Get Smart: Hold Your Ground for Your Ultimate Sound

A couple months ago, the subject of this column was rescuing productions that were already started, and for whatever reason ended up needing fresh blood on the tracks to finish the project.
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A couple months ago, the subject of this column was rescuing productions that were already started, and for whatever reason ended up needing fresh blood on the tracks to finish the project.
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A couple months ago, the subject of this column was rescuing productions that were already started, and for whatever reason ended up needing fresh blood on the tracks to finish the project. This month is about how to structure your project to prevent that kind of mess from happening.

As I write, I am in discussions with an incredibly talented recording artist from Kenya who has a big problem on her hands (and her pocketbook). Her investor has spent his total commitment (a whopping $100,000), and after a year-and-a-half recording in Los Angeles with a handful of name producers, they have only three songs, and neither party is content enough to even showcase them as demos. Ouch!

You likely know why I mention this effects her pocketbook, too, because if an artist’s investor has a problem regarding the finances, it is also the artist’s problem, because, in most cases, the investor is the first to get paid in full before any revenue stream can flow to the creatives. So here are my four tips to prevent being disappointed at the end of the “production line.”

UNDERSTAND EACH OTHER

Put first things first (before preproduction), and discuss with your potential producer the procedure he or she has planned. After receiving the information, ask specific questions regarding your input of production ideas, as it is paramount in order to clearly understand each other, and reveal if you really see ear to ear. If you have great chemistry, and agree both parties’ ideas will be able to factor in, you are in a good place to pursue further steps. Without these ingredients, I highly doubt anything great can come of the pairing.

GET YOUR VISION IN THE CONTRACT

Make your signed production agreement include language that you are entitled to voicing your vision and ideas in sessions and having them considered. This sounds like a given, but in the case of the artist mentioned, her experience was that all the producers had enormous egos and behaved as if they were the star of the show. Her ideas fell on deaf ears, and the songs slipped further and further away from who she was as an artist and into the cookie cutter mode of what the producers did with each and every artist they work with.

Eventually, she felt like giving up on her music aspirations entirely. Let her experience be your teacher. If and when you have definitive ideas for your productions, those ideas must be considered as coming from the “boss,” and this must be clearly stated and defined in your contract!

LEARN THE LANGUAGE

You must have a semi-technical and/or musical way to convey said ideas beyond describing the sound as “three-day-old salmon.” Now, of course, I know what you mean by your fishy code, but, alas, we are among mortals who need more common language. Learn to speak in a way that producers, engineers, and musicians understand, and the chances of getting closer to what you are asking for are much higher.

DON’T LEAVE CRUMBS ON THE PLATE

Upon reaching the final phase of the recording project, and before you mix, call a meeting to take stock of what has been done and not done. If there are burning desires still on your list, this is the time to speak up. If you wait until later, it can become much more difficult to incorporate your list into the final outcome for a variety of reasons.

AND IN CLOSING…

The great Glen Campbell loved to quote a lyric from one of his biggest songs to me while we worked in the studio. He’d recite, “There will be a load of compromisin’ on the road to my horizon,” and with that understanding, I played drums and dobro on his last #1 record (and my first), “Southern Nights.” I learned the value of open collaboration early, and I pay it forward. So be heard when you feel strong about your input, but, hey, not every idea you have will work, and many other wishes you have are just plain not going to come true. But when it comes to your music, you deserve to be content with the outcome of your recording projects. It is my hope that you will speak up, be heard, and never forget to listen well. Like a great mix, it’s all about the balance, baby.

Scott Mathews is a record producer, composer, vocalist, and multiinstrumentalist whose music has sold in excess of 40 million units, and has generated more than 30 RIAA Gold and Platinum Awards in the pop, alternative rock, R&B, country, blues and dance genres.

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