I met with an interesting band last night to discuss their new project. They have goals and they have chops and they most importantly have a plan. I can always appreciate a plan. These fellows had never worked with a producer, which I encounter often. I am used to that discussion and I enjoy having it with artists because I don’t see what I do in the same sense as what the term “producer” might invoke.
Producers and Engineers are not the same thing. Sometimes, the lines might blur (I can track you in pro tools) and sometimes the engineer might have a valuable tip (that sounds like shit). But, most of the time, the two roles are best filled by two unique and talented individuals. Not just warm bodies who need money, but talented and dedicated professionals whose passions and skill sets lie in two different arenas. There is truth in the term “too many cooks in the kitchen”, but when it comes to producing and engineering a great record, it never hurts to have a team who know what they’re doing, and believe in it.
So the band and I discuss the project, throw around some ideas and answer each others questions as best as we can. Then, the conversation takes a turn, like it always does, towards money. I have my own thoughts on money, it’s worth, and it’s position in the world of music in general. I constantly find myself weighing the pressure of art -vs- commerce; it’s a sticky situation. I am still a hungry producer and musician. I don’t have children and I have a loving, and supportive fiance. With that being said, I value the creation and the experience over the pay day.
A lot of producers and engineers don’t, and that makes my job inherently more difficult.
Don’t get me wrong; Money is a necessary evil in the business, even at the independent level. If a band underpays for a project, the artist will take advantage of the situation, mostly subconsciously. If they didn’t have to scrape, save, beg borrow and steal to come up with the money needed to work on their project, there is a passion, and a sense of urgency that is missing from the workflow.
“Ahh, fuck it. We only spent $500 bucks on this EP.”
On the flip, if the producer/engineer feels underpaid for the time/effort being put into the project, a pay wall will eventually be hit. The producer or engineer will eventually decide this is no longer worth the time/money that was given, and quality control begins to fade.
“Ahh, fuck it. These guys only paid me $500 bucks for this stupid EP”
This problem arises for a very specific reason:
Too many jaded music professionals preying on the goals and dreams of uninformed independent musicians.
I encounter artists all of the time who believe they are being tough and firm when they say they want to spend a quarter of what I believe is needed for a project. They have their reasons, and they seem valid in the present. But, they are only valid because they spent the proper amount on their previous project, and PICKED THE WRONG PEOPLE TO TRUST WITH THEIR MUSIC AND THEIR MONEY.
You can’t get to your goals of having a top notch recording and production, with the specified sounds you hear in your head, if you aren’t willing to spend the money to hire people who want to work with you, who want to do a great job, and who know what it takes to capture and shape the sounds you want to hear. It’s very obvious you could throw up some mics in your bedroom, use an mbox and record sounds that might resemble your songs. But, if you want to go out and change the scene, impress your fans, enrich the lives of listeners and generate a career, the adage remains; You have to spend money to make money.
I can’t help the fact that you chose to work with the jaded old guy who hasn’t loved a record in 12 years. I can’t help it that you got stuck with the junior intern engineer who had no insight into the project, and was literally excited to take your money and go to Taco Bell and a liquor store. I can’t help it that you got swooned by the boozy former whatever, who shows up late and has a hangover and looks miserable the entire session. I can’t help that you overpaid for a bunch of sloppy, cluttered and unloved bullshit. That is not my fault, but, those people are setting guys like me back. Months, years even.
As producers and engineers, it is our job to share knowledge, and soak it up when it’s offered. It is our job to teach the artist something about the craft. It is our job to learn something from the artist! It is our job to prepare them to come back in a year more prepared, more alert, more focused, and with a better idea of how to get from point A, to point B. Nowhere in the job description does it state you are entitled to overcharge a band for the project, and spend the entire time posting to facebook or leaving sessions early. And it is, most importantly, our job to deliver the best possible recording of the bands material as possible. Plain and simple. It is not rocket science.
Those kinds of people, the jaded or the sad or the burnt out, give the truly passionate and the truly talented a bad name. One bad apple to spoil the whole bunch? Absolutely.
No band or artist has any requirement to trust me. I didn’t go to a trendy and expensive recording school and I didn’t take “PRODUCING RECORDS 101”. I have committed myself to music because I love it just as much as my family and my friends. I know who I am, and what I bring to the table and I sleep easy every night knowing that I put it out there and did what I thought was best. I can’t speak to the story of anyone else. I don’t know why guys get tired and stop caring about the music. I don’t know why people have the sense of entitlement to complain about rock and roll. This is the best job in the entire world.
It’s a new era for all of us; the musicians, the producers, the engineers, everyone. It’s time to reshape the process and the rules and get back to being passionate and committed to the craft we have chosen. If you want to tune out, collect a check and just show up and consider it an accomplishment, go take a desk job somewhere WHERE THAT IS EXPECTED. Don’t pollute the world with sounds that are unloved and unworthy. Even if the band isn’t the best, and even if the material isn’t the most mind bending thing you’ve ever heard, it is our job to treat it, and the PROCESS, with respect.
Making music is a beautiful thing; don’t destroy the craft. I spend 18 hours a day trying to honor it the best I can.