-shop” feel than a produced, full-band feel. She didn’t really want drums or lots of extra production. She felt like the songs needed to maintain an acoustic feel.

My response? Did I get all defensive and angry that she would dare to question my production prowess?

Heck no.

These are her songs. I want her to be absolutely THRILLED with the finished recording. The ideas I proposed were fairly over-the-top. I had a feeling she might not like them, but I gave it a shot anyway.

Have I given up all creative input now? No, not at all. In fact, this process really helped us focus.

Up until that point, I hadn’t done a great job of asking her what exactly she was wanting out of this EP. That was my fault. Now that we’ve heard an example of how she doesn’t want it to sound, we’ve been able to hone in on exactly what her goals are, and things are coming together very nicely.

Moral of this story? Be creative. Take chances, but don’t alienate the artists. Including them in the decision-making process is a wise move, and it makes the entire process more productive, more creative, and more fun. 🙂

[Photo by striatic]