3 Things You Need to Consider Before Hiring a Music Producer

When you think producer, you might think of one of these - but there’s a lot more to it than that!

When you think producer, you might think of one of these - but there’s a lot more to it than that!

The process of writing, recording and releasing music is exciting and extremely rewarding.  But it certainly has its fair share of challenges, too.  One particular area of complexity for artists is music production– a rather broad term used to describe the process of recording, mixing and mastering songs for release.  For many artists, it’s highly likely that they will need some help with this process.  This assistance is usually provided by a ‘producer’.

Who is a music producer?

‘Producer’ is a rather loose term nowadays.  Traditionally, it has been used to describe a person who helps artists arrange and record music.   More recently, the term has been applied to people who make beats, or are otherwise responsible for making musical decisions.  We use the term here in the more traditional sense, as this aligns more with how we work.

What should I look for in a music producer?

There are many producers out there who can help produce your music.  Like all service providers, they vary in quality, style and of course, price.

To help you navigate through the available options (and with a dash of shameless self-promotion), we’ve compiled the following list of questions for you keep in mind when deciding who to work with:

1. What does my project actually need? 

As musicians, we put so much of our energy into our music.  For many of us, our natural inclination is to seek out the biggest and best production services money can buy.  But not only is this extremely expensive – it is also often unnecessary, particularly when we think about what we actually want to achieve with our music.  Do you really need an original ’62 Fender Stratocaster to record that guitar part?  Or a 64-channel mixing desk? For many amateur artists, the answer is likely to be ‘no’.   In reality, creativity tends to trump expensive equipment.  

That said, there will be times when your producer isn’t offering you enough.  Our observation is that when the time comes to record, many artists need someone who not only has the technical skills to produce well, but also the musicality to do so.  What does this mean?  A good producer needs to have a keen understanding of (and passion for) music that extends beyond simply knowing how to use Pro Tools.  If your producer doesn’t understand song structures, pitch, timbre, time signatures, or can’t appreciate the feeling that you are trying to capture, then chances are they won’t do much more for you than to make your song sound balanced.  This certainly doesn’t mean your producer has to be a musician – there are plenty of successful producers who aren’t – but it does mean they need to have a certain ‘zest’ for music and creativity.  

2. What am I actually getting for the price?  

It’s also helpful to work out what you are actually paying for when you engage a producer.  Obviously, you’ll be paying for the producer’s time and effort in providing the services you’ve asked for – such as mixing or mastering. But there will often be many hidden costs within that pricing.  Are you planning to use a fancy studio, with all the latest and greatest gear?  That’s great, but it means that not only will you be paying for the producer’s time and effort, but also the overhead costs associated with maintaining that studio.  Similarly, you might go for a producer who is well-known, or has achieved some degree of commercial success.  You’re certainly likely to get a good quality result, but you might be paying an inflated price due to the producer’s reputation.

And of course (and this goes without saying): always shop around.  You’ll be surprised at how much quotes vary from place to place!

3. Does my music producer understand what I’m trying to achieve?  

We like to think of a producer as being a partner in the recording process.  The role involves more than producing an audio file that sounds good on Spotify.  A huge component of producing is bringing out the best of artist, so as to maximise their recording experience and convey the ideas and emotions behind their music. 

So if your producer doesn’t understand what you’re trying to achieve with your music, chances are the relationship won’t be a success. Sometimes, a producer won’t be a good fit for stylistic reasons – for example, there are plenty of producers that can produce metal or punk music better than us!  Other times, producers may simply misunderstand or fail to grasp your style as an artist. This can stem from a lack of musicality on the part of the producer (as discussed above).  So, take the time to find out what sort of music your producer can produce.  Many producers will happily provide a sample of songs they have worked on, so you can get an idea of the general ‘vibe’ of their work.   And if they don’t, that’s probably a red flag for you to consider!

Until next time, happy songwriting!