According to Cliff Goldmacher, a veteran Nashville songwriter, “Making a CD is like taking an audio snapshot of where you are as an artist at a given moment in your career.” This snapshot is an investment for your future in an industry where music, no matter the genre, is a perpetually changing scene. At our most recent TakeNote event we had the privilege of interviewing three experienced recording engineers Charlie Brocco, Lex Dirty, and Mike Froedge about their roles in shaping the music of today.
A common thread in the conversation was the importance of building relationships, whether it’s through networking, attending shows, or getting to know artists on an individual level before producing their music. Lex Dirty, a recording engineer and writer/creator who has worked with artists like Rick Ross, Rihanna, and Jermaine Dupri mentioned that getting to know people outside of just knowing their music gives him a better understanding of their philosophies and what kind of sound they want to develop. The only way to do that is to sit down and have conversations about what they’re looking for and what may be missing in their music. Developing a sound specific to your needs may be difficult for independent artists, but the best way to approach this problem is by finding a producer you trust and who has worked with artists whose sound is familiar to what you want.
Some of you may wonder why a producer is even necessary in an age where technology is powerful, portable, and can create decent results. While this may be a good option for bands starting out from scratch, our panelists thought it important to reiterate that making a professional recording is an investment in your craft. Your home studio experience is comparatively limited next to a producer who makes a living working on dozens of projects like yours every year. Producers bring both experience and skills to create a polished, professional-sounding project by contributing knowledge of songwriting, connections with session musicians, relationships with good recording studios, and the ability to work with you as a vocalist/instrumentalist to help you bring our your best performances in the studio. Mike Froedge, a professional drummer and producer, said, “You get what you pay for with regard to the people you work with, the studio you use, and every aspect of the sound you want to create. With that in mind, it may make sense to spend your money on a 5–song E.P. than trying to squeeze a 12–song album into a small budget. If the E.P. can spin off a few valuable hit singles that sound great, that’s much more bang for your buck in today’s industry.”
The song is everything; most other aspects of recording is technical. A great song can compensate for terrible sonics. Charlie Brocco, a Grammy Award-winning recording engineer for groups like Fleetwood Mac and the Talking Heads said, “Strip down the music to the basics and start from the beginning. Many artists don’t understand what they want to their sound to be, so they need to go back to the raw voice and acoustic guitar. Perfect your craft and build from there.” The best way to have a solid foundation in your music is by constantly practicing. By practicing your singing and instrumental technical skills, the more muscle memory you develop. Investing in a vocal teacher or coach may be an option you choose to take because they will help you get the most out of your voice on the songs you’ve chosen to record.
Fast forward to the end of the recording process. You and the producer have laid down all of the tracks and now it is time to master your music. Do you choose your producer if they offer that service? They’ve been mixing your music throughout the entire process, shouldn’t they make decisions on the final details? Our panelists did not think so. Mike made the analogy that mixing is like working with a machete while mastering is like working with a scalpel. The mixing cuts out unnecessary items or ideas that may detract from the artist’s big picture, while mastering irons out the finer details to polish off your project.