“Hello, what do you do…?”
One of the things I find interesting about what I call “self-recording musicians” is how they do (and don’t) introduce themselves and talk about what they do. Most refer to themselves as some combination of songwriter, composer, musician, performer, or artist.
Some of them might refer to themselves as a self-recording musician or maybe even a recording engineer.
But what I find most intriguing is that most rarely ever call themselves “producers.”
But you know what? If you record your own music (or other people’s music, for that matter), you ARE a producer, whether you think of yourself as one or not.
Why? Because as an independent musician, and not hiring someone else to do the recording for you, you are ultimately responsible for PRODUCING the final result for the public to hear. As an indie, you are involved to some degree in every aspect of the music production process, from song creation to distribution.
If you already think of yourself as a producer, great! You are well ahead of many of your contemporaries in how you approach your music – and therefore, your music career. If you don’t think of yourself as a producer, it’s time to start doing so. Right now.
Whether you’re already there or not, I’d like to talk about something that can help you get your head around this whole “being a producer” thing, and in the process, help you greatly improve the results you get from your recordings.
I call it The Producer Mindset.
The Producer Mindset is a way of thinking about creating music and bringing it to the public that goes beyond just “making a recording.”
Producing, not (just) recording
The first thing that separates producers from everyone else is that they realize that recording and production are not the same thing. Production is a process, and recording is only one part of that process. Here’s how I, as a producer, see the steps of bringing “recorded art” to the market:
- Song Creation
- Pre-production and Arranging
- Mastering and Finalization
There are also two additional activities that flow through all of the steps above: Musical Refinement (i.e., improving the song and the arrangement as we go through the process); and Technical Refinement (i.e., making technical improvements to the recorded tracks – such as editing and comping – as the process evolves).
I could write a separate blog post on every one of the steps above (and I likely will over time), but suffice it to say that the Producer Mindset involves thinking about the music in terms of all of these steps, not just the middle ones.
Go high, go low
In addition, having the Producer Mindset means taking two views of the music: the Big Picture, and the Fine Details – often at the same time! A really good producer is able to never forget about how all the pieces fit together and what the overall vision is for the music, while also being able to get “down in the trenches” and work on the lowest-level minutiae.
So. Many. Hats.
Similarly, the Producer Mindset entails being a great multi-tasker, or to put it another way, being able to wear multiple hats and play many different roles throughout the process. If you’re a “self-recording musician,” at different points in the process, you’ll have to play the role of creator, player, singer, engineer, studio tech/troubleshooter, critic, cheerleader, cook, and disciplinarian, not to mention marketing guru, social media expert, booking agent, accountant, project manager, parent, spouse, and more.
One at a time, please!
But more important than being able to play all of these different roles, having the Producer Mindset also means being able to know when to play each role – and just as important – let the others go in the process. That way, you’re able to get the best out of each role as you play it, and not have all of the others conflicting (okay, arguing) with each other constantly. (Hmm… maybe there’s a reason why so many creatives seem to lean towards Attention Deficit Disorder!) So a key aspect of the Producer Mindset is having the discipline to stick to the role at hand, and not let any of the others get in the way.
Where are we going… and why?
Another key aspect of the Producer Mindset is being able to develop a plan and a goal – and to stick to them – throughout the process. Having the Producer Mindset doesn’t mean just sitting down in front of our DAW, plugging in our instrument or mic, pushing the Record button, and waiting to “see what happens.” While that approach has its place (like when you want to capture the inspiration for the music in the first place), it’s not the most effective or efficient way to create a great production.
Instead, the Producer Mindset means that we need to understand where we’re coming from, and as a result, the message we want to convey to the outside world through our music. When we know what “statement” we want to make with a particular piece of music, it helps us know whether we’re hitting the mark along the way. That understanding gives us a “guiding principle” or a “measuring stick” to help us through the process and help us stay on track. These are the kinds of things that professional producers ask their artists about all the time. Then they use the artists’ responses to complement their art and help them convey the statements they want to make to the listening public.
Who do we ultimately serve?
And speaking of the public, having the Producer Mindset means always considering the production from not just the creator’s perspective, but also from the end listener’s perspective. After all, it’s that end-listener who is ultimately going to hear – and decide to buy or use – our music. Whether it’s a film/TV music supervisor, an advertising executive, or a fan, they are ultimately who we need to “reach” with our music. So it’s not just about what we want to say, but also who we’re saying it to. A great producer is always thinking about how the music is going to go over with the listening audience.
It’s about connecting…
Which brings me to perhaps the most important aspect of the Producer Mindset: knowing what the Primary, Overriding Goal of producing music is. Drum roll, please…
The Primary, Overriding Goal of producing music is to make and maintain an emotional connection with the end-listener. It’s the key to everything we do.
And hopefully, the emotion the end-listener feels from our music will be the same emotion we felt when we created it. If we don’t make that emotional connection with the end-listener, we’ll have completely missed the mark on why we make music for the public to hear in the first place. Having the Producer Mindset means never losing sight of that goal, every step of the way.
The new you
All of this to say, if you’re an independent musician who records music, it’s time to add “producer” to the list of roles that you use to describe what you do. You are no longer a “self-recording musician.” You are a “self-produced musician.” It’s time to think like a producer does, because by necessity and by default, you are a producer. Your music and your listeners will thank you for it.
About the Author
is an independent music producer and engineer, published author, music career coach, and co-founder of the Azalea Music Group in Nashville. He helps artists and songwriters reach their fullest sonic and emotional impact with the recordings he produces, and also teaches them how to do it themselves. His diverse list of clients includes Davy Jones of the Monkees, Grammy-winning songwriter Don Henry, and international guitar virtuosos Tommy Emmanuel and Muriel Anderson.