How To Choose A Record Producer/Recording Studio – Part 1 – Recognizing Past Failures

Drums.jpgIn this series, I will explain my perspective on how bands
can make better records by learning the right reasons to choose a record
producer, rather than many of the flawed ways of the past.
As a record producer with over a decade of experience and hundreds of
record under my belt, I have witnessed bands choose me and my fellow
producers for both smart and stupid reasons. Seeing as this is one of
the most crucial decisions in a bands career, this is some of the most
important information you can learn. 

Making a great record
is what we all want to do. Unfortunately, one of the biggest causes of a
bad record is making a poor choice in who should produce your record.
Many veteran music industry people still guess and use flawed logic when
making this crucial decision. Over the years we have all heard records
with great songs but flawed production. It happens all the time and many
times we can’t even get into a record because the approach taken by the
producer is so repulsive that it makes it a unlistenable mess. After
the jump we will begin to discuss some of the flawed ideas that have
ruined many a record and in the preceding parts of this series we will
discuss how to understand and fix them

Budget- The first problem we run into when making a record is not
having the proper budget. In this day and age you do not need $100k
or even $20k to make a record that changes the world. You do however
need to be realistic about if you are budgeting enough money to
accomplish your goals. More often than not this is what kills a record
before it is even recorded.

Personality – While it is
important that you get a good feeling from your producer/engineer, that
is not everything. There are plenty of producers who are aces at
meetings and not the right person to get the sound you are looking for.
Just because someone was the coolest person at a meeting does not mean
you should work with them. On the flip side, if you have a bad vibe from
someone from the get-go, in all likelihood it will only get worse once
the pressure of the studio is upon you.

Dog And Pony Show -
A fancy studio with a huge console, glass windows and a high ceiling
does not make great records. A talented person with great ideas for your
record does. These days fantastic sounding records can be made in
bedrooms. High studio prices, fancy equipment and comfortable lounges don’t
make great records. Listen to 90% of the records that come out of big
studios and you will realize this instantly.

Filling In The
Blanks - 
Just because someone has had a successful record in the
past does not mean they are the right producer for you. Every group has
blanks that they need filled in. What often makes a great record is a
group teaming up with a producer who fills in those blanks properly. For
example, if you group has perfect vocals and you get a producer who is
inept at drumming ideas and your drummer is just as inept, your record
will most likely be dead from the moment the rhythm tracks are laid
down. Just because a producer made a great record with a few bands you
love doesn’t mean they are a genius and can deliver the same results for
your record. It means their blanks and that group’s blanks worked
together and fit together like puzzle pieces to make a great picture.

One of the most overlooked parts of making a great record is good
planning. If a group doesn’t have the songs or their performances down,
the record may take longer than average to make. That said, if the
producer is on a tight schedule and a record has to be done on time this
can also kill a record instantly. Proper planning has killed more
records that I can count.

These are some of the more basic
problems records die because of. In this series we will go over many,
many more reasons and how to fix them. Stay tuned.

Jesse Cannon is the editor of Musformation. He produces records at his studio Cannon Found Soundation. Follow him on Twitter at @JesseCannonMusF. For more info please visit his website.

  • Anonymous

    I disagree, big Studios can create amazing sounds. It’s a huge generalisation to make that kind of statement.
    That kind of talk is what’s killing great british studios like Abbey Road!!
    There is a place for big studios and bedroom studios, let’s work together to keep the British Music industry alive
    not tear it down!

  • Jesse Cannon

    It’s not a huge generalization by any means. There was a time you needed a big fancy studio to make a great sounding record but many people like the sound of records made in bedrooms and home studios these days. I am not saying every record made in Abbey Road sounds like crap but the fact of the matter is people need to get over the big studio makes great sounding records idea. While there are fantastic records made in these studios everyday there are also fantastic records made in home studios. Especially in this day and age where electronic music is becoming more and more dominant facilities like Abbey Road become more and more dated.
    Honestly, I don’t care if Abbey Road closes, the future of music will be bright with or without it. As someone who has worked on an Abbey Road console and a EMI owned studio it isn’t that special and I have made much better records outside of there as well as in there. What made the records were the people behind the recording not the equipment. That’s the point of the paragraph.
    If you are holding on to these studios and cherish the dinosaurs of old you are welcome to do so, but those of us who live in the present will go on to make bigger and better things. Get with it.

  • Davey Wavey

    What I need from a producer is someone who will get the job done for the budget we agree upon and get the sounds I want – vocal processing, guitar sounds, drums sound etc.
    As much as i would love to be recorded in Abbey Road I don’t think that they would be able to record me on my budget. I doubt I would recoup the outlay of funds invested in recording there.
    It’s so very easy for a producer to spend a bands money and for a band and producer to fall out with the producer loosing interest and not caring about the recordings. Professionalism is such a good indicator of things turning out well from start to finish. So things like patience, responsibility and a felxible mindset without compromising quality are what you want in a producer IMO.

  • Mixerman

    As a producer I choose a room for a recording based on the acoustics over just about any other factor. Granted, there are other considerations, but acoustics is first and foremost.
    If you’re making purely electronic music, then acoustic space clearly is less of an issue. If you’re recording the Philharmonic, I’m thinking the bedroom won’t suffice.
    You can pooh pooh studios like Abbey Road, or here in LA, The Village, Capitol, NRG, EastWest (formerlly Cello and Ocean Way), but you can’t possibly argue they’re archaic. They’re merely an unnecessary expense for certain recording situations. But world class acoustic spaces, with world class desks and microphones, will never be archaic to anyone but people who don’t record real musicians as a band.
    Sound occurs within the confines of a particular space. The space that surrounds a source affects the sonic characteristics. Drums in a bedroom sound trashy at best given the proximity of reflective surfaces to the microphones. Recording a singer in the wrong room can add artifacts to the vocal that are not only undesirable, they can actually AFFECT how the singer performs.
    There are certain rooms that are just magical spaces for recording. The 8068 room at Royaltone (which is now privately owned) was one of my favorite big rock drum rooms, with it’s concrete walls, wood floors, and 25 foot ceilings. East West Studio II is an absolutely amazing recording space. Capitol studio B is a killer room for mixing, with outrageously accurate translation outside the room. And therein lies the other rub in this equation. Monitoring.
    In Zen and the Art of Mixing (coming Fall 2010 on Hal Leonard) I write the following: “If your room doesn’t translate well, that needs to be fixed before you’re going to get good results mixing. I don’t care how adept you are at evaluating a room by referencing program material you’re familiar with. If you’re not hearing certain frequencies because your control room is nothing more than a bedroom with a desk and speakers in the middle of it, you’re never going to be able to make it translate. Your favorite mixer can listen to 1,000 reference mixes over the course of 20 days, and still will not overcome certain acoustical problems.
    I used to switch to a different mix room every other week, and I became insanely adept at quickly deciphering and compensating for a room’s translation issues. Now these were all professionally built rooms by some of the most respected acoustic designers in the world, so they weren’t by any stretch of the imagination broken. Stick me in an acoustically untreated bedroom, however, and you can forget about translation. It’s not going to happen. The bottom line is you can’t compensate for what you can’t hear.”
    Technology is designed to make our lives easier. A proper acoustic build out is absolutely essential to making recording and mixing easier, and will greatly influence your results.
    One last thing. No one prefers the sound of a record made in the bedroom purely because they prefer that sound. The listener is either drawn in by the song, performance, and production, or they’re not. You have only one sonic option in a small bedroom, and this makes you a one-trick pony. In other words all of your records are pretty much going to sound the same, because you don’t actually have a proper space for recording. This means you’re not making decisions based on what’s best for your artist’s record, but rather what you’ve deemed to be your sound (by default). Sure, you can use reverbs and delays to create the illusion of reflectivity within different spaces, but room artifacts cannot be removed, and reverbs are a poor and often obvious substitute for actual space around a microphone.

  • Fletcher

    So… you’ve done “hundreds of records”. Have I ever heard any? You have definitely heard some that I’ve done.
    I have also worked [as an engineer] for some producers who have been chosen by the label to deliver a product, and deliver they do [often the band's largest selling product], and at the same time, turn the experience into a nightmare of tension. Its part of their process… it is what leads the band to “over achieve”.
    I have also worked with a producer who was unbelievably ****ty at meetings, but also got the band to “over achieve” [to the tune of 220 million units sold... and still counting].
    As for studios, I just got done working in a pretty well armed “home studio”. It took 23 hours to accomplish what should have been 9 hours of work. I’m not complaining as they pay for my time by the day, so spending two days to accomplish 1/2 a day’s worth of work doesn’t bother me… but it would have cost the guy a hell of a lot less if he had booked a proper studio and we had knocked out everything he had wanted to accomplish this weekend instead of only getting 2/3rds of one song finished… but that’s not my problem.
    My problem was getting a less than optimal space to sound “like a record” while fighting an insane patchbay, a recording space that was designed with “internet advice” and a routing system that was “designed” by some moron who sells gear rather than a professional studio designer. The job was “doable”, but took longer, and will ultimately cost the artist more money than having either gotten professional advice on building his “home” studio or just rehearsing the songs [and me] and going to a “real” studio.
    Not my money, not my problem… but at the end of the day, directly related to your “Dog and Pony” show tripe. A great studio with a big console, high ceilings, and great lounges will indeed make the process easier [especially the "high ceilings"... it will allow the musicians who aren't recording at the moment to have a place to chill and be comfortable until they're called upon for work, and make the rest of the work flow run smoother.
    I dare say that while a "great song" will transcend anything, the better the tools, the easier the job... the more skilled the craftsman, the more they will understand how to use a superior toolset to accomplish the task at hand.
    Hey - you could build a winning Formula 1 race care with nothing more than a set of open end wrenches... but it will take less time and cost less money in the long run - if you put a value on YOUR time] with a team of professional mechanics in a shop stocked with the best tools available… or let me put it another way, I know I can my appendix taken out in the back room of a liquor store by a guy who read about doing it on the internet… but frankly, I’d rather go to a proper hospital that has one of the machines that go “bing” [Monty Python reference].