Music Producers – What they do and how to pick the best one(s)* for your music

Over the years, the title of “Music Producer” has not only changed shape but broken off into categories and sub-categories. It can be confusing for an artist who is about to dig deep into their pockets to invest in their music. So this blog is devoted to clarifying what I think are the different categories of producers, what to watch out for with each type and how to find the perfect one or *ones for you. *You don’t necessarily need to have one producer for an entire project. As a matter of fact, these days you don’t need to record an entire album! That’s a subject for another day. For now, keep an open mind about using different producers for different songs.

First, here are the four different types of producers as I see it:

Hands on – This producer is involved in the creation of your music, usually in every aspect; lyrics, melody, instrumentation, recording, editing, mixing. Typically this person is very creative and has their own sound. Think of producers like Ryan Tedder and Timbaland or Dr. Luke and Benny Blanco. Once you hear a few songs that they’ve produced, you can immediately recognize “their” sound. When choosing someone like this, make sure you love the character of their sound and that it will compliment your music. Warning: This person might have a tendency to be an egomaniac. Will they snub out your creative input because it interferes with what they want?

The Director – more like the old school producer, this would be the dude/dudette sitting in the control room directing the engineer, directing the musicians, directing the artist…thus more like a director of the project. This person might be a guitar player or keyboardist or a co-writer who could make some “hands on” contributions but will usually want to use their favorite engineer, their favorite guitarist, their favorite drummer, etc. Be sure this person knows your vision and will stay true to it. Warning: This approach is usually more expensive because you are paying for the producer, the engineer, the musicians, etc. rather than one or two people who do it all.

The Engineer – This person might call themselves a producer but may simply be the guy with the gear who knows how to record. They might even be great at recording and may whip around their DAW with ease. Their mixes may even sound killer. But do they have creativity to add to your music? Do they get your vision? If not, call this person what they are – your engineer. Warning: The description itself serves as the warning. If you are ok with someone just pushing the red button and recognize that YOU are producing your music, go for it.

The DJ/Beat Maker – Todays biggest hits are being made by these guys. Calvin Harris, Major Lazer, The Chainsmokers, etc. These guys make amazing music and then hook up with the biggest artists in the industry to launch their songs. Much like the “Hands on” producers, they have a sound and style that you need to love. Warning: They may not know or care to know anything about mixing and producing vocals, yet vocals are THE most important part of your song (unless you are an instrumentalist). If you simply slap your vocal on top of their amazing beat…who does this serve? No one. It makes no sense to have the vocals be an afterthought. If you’ve found a beat you love, don’t assume you need to record your vocals with the beat maker. Buy or contract with them to use the beat exclusively then record your vocals with someone who really knows how to produce vocals (haha…that’d be me.)

The Wannabe – This is the scary one. This is the person who calls themselves a producer, has the studio and the equipment but what comes out of the studio usually sounds like crap. Worst of all, these are probably the ones who say things like “you are gonna be a star! I have this friend who is at so and so records, I’m gonna send him this song after we’re done!” Hundreds or thousands of dollars later you may have a product you are too embarrassed to share (been there, done that). ‘Nuf said.

Most likely  you will meet producers that are a blend of more than one of these types. What is important is that you find someone who;

  1. Understands you and your music as well as your budget and your individual career path
  2. Doesn’t have an ego too big to get around
  3. Has a portfolio of high quality output with real artists and bands to show you
  4. Doesn’t make promises of hooking you up with their connections (Who cares. Anyone can say this…don’t buy into it. Just make your music.

Be smart, informed and savvy. Best of luck to all you music makers out there!