Record Production (Chapter 13)
“Your potential output is limitless, allow the energy to flow.”
A producer’s number what challenge is matching artist to repertoire, seeking a union of the performer and the material. An imaginative producer goes beyond this to devise ways of producing a good master even with material that is less than great, with an artist who may not always shake the earth. Under a savvy producer’s capable control, the musical sum will always be greater than the parts. Then the magic happens, it adds up to a hit! At the end of the day, it’s up to the producer to “make it happen and make it sound great.”
-Arguably the most important/second most important creative component, next to a songwriter, especially now. We live in a producer/track driven time, partly due to rise EDM DJ/Producer.
What is a record producer?
- The details of the role vary depending on the needs of a particular project, the artist’s individual strengths and weaknesses, and the producer’s official job title
- Typically, producers & artists share in creative control (producer’s job to make artist happy).
- Prods have to be straightforward (can’t be afraid to offend in a polite, respectful way-weak song, vocal, wrong harm, etc.)
- Must have people-skills (it’s like a marriage)…Producer serves as psychologist.
Different types of producers:
- Big picture organizers (Clive Davis, Tommy Mottola, Puff).
- Not usually involved in the actual recording process.
- Detail oriented, pushing every button (Calvin Harris, Zedd, Skrillex).
- Creative voices (Taylor Swift, Michael Jackson).
- Usually coproduce with a Engineer-Producer or Producer.
- A jack-of-all-trades who does it all (Babyface, Puff, Quincy Jones).
- A producer who specializes in vocals, harmonies, performance.
- Makeba Riddick – “Love the Way You Lie,” “Rude Boy.”
- Rick Rubin who created Def Jam (Beastie Boys, LL Cool J, Public Enemy, Run-D.M.C)
- Dr. Dre (Eminem, 50 Cent, Snoop Dogg, Kendrick Lamar)
- Max Martin (Taylor Swift, Katy Perry, The Weeknd, Britney Spears)
- Mutt Lange (AC/DC, Shania Twain, Bryan Adams)
- Babyface (Whitney Houston, Boyz II Men, Madonna)
- Stargate (Ne-Yo, Rihanna, Sia, Beyonce)
- Zedd (Selena Gomez, Jon Bellion, Arianna Grande)
- Ryan Tedder (Beyonce, One Republic, Kelly Clarkson)
Matching Producer to Artist
- Before song selection becomes an issue, of course the producer and the recording artist must first choose one another.
- An experienced producer will meet with the act before signing up for the project. Catch a vibe.
Preliminary meetings are particularly critical when working with a new artist or group; the artists probably have a dim view of what lies ahead and are fearful of the outcome, but all jobs should include this step to ensure that producer and artist are compatible in working styles, expectations, and personalities.
Lots of politics involved. There’s not set path.
- Who is hot at the moment?
- Does the artist have any dreams of working with a particular producer?
- Does a producer have a song that fits for the artist?
- Did a publisher/label put them together?
- Did the producers remix an original song of an artist?
- Is the A&R at the label tight with a particular producer?
- Good ones welcome all creative input…
- The more skills they have, the more $ (arrange, play, sing, write).
- Comping, Mixing, Mastering, Ear (best takes, suggest runs/melody/intru/live elements/recognizing commercial potential)
- Calm/Cool/Collected (pressure), Persuasion (i.e. persuading an investor for independent project)
- How a producer and an artist come to work together, and under what terms, will vary depending on the production deal in effect.
- Over the years, employment practices concerning producers have varied widely.
- Until the advent of rock and roll, recording companies maintained a staff of full-time house producers, who had strong control over who was recorded and precisely what material the chosen few were to record.
This setup began to shift in the 1960’s with the rise of a new breed of rock acts that typically composed their own songs and wanted to control the selection of material.
- They achieved this by sheer weight of influence or by insisting they obtain creative control and hire their own producers.
- Since that time, most record companies, large and small have used a mix of in-house, and independent producers.
Sometimes an artist gets signed to a label THROUGH a production deal. They get signed to a production team (Rihanna and Shontelle) and then to the label or through the producer’s label deal (Dr. Luke/Ke$ha).
Under these deals, the artist’s creative control, publishing, even decision to sign is controlled by Production team.
Example: Carl Sturken and Evan Rogers are New York-based songwriters and record producers who are business partners and friends. They have produced hits for Ruben Studdard, Wild Orchid, Christina Aguilera, and Rihanna.
They helped build the career of Rihanna, and are the principals of her production company named SRP Productions. As songwriters and record producers, Rogers and Sturken have achieved more than 20 top 40 hits, twelve top 5 hits and six BMI Awards. Their songs have sold more than 60 million albums, both in the U.S. and around the world.
The duo then decided to begin developing artists in earnest, forming Syndicated Rhythm Productions in 2005. Their first signing was Rihanna, whom Rogers discovered while visiting Barbados. They brought her to Jay-Z and L.A. Reid at Def Jam Records and she was signed within hours of her audition.
Next up was Shontelle, who they brought to Steve Rifkind’s SRC/Universal Motown label, where they produced her debut album Shontelligence in 2008. Shontelle has joined fellow Barbadian Rihanna at the top of the charts with her first hit, “T-Shirt”, which was a top 15 hit in the US, and was top 5 for a month in the U.K., where she has followed it with her second hit “Stuck with Each Other,” a duet with Akon from the movie “Confessions of a Shopaholic.” Shontelle’s follow up album included the worldwide platinum smash “Impossible.” And now for the rest of the story…
- Except perhaps work turned out by a label’s staff producers, virtually all-independent production agreements today provide a royalty for the producer.
- In this sector of the business, people often refer to a producer’s points, a term synonymous in this context with percentages.
- One point equals 1% (e.g., 1 point may equal 1% of retail or wholesale price of albums and singles). A point may also equal a percentage of a percentage)
Example: 1 point may equal 1% of retail of 90% of recordings sold.
The number of points a producer receives depends on clout.
- A young producer just breaking in may get only 1 point.
- Most producers receive 2 to 4 points.
- A few superstar producers ask for and receive 5% to 6% of sales.
Some contracts treat the producer better than the featured artist, who must wait for royalties until the label has recouped its production costs. (Many releases fail to recoup their costs).
- The artist will normally receive a royalty two to five times higher than the producer’s, but the producer will generally have a contract that requires royalties from sale Number 1 (sometimes called “record one royalties”)
- What this means is if an album sells poorly, the producer might get a small royalty payment while the artist receives no royalties at all (considered fair because the artist presumably received a big advance payment.
Top producers might have escalators if their albums become best sellers. The labels agree to such escalators because their upfront direct costs, such as recording expenses, will have been recouped when albums pass the contractually defined sales levels (such as 500,000 or 1 million unit sales).
In addition to royalties, it is standard practice for the label to pay a production fee.
- Some producers are fortunate to get a few thousand dollars upfront as their fee; half of which is normally paid before the first session begins and the other half upon deliver of master.
- Some fees are not extra payments but may be minor advances deducted from producer’s royalties. Major producers can get tens of thousands of dollars or more in production fees, usually nonrecoupable by the label from royalties.
In exchange for the “privilege” of choosing their producer, recording artists often pay the producer’s points out of their own record royalty. The paperwork required between the producer, artist, and record label will be a few short pages and is referred to as a letter of direction.
- Typically, a letter of direction informs the record company of the fee that the artist will assign the record producer out of his or her advance or future royalties and how many of the artist’s royalty points the producer is to receive.
- The artist also grants permission to the record company to handle the accounting and pay the producer directly, which relieves the producer of worries that the artist may be hard to find and collect from in future years.
The Recording Studio: Operation and Selection
- Once a producer has aligned with an artist and struck a deal with the artist, a label, or both, another key decision to be made is a basic one: Where will the music be recorded?
- The rise of the high-quality home or project studio, the contraction of U.S. music market, and a resulting tightening of recording budgets by labels have combined in recent years to put a squeeze on the commercial studio sector.
- Avatar (now owned by Berklee College of Music)
- Although this can work to the advantage of a producer and recording artist in potentially driving down fees and opening up slots, it makes it harder for the studios to make money and stay in business.
- To compete, commercial studios are stressing those factors that make them unique, from spacious room size to specialized staff and support, from properly designed acoustic environments to luxurious amenities.
- Production Studio vs. Major Recording Studio
The Music Studio
- Thousands of people are employed full-time in this unique industry, which requires cooperation between entrepreneurs, technicians, engineers, designers, acousticians, managers, and musicians, where art and technology meet and thrive.
- Engineers and producers sometimes own studios, but mostly work in and out of them.
- Label owned studios and larger independent studios traditionally maintain a full time staff of between 10 and 40 members, a smaller number than in the heyday of prior decades.
- Technology has eliminated many of the traditional large studios (The Hit Factory).
- Many smaller studios have professional gear that delivers good audio quality.
- Many producers will produce from home and go into larger studios to record vocals and mix (using quality gear).
- A studio’s value is often based on their engineer and production staff.
- A studio’s profit is based on time booked out and if production is available.
- Major studios usually offer mastering services.
-A studio with even the latest hardware is in trouble if it lacks good acoustics in two critical areas:
- The control rooms.
- The Studios themselves.
-Qualified engineers can predict how sounds will behave in a given space, but modern control rooms are difficult to design because the proper balance if stereo depends largely on where the mixer sits in the room; the producer, perhaps only 3 feet away from the mixer, hears a different balance.
The interest in 5.1 surround sound compounds this problem, because sound is delivered from six locations rather than two, putting a different spin on the entire process.
One essential acoustical requirement for orchestras and ensembles is sound diffusion, which allows performers to hear a fair amount of the sound occurring around them.
You want the precise opposite when tracking: Performers want very short reverberation times when using earphones, because they want to hear only themselves and the program coming over the earphones. (The vocal booth)
Forget technology and gear, studios ultimately sink or swim on whether the performing musicians feel comfortable in them.
Selecting a Studio
- Major locations: New York, Los Angeles, Nashville, Miami, and Chicago.
- Often artists will opt for a secluded location: Woodstock.
- Sometimes artists want a studio with analog capabilities (piano, consoles).
Basic Questions asked:
- Where’s artist comfortable
- Staffing (video, mixers, mastering engineers, maintenance, editors)
- Services, Amenities and Swag
Types of Studios
- Home Project Studios
- Not “converted garages” anymore.
- Most have Digital Audio Workstations (DAW)
- They combine recording, editing, mixing, and mastering functions into a single software/hardware package much more user-friendly, and equally important, more affordable to a wide range of users.
- Types of DAW: Protools (leader), Logic, Ableton, even Garage Band.
5 Stages of Record Production
- Preproduction (budgeting & planning)
- Adding space between songs, any last sonic corrections (EQ, balance bass, compress).
Final Stage of Recording
- Test recording on diff speakers (where will the majority of consumers will be listening?)
- Car, TV, IPod, laptop, Phone
Recording Costs May Exceed Budget
- Performer Poorly Prepared (uses studio to rehearse, even compose!).
- Performers can’t read music or blend well.
- Prod can’t decide what’s needed.
- Engineer can’t find right sounds.
Do It Yourself Artist
- Pros: Have creative freedom (writing, sound, style).
- Cons: Lacks insight from others around them.