artistsbox

So you want to be a record producer?


Having produced a handful of albums for other acts, co-produced almost all of my own albums, and been involved in dozens of other recording projects either as a session player or production consultant, it seems clear that “people skills” are every bit as important to the process as knowledge of music theory or recording technology.

In the studio, you can make the most of your “people skills” (enthusiasm, empathy, charisma, humor, leadership, etc.) if you minimize the gray areas and B.S. beforehand.

When it comes to helping other artists make great records, your job as the producer is to create an environment of camaraderie, supportive and clear communication, and focus. If you can tinker with sound like Brian Eno or make string arrangements like George Martin– bonus! But you’ve got to bake the cake first before you can add icing and sprinkles.

Here are some of the bigger details you want to work out in advance of any recording project.

7 steps to producing a great album… before you step foot in the studio

1. DETERMINE YOUR ROLE

This is the first conversation you should have with any prospective act that wants to hire you. It will help set clearer expectations on both sides and all other discussions can flow from there.

Why did the band or artist call you? What are they hoping you’ll bring to the sessions? Will you be arranging, co-writing, performing, deciding on takes, choosing songs, etc? Will you be engineering AND producing?

In my case, I made it clear upfront that my engineering skills were remedial at best, and that if they wanted to work with me they’d also need to hire a studio/engineer separately. But nowadays in the indie world, many engineers also act as producers in some respects.

2. DETERMINE YOUR ROLE, PT. 2

Once you’ve discussed what you’ll be doing for the artist, it’s time to discuss HOW: the decision-making process! Who is in charge? Do you have veto power? How does the band vote? Does the songwriter have an extra say? Are you an equal voting member in this process?

Carefully consider your “say,” because your name will be on the album as the producer; you don’t want to be embarrassed by decisions that the band has made on your watch. At the same time, making a record is a collaboration. If you’re not being hired by a major label, you’re probably being hired directly by the artist– and that means, in a way, you work for them; they may not be comfortable giving you too much creative control.

These types of conversations can be sticky, but far less so BEFORE you go into the studio.

3. HELP THE ARTIST SET CLEAR GOALS

Artists get all excited when it’s time to head into the studio, and they begin to suffer from a kind of time-warped delusion– “Oh, we can knock out 5 songs in 2 days!”

Getting the right basic tracks, overdubs, and mix takes TIME! Then factor in smoke breaks, deliberations, and lunch.

It’s part of your job to help the artist relax into this process, and also to make sure they’re budgeting the appropriate funds and time to complete the album. Make a detailed calendar/schedule for pre-production, studio dates, basic tracking, overdubbing, mixing, sequencing, mastering, etc. You don’t necessarily have to stick to to the mile-markers, but most folks feel a little bit more sane when working within some parameters.

4. TO AVOID OR EMBRACE “SIGNATURE SOUNDS?” THAT IS THE QUESTION!

Does the artist want to preserve their own signature sound, or are they hiring you to put a bit of your “stamp” on their album? Do they want you to completely overhaul their habitual process and give them a fresh approach?

It’s good to discuss, in a kind of broad sense, how much of YOU they want to be evident on the record. Some people think production should be transparent, allowing the band to do what they do best. Others like a very heavily imprinted album (one of the common examples being Emmylou Harris’ “Wrecking Ball,” which has Daniel Lanois’ signature tones and vibe all over it)!

5. TALK TURKEY ($$)

What is their budget? Will you be getting points, or just a flat fee? Will you be paid per hour? Per day? Per song? Or will they pay you one sum for the whole album? If you’re paid per hour, is that rate consistent or changing based on your involvement (arrangement, performing, or simply helping direct the session)? Will you be paid after each session? At the end of the project? Throughout? Will you be credited as a co-writer if you significantly alter a composition?

Iron out these details ahead of time and you’ll avoid a whole bunch of awkwardness later.

6. SCHEDULE PERIODIC CHECK-INS

Before you start recording, schedule a few check-ins that will take place throughout the sessions (meetings OUTSIDE of the studio to discuss how things are going IN the studio). It’s good for both parties to know that you’ll be able to assess your collaboration as it unfolds, and to make any necessary changes.

The check-ins will allow both of you to adjust if expectations are not being met.

If things are going great, awesome! If not, work to fix it. You might also consider having an upfront agreement about what the procedure would be if either party wants to cancel the collaboration mid-stream. How would production credits and fees be divvied up if you quit early or if the band sought another producer before the album was finished?

7. SELL THE ARTIST ON THE VALUE OF PRE-PRODUCTION

The more time you spend in pre-production preparation, the more productive you’ll be in the studio. If the artist can afford to enlist your services ahead of their studio dates, you’ll have a great opportunity to work with them on songs, lyrics, arrangements, vibe, and tightness.

I recommend you take three approaches simultaneously. First, attend band practices. Work with them in that setting on parts, dynamics, energy, etc. Then do a kind of stripped-down rehearsal where you can listen to the songs (chords, melody, lyrics, basic groove, etc.)– and make suggestions as if it were a writing session. After that, let the band work through the ideas you’ve suggested on their own. Encourage them to record their next full-band rehearsal and send you the demos. That will allow them to be critical (in a good way) of their own material and performance, and give you the chance to listen to how well (or not) your suggestions worked.

Baths Salts and You! 

An investigation of the Zombie Apocalypse 

By Brittany Norvell

Let’s talk about drugs! No, not the “fun” kind you bake in brownies, or anxiously tried for the first time back in high school behind the bleachers after freshman formal.  No, this ain’t your daddy’s dope from Woodstock. The news, social media, everyone I know, their brother, and their mother are talking about these f*cking bath salts! I feel compelled to bring up this topic because it seems to be everywhere these days. Is reefer madness turning perfectly good drug addicts and experiment seeking youth into super human, flesh eating zombies?  What is this drug that’s created a new nationwide hysteria? Is there cause to worry how tasty we may be in the glossed over eyes of the modern day zombie pending apocalypse?

“How do you even DO bath salts?” a couple of my favorite friends and I pondered the other evening. “There is NO WAY that the guy who was eating the homeless guys face was just smoking weed!  You even shoot AT me when I’m stoned and I’d fall to the ground out of fright, so how the hell does this dude take six bullets to the face and still keep going?”

Good questions my friends.  Good questions indeed.  At the risk of sounding like and actual investigative journalists lets examine some of the alleged facts about this mysterious fad to shed a ‘lil light on an epidemic that seems to be sweeping America.

The synthetic powder is sold online, in gas stations, and head shops under a variety of names, such as “Ivory Wave,” “Blue Silk,” “Bloom,” “Cloud Nine,” “Ocean Snow,” “Vanilla Sky,” “White Lightning,” and “Scarface.”These products contain various amphetamine-like chemicals, such as methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MPDV), mephedrone and pyrovalerone. These drugs are typically taken orally, by smoking, snorting, or by injection.  Effects of the drug, along with becoming extremely f’ed up mentally and physically while under the influence; are chest pains, increased blood pressure, increased heart rate, agitation, hallucinations, extreme paranoia, and delusions.  Not cool.  However it seems the two main causes of concern about the drug have nothing to do with the user turning into a cannibalistic zombie who craves human flesh. The first reason is dosage, and the second is sleep deprivation. 

In truth one knows how much of these bath salts a user can take.  There is no suggested or regulated “safe amount.” Overdosing is easy and can result death, and possibly zombiefication. OK, I made that one up. The drugs packaging typically state very clearly, “Not made for human consumption.”  Much to the dismay of the authorities however, drug seekers already know what product name to buy. A cryptic code of the undead perhaps?  Second, these drugs contain uppers that when used even over a short time can keep the user up for days.  This, if done repeatedly, can cause further paranoia due to lack of sleep that even under normal non-drug induced circumstances would cause stress to the brain and disturb mental health.

Many recent cases, such as the now infamous “Miami Cannibal,” attackers are thought to be under the influence of the salts after exhibiting rabid behavior; biting cops or other victims.  However not all these incidents have been attributed to the use of bath salts, and some have ruled out the drug altogether as cause for motive.  Its does seem odd that so many of these extreme, “Rob Zombie-esque” attacks seem to be occurring more frequently as of late, and leaves us wondering if maybe there is something “more” going on in with the drugs in America. Maybe even the beginnings of a new war on drugs, one in which chemists just throw compounds on store shelves and label them “not for human consumption,” and wait for the word on the street to make them rich.

So kids, I’m going to get extremely honest with you on this one.  I enjoy a solid night of party fun.  Ya know, the kind you feel you may owe a few people apologies the next day, that leave you wondering where the hell you got those bruises or why, WHY did I text/fb/call him.  Unless you want to become a face eating zombie and end up on the news, stripping naked, cracked out, chewing some dudes arm, or becoming otherwise completely insane…let’s just skip this whole fad altogether, shall we? Better yet… Share hugs, not drugs! 

Sweatpants, what we do without them? We love them and want to wear them everywhere, but we can’t. So why aren’t they made more fashionable so we can?

What was once used for the gym and locker rooms, sweatpants have their own place in our hearts. They represent comfort and relaxing the way we want, and the way we wish we could all of time.

So we think designers need to stop and think about sweatpants. Make them, so that everyone wants to wear them out in public. Make them so fashionable there all we wear, all the time, everywhere.

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Since the first time we heard Those Darlins music on Myspace, yes Myspace, to seeing them live several times since, they have won our hearts over and we our huge fans. 

Those Darlins represent everything that stands for their country punk nature, while the Southern roots that shine through are more in line with the dirty South garage rock.

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Only Adele can save us, say music shop owners

The already troubled music industry is inflicting yet more scars on itself with bitter fighting between record labels and retailers: shops say they are starved of new albums because producers pack their big releases into a few months of the year.

As music sales decline at an alarming rate, dropping almost 14 per cent so far in 2012, HMV has led the attack, claiming music companies are getting their strategies wrong.

The company complained this weekend of “barren” release schedules at the start of the year when only a small handful of big name artists issue albums. Setting the correct release date can be a make-or-break decision for labels anxious to make a profit.Retailers argue that music labels need to take a lead from the likes of Adele who releases her albums in January, a time traditionally seen as the graveyard for album sales after Christmas binge-spending.

Yet the British soul singer’s albums have all sold spectacularly well. Music industry analysts point out that she garners all the attention because she has no competitors at that time of year.

“In the current climate, people aren’t going to buy three albums in one day. You end up cannibalising sales. Probably four of these albums should do 100,000 sales [in the first week], but one of them will probably sell 100,000 and the rest will underperform,” he said. Music companies now take into account many factors: the festival season, The X Factor and Christmas shoppers all need to be considered.

So we finally got around to listening to the new Fiona Apple record. Can;t say its one of our favorites, honestly we can’t say we even finished listening to it. We only made it through half the record before hitting the skip button on our iPod and moving on to something better.

So what are your thoughts on her record? Like or hate we want to hear!

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