A Slick Mix Is No Quick Fix Why A Producer May Be More Valuable Than A Sound Engineer.

08-22-2013 02:38 PM

The music industry of 2013 is without a doubt fractal in nature. The reign of big budget studios has largely passed, the time of the home studio has arrived. There are long debated pros and cons to this change, but I think it is important to reflect now on the evolved role of the producer and their value and place in the grand scheme of things.

Today, producers are often considered a luxury, with bands and artists opting to take their ideas to a studio for a day for cold hard cash and hope that their visions are realized within the constraints of their session. Sadly this is not always the case, and the results are often below what was expected, or simply different to what the artist had in mind.

Unfortunately, simply placing your song in the hands of an engineer to mix, while being an incredibly essential step, is not always enough. Before you commence your next project, take a moment to consider these 4 points on the value of a having a producer behind you.

  1. Economics
    Luckily for artists, due to the competitiveness of the current music market a producer is expected not only to be able to realise the potential of your song through a solid arrangement, but he / she is also expected to be able to mix a track and take it to the next level sonically.

    Any producer worth their salt nowadays will have a comprehensive understanding of at least one DAW, so if you are trying to decide whether to just record or to get a track produced first, consider the value of getting the song finished musically first. There is nothing worse than paying to re-do something that you weren’t entirely happy with in the first place, and the combined musical and technical knowledge of a producer could potentially solve both those problems and avoid an unnecessary double expense.
  2. Perspective
    Nine times out of ten, the reason a song isn’t working fully for a writer is because they are simply too close to the canvas to see the full picture. The mix of a recording might SOUND great, but ultimately the real question is ‘is the song as a standalone piece of work actually any better?’.

    We sometimes hear people in the mastering end of the industry using the phrase “ to polish a turd” when talking about trying to master a sub standard mix. While this is a slightly crass expression, it is exactly on the money. A mastering engineer can only do so much with what they are given, and the same applies to a mixing engineer with a recording, and again with a recording engineer to a song.
    Ultimately the best way to tackle all of these problems at once is to make sure that the raw materials you are working with are in the best shape musically possible at the START.

    Not only is it less time consuming in the long run, but it is also much more gratifying to be happy with what you are working with from day one and to see your expectations beaten at every stage of the process, then to be second guessing the entire way through.
  3. Tougher Skin
    Aside from the music, there is one massive advantage in spending time developing a relationship with a producer: They can tell you the truth.

    The important thing to remember is that in the producers job is to make the song work to its maximum potential, and every decision made is always for the good of the song. Developing a strong working relationship with a producer is a sure way to get the real story about where your music is and what needs to be done to get it to the next stage. It will also endow you as an artist with an amazing skill: Objectivity.

    I have learnt over time not to be precious with my music. Ultimately it is a collection of words and notes, and being able to say “No, lets start over” is an incredibly liberating thing. Many a time I have scrapped an entire arrangement and gone back to square one, resulting in an overwhelming improvement to the record. Remember, you can always “Save As” and go back!

    A pure recording engineer on the other hand, is often faced with a dilemma. As a sound technician in a studio, they understand the constraints of time, and the need to get the tracks finished in the allotted time, so unfortunately there is often very little room for second guessing or advising a client on musical decisions. Psychologically, an engineer is often well aware of their unfamiliarity with the personality of the client and will not take risks that could cause the client to get annoyed, nervous or demotivated when there is a very real time / budgetary constraint that needs to be adhered too.

    Having a developed social and musical relationship with a producer not only means that hurdles like this are overcome in seconds, but also that on an overall level an artist you learn to appreciate the value in listening to direction and taking constructive criticism on board. I guarantee over time this will make you better at what you do both as a songwriter and as a recording artist, and ultimately more valuable to others.
  4. Musical Flavor
    Beneath the mysterious title, a producer is ultimately a friend, a confidant, and a musician with objectivity and commercial sensibilities. A producer cannot only offer technical considerations, but they also ‘get’ music. Sometimes chatting about your music with someone who speaks the lingo is a simple solution to a seemingly insurmountable problem. Their own musical background and styles can have an intrinsic and positive affect on the record you are trying to cut. Like-minded individuals always engender innovation and creativity. The very same is true to music.

In the end, the simple truth is that a good song that is arranged well essentially mixes itself. Discuss