Working with a Professional Producer

deLise & Cristina Joy of Philly Nouveau

What’s it like to work with a Professional Producer and Arranger?

The movie director Alfred Hitchcock once said, “Drama is life with the dull parts left out.” For me, records are like that—an idealized version of your best YOU: Your music, cast in your image, with your input, but polished by my thousands of hours of recording studio work as a session player, an arranger, a conductor and a record producer.

In my textbook, The Contemporary Minstrel, I describe the many roles of a record producer. But of all the jobs this producer has, I think my most important one is to help you fulfill your musical potential through great recordings—to help you realize the sound you have imagined for yourself and your songs.

Do I record everyone? Is my studio open to anyone?

Nope. I limit my practice to working with artists in whom I see great potential for real music business success and with whom I share an artistic vision. That’s why, even though I maintain a high-quality recording studio, I do not trade as a recording studio. That means, one can’t just “book time” to produce their recordings in my studio. That would mean putting my name on work whose outcome I did not control. I take everything I produce very seriously. Anything that goes out with my name on it has to be top-notch. Period.

How I work

I partner with talented songwriters and singers to help develop them as artists. I work with them to improve their singing and performing, help them create their unique identity, refine their songs and consult with them about how they can achieve success in the music business.

Here’s an excerpt from my book, The Contemporary Minstrel:

A producer functions in many roles during the production of a song.

The first and most important responsibility of a record producer is to develop a vision or perhaps more correctly, a sound for the song that he is producing. The sound of the final version of the raw song that the producer imagines includes all sonic elements of musical style, instrumentation, tempo, feel or groove, voice type, and so on. The producer’s vision of the song might also accrue to the image of the artist or it might be partially determined by the artist’s already established image.

The “sound” of the production as imagined by the producer might be influenced by the vision other stakeholders in the recording production might have. For instance if the producer is working with an artist who has established his own sound or style, that pre-established style will directly impact the producer’s imagining of the final production.

Additionally, the other stakeholders involved will bring to bear their desires for the song and the artist based on their real (or imagined) political power. A significant part of the producer’s responsibility at this initial stage is to get the others involved (including the artist) to buy into his vision or to realize the vision of some other actor in a superior position.

The second step in the process is to assemble the team that will bring the producer’s vision to life. At this point, the producer determines what other musical artists will be needed to realize his musical vision. He then makes hiring decisions regarding the choice of musical arranger, musicians, studio, engineer, mastering engineer.

In making these determinations, the producer must be sensitive to the budget allotted for the production. In general, the producer has a fiduciary responsibility in the record production process. It is the producer’s responsibility to make hiring decisions based on his knowledge of the budget and to oversee the use of the funds (e.g., make sure that monies are not squandered—the Christopher Guest character in This is Spinal Tap comes to mind). The producer’s role as fiduciary is not the “third step” in the production process. It is more likely (depending on the overall budget) lurking up around steps one and two, for without a knowledge of and a sensitivity for the budget the producer cannot make intelligent hiring decisions or envision the song in a realistic way.

Once the vision for the production has been established and the musical artists hired, the producer’s job becomes one of quality control. If you are still counting, this is job number four for our producer, but again, the goal of producing a high-quality product undergirds all previous aspects of the production process.

Because the producer is at all times the singular person responsible for the sound of the recording, he must provide the final word about how the music is recorded and performed. The producer’s job is helped greatly by having made good hiring decisions. Working with an engineer who shares his vision and desire for excellence, the producer can rely at all times on that engineer to track the sessions in a manner that will yield a high-quality result. Likewise, the quality control process is made easier when the producer has determined to hire the right professional session performers for the job.

In his role as quality control agent, the producer often becomes a coach and cheerleader, encouraging the other music professionals to provide their best performance. Here, the producer’s critical judgment regarding timing, tuning and ensemble playing are of utmost importance. While the recording is being tracked, the producer’s responsibilities mirror those of an orchestral conductor: he must be able to hear a musical blemish and clearly instruct the performer about how to remedy the problem.

Once the recording has been mixed and then mastered, the producer’s job may be done. Depending on the status of the producer and the business arrangement he has established with the artist and other stakeholders, the producer might or might not be involved in the next stages of the record production process. These include marketing and distribution.

From The Contemporary Minstrel
© 2014 Bocage Music Publishing
by Louis Anthony deLise