How To Successfully Produce Yourself
By Johnny Dwinell
Ok, ready for the answer??
At least most of you don’t and shouldn’t.
Why would you produce yourself?
I mean would you home school yourself for college to save money and claim you’re an economics major? Then go forth unto the economics world with a “home spun” degree and try to impress people and try to get a job with it?
Does that sound preposterous?
Why, EXACTLY, does that sound preposterous?
Are you afraid a professional might see you for what you really are…A home schooled novice with a lot of heart? But they see a novice nonetheless.
Why is everyone so misguided in thinking that they can produce themselves musically?
I think of the lines from John Mayer’s “No Such Thing”
“So the good boys and girls take the so called right track
Faded white hats
They read all the books but they can’t find the answers”
This is so important because the answers aren’t in a ProTools book or at a recording school, or at your best friend’s home studio.
The answers are in the doing – the experience. The answers are in the journey. The answers are in 10,000 hours of experience to be exact (reference Malcolm Gladwell’s “The Outliers”).
Would you trust your brain surgery to someone whose third cousin’s dog-walker has a best friend who knows a guy who owns some surgical equipment? (Insert clip of Jeff Spicoli HERE. “Relax, my old man is a television repair man. He has this ultimate set of tools!! I CAN FIX IT!”)
It still baffles me how so many artists and writers I speak to every week behave like total SERIOUS artists with regard to the care and sensitivity they put into their creative process only to trust their future career to some local hack button-monkey with a crappy home studio to render the project in the form of a final mix. Yes, that hack may be you if you have the home studio. THEN, inevitably, they take the substandard recordings and put them up for all to see in the world while they suffer (like every artist does when it’s time to reveal their art) because they are always concerned about what the world will think. All of us artists suffer during the reveal stage. Personally, I always took comfort in knowing I worked with some stellar cats so if someone didn’t like the music it was a taste thing, it wasn’t because they were turned off by the inadequate recording.
I know some of you are very green and simply can’t hear the subtle differences between a great track and a crappy track. That’s my point! Making records is not taught at engineering school. That knowledge comes in only one form: on the job training. You HAVE to be able to hear the difference, man. You HAVE to be able to hear if the bass player is playing behind the kick drum. You HAVE to be able to hear if the drummer is keeping a pocket of some kind. You have to understand SPACE. You have to HEAR these things first before you even start making decisions on the arrangements.
“You’re playing exactly 15 milliseconds behind the kick drum”
This reminds me of a hilarious and famous industry story of an intern engineer working at a world class recording studio here in Nashville. This engineer went to school for ProTools and still hadn’t mastered the art of LISTENING (or keeping his mouth shut for that matter) which is what you had to do with analog tape before we had ProTools. This engineer makes a comment to one of the most famous and well-respected bass players in the business. The engineer says, “Hey man, I’m looking closely at your bass track here (referring to the ProTools clipboard) and I noticed that you are actually playing exactly 15 milliseconds behind the kick drum hit. I’ll be happy to ‘clean’ that up for you, dude.” Everyone in the session gasps; there is a huge awkward silence.
The bass player responds, “Hey, MAN, it took me my whole f**king life to learn how to play EXACTLY 15 milliseconds behind the kick drum, but if you feel you need to ‘clean it up’ and scoot that track forward, be my guest!” and he walked out. Of course, the session broke out in laughter and the engineer felt like a moron, mostly because he was.
Do you see the dichotomy here? How can you possibly be so sensitive towards what the world thinks about the final rendering of your project when you know you TOTALLY cut corners on the production just to save money? You treated your musical project budget like a third-world surgery effectively getting a surgical procedure in a back alley at midnight in the ghetto because it saved you money.
Now you don’t know. You don’t know if they didn’t like the music because of the amateur recording or because they didn’t like the music. YIKES! At least with a pro recording you can eliminate some things for people to turn their nose up at!
Here’s some TRUTH to ponder on.
Engineering is an ART FORM in and of itself.
Producing is an ART FORM in and of itself.
Mixing is an ART FORM in and of itself.
Mastering is an ART FORM in and of itself.
Quite often a professional project will have separate people responsible for each of these art forms because it is rare to have someone who effectively and professionally handles two or more; there are many people who make good livings just performing one of these tasks. Think about that for a second.
A good engineer does not guarantee a good producer or mixer.
A good producer does not guarantee a good engineer or mixer.
A good mix engineer does not guarantee a good producer or tracking engineer.
All these professional recording engineers, producers, and mix engineers were MENTORED at some point. They learned from constantly being around other people who did it for a living and then applied their own unique spirit, creativity, and work ethic to that knowledge to become who they are today
Why wouldn’t you wanna learn? Why wouldn’t you be excited to get around some professionals just for the education of it all? Why don’t you wanna know just as bad as you wanna make it? Even if that education means you can afford two songs instead of ten. Thinking like this will only improve your art, ya know? Watch how many people take you more seriously with a KILLER product.
Look, maybe it’s just me, but I remember getting my first shot at becoming a professional musician with the opportunity to sign with a HUGE regional booking agency that would put my band on tour. The FIRST question I asked was, “Who’s your best band?” I HAD to know what the competition looked like! Who we gotta beat, man? I just wouldn’t ever settle when it came to my music; I wanted it to be GREAT!
Always shoot for the stars!! If you miss them you’ll hit the moon!
The other part of the brilliance of this approach is connections. Every single industry in the world is built on connections. Your current occupation is built on connections. Hell, half of y’all reading this probably got your current job through a friend or family member; think about that. People get ahead because of who they know. Life is not fair in ANY industry so why pretend it is here in the music industry? The money you spend on a pro producer is going to pay off ten-fold. You will develop friendships, connections, information resources, mentorships, and you’ll get a KILLER sounding product with which to go forth as a sheep amongst the wolves.
You’ve got to LIVE, LIVE, LIVE! Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death!
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