This is the third installment in guest blogger Frank Klepacki’s series on music production. Today Frank examines the role of the music producer. If you missed his previous post on the evolution of video game music technology, you can read it here.
When you hear that someone “produced” an album for an artist, what exactly does that mean? It depends on why the producer was chosen by the artist or label, or why the producer chose to take on the project.
Some producers are known for specializing in a certain type of music, others known for bringing out a different creative side to an artist, others for production style. Ultimately, an artist should choose their producer based on that criteria heard in the producer’s previous work, or having an initial meeting to determine if both parties are a good fit.
When I agree to “produce” someone, the first thing I do is go and listen to them rehearse, or watch a live show of theirs. I decide if I feel I can bring something to the table for the project, I take notes on their material, and then I sit down with them and discuss what they are looking to achieve. I ask questions like, “Is this a pet project that you just want to sound good? Or is this something you are looking to achieve commercial success with?” “What type of sound or vibe are you going for?” “Do you want me to focus on the technical aspects of production, or also the creative aspects of your music?”
Technical aspects could include recording and mixing techniques used, types of tones achieved, clever layering of tracks, vs. Creative aspects, which I categorize as song arrangement ideas, adding vocal harmonies, suggesting alternate chord voicing or modulation, adding other instrumentation and sounds to the songs that weren’t there initially, etc. Some artists are more guarded with their creations than others. This is why setting the tone of the relationship is important in the very beginning. Both the artist and producer need to be on the same page, and have a focused expectation of how this process will move forward.
Personally, I like to work with the artist to make sure they are achieving the desired result along the way, as opposed to dictating to them what they should or shouldn’t do. At the end of the day I give them final say unless there is an exec at the top of the hierarchy beyond that. An important thing for both producer and artist, is to be open to experimentation. Both will have spontaneous ideas that may or may not suit a particular track, but that should be tried nonetheless to see if they will work or not. Sometimes even better ideas emerge just from that process alone.
As a producer, it absolutely helps to have an understanding of each instrument – not only how they sound, but how they are played. On a basic process of elimination, listen to how the instrument sounds right in front of you first. Make adjustments as needed either from the instrument setting, or the amp setting. Retune drums or swap heads if you’re not getting the sound you want. If that fails, borrow or rent another drum kit. Once all that is established and you and the artist like the sounds in front of you, then proceed to miking it, and find the best mic to reproduce that sound. This of course also gets into the engineering side of things, which is also an invaluable part of producing. If you know what kind of sound you want in your mind, then you should also know how to direct someone to properly achieve it, if you’re not the one behind the mixing board.
In Frank’s next installment he’ll continue to discuss what it means to be a producer – look for Part 2 next Thursday!
Frank Klepacki is an award-winning composer for video games and television for such titles as Command & Conquer, Star Wars: Empire at War, and MMA sports programs such as Ultimate Fighting Championship and Inside MMA. He resides as audio director for Petroglyph, in addition to being a recording artist, touring performer, and producer. For more info, visit www.frankklepacki.com