For The Pro

Recipe for a Good Producer

By Todd Smith


1 part musician (well-rounded)

1 part recording engineer

1 part psychoanalyst

1 part SWAT team negotiator (may substitute White House press agent)

Other things you will need: an open mind, good ears, ability to say "that sucked" without saying "that sucked," willingness to let artist think all the good ideas are his.

Let me state at the outset that this article contains no inherent presumption that I am a good producer. Whether I am or not is a question for my long, long list of satisfied and returning clients. But I have had the opportunity to work with a few producers through the years who run the spectrum from the good to the not-so-good, and I have developed some theories on why some seem to be better than others, and what seem to be the common ingredients the good ones share.

First things first; a good producer should be a musician, or at least musically inclined. How can someone who doesn't talk the talk tell the players how to walk the walk? A producer in the recording studio is like a director on the movie set. He didn't necessarily write the script, but he is interpreting it and bringing it to life. A producer who is not at least somewhat musical is like a director who has no grasp of what it means to be an actor. When we look at the analogy, the absurdity is obvious.

Similarly, a producer should have at least a rudimentary grasp on the technical aspects of recording. It is not necessary for a producer also to be a recording engineer, but he must at least be guided by a sonic vision. How can he achieve this sonic vision if he does not know what his tools will do? How can he transcend boundaries if he does not know where they are?

The psychological dimensions of a producer's job are perhaps the most intriguing. We all know that musicians and artists are a kooky bunch (relax, kooks, I count myself among you) and dealing with the complexities and enigmatic reasonings of the artistic mind can be quite challenging. It's like a treasure hunt; you have to decode the mysterious message to get to the gold. And often, it requires some real psychological insight to decipher the clue and move in the right direction.

The final essential ingredient in a good producer is the ability to keep the peace in the studio while keeping things rolling along. I have seen producers play everything from big brother to priest. And when you've got a whole group of artists, each with their individual quirks and hotspots geez, sometimes I think it would be easier to negotiate with an international terrorist.

The producer is a key player in a recording project. It all starts with the artist, but the finish is up to the producer. So the artist must trust the producer, in whose hands he is placing the fate of his creation. It's like handing your baby over to someone else to raise after you have conceived it, gestated it and given birth to it. Sounds difficult, right? It is. That's why the right producer is so crucial. It's the homestretch, where you can win or lose the race.

Method of Preparation:

Combine all ingredients, cook on crappy gear for ten years, honing your skill.

Serve hot.