When I first started recording music, I was really surprised at how secretive so much of the music industry was. As a young artist, I tried to find information about the process but found that there really was none. I think someone should build a Yelp site for producers! I’m writing this blog post in the hopes that I can help a young recording artist who is looking for the right producer. I haven’t been doing this very long (2 years) but I feel like I’ve learned quite a bit in that short period of time.
I think the most important thing is to make sure that your producer gives you the space to have creative freedom. It is your project so it should be your work. While it’s totally fine for your producer to collaborate with you creatively, you should not allow your producer to change who you are. My producer Kevin Dorsey, allows me to creatively explore different genres/styles and supports me to write my own music. From these experiences, I have learned more than I ever did when I was just singing tracks that another songwriter had written for me even when I collaborated with them.
I also think trust is really important. You need to trust yourself and feel you can trust your producer. In that regard, pay attention to how you’re feeling and don’t second guess yourself. You know more than you think you know! There are people in the music industry who don’t care about talent (theirs or yours) and don’t have your best interests in mind. They will try to blind you with all their Hollywood stories. Steer clear! You can’t do your best work if you don’t feel a sense of trust and commitment and share a common vision with your producer. I know that Kevin has my best interest at heart and that he actually cares and believes in me. After working with him for only a year, I feel like he’s family. This means that I listen to his advice because I trust him. It also means that I’m doing my best work.
The music industry is just like any other industry. The successful people are on time and keep their commitments. Don’t be fooled by people who say that “It’s LA, everyone’s late.” That’s just not true. Showing up late or not showing up at all, last minute planning, not honoring commitments, unnecessary name-dropping and late night studio sessions that feel more like a party than work are huge red flags. Just because music is part of the entertainment industry does not mean that the “work part” is flashy or glamorous. This is a job and so you are going to have to put in a large amount of effort in order to be satisfied with your end product. Your producer should be the one demanding excellence. You should not have to beg him/her to better your work product.
You also want to be cautious of a producer who is always rushing your creative process. If you question whether he actually cares about you and your work product then he probably doesn’t. The goal should be to put out the most perfect product not to put out material just to meet a deadline. A great producer has such an incredible ear that he would never put out anything that bears his name if it isn’t perfect.
A word about record labels: The internet has really taken a lot of power away from the major record labels. Because of this a lot of smaller Indie labels have cropped up. Regardless if you’re trying to ink a deal with a major label or an indie label you need to have a portfolio of well-produced songs. When I first started out I had someone tell me that if anyone asked me to pay for anything that I should run. That’s just not true anymore. No labels are developing talent. You need to be developed when you show up. The big labels will really only sign artists who have already established a large following so that means that they come to you, not the other way around. The smaller labels are more flexible and creative (I had two indie labels that were interested in signing me) but that has spawned an underground market of less than savory producers who indirectly promise “artists” all kinds of things that they can’t deliver. Of course, that means they also don’t care about the music so they’ll charge you way too much money for substandard quality. Know what you’re paying for!
If a producer tells you he’ll shop you to a label if you pay for a certain number of songs, run the other way. It’s a scam. I have seen many teens who are completely tone deaf and have zero talent pay exorbitant prices for total garbage in the hopes of getting signed to a label. If it’s too good to be true, I promise you it’s too good to be true!
All this writing makes me realize just how lucky I am to be working with my talented, trustworthy producer. I hope that every artist can find a producer that they connect with not only on a professional level but also on a personal level.