Here’s a copy of a quick interview I did with one of my readers who’s working on his degree in music production. I thought you guys would like to check it out. Pretty interesting stuff. (Thanks Tim!)

How did you become involved in music production?

I grew up in a musical family. Everybody played an instrument and/or sang. I took piano lessons as a kid, picked up a guitar as a teenager and started writing songs. Then I discovered recording…and I couldn’t stop. 🙂

How have you been educated in production? Do you think official education is necessary?

I actually got a bachelors degree from Middle Tennessee State University (near Nashville, TN) in Recording & Production Technology. While the things I learned there are INVALUABLE…you certainly don’t need a formal education to learn how to produce. What makes great producers isn’t their head knowledge, it’s their musicianship, their creativity.

A formal education might help you learn the techniques faster, but you can certainly do it on your own, too. See “Do I have to go to college to be a recording engineer?”

What pre-production work would you normally do with an artist before entering the studio for tracking?

Pre-pro is hugely important to me. I’ll normally bring the artist to my studio, and have her simply sit in front of a microphone and perform all of the songs. No click track, no multiple microphones. I just want to capture the song in its simplest form.

From there, I’ll listen to the song for a while, live with it, and let it develop in my mind. This is where a lot of the production ideas come from. Once I’ve got a clear sense of direction for the song, we’ll start the recording process (almost always to a click track), and build from there.

(Of course, I’m always open to course-correcting through the recording process…that’s what makes it so fun! But having a plan beforehand is very helpful. For example, if you’re in such a hurry to start recording that you skip over pre-production, you may find that you tracked an entire song 10 bpm too slow or too fast. You can’t just “fix” that. You’ll have to re-record. Waste…of…time…)

In regards to pre-production, how do you suggest changes to the arrangement of a composition without upsetting the composer?

This is certainly a potentially sticky subject. It helps if you yourself (as the producer) are also a musician. I’m a singer-songwriter, so when I’m recording someone else, they already know that I am also a talented musician, so they trust my judgment. (I don’t say that to be vain or egotistical. Good musicians like to work with other good musicians, and I happen to be one.)

It also helps to play for them examples of songs you’ve produced. You could preface it with, “This particular artist wanted to go in this direction, but I suggested we do this instead, and they were THRILLED with the end result.”

If, however, you don’t HAVE any examples, or you simply have a small portfolio, then you may not have the credibility to just make huge changes. Work WITH the composer. Suggest something, then actually play it with them. Sometimes they need to HEAR it before they’ll be on board.

How involved should the artist be in the recording and post-production stages?

The artist needs to take ownership of the whole process. If you block them out of the process, and you produce something that’s not at all what they wanted, they’re not going to be happy. Remember, whether they’re paying you or not, they’re hiring you to create something that they can be proud of.

An easy way to make sure there are no big surprises (and disappointments) is to keep them involved every step of the way. Half-way through mixing a track? Take 5 minutes to shoot them an mp3 of what you’ve got so far. You may find out that they really hate that glockenspiel solo you just added. 🙂

How does producing your own music compare to working for someone else? What are the pros and cons of each? Are their any methods of working that apply to both?

Good music is good music. Whether you wrote it or someone else wrote it, the goals should be the same. You need to be proud of the end result.

I do a LOT of producing of my own material. It’s great, because I have the final say on everything, and I don’t have to please anyone but myself. However, I can get very short-sighted. Sometimes working completely alone causes me to miss some really creative options. Also, there could be glaring issues within the song or the mix that I simply don’t hear. Having someone else to bounce ideas/mixes off of is always a good idea.

Working for someone else is a great motivator. For one thing, you can’t take 3 years to finish the project. They’re going to want you to finish in a reasonable amount of time. This pressure to work quickly and efficiently can really jump-start your creativity.

Comment Question

In the comments section below, let us know your answer to one of the questions above. Do you agree? Disagree? Let’s hear it.

[Photo by Duchamp]