Production: Producer • Record Producer
Producers, engineers, mixers, and mastering engineers all require technical and creative skills, a thorough knowledge of the recording process, and an ear for music.
The producer is ultimately responsible for the quality of the finished recorded sound, and is involved in both the business and the creative side of making the recording. Business tasks include working closely with the record label and manager on budgets, schedules, and deadlines. Creative elements include selection of songs (some producers co-write with the artist), studio, engineers, musicians, musical arrangements, mixer, and all other aspects of the recording process.
Although his primary function is creative, Little Dog Records president Pete Anderson is also responsible for the business aspects of running the label, in addition to the normal duties of a producer. He decides which artists are signed to the label, when their records will be released, and produces most projects.
“Because I've been a singer,” says producer Chris Farren, “I understand the emotions and the feelings of having a set of headphones on and being on the other side of the glass from where the music is coming out. I understand what it feels like when the headphones don't fit right, you're not feeling good, you're singing as hard as you can but it doesn't sound right, or you don't understand what the producer wants from you. Because I've felt like that, it allows me to communicate with singers better than nonsinging producers.”
A producer must understand both the creative and business aspects of making records. He must be able to communicate with the engineer and musicians in technical and musical terms, and with label executives on the business matters.
Being in the position to hire musicians, Anderson looks at people and asks, “Are they responsible? Are they polite? Do they have a car? Do they have a phone? Do they have good equipment? Are they low maintenance?”
POINTERS FOR THE JOB SEARCH
“I don't think you decide to be a producer. I think you either are or you aren't. I think my biggest piece of advice is to be as objective as you can about yourself and your talent. Try not to go down the wrong path for too long of a time. I wanted to be an artist; I wanted to be a singer/guitar player/harmonica player. I wasn't a good enough singer, but I could be a good producer. If you're not succeeding, there must be a reason. Be objective.”—PA
“Do anything and everything in the music business that you can do. Absorb as much music and as many different influences as you can. Make yourself as multifaceted and valuable as you can. Go in and produce someone's demo. Do it for free. Just get in the studio and work and experiment.”—CF
PETE ANDERSON, PRESIDENT, LITTLE DOG RECORDS; PRODUCER AND MUSICIAN
From the time he first saw Elvis Presley perform on television, Detroit native Pete Anderson fell in love with the sound of the guitar. “I just loved how the guitar looked. I've always been in love with the sound of it.” At age 16, inspired by the music of Bob Dylan, he bought his first instrument and taught himself to play. Although he went to art school, that interest soon faded away and was replaced by music. “Music became a creative outlet for me.”
He moved to Los Angeles in 1972 and, not knowing anyone, began making the rounds of jam sessions and band auditions, playing blues and writing songs until landing a gig with a touring bar band. Next came a stint working in a music store that led to gigs sitting in with country musicians. Anderson continued to play, worked his way up to better gigs, and made a name for himself. In 1983, Dwight Yoakum hired him as a sideman for club dates.
Yoakum's sound was so different from what was currently heard on radio, that the band was fired from every gig they played. With Yoakum on the verge of giving up, Anderson convinced him to self-finance a six-song album that was distributed locally, and won immediate critical praise. Yoakum was opening for the Blasters on a cross-country tour when Warner Brothers Records caught his act, and signed him to a deal. The resulting album, Guitars and Cadillacs, which Anderson produced and played on, garnered several hit singles and went gold.
THE LEAST FAVORITE THING ABOUT THIS JOB:
“I resent the fact that people get into positions of power and have absolutely no taste or talent or reason to even have that job, other than some other guy with no talent hired him.”—PA
“The fine tuning—the little tweaking part of getting the vocal and the mix right. You just have to get so inside the music, you feel like you're pulling out a microscope. Also, the crazy kind of political things you have to deal with. Like when the label doesn't want a song, but the artist does.”—CF
THE BEST THING ABOUT THIS JOB:
“I love songwriters. I love hearing a great song. I like the music I work with, the musicians, and the opportunity to be creative and work with creative people.”—PA
“I like tracking: being in the room with great musicians and having that energy spiral into something magical. I love being in a live music setting where there are four, five, or six musicians all playing at once. It's like the sum is greater than the individual parts.”—CF
As time went by, Anderson's studio work with songwriters and recording artists turned more and more into producing, until in 1993, he opened Little Dog Records. The label gave Anderson the creative freedom to sign and develop artists that he believed in. Beginning with one artist and a toll-free telephone number, Anderson took out some ads and did his own marketing. As he continued to expand and sign new talent, he made distribution deals, first with Rounder Records, then with Polygram. He realized the enormous potential of Internet sales, and Anderson decided that a single distributor was not the way of the future, opting instead for multiple independent distributors by region. Little Dog releases represent a wide range of American roots music ranging from honky-tonk, blues, country, and folk to rock and Latin. Anderson also released his solo projects “Working Class,” “Dogs in Heaven,” and “Daredevil” through the label.
In addition to playing and producing his own blistering solo recordings, the Grammy Award winning Anderson has produced such artists as Michelle Shocked, k.d. lang, Sara Evans, Lonesome Strangers, Joy Lynn White, and Meat Puppets. www.peteanderson.com and www.littledogrecords.com
CHRIS FARREN, PRODUCER/WRITER AND PRESIDENT COMBUSTION MUSIC
Chris Farren discovered that music exerted a powerful force over him at a very early age. From the piano lessons he began at four years old, to the guitar, trombone, and saxophone, which he later mastered, to the club bands he played in during high school and college, his entire life was consumed by music. “Music just had a strangely powerful allure for me.” He enrolled at East Carolina University, but when the course work began leading him toward classical music, he switched his major to English, and focused on creative writing as a way of advancing his interest in writing songs. He graduated in 1981, moved to Los Angeles, and supported himself playing club gigs and as a session singer on demos, jingles, and backups. “I thought I was going to be a star. I thought I would pay my dues and be discovered. It was a lot harder than I thought.”
Farren signed an artist/writer publishing deal with MCA in 1983 and created a niche writing for film and television during the mid-1980s. Advised that he did not fit the techno/heavy metal/glam rock image then popular, and that Nashville was the only place then embracing the singer/songwriter, he made the move, despite not considering himself a country artist. Between cutting his own albums, playing guitar and singing backup on other people's records, co-writing with some of the city's best songwriters, and the session work he continued to do in Los Angeles, Farren was able to make a decent living. He honed his skills while engineering demos of his own songs, and he added to his income by engineering and producing demos for other artists.
Between the demos Farren did in Nashville, and the film sound track work he continued to do in Los Angeles, he found himself increasingly drawn to producing. Able to write and sing the songs, play all the instruments, and produce and engineer the recordings, he found that film companies liked working with him because with one person doing it all, they could reduce their licensing fees. He quickly became as well known for the hit songs he produced, as for the hit songs he wrote.
In the early 1990s, Farren divided his time between Los Angeles and Nashville and was soon producing records for country artists Boy Howdy (three albums; two Top Ten hits), Kevin Sharp (platinum album; three number one hit singles), and Deana Carter (quintuple-platinum album; three number one hit singles; CMA Single of the Year). Along the way he also picked up American Songwriter's 1997 Country Producer of the Year Award and was named Billboard's number three Top Producer in Country Music.
Farren was instrumental in opening the Windswept Pacific Publishing office in Nashville, serving as creative consultant. In 2001, Farren and Ken Levitan, president of Vector Management, teamed to open Combustion Music, a publishing and production company, a joint venture with Windswept Pacific. The company has scored several No. 1 singles, including 2006 Grammy and ASCAP Song of the Year “Jesus Take the Wheel,” recorded by American Idol winner Carrie Underwood. www.combustionmusic.com
RECORDING ENGINEER AND MIXER
The recording engineer retrieves and stores musical data, essentially everything that comes through the microphones. These engineers select and place microphones, record the music onto analog or digital tape, and work the console. The job of the engineer/mixer is to sort out the information that has been recorded and over-dubbed, and mix it down to two or four tracks, or whatever format is needed, so that people can understand the musical statement of the producer and artist.
In addition to technical abilities and people skills, Jimmy Douglass adds, “Knowing music is important for success. When I record a live band or a live orchestra, they give me a chart. I have to be able to read that chart as I'm doing the recording.”
A DAY IN THE LIFE
“On our first day of tracking,” explains Tom Harding, “We'll come in and get the musicians all set up. On sessions where I'm acting as producer and engineer, I'll get everybody's sounds and then get the artist set up. Before we start tracking, we'll probably sit around an acoustic guitar, play the song, double-check keys, and allow everyone to bounce ideas off each other. Then, we'll go out into the studio and start running down the song. Once all the tracking is completed, the musicians pack up and leave and we begin to work on vocals. After the lead vocals are done, we'll add the background vocals, and then maybe some sweetening, like adding tambourine. I'll put a lead vocal together from all the takes and let the artist hear it, and we'll decide if they need to punch a line or fix anything. After everything is recorded, it's ready to be mixed.”
“If you do this [engineering or producing] for the love of what you're doing, then the success, the fame, and the money will not be denied you, eventually. You have to come into this job with the love of what you're doing first.”—JD
Stay abreast of changes in recording technology—read and attend gear and equipment shows.
POINTERS FOR THE JOB SEARCH
“Do your homework in terms of knowing who makes the records you like, who makes the sounds that you like. Find out as much as you can about how they make those sounds. What other records they've done. Try to learn as much as you can about the equipment they use. Find out who does what on a session. Become familiar with the latest technology by either buying your own equipment or going to a recording school. There is no reason you should ever walk in a door, trying to get a job, and not know how the system works. Learn all that you can about the genre of music you want to work in and be ready. The keyword is, never say ‘No, I can't do it.’”—JD
“You don't necessarily have to be in New York, Nashville, or Los Angeles to be a good recording engineer. With the invention of A-DATS, ProTools, and all the digital recording, you can have a great studio anywhere in the world.”—TH
THE LEAST FAVORITE THING ABOUT THIS JOB:
“It's a 24-hour business and it seems that everyone should be available all of the time.”—JD
THE BEST THING ABOUT THIS JOB:
“The reward of working with great talent and actually being part of putting some great music together that excites people. When you see people listen to the records that you've made and they really love the music, it's so rewarding. You can't explain the feeling. The money is great too, but in terms of a job, I get paid to sit and listen to music all day.”—JD
JIMMY DOUGLASS, RECORDING ENGINEER, MIXER, AND PRODUCER
From a very early age, Jimmy Douglass had a passion for music. As much as he loved listening to it, he loved to play it even more. He took piano lessons, but taught himself to play guitar, bass, drums, and keyboards, and performed in a number of bands around Long Island, New York. While he was attending college classes, a friend of a friend got him a part-time job making tape copies in an Atlantic Records recording studio. While there, he took advantage of occasional down time to learn how to work the studio's sound and recording equipment. That knowledge, combined with his experience as a lead musician in bands, convinced him that he had the ability to become a music producer.
Encouraged by the studio staff, Douglass tried his hand at producing the demos for three bands that he hoped to help get recording contracts. He had to be convinced to double as engineer, because he had only watched others perform that function, but had never actually done it himself. When he took the final tapes to Atlantic in an attempt to get the bands signed, he was told that the label did not care for either the songs or the bands, but they were really impressed by the production. Deciding that it didn't matter what position he played as long as he got into the game, Douglass switched his focus to sound engineering and mixing, and each job led to the next.
Over the years, Douglass’ skills as an engineer and mixer put him in great demand with artists like the Rolling Stones, Foreigner, AC/DC, Genesis, and Aretha Franklin, and finally led him into producing. As music evolved in the late 1980s, and came to rely more on digital technology, he found that the sound he had developed was no longer selling records. Essentially taking a year off to learn the new technology and absorb the new sound, Douglass returned to the streets, offering his services cheaply to gain experience working with emerging urban musicians. Transforming his approach, he was soon back in the studio, producing platinum projects with Missy Elliott, Lenny Kravitz, Ginuwine, Aaliyah, and Timbaland. Nicknamed Senator Jimmy D, he explains, “When you're mixing, you're often off in the room by yourself, but when you're recording you have to be a diplomat—it's so political! So I call myself ‘Senator Jimmy D.’” www.myspace.com/jimmymagicmix
Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesCareers in the Music BusinessRECORDING - Production: Producer • Record Producer, Recording Engineer And Mixer, Engineer • Second Engineer, Mastering Engineer