The Role Of a Producer

The Role Of a Producer
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I hope it’s ok with you @Danny_Danzi - I thought I would split this out onto a new thread for discussion:

Continuing the discussion from I need some ears and thoughts on this acoustic wierdo:

…and here is a related thread I started where the subject of a Producer came up: Uber Blues - Final Album Demo

Wow you really transformed the track, Danny - It sounds like you really put your heart and soul into it - very nice work!

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It’s absolutely OK, and thank you. I didn’t want to mess up Paul’s song thread and again appreciate that he was kind enough to allow it. I’m actually going to delete my thread there with the songs.

Glad you liked it, thank you. Yeah once I got the OK from the client to do it myself, I totally did what I would do. But the original scratch tracks that I sold him on were geared more towards him redoing the song using the new image I had provided.

What stinks is, I have several situations where I’ve stepped in and taken something to a different or more intense place…but once we make up our minds as to what we’re gonna do, we get rid of the original idea and the scratch tracks. And usually the client doesn’t want to share “what it was” once it turns into “what it has become”.

The cool thing about anyone in this position is, you can print up a few tracks to show someone what you hear them doing. It’s OK if they say no. To be honest though, it’s rare for me to step in and say “hey, I’m going to totally rewrite your song”. As a matter of fact, I’ve only done that two times in my whole life and this was one of them.

I wanted to share the other one with you, but it was another situation where the band was going for one thing, I heard something else, so I pitched it to them. It’s probably the weirdest, yet catchiest rock/metal tune I’ve ever done. The band passed on my idea but again, I got a totally cool song that I can use on my own.

But upon thinking, it’s not a good representation of what we’re talking about here. Producers DO in fact step in and add parts to songs and even write the songs with the artists. But I’d rather show you something where the song started out as one thing, and then because of my ideas, me and the client turned it into something else.

I have a band I worked with recently that used one of those Grammy winning guys that was pitching his services on facebook. The client who is actually a good friend of mine now, takes the bait. This well known producer and engineer takes him on for $insanity per hour. My client goes to his studio, does his thing for 5 songs and sits with them for a while. He calls me on the phone and at the time, we were just respected friends. (now he’s become my brother.) He asks if I can make the stuff sound better through mastering it.

I asked him what was wrong with it and he said it just wasn’t sounding like a $insanity per hour recording and he was actually unhappy. I told him mastering won’t always fix something you simply don’t like and that I wanted to hear the stuff on my gear to evaluate it.

He comes over and we play the stuff. I cringe not only at what I heard but by what I see! Tracks squashed and obliterated with limiting to the point of degraded audio. It just sounded so bad for that to come from such a big name guy, I was truly astonished. I asked him why he didn’t come and record with me and he said he thought all I did was mastering. Lol!

Long story long, I gave him a super reduced rate because I really felt sorry for the guy. We tried to use the tracks but most were unsalvageable. We re-recorded all the tracks we needed to, and I added my input or as he likes to call it “my DNA” to the tracks and man, what a difference from what they were verses what they had become.

He’s totally happy and doing the next album with me where he’s given me full control over assisting and I’m playing rhythm and lead guitar on it. My reason for this…

He has some garage band tracks that he did to pitch the songs. I wanted to see if he would allow me to share one or two and then share what we did as the final. So let me contact him and see what we can do. I think THAT would be a totally relevant way to help further discuss this as it is the artist literally applying my changes to his material.

At the end of the day though, music is and always will be subjective. What one feels is the better option may not be the case when another pair of ears with a mind for music gives a listen.

Our jobs as producers will always vary from client to client but first and foremost, we have to totally accept their vision for what it is, not what we want it to be. From there you make sure the artist is giving you their best and you can even coax them or coach them leading by example.

The other side of the coin is, a lot of times you’ll run into artists that DO want your input. The idea there is to try not to change them unless you hear something that is truly remarkable. I have quite a few of these moments with the client I mentioned above. Times where we rewrote a chorus, changed harmonies to something else, rewrote a solo passage, added a bridge that wasn’t there, special effects…the list goes on and on.

But, you have to really be connected to the artist and have their trust. It’s much like a relationship with a significant other. You know how once you trust in each other, the sky is the limit? Same here. Each situation is different though and you just have to do your best with each one. You learn from them, they learn from you, and as long as you’re not trying to push your agenda in attempt to get your name on their material, they love you.

When you have the right connection with them, they have no issues adding your name to their material when they know they couldn’t have done it without you. Me, I’ve never wanted songwriting credits on their songs. I’ve just always been happy to be a part of it so I can share in their happiness as well when we’re all done. Seeing their faces happy are the equal to children happy at Christmas. When that happens, you know you’ve been successful. :slight_smile:

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Got clearance from my guy to use one of his songs for here and even invited him here. He’s going to look for the Garage Band version of the song and I’ll post them for you guys. :slight_smile:

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Thanks for splitting this out! Great topic.

This is awesome!! I’m looking forward to it!

Got the draft file and will post both pre pro and final later today when I get in the studio. :blush:

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Ok, so here we go. Hopefully you’ll like this and see what a producer can do to a song.

The artist’s name is Sal Tommassello and the band is Red Figure Head. You can check him out on Spotify, iTunes, Pandora etc. He’s a very talented musician and 1-man band. He’s got a modern rock/metal/punky sort of sound with a hint of an older soul going on, which I think makes for a really cool combination. He’s been on Philly Rock Radio and has quite an extensive following in the Tri State area.

In this clip, this is the original version that Sal was pretty stoked about, which he recorded in Garage Band while having limited recording abilities at the time other than getting his ideas out. He has since upgraded to a killer recording system with Logic Pro, a killer interface and smoking monitors with a sub. But this is what he brought to me along with another mix that we’ll just forget exists as the idea here is to show what a producer on the same page as the artist can do.

By this time, Sal and I had become pretty good friends and his trust in me as an engineer and a producer was pretty insurmountable. I knew what he wanted and what he needed to make this right. This got me thinking as we recorded his core tracks and I offered him some changes I thought would be for the better. From there, we collaborated and this “thing” just came out for every song we did. It’s really quite amazing in my opinion, especially when you listen to the draft idea. So after some trial and error as well as experimentation sessions, we came up with this. Sal wrote the song, played drums, sang lead vocals and backups on this. I played guitars and I believe the cello intro, he did the harp parts and he had a friend of his play bass. Hope you enjoy it.

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Wow, sounds fabulous Danny! I’d like to ask you a few questions about it, but I’m at work at present, so it will have to wait. Great stuff :beerbanger:

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Thanks so much, and please feel free to ask anything you want. :slight_smile:

Ok, here’s a quick question - Are you using some kind of modulation effect (flanger, phase) on the backing vocals?

Yeah, I’m using an old plugin called Clone Ensemble which clones tracks from 2 to 32 clones and can also give you a slight modulation sound. It’s been one of my secret weapons for a long time. I used it all over my new album which I hope to release soon.

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Aha! I knew I could hear something cool going on! That’s a great sound, man.

Is this it?
https://www.cloneensemble.com/cl_main.htm

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Yep that’s it! See my little testimonial there? I actually went on to beta test this plug for Trevor all the way up to the latest version where we added the sex machine.

Was never crazy about that part although, if you use it in moderation it can sound cool. I never had much luck with it though as it just had too many artifacts for me when you used the deep voice or the woman/child voice.

I actually mailed Trevor about 6 months ago asking if he’d be willing to work on a newer 64 bit version. He said he hadn’t worked on this stuff in years and wasn’t interested. Just J bridge it for 64 bit and it will work fine. Shhh…don’t tell anyone I told you about it. Lol! :slight_smile:

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Just having a good listen now…

That’s a pretty comprehensive re-write - especially the verses.

The artist definitely had a really solid vision - you can hear that in his demo - especially the chorus part with the call and response vocal arrangement… but you seem to have really help him refine the melodies for those parts so that they come across so much better.

As a song, it’s much more accessible now. Did you have much input into the writing part?

Also, did you actually play the cello, or is that a VI? It sounds very cool.

My wife actually just said "It sounds a bit like The Living End - a really cool Australian 3 piece rock/punk/rockabilly band that have been around since the late 90s. She’s right, there is a bit of a resemblance to their latter era stuff, which is more straight ahead pop/punk/rock leaning.

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Oh wow, it does sort of have the elements of that band! Very cool, thanks for sharing that!

As for writing, no, it was pretty etched in stone when he got it here. I just heard things along the way, offered suggestions and we made changes as we saw fit. The chorus chords are actually different than the original also.

Thanks for the kind words. Much appreciated. The call and answer in the original was literally a copy and paste if I’m not mistaken. At that time, Sal didn’t know much about processing and anything to do manipulating audio other than logging ideas.

By the time I got done with him over a year later, he now has his own production company business and does recording, mixing, little m mastering and song placement services to put people’s music in all the digital stores for them if they don’t want to do it on their own. He always had great ears but at 22 or 23, he hasn’t been around many recording situations. He asked me so many questions while we were doing this and soaked it up like a sponge.

I suggested a delay with a filter and ping pong effect instead of the call and answer. This way it wouldn’t be so dominant and the call and answer wouldn’t both have the same impact. The delay dulls it and fades it nicely without being as blatantly in your face as the original.

On the chorus, I just kept hearing the descending part behind the “in my head” part to where it brought me to a different place using the same chorus. I grabbed a guitar and played and sang it for him and he lit up like a Christmas tree.

I also worked extensively on his vocal executions and deliveries. He was basically singing back up vocals in his bands with a few cameo lead vocals. But I wanted to really try and sell the voice on it, so that meant really making sure we had each part thr way we wanted. There were times (like the end) where I made him soar up high and hold some notes with vibrato. The last “up all night” where he holds it and goes high was an idea of mine. We worked really hard on the vocal lines and I pushed him as hard as I could which in my opinion made a pretty big difference.

What was also great about working with Sal was, after I’d show him something or make him aware of something, he’d fix an issue permanently or be aware of something to the point of being as observant or more observant than me. His newer stuff was recorded even faster with better vocals since he has been through all this before with me and had also grown leaps and bounds as a musician, a writer and an engineer.

Now he comes in with things half baked and I have even more control over how things will turn out. We just love working together and luckily, this “thing” happens whenever we do. But, I always make it a point not to inject too much of myself into the material as it would change things a bit too much. He’s reeled me in as often as I’ve reeled him in when we go a bit too far astray. Lol! He’s the type of client/great friend every studio owner should be lucky enough to have. I really love the guy and am so proud of where he is at such a young age.

No, the cello was a VI played on a keyboard but I can play a little cello and would have been able to play that particular part verbatim. It’s the crazy Paganini and Vivaldi arrangements I’d have a problem with. I can play guitar like a lunatic but change the way my hand is and I feel like a child that’s never played before. Lol! I’m like that with piano too. My right hand can’t do a thing on a left handed guitar but I can riff on piano and my left hand sucks. Hahaha!

Same with the harp being a VI also. Never tried to play one of those lol! Anyway, so glad you enjoyed this. Thanks for the awesome interaction and conversation. By the way, I picked up the new slate drums as an upgrade for $49. It was worth the upgrade price for sure. Some good stuff in there. Thanks for the recommendation in that other thread. :+1:

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Great transformation; I hear the bones of the original piece, but it definitely grabs you more now.
The original is good, but it does drone somewhat. You fixed that elegantly by changing the focus in the verses; the guitar is precise and focused, and the vocal stands out front. Very nice use of space to let all the elements stand out without conflicting.
The melodic changes in the chorus are well done too, they add interest and movement.
All in all, you took a good initial idea and polished it into a radio friendly gem. That’s what good producers do when you can find one that shapes the artist’s ideas without completely obliterating them to match their own formula.
Great job, and a perfect example for the topic.

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Thanks so much, really appreciate the listen and the comment. I actually have quite a few of these kinds of situations. Unfortunately, it’s hard to get the artist to share the draft. I’m thankful Sal was a good sport about it. I’ve asked a few others and they replied with “are you kidding me, Danny?! That would be like you going out in public without doing your hair!” LOL!

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I think it’s a really interesting thing to see how a song changes and morphs over the course of writing and production. Songwriting is such a fascinating subject to me, and it’s always cool to see how other people approach it.

I totally get that many artist wouldn’t want the public to see their “before” demos. Once or twice I’ve wanted to share some examples of the genesis of one of my songs but then thought better of it because they are so rough and ready

… It was funny though… When I did share the demo of the last song I posted here, some thought it was better than the “proper” production I’d worked super-hard on! Lol

In my case that would be the exception rather than the rule though, because many of my other songwriting demos are definitely not listen-worthy!.. There is sometimes definitely merit in “keeping the mystery” and not providing “too much information”!

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I’m with you, I enjoy it also. You know, you mentioned demo stuff sometimes turning out better than the hard work or people liking it better…I’ve had it happen too. So much so, it’s made me rethink a lot of the things I used to do. The biggest processing I use these days is on my drums and lead vocal tracks.

I honestly believe in “the less is more” way of doing things these days. You know it’s all in how good your source recording is. There’s no dark art there. You get the right sound, a little high pass, a little low pass, mids to taste, a little compression, and I’m usually in a good place.

So don’t ever be too hard on yourself. We have so many cool tools and things to mess with, it’s easy to get lost in them and sometimes we work so hard, we lose a little of that “dirt under the fingernails” thing. Other times we’re too perfect and work to the point where we can sometimes lose a little something too. What sucks is, we’ll love it but others will like the demo better probably because it wasn’t so perfect.

I can vouch there as the majority of my life has been all about me exhausting myself trying to be as perfect as possible. Huge flaw that I’m glad I one day changed. I was never perfect at all. I just wanted to make sure I was happy with what I’d done. That’s what matters most…your happiness. But if you let it consume you, it can really be a curse. So if you have to be anal, go for it. If you don’t have to be and get good results with minimal processing, that’s a winner too. As long as you get your art and creativity out the way you hear it in your head, it really doesn’t matter what anyone else says. :+1:

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I think this is where all this discussion kind of originated. I mentioned that a 3rd party producer is often a great thing to have, because they can bring outside objectivity to an artist… Either helping them to know what imperfections to leave in for the sake of the “vibe”, and on the other hand - what stuff needs more polish to make it listenable. Having someone whose taste you trust in that way can be a really valuable thing.

So true. When I’m taking comments on my music on board, a big question I ask myself is: “If I take this person’s advice on board, will I be happy with what I have produced in 10, 15, 20 years time?”

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