Kim Lajoie's blog

How not to be a producer

by Kim Lajoie on February 14, 2015

So, I came across this gem last night. And isn’t it just amazing. This is an excellent example of how not to be a producer.

The producer and the singer are meant to be collaborating on writing a new song and demonstrate Ableton Push. They hadn’t met each other prior to the session, and they hadn’t prepared anything beforehand. So, they’re both being put on the spot, and we get to watch the creative process.

So far so interesting.

Except this guy is meant to be a producer. He’s introduced as a ‘professional producer’. Not ‘some guy who makes beats’. He’s a producer. And yet:

  • He doesn’t discuss the creative direction of the track with the singer – even basics like tempo, vibe, instrumentation, etc. He just goes ahead and builds a track that he likes.
  • He starts the session with twenty minutes of no musical communication or collaboration. The singer uses that time to start writing some lyrics, but she’s essentially on her own for those twenty minutes. During this time he gets stuck into subtle adjustments (such as parallel compression, groove nudging, effect automation).
  • Even when vocal recording begins, there’s still almost no collaboration – He doesn’t provide feedback on her lyrics, melody or vocal performance. Nor does he invite feedback from her about the instrumental part. They don’t contribute to each other’s creative work.

If he were ‘just’ a musician, it’d still be pretty disappointing. Can you imagine writing a song with a guitarist, and he spends the first twenty minutes fiddling with his pickup/amp settings? And then he says he’s come up with three chords and asks you what ideas you came up with? Sounds like amateur hour.

But he’s more than a musician. He’s a producer. The title ‘producer’ has many meanings, but ultimately it’s someone who has much more responsibility than a musician in making a recording happen. The producer is running the show. And in this video, he certainly is running the show. He’s just doing a pretty poor job of it.

If you’re a producer, your priority should be enhancing the creative output of your artists and musicians. Find out what creative direction they have in mind – really try to understand their taste and style, work with them. Capture the lightning – try to work as fast as they do, minimise the time they spend waiting around. Raise them to new heights – use your skills and experience to improve their songwriting and performance (while also being appropriately sensitive).

-Kim.

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