Stories of how bands find their producer often read like a romance novel. No, not like that, you depraved artists you. Scary, exciting, full of trials and tribulations, at times moving, highs and lows, crashed computers and empty wine bottles (the latter two maybe not so much in a romance novel). It isn’t easy, particularly as I pointed out in the last post, when everyone who’s googled “producer” all of a sudden knows all there is to know.

So, how do you find a great producer?

First of all, come out of the clouds. I work at The Village and spend my days passing by the likes of T Bone Burnett, Roy Thomas Baker and Ed Cherney. They are amazing producers, no doubt. But they’re not on my short list of producers. Why?

Two reasons.

One: when Mick Jagger calls, he’ll probably trump my call – regardless of how far my band has come.

Two: The style of my music and their production styles might not mesh.

The second reason is something so often overlooked. Bands dream of working with this producer or that producer, simply because he or she is famous, not realizing that that producer works with mainly country and you’re a punk band. Sure, it can work – but could someone have a better foundation to work with punk? Yes. On a couple of our tracks, I asked a good friend of mine, former engineer at Trident Studios, worked with the likes of David Bowie, Elton John and the Beatles to mix it. It just didn’t work. It sounded too nice, too pop, too clean. He is amazing, but not for us.

Think of it this way-is Jimmy Page the greatest guitarist who ever lived? No. But is he the only guitarist that could have been in Led Zeppelin? Yes. That’s what you’re looking for – the best for you, not the best in general.

Looking at a producers discography is essentially comparing what they work with against where you want to go. If you want to sound exactly like this band, go for that band’s producer. If you want to sound a little varied, go for the guy who’s discography looks like that annoying friend of yours who has 4,000 alphabetized CD’s and goes from African drum circles to LA phil to a mosh pit.

And this last point is very important. The aforementioned producers have been in the business for upwards of 40 years each. They’ve found what makes hit records and that’s what they do. For example, at a recent visit to Chris Lord Alge’s studio, he confessed that he hasn’t changed the settings on his wall of compressors since the mid 90s. And hey, why not – he certainly isn’t hurting for clients.

But for me, for my band, I wanted something different. I wanted a guy that would spend a couple hours listening to who we were, read the lyrics, know who our influences are and reference them ; I wanted a guy that had a varied discography that could rival the incredible range of influences in the band and enjoyed, even needed to, continue pushing boundaries in his work and the band’s.

Now, like I said, the stories of finding producers are often quite abnormal. Mine is no exception. My guitarist asked me to come with him to the court house in order to serve papers to a singer he had worked with – long story, but guy’s an asshole. Since you can’t serve a person yourself, I tagged along and spent most of the time staring out the window as a court appointed mediator tried to get them to put their swords away before the judge beat them into submission. The drummer, rather stereotypically, didn’t have much to say so he came and hung out with me for a bit. Not too long after, the producer came. Now, I wasn’t a fan of this guys work at the time. The tracks I had heard from the band sounded mostly like ass to be honest. But I was bored and always keen to meet new people so we chatted. The anomaly grew in my head as the conversation progressed. This guy was awesome! We talked about analog vs. digital, the loudness wars, favorite mics, studio tricks and more. I came away having learned quite a bit, with that satisfying feeling you get after you have an awesome conversation. I was however still perplexed. So, I asked my guitarist. Turns out, the singer (aforementioned asshole) had produced the whole thing, unwilling to listen or take advice from the producer. Self production – *cough, cough*

Intrigued, I contacted the producer, saying I’d love to come see his place and offering assistance on any sessions he could use a hand with.

Fast forward a few weeks. It’s 2:30 in the morning. I’m patching for drum samples as he screams into a pickup. Giddy, he grabs an Echo-Plex and throws that in the loop as well. I still don’t know when I left that morning but wow. I had come over to help set up for a drum session and ended up helping him lay down tracks for a music library. From there, he shared some mixes with me. One band was a progressive rock band with about 60 tracks in each session, including a sitar and triangle. Another was a punk jazz fusion band. And the last one he showed me was Argentinian hard rock.

Now, although I was blown away by this guy, and eager to hear what he could do with our band, I wanted one last test. Listen to us.

I gave him the demos that I had done in my living room. His response sealed the deal.

Obviously we can’t all hope that the hand of fate will guide us to glory, so instead of hanging around the court house, here are some things you should do:

1.  Analyze your band’s sound. We’ve all gotten asked, “so who does your band sound like?” Try to answer that question as objectively as possible. Most of us don’t want to sound exactly like someone else but admit that your sound comes from somewhere – try to narrow that down to 5 or 6.

2.  Dig a little. Once you have the list, check out the producers who did them. If you have the budget and the pull, contact them. I once contacted Sean Beavan through myspace just to ask about studio tricks for Manson. Amazingly, he responded. He’s way too rich for my bank account and not necessarily what I was looking for, but I did peruse his friends list while I was on there. Remember, this is a REALLY small town. Producers know producers know producers.

3.  Phone a friend. I wouldn’t have met my producer without my guitarist. Maybe your producer is the neighbour of your bassists girlfriends’s mom. Who knows? Ask around. Ask other bands, phone up indie labels, post it on your bands FB page, send out a newsletter – Again, this town is tiny. Don’t be afraid to put it out there that your awesome band is looking for an awesome producer. Be a little proactive.

4.  Audition. If you find a handful that you think could work, don’t spin a the bottle and see where it lands. Audition them. And don’t feel like you’re not big enough to ask for things. This is your art, and if anything, you’ll gain respect by being this thorough. If you can, ask for a spec mix – basically a free mix pass on one of your songs, usually a rough mix. If it’s just a producer, not an engineer, ask to meet with them. Have some questions about how they work. See how they respond – see if they have a sense of humor or if working with them is gonna be like going to Catholic school – minus the girls in short skirts. Ask them to come to a rehearsal. This can be more beneficial than coming to see a show as it will get you in a more intimate space with them, and also see how their presence effects the creative flow of a regular rehearsal.

5.  Speak up – follow your gut. These guys produce for a living – many of them are really good at talking, and manipulation. There are slime balls out there who will say all kinds of things to get another paycheck. “I know this guy – I have this gear – we should do this with your sound – that drummer isn’t the best you can do.” Bragging about contacts, gear and suggesting changes to the infrastructure of your band are red flags. After knowing each other for a while, these lines blur of course. But at first, don’t let them bend you over on the first date. Don’t be afraid to speak up and cut the chord or put them in their place. A lot of bands feel that they have to be secondary to a producer once that agreement is in place. Bullshit. This is your band, your project and you should never allow yourself to fade into the background just because this guy has contacts at Paramount. In that same vein, if your gut says no, your mouth probably should do. Never underestimate the power of your intuition – the same thing that told you it was not a good idea to attempt a hand stand after a bottle of wine. Yeah, that thing. Listen to it.

6.  Have fun. I know this seems silly to say, but don’t take yourself too seriously. Finding a producer is a big deal and should be taken seriously. But don’t let the solemnity overshadow what makes music fun – the creative flow. You should be able to have fun in the studio. The best producers are the ones who can run a tight ship and still enjoy the ocean breeze.

 

Happy hunting 🙂

 

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