Make or Break The Importance of Pre-Production With New Clients (Part 1 of 2)

11-05-2013 08:43 AM

Pre-production in the music world is a massively underused and underestimated process. Music records have been made and broken off of the back of good and bad production sessions. Some might argue that pre-production decides whether a production is going to succeed or not before it has even started. In the same way that tracking content properly at source is always preferable to ‘fixing it later’, planning the content of that very recording is of even more importance and consequence. So how do we as practitioners prepare for the perfect session? Here are some tips that will help you produce efficient and comprehensive productions from start to finish.

A simple place to begin the production process with a client is to sit down and discuss their influences and sources of inspiration. Our job as producers is to sort out the creative flow of the artist and refine it into a plausible sound that works for the producer, the artist and the target market. The key is to collect a variety of specific sounds and aesthetics that appeal to the creative side of the artist. Unless you are quite experienced, there isn’t much use in using an entire album as a sonic reference, as many albums embody a variety of sounds explored by that artist. Rather than trying to create an entire aesthetic, look for elements within references that specifically appeal to the artist. It is a lot easier to emulate one or two components of a song than the entire cumulative aesthetic of a record. The overall sound on any track derives from a combination of production decisions unique to that situation, so focusing in on particular parts of reference tracks will help move your own production forward while still leaving room for creative musical exploration by you and the artist.

Gear List
An integral part of pre-production, your gear list helps define the parameters for your recording sessions. Since the idea of pre-production is to plan for the intended production, knowing the nuances of the instruments you are going to be recording is very valuable information. Multi-microphone requirements for instruments like drums and non-standard instruments can be tricky, so it is important to at least hear the instrument or have some personal research done on it in advance. Artists often desire a sound but do not possess the gear to achieve this sound, so a producer’s job is to highlight this in pre-production and identify an alternative route to achieving the desired outcome. I routinely find myself spending up to half of a session purely placing microphones and checking microphone positioning, phasing and tone. Once the parameters are set, it should only take a few takes to get what you need.

This is a technical tip that helps the producer more than anyone else. Practitioners often consider templates a great way to churn out content that uses standardised workflows such as podcasts, TV episodes, mastering, etc. A great alternative approach to templates is to build them based on the artist rather than then type of media format being delivered. This is especially useful when you are working on larger bodies of work with particular artists and tracking in one studio while mixing / editing elsewhere, which is a common format in today’s industry. If you know the configuration of the band or ensemble and your preferred recording techniques for their sound, then there is no harm in building a starter template to get everything up and running as soon as possible.
What do you think is most crucial for starting on the right foot with a client? Share your comments and opinions below. Part 2 to come.
Denis Kilty is an Irish songwriter, composer, music producer and mixing engineer based in Dublin. –