5 Questions to Ask a Music Producer | Music Production | Prince Charles Alexander

5 Questions to Ask a Music Producer | Music Production | Prince Charles Alexander


So today we’re going to be talking about producers. And I’m joined with Prince Charles Alexander. He’s a Berklee faculty member. He has over 40 gold and platinum records under his belt, multiple Grammy Awards so we’re really lucky to have him with us today. So, thank you for joining us. Thank you Leah. So, let’s just get down to brass tacks. What does a producer do? A producer has a creative vision for a recording product. Very similar to the director of a film. But there are different types of producers. Some producers are a little bit heavier on the creativity or the musicality. Some are heavier on the technology, probably more engineer type producers. And then some are financial backing. They’re the ones that we call executive producers. So, I usually think of production in terms of those three components. The creative producer, the financial backing producer, the executive producer or the technical producer or the engineer. So, is it possible to have multiple producers on one project? Yes, because there’s also a vocal producer. Specifically hip-hop has defined this role because many of the people that make the beats don’t necessarily have skill with vocal production. That role has become so popular in hip-hop and is starting to spread to other genres like country and pop music. So, if you’re doing kind of like an independent project on your own, do you think that the artist needs a producer necessarily? That’s a great question. Most independent recordings should have the vision coming from the artist. If the artist doesn’t have prowess or skill in production, then it is incumbent upon the artists to then seek out people that are good in whatever that artist is trying to create, if you’re trying to create a rock record or a country record or a hip-hop record. Finding who a producer is can be tough because most of the producers that you might be aware of are successful and maybe cost a lot of money. So, then you’re looking for something more regional or more local. How to find those producers is a tricky one. And you need to be in touch with your scene, hopefully there is a scene near you, and start asking questions in that scene for people that are creating local product, regional product. So, when a young artist is looking for a producer, let’s talk independent, an independent project. What kind of criteria do you think they need to be thinking about so that they can choose a producer that’s going to fit the best for their project? First of all, I think that anybody that wants to be produced should have a goal state. Maybe there’s an artist that they really love. Maybe you love the Chili Peppers or maybe you love Nirvana or something. So, you don’t want to be Nirvana, you don’t want to be the Chili Peppers, but you want to evoke something that’s connected to them. So, you’re probably looking for a producer who also loves Nirvana or the Chili Peppers or whatever it might be and incorporate their sensibilities into your project. Because it’s difficult to force sensibilities. I just recently did a project and I was approached by the business part of the artist’s company. They said that they wanted something more marketable, more saleable. So, with my research and what’s going on in our industry that led me more towards pop music and hip-hop centric instrumentation. Totally wrong for the artist. We got in the room, we had conversations, I tried my best over months to woo the artist into, “Okay you involve with these people. They want to make money, they want you to open yourself up to this popular sound.” We created compositions in that sound. After about a year, he just couldn’t do it. And it’s not really the fault of the production, it’s not really the fault of the artist, it’s that the decision was not made by the artist to reach out to the producer. The decision was made by the people that were controlling the purse strings. And that was a perfect example, I live these things, a perfect example of the artist not being in the room with the right producer. Yeah, that brings up a really interesting point actually. I feel like I hear a lot of young artists that are just kind of thinking about working with a producer feel a little nervous because they think they have this image of what a producer is built up in their mind as someone who kind of tells them what to do. And I don’t think that that’s necessarily an accurate portrayal of what a producer actually is. The type of production that I’m into, I don’t want to tell you what to do. I want to have conversations with you about what we enjoy as listeners and what we enjoy as creators. And then from those conversations, I’m trying to pull out of the artists their ability to then create within that. So, if it’s producing an artist that having a like conversation, then they’ll pull out like information. If there’s a head butting of the producer thinking, “Hey Chicky we’re going to go to the top of the charts, ” and the artist is thinking, “Well, I just want to say what I want to say with my own unique voice.” Then there can be some friction there because one person is referring to what a certain kind of composition and the other is referring to another kind of composition. So, hopefully, in doing the research, the artist will first use that simple criteria, what do you like? And the producer should be doing the same thing with the artist, what do you like? And hopefully, they’re gravitating towards things that are very similar. Even with that said, there will still be other layers of disagreement that happen in the process. So, when an artist starts speaking to producers, kind of interviewing producers if you will, to work on their projects, what other questions do you think they should ask them other than what kind of music do you like? What’s your fee? Yeah, that’s a big one. Are we doing pro-bono here, is it going to be free or are you going to charge me 50 grand or something like that? So, how much is it? Where will we work? Will we be working in a studio? Will there be pre-production? Will we take some time to organize and lay out and plan this thing or are we just going to go in the studio and work off the cuff? And a lot of these questions might seem a little bit imposing, like, “I’m the producer. What are you asking me all this stuff for?” But like anything, any relationship, anything that you’re purchasing, you want to get into it and you want to know what you’re getting for your dollar, if you’re spending money. Or you want to know what you’re getting for the marriage of the few months that you’ll be together, because this is a marriage and there is a lot of emotional commitment. So, you mentioned a little bit about tension points, a little bit about conflict. I know that, I was really fortunate to work with a producer who really understood my vision for my project. And at times when we were in the studio, he would be kind of, he’s an internal processor. So, he would kind of go off with his gear and like tinker around in like crazy sounds and be coming out. And I would just kind of sit there on the couch and be like, “What’s going to happen?” Okay? Yeah.
And so there were moments where, when I was in that situation that I was a little doubtful. I was like, “I’m not quite sure if this is what I want.” But ultimately everything ended up coming out as I wanted it. So, what advice can you give to artists kind of in that situation where they might be feeling a little bit of tension point with their producer? Should you ride it out and just kind of see where it goes? Should you speak up immediately and say this is not what I’m going for? That’s a great question. I do believe that once you give yourself over to the process of being produced, that you should enjoy the experience almost as a fly on the wall. Some of the most successful artists that I know didn’t say anything to the producers for five years. And their producers just produce hit after hit after hit after hit. And then they started speaking up and things changed. If you’re in a situation, I’ll give you a little role play here, if you’re in a situation and you’ve got two creative people in the room. And one of the creative people says, “I don’t, I can’t, I’m not sure,” that affects the entire room. So, if you’re the artist and you’re putting out that negativity even for a single foray into wild sounds, you’re blocking a little bit of the creative energy in the room. It’s hard to do. But my advice would be, if you’re agreeing to be produced, allow yourself to be produced. As a producer who can take an artist into lots of different areas, I do like an artist to speak up. I do like them to be strong in their convictions. But they’re going to have to be really well researched in their convictions because I’m well researched in my convictions. So, it seems like, really what it all boils down to is just doing your research and really making sure that you’re choosing the right producer that you can trust as an artist, that if they’re off in the corner making crazy sounds that you know it’s for your benefit because they really understand kind of what you’re trying to go for and they want the record successful too. Exactly. Once you agree to be produced, it’s you and the producer against the world. It’s not you against the producer. Right.
And hopefully, the two of you are, and the job of the producer is to make sure that you’re always on the team. So, is there any kind of last minute advice that you’d gave to burgeoning artists that are kind of trying to think about this whole producer thing? Making music should be fun, first of all. Yes, it should be.
It should be fun. You should have a goal in mind and that goal could be success locally, regionally, statewide, nationally, worldwide. And then be true to that goal by continuing to create. That’s a mistake that a lot of people make. They get into a situation, a business situation, a creative situation like with a producer, and they stop creating. So, you come to the producer with five songs and the producer says, “You got three more?” And you’re like, “Yeah, yeah I’ll deliver three more.” And you never deliver those other three songs. You’ve only got those five. You’re trying to work on a project of those five. Those three other compositions that you might have taken the time to create while you were involved in the project, maybe one of them would have been the hot song that the project needed. So, this idea of staying creative in all moments, staying productive as an artist in all moments, I think is key and critical to ensuring at least emotional success with your relationship with music. That’s great advice. That’s excellent advice. Thank you so much for being with us today. I appreciate that.

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