Music Producer; it sounds that nowadays, everybody is reinventing themselves music producers. The danger for indie artists is that they may start working with a producer who is just starting out and doesn’t know much, or again a rip-off simply trying to steal your money. The fact that many music producers also operate online and offer ‘professionally produced tracks’ if you send them your demos via email and pay them through PayPal is also not helping the wealth of indie musicians trying desperately to get the greatest sounding demo they can. The truth is, if you take a good look at many of the most renowned past and present music producers, they all seem to have some of the same characteristics and skills; let’s profile a few of the best in the industry to figure out what you should look for in a good music producer.
Let’s face it, everybody knows George Martin. Perhaps one of the most famed and acclaimed producer of Rock n’ Roll history, George Martin is responsible for many successful Beatles albums. Born in the mid-1920s, Martin learned how to play the piano and the oboe, eventually studying at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. He started out his career recording classical music for Parlophone Records before being introduced to the Beatles by Brian Epstein – the rest is history.
What made George Martin such a good producer certainly is his understanding of the craft. Not only did he know how to play several instruments, but he also had a formal musical education and an interest in various musical genres. He is also known as an arranger and composer, which are very valuable assets.
Worked with: The Beatles, Jeff Beck, Elton John, Celine Dion, Cheap Trick, America, Gerry & The Pacemakers, etc.
Another rock royalty, Phil Spector – now better known for his murder trial and strange wigs – was once a unique figure in the music industry, crafting and using a technique referred to as the ‘wall of sound’, which became very popular at the time. Young Phil Spector started out as a teenage guitar player, eventually forming his own band called The Teddy Bears. After a short lived success and a couple of record deals, the group split, allowing Spector to focus solely on producing and songwriting. Spector was known to be a very hands-on producer, often involved in all aspects of creating music, from songwriting to engineering to mastering.
Worked with: The Beatles, Leonard Cohen, the Ramones, Ike and Tina Turner, etc.
Butch Vig is known to be both a producer and a musician, playing the drums in modern grunge band Garbage. He was also the producer for one of the most acclaimed albums of the 90’s, Nirvana’s Nevermind. As a child, Vig studied both piano and drums. His career started out in a different path, when he studied film direction and got the opportunity to score a few soundtracks for low-budget films. Eventually Butch Vig moved on to producing and performing. His producing credits are quite impressive and Garbage has also released quite a few successful singles up to this day.
Worked with: Foo Fighters, Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, Garbage, Sonic Youth, Green Day, Goo Goo Dolls, etc.
While you may not have heard his name much before, you’ve certainly heard his music several times. Greg Wells is a Canadian producer reigning on the pop scene actually, working with artists such as Katy Perry, Adele, Aerosmith, Ozzy Osbourne, Elton John, OneRepublic, Deftones and so much more. Graduate from the prestigious Humber College in Toronto, Greg is not only an accomplished producer and songwriter, but he is also a highly skilled pianist with a background in jazz performance.
Worked with: Celine Dion, Mika, Crash Test Dummies, Burt Bacharach, Pink and pretty much everyone who has a radio hit this year.
What all these music produces do as well?
I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but all these amazing producers have one thing in common: they know how to play music. While there may be a few good producers who aren’t very proficient on any instrument, working with a producer who is also a musician and knows the craft is an invaluable asset. Not only are they knowledgeable in all the technology going into producing, but they also have killer ears and can vocalize their ideas on an instrument and simply have a better understanding of how music works and how to work with sounds. These producers are also all credited as songwriters and composers on at least one album, which is another asset.
In short, if you are going to hire a producer to help you out with a demo or even a full-length album, make sure that your final decision is the right one. You want to end up with unapologetic recordings to shop around for a record deal, if that’s what you want, or to sell at your shows and online. Choose someone who will bring ideas and knows the creative process and, if there’s one thing to take away from this, choose someone who can play music too. Nobody understands a musician better than another musician. All the producers listed above started out as musicians before getting into production, and all of them had a certain amount of success at it, too. Martin studied in one of the most prestigious schools in the UK, Phil Spector had hits with his first band, Butch Vig is currently performing with Garbage and Greg Wells studied with the finest musicians in Canada. It’s no mystery why all these guys have had or will have long and prosperous careers as music producers!