AHHH, THE AGE OLD QUESTION OF WHAT A PRODUCER ACTUALLY DOES. It's the kind of thing you can never explain to your mother for some reason.
Lots of people will hear the term producer and think hip-hop artist, making beats with turntables and samplers. They're not wrong. That certainly is one kind of producer and it is a popular image, but that's not nessesarily what I do. I like to consider myself a sort of concierge of sound.
If an artist comes to me and says, "I have this song, but by the third verse it sounds boring," I can help with that because I am a songwriter and arranger across several generas. If an artist comes to me and says, "I want to record these songs, but my duet needs to find a rhythm section that can back us up." I can find them a bass player and drummer who can learn the parts, and potentially write those parts myself depending on how involved the client needs me to be. I can do that because as an active musician myself, I know plenty of other great musicians around town that can be brought in on a project. And of course I can record, mix and master (either at my home studio or another studio in town depending on the artist's budget and goals) because at my core I am an audio engineer.
Does that seem like a long answer to a simple question?
The thing is, the music biz is a wishy-washy sort of thing. Most independent artists are "freelancers" or "self employed." Some only consider themselves hobbyists. As such, they don't have a label directing them in the creation of their music and digital presence. They all have different budgets, time constraints and different visions of what they want from music and how they're going to get it. My job as a producer is to figure out their vision and use my experience to help them attain it.
Here's an example:
In 2015 I got the opportunity to work with my friend Ari Lerner- a phenomenal vocalist with a great jazzy tone. She was working with a new band that wanted to cover Style by Taylor Swift and they needed something quick and honest to shoot out to promoters so that they could book more gigs.
I recommended we do a sort of hybridized live session to capture the energy of a live performance. Easy in theory, except her budget didn't allow for studio time in a commercial studio. My home studio at the time, was on the top floor of a repurposed piano factory in South Boston. It was great for an overdubbing workflow, but recording a six piece band was going to get a little cramped because acoustic isolation is really important when recording live with high fidelity mics.
What we ended up doing was running a snake across the roof into another unit in the building and putting the drums and bass in there. The relationship between the drummer and the bassist is always the foundation of the song, and the ability for them to see each other move and make eye contact is crutial. 8 mics on the kit: Kick In & Out, Snare Up & Down, Hat, X Y Pair Stereo Condensers Pencils for the Overheads and a nice vacuum valve driven condenser for the room. The bass was DI'd- easy.
I threw the rest of the band in the control room with me. The keys player had a midi only keyboard, and lacking a super nice midi clock, USB was the only option- so proximity to the computer was key. We played around with some sounds and ended up synthesizing a nice vintage electric piano sound which I sent through a leslie simulator for sauce. The nice thing about electric keys and DI'd bass is that you never have to worry about isolation issues since they're going strait in to the system.
The guitarist was my friend Cecil (Cecil and Ari are now married! Congrats guys!). We had him going through a Vox AC15 with a Senheizer 906e - a great little mic for loud sources that never picks up anything but the source when the source is loud. I always have some acoustic paneling around, so I shielded the amp at about 2 feet from the face of the cab. This would allow for the right frequencies to develop, while also cutting down on higher frequencies finding their way into the vocal mic.
Ari's set up was simple. We had her in the center of the control room with Cecil and the keyboardist, singing into a SM58 or something similar for scratch vocal tracks. We wanted to capture the energy of live, but also have to ability to play perfectionist later.
Finally the sax player was placed on the other side of the room behind some gobos. I was a bit concerned that some guitar would find its way into the condenser I was using on him, but in the end I decided that the live feel was more important and the Sax notes could be gated around in the post production phase if the room noise was too much.
They were all heavy hitting, pro musicians and banged it out in 3 takes. We overdubbed a few extra sax solos for options and finally overdubbed the final vocals using a nice full sounding Rode K2, vacuum valve condenser. The whole thing took about 2 hours from start to finish.
All that's to say that each project is unique, from the musicians to the facility to the equipment and the sound. Getting the best sound possible with those factors is what I do. It requires a keen ear for detail as well as an experienced understanding of how all the moving pieces will work together. Hopefully this gives the reader some perspective on my thought process and, to some extent, my work flow.
I'll put the music video below if you'd like to check out the finished product, but keep in mind that the actual video was taped to the recording so it will not show the musicians actually tracking in my studio.
Till next time,