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What does being a producer really mean!?

Discussion in 'F.O.H.' started by smy1, Feb 3, 2009.

  1. smy1

    smy1 Member

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    My friend Jeff "Critter" Newell (engineer/producer for A Perfect Circle, Ministry, Guns'n'Roses, Angels & Airwaves and others) sent me some observations about his current project the other day and I thought it was something most producers could benefit from:

    --------------

    I think what I like most about artists is the utter grace of creation. As a paid muse of sorts, I've tried all manor of achieving a catalyst fusion. Oddly, it boils down to three elements - frustration/ boredom, time to play in the sandbox, and a thumbs up. Rinse, lather, repeat.

    Here's a production technique you will never be taught in a class. Create an inspiring gtr tone, loop the song, and go smoke a cigarette. In 10 minutes of horrendous stabs at greatness, the artist will stumble on something cool in order to amuse themselves. When they do settle on something, toss the smoke and comment on the cool thing. Then take a piss and let them play within the parameters of the cool bits while waiting to record it. They now have focus and it only gets better.

    I've been doing this for years and oddly, it's always the pauses that create the best shit. Sometimes my job is taking a vague idea and running with it. And I'm increasingly good at it. But mostly, it's about creating the sandbox and encouraging play without expectation. Because artists are in some sense channeling the best impulses of childhood. They are bored easily and the job of facilitation is to make them bored with themselves so they are forced to invent. Not because they have to, but because it amuses and engages them.

    You then provide focus, refine parameters with enthusiasm, and let them explore that narrowing of possibility's infinite glower.

    The creative hobby is my profession. It's nuanced. I'm way better at it now because I realized my role wasn't directing the experience, but bearing witness and noticing great moments. In most instances, I'm wrong in what i suggest. (as is the artist, and if you've ever listened to a mere 50 minutes of coming up with a part, you'd understand) The benefit of suggesting it is that it strengthens the original impulse. It clarifies it by clearly winning. Which ends up giving the fragile impulse more confidence. A richer exploring.

    Part of what I like about shows like "Burn Notice" is the calm command of one's world, three steps ahead. Part of what I like about my world is the surprise. There is a way to fuse the two.

    I'm becoming more convinced that my best work is done setting up inspiration and then getting out of the way. Actively. Deliberately. As in, thwarting a linear and efficient progress towards achieving a goal, by introducing a calculated place to play.

    I smoke. I eventually have to pee. My butt instinctively wiggles when I hear cool shit. (Hence, the critter nickname) It took me awhile to realize these were tools - the slings and arrows of my particular quiver. The spy will always win over the debater. The spy is concerned about completing the mission by whatever means necessary.

    I entered life as a pugilist.

    Slowly, I'm learning the artistry in smoking a cigarette.


    --------------

    What are the more "mental" production techniques (as opposed to "add 5k on the guitars and parallel compress the drum bus) that you employ?
     
  2. AudioPhile777

    AudioPhile777 Mathew Cohen

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    Producer = Babysitter, Therapist and Muse.

    ...more or less.
     
  3. smy1

    smy1 Member

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    I agree to some extent. But I just wanted to use Critter's email to start a discussion on things you guys do to get a performance or attitude or mood from an artist, because I think that this is the next step up for a producer once you get a basic grip on mixing techniques ... unless you just want to engineer and never be involved artistically, of course.
     
  4. Sloan

    Sloan Sounds like shit!

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    [​IMG]
    UR RIFFZ ARE FUCKIN' UP MAH BEEATZ BRAH.
     
  5. Sloan

    Sloan Sounds like shit!

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    I kinda dig that email. I definitely would always suggest stuff to get the MIND JUICES FLOWIN' and that often time worked. Artists are stubborn asshoels and it takes a while for them to move past that original idea no matter how shitty it was.
     
  6. AudioPhile777

    AudioPhile777 Mathew Cohen

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    Its always good to try the artists ideas first, then say something along the lines of, "Hey... that sounded awesome, but I think we could jack it up a couple notches... what do you think about trying (insert suggestion(s) here)?"

    This is usually what I do and goes over well about 98% of the time... sometimes you run into mudafuckaz who are like slamming into a brick wall at 100mph...

    anyway, you have to be willing to work out the artists ideas and hopefully they are open to yours... i mean, they did come to you (hopefully), right?

    so, put yourself in their shoes for a period of time otherwise you come off as a jackhole and then its an uphill battle...

    ...just from my experience.
     
  7. Ermz

    Ermz ¯\(°_o)/¯

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    That email reads a bit too poetically for me. I appreciate the core idea he is communicating, and respect & learn from it it, but that could've easily been condensed to 1 paragraph (I'm a pragmatist).

    To me, production is as simple as facilitating the artistic process as fluidly as possible. Whatever that entails. It may indeed involve setting up a creative environment then stepping out of the way to have a wank. But some bands need their hands held at every point in the process. Some want that, others don't. It's as simple as tailoring yourself to the situation, finding out where the hole in the band is, and plugging that hole with your own abilities. You're trying to create a tight ship, a marketable product, and your goal is to see it through from idea to fruition.
     
  8. exoslime

    exoslime Member

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    i like the text, thanks for contributing!!!

    +1 on AudioPhile777

    my view is:
    a producer is paid by the label to ensure the quality of songs / material so that the label can sell their stuff,
    so therefore, a producer is somekind of quality control and someone who optimize the song arrangments with the band.

    I´m refering to the "big names" producers, like bob rock, robert "mutt" lange, etc.
    their influence on the records they have made are so heavy, that you can say they turn shit into gold.

    someone who is responsible for micing, catching the sound, etc. is the audio engineer imho,
    and the producer is the one who says..good, or not,

    often, audio engineer and producers are the same, and mostly someone of the band is a co-producer, like the leader in the band who defines the direction to go.

    cheers
    exoslime
     
  9. smy1

    smy1 Member

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    Hey Ermz,

    yea, Critter likes writing that style. It's how he is and I actually enjoy it (altho I am quite the pragmatic also). And don't forget, it's an exchange between two people and not originally intended as a to-the-point forum post :)

    I like your idea of "finding where the hole in the band is and fixing this with your own abilities". I've never viewed it like that and it makes me think about my own approach.

    @everyone else:

    I am very much aware of the role of the producer and I am trying to get a discussion going on the more "meta"-abilities, just like the ones Ermin just mentioned. Thank you for all your contributions so far, but let's try and find little things that are of a more mental/psychological variety. For example, Robb Flynn told me back in the 90s that Ross Robinson used to go nuts, swear, insult and throw bottles around the studio to irritate Robb and (with hind-sight) make him more aggressive for the vocals on "The Burning Red".

    If you got stories or ideas like that, let's hear 'em ... :)
     
  10. Ermz

    Ermz ¯\(°_o)/¯

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    It'd be great to hear stories like that... but, I think so much of production style is caught up in oneself and ones own personality. Spector used to shove guns at people to get them to play the takes. Ross threw bottles. Rubin just sits and watches. It's just what kind of person you are, how you go about motivating others.
     
  11. smy1

    smy1 Member

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    Of course it is. Still, I already learned three ways to possibly be a better producer from this thread/email:

    a) "build the sandbox and let them play without pressure" (as Critter put it)

    b) evaluate the missing ability/part/skill and fix it (as you put it)

    c) while your personality may influence your production style a lot, I think it is good to have an arsenal of things that you can consciously (as opposed to subconsciously doing what you naturally do) go to when you need them. Not all bands are the same.

    All these are things I wasn't consciously aware of before even though I *might* have done them in one way or the other. More likely not, though ... :)

    From a lot of my posts on this board you will see that I am generally less interested in discussing compression settings and ways to EQ a kickdrum but more interested in the more "esotheric" part of producing, like how to make a song exciting, how to come up with an unusal way of representing a drumset or in this case, how to work with the musicians. In the end 100 engineers can get a good guitar sound but only 10 can produce a record.

    And I'd rather be one of the 10 :D
     
  12. -Noodles-

    -Noodles- 3 Initals Mixer

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    Although I agree with his position and practice..

    he doesn't really make a mention of how to inspire people who are running out of time, which is what most people encounter.

    I've read a few good books which have helped me to translate my ideas to musicians better - and get them to see the song as a goal, and make them remember why it was they became a musician.

    Good post though, really interesting and worthwhile points!
     
  13. broken81

    broken81 Used by Protools

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    Yea I'm still getting my toes wet in producing but the water is cold and its hard to just jump right in if you know what i mean. Bands are really tough and each one is different and just because your approach worked with the last band you did, does not mean it will with the next one.

    Some bands are wide open to what you have to say (usually the good ones)and are willing to try whatever. Then some bands have a 50ft wall you have to climb over or knock down before you even heard! Anyways its still one of the greatest feeling when you take an idea and help mold it into something that is great. I'm getting butterfly's in my stomach just thinking about it! :)

    This is a very cool thread and a good read so far. Thanks Smy1 for posting that as well.....
     
  14. smy1

    smy1 Member

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    Which books are that? Sounds interesting!

    And I think bands like Angels & Airwaves or GNR (sic!) don't really run out of time in the studio, so that's why he wasn't concerned with that.

    One idea behind this thread is to try and talk about "techniques" and "tools" how to deal with the tough/difficult bands. The bigger the arsenal/toolbox/repertoire of tricks and methods, the more we will be able to adapt to the situation.
     
  15. Ermz

    Ermz ¯\(°_o)/¯

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    I totally dig the more esoteric approach to producing. Whatever does it for you and your clients, that's the important thing.

    I have to say, regarding the point at the top, it assumes that someone is working at a fairly high level with a fair bit of leeway. You see most bands the majority of guys here are working with are on fairly restrictive budgets, and the last thing they want to do is mess around in the studio getting creative and re-structuring their songs.

    Most can barely afford one or two days of pre-production, much less months in the studio to 'build sandboxes' and play around in them :). My approach for these bands is to work with them as a liaison as they write and construct the music, and try to get it tightened up and solid before we even get to pre-prod or tracking. The last thing we want to be doing if they're paying $740 a day for the studio is playing around at their expense.
     
  16. smy1

    smy1 Member

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    Yea, I just thought of that when I talked about the aforementioned bands not having to worry about studiotime. But I guess all these things could apply for pre-production in rehearsal rooms or home studios too, don't you think?

    Also, you never know when you will be in the luxury situation :)
     
  17. jangoux

    jangoux Member

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    producing for me was always trying to get the best of the artist or even helping them finding their best they didnt know existed eehehhe But now i am producing a little rich girl that has crappy songs and loads of money. The thing is that she does not give a shit about anything - she just wants the music ready. If we recorded a fart on the bridge of one of the song, she doesnt care. She also never says what she likes OR dislikes. So i (and my team) gotta be magicians to make her songs sell-able and discover WTF she wants us to do.

    But seriously most of the time, it varies from artist to artist. What works with one maybe wont work with another. Some need/want a lot of adive and some just need a ´you can do it better next time´ to make it work
     
  18. smy1

    smy1 Member

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    Send the rich girl to me. I will gladly produce her :D
     
  19. AudioPhile777

    AudioPhile777 Mathew Cohen

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    You mean bang her brains out...

    Thats is how I will interpret your post... no matter how you try to influence it...
     
  20. joeymusicguy

    joeymusicguy Member

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    i used this technique a month ago when i was recording a radio rock band.
    the guitarist is a very fucking good guitarist. and he had no solo written exactley for this song we were working on. at the point in time we were getting ready to record him playing some solo stuff / improv a bit, i was in dire need of a drink and had nothing at the studio at that time. so i setup a loop and told him to just keep playing whatever he felt like playing everytime it looped. i left and went to the gas station.

    when i got back, there were 14 takes.

    an hour later we had compiled a solo that involved about 6 of the takes at different points

    and it is still the best solo of all 6 songs.
     

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