The Music Producer From Hell
March 2, 2010 · 3 comments
Here’s a definitely not exhaustive list of signs you are working with the producer from HELL! Suggestions for additions to this list most welcome! – These prototypes are drawn not from my own experiences but many other stories artists have told me over the years. Yeah, these types of producers do exist, and yeah, it’s kinda depressing, but really, life is too short and you gotta laugh in retrospect, right?
1) The Executive Producer
“Yeah, he is supposedly a legend, but to be honest he only came to the studio three times!”
At best, an Executive Producer is a musical genius and legend, who will oversee and quality-control the spending of the album budget, without micro-managing. This comes into it’s own if the producer hired isn’t doing a good job, or the band or artist isn’t happy; and often a label might put an Executive Producer on the case if they are not sure about the producer (say, the producer has come with the band) and they feel things might need a little supervision. A good EP can even raise interest in the done record, if their name is Big. And a lot of the legit EPs in this position are big names, and often top record execs at the same time.
But then there’s Executive Producer from hell….
At worst, a label yes-man or woman who is an absolute waste of the point or points you are paying him or her.
Often actually doing bugger-all on an album, an EP from hell might grace you with their presence at interesting times, like when camera crews are their to film your ‘making of’, and they can be filmed commenting on your record in a knowledgeable way (thus validating their role for future generations).
However you quickly learn that despite all the meetings you’ve had prior, you tend to never see them, because they’re so busy and important. Certainly, you would never see them at ‘boring’ times like setting up the drums and getting drum sounds, or compiling.
I’ve heard stories about quite famous EPs back in the day being anything from glorified vibe-merchants to drug pushers, and hopefully they don’t have a backhander with ‘their guy’ who’s gonna mix/do string arrangements/whatever that you didn’t even want or need.
So, the Executive Producer from hell is a budget-sucker and points-sucker that you so didn’t even need, bond with, or feel made any useful contribution to your record. But perhaps that you were forced into using by the label. Sigh!
2) The Lazy Producer
“Man, he should have given the engineer at least half the production credit!”
The lazy producer leaves a lot of the work to either the band, the recording engineer, the mastering engineer, a contracted session muso such as a beats programmer, or even just farms whole parts of the project out to others, while charging you through the nose, of course!
Lazy producers will do things like have singers cut vocals and have the engineer compile, and then maybe show up for 20 minutes to have a listen, say yes or no, or boss the singer around a bit (‘I think you can do better!’) – or the engineer ‘The vocal sound needs to pop a little more…’ – or they might leave the studio in the hands of a hired beats programmer, an engineer and the band or artist to see what they can come up with, and then come in at some point to check it out.
Lazy producers may have been hired because they have one great skill, such as getting a great guitar sound, or mixing, or just for Being a Big Name, but when you have a lazy producer, it’s the producer from hell because you don’t feel that they can care enough or even bother enough to show up and actually produce.
3) The Not Into It Producer
“One time he turned up drunk and all he could talk about was how pissed off he was they didn’t get the Idol cut.”
Sometimes exhibiting signs of the lazy producer, the Not Into It producer is producing your record for other reasons. Either the money; or as a favour to a label/friend/management/important big wig, or for other reasons that suit their agenda (they want to produce that actor, socialite or supermodel’s record, even while having no faith in their talent and even sometimes dissing the project and the artist’s talent behind their backs.)
The Not Into It producer from hell often pretends to be into the project but so isn’t. Signs they aren’t are being overly chatty about other things during sessions (you get the feeling they would rather be doing ‘anything BUT your project!’) – or just being late for sessions, seeming unfocussed and distracted, negativity towards the artist.
Yep. Producer from hell. Try and not get a producer that’s Not Into Your Project, because even if they are highly skilled and it sounds okay in the end, it ain’t gonna be their best work.
4) The Overspender
“This song would groove so much better if we get ‘Name Drummer’, but he’ll only record at ‘Name Studio’.
Some producers will start the project ‘within your means’ and then constantly whinge about the fact that they had to record it somewhere other than the $1500-a-day-plus-Engineer facility with the SSL console (or whatever) – or convince you that you really do need a gospel choir, 8 piece string section, or whatever other ear candy you can’t afford, found yourself getting talked into, and now regret (cause it’s too late and you got the bill.)
Overspenders also tend to take too long to do things, in their pursuit of perfection. This is not cool if you are paying a studio by the day, as over-runs kill your budget and mean you have to sacrifice in other areas. It’s not the producer’s wishlist, it’s yours. By not respecting your budget and sticking to good time management, the Overspender is just another Producer From Hell.
5) The Egotist
“Darling, I’ve been a producer for 20 years, trust me…”
The Egotist is a producer from hell because they know it all, and shoot down creative ideas the artist may have, or simply don’t listen, because ‘they know better’ and they have their way of doing things, and that’s that. Unfortunately, an artist is so often in the hands of a producer and though you may still get a great sounding record, it’s ultimately the producer’s record, not the band’s. The record could still be highly successful, but the band or artist might have had a terrible time creatively in the studio working with a tyrant producer.
6) The Wrong Producer
“Wait until I put the handclaps on it and offset the hihat 8 milliseconds. It’ll sound dope!”
Uh Oh. You were thinking Fiona Apple-ish but your producer is making you sound like Hi Five, and you don’t know how to stop it. Make it stop! Aaargh! The producer convinces you to ‘go with it, because I’m not finished layering yet’ – but each layer it gets further and further away from what you had in your head, until you can’t hear it any more. You tried to be open minded, but now you are just terrified that you will hate your record, and feel powerless to stop it, and it’s almost too late cause you’re like halfway through. Nightmare!
7) The One Trick Pony
“I know we had mellotron and backwards piano on the last track, but I’ll put it through a guitar amp and add some slap delay so it’ll sound different on this track…”
A little like the Wrong Producer, you can see that your producer is sort of making you sound a bit too much like the last artist they produced, and you realise, oh shit – this producer really only does One Thing over and over again. Producer from hell….
The Sausage Machine
“Rebecca, call Australia and have the label confirm this is final production for a single? and then redo the invoice.”
You turn up to work with this Big Producer, who says, ‘oh actually I had written this song for (Insert Name of Big Artist) but he’s doing a movie, so you can have this song’. And you realise you are supposed to feel lucky.
You record your vocal over the track meant for someone else, the producer says, cool, I’ll mix this off and send you the Mp3. There’s your record! Bye! – and you feel like you just got inserted into the sausage machine, chewed up and spat out again like a commodity. Typical if your label gets you in with the sort of producer that’s had ’19 #1 singles’. But still, a type of producer from hell, I reckon.
9) The Sloppy Producer
“I thought I did back up, but the drive’s failed. I think we should just go again, hey, it’ll only take you ten minutes.”
Ooops. ‘I accidentally didn’t save and we lost yesterday’s edit’. (Or worse still, they lost the lead vocal.) It’s not that you can’t do it again, but there’s something really annoying about what magic you might have recorded that wasn’t saved – that will always bug you. Other sloppy producer acts are recording your vocals without the correct levels set, so your amazing in-the-moment-take is unusable; or forgetting to press record, or taking so long to get a drum sound that you run out of time to actually play the songs and the session is rushed. Etc! Producer from hell!
10) Too Many Cooks (The Wanna-Be Producer)
“I’m not sure about the direction. It needs to sound more ‘green’.”
The producer is supposed to be the boss, but sometimes there is a co-producer – officially or not – and this is where conflicts can happen. Maybe the co-producer is a well-meaning person from the label, someone from the advertising agency, the manager, the mother, the boyfriend, the drummer, or whoever – but sometimes, there are too many people in the room with an opinion.
And you can’t even say that they don’t have a right to it – because of course they do. You can’t stop the boyfriend of the artist, listening to un-edited, un-tuned tracks, getting in the artist’s ear and telling her he thinks it ‘sounds shit’, because he doesn’t have the experience to know how it WILL sound when it’s all compiled, melodyned and merged? The damage has been done, cause he’s undermined her confidence, not just in herself, but also in the producer.
Sometimes the label comes in at the wrong time and hears that vulnerability that happens in the studio when an artist is trying to go for something, take a risk – but hearing something at the wrong time can make a label freak out and bad-vibe everything.
Or, the advertising agency that’s commissioning the song arrives, and tries and ‘co-produce’ – which they have a right to do, cause they’re the client – but still, it ends up being the session from hell.. yep…
11) The Excuse-Maker
“If we add harmonies, it could sound too country.”
This producer from hell is one that is always making excuses. “No, we can’t do any more tracks of vocals cause it’s going to sound too dense”. “No, sitar won’t suit the track”. “No, I can’t turn the vocal up any more because the drums are sitting just right”. “No, we don’t need to remix because we can just fix that in mastering”.
Whatever excuse the producer fed you, it’s just that they don’t WANT to do what you want. They just want to do what they want, or they’re too lazy or can’t be bothered to try what you want. Bah! You suspect they are just making excuses.
12) The Intellectual Property-Stealer
Ooh, watch out for this one. You went to them with a melody and lyrics you wrote 100 percent, they quoted for a demo including session singer and instrumentalists. However the producer and session singer got together and had a chat afterwards, and decided they ‘co-wrote’ the song. The producer thinks the cowbell he suggested you added, as well as that chord he suggested you change in the middle 8 constitutes 1/3 cowriting credits, and the session singer thinks that he ‘made’ the melody, mainly because he did some ad-libs at the end and added a few harmonies. You get slapped with a lawyer’s letter that says they think they own 66 percent of the song, and if you disagree, the song will be in dispute with the performing rights association and all royalties will be frozen until you resolve the matter. However the producer is kind enough to insinuate they will reduce their claim to 25/25/50 with you if you decide to spend 100k making an overpriced album with them. Producer from hell!
13) The Everything Stealer
“Mate, congrats, they love your production, so you’ll get coproducer credit, a point, some bucks..”
As a cowriter who often makes really cool demos that the ‘real producer’ who has been hired to produce the ‘final’ loves, I will get asked to hand over the files (multitrack) for ‘points, plus co-producer credit, plus some bucks’.
The last time I did that, I (being a modest person and not having heard from executive producer/producer/manager/artist with any paperwork as promised) – assumed they didn’t use my files after all and re-recorded.
After the record came out with tracks featuring MY production (with some lame beats on it and a not-as-good-vocal, IMHO) but credited All Tracks Produced By “Semi Big Willie American Producer” – I made a couple of phone calls. trying not to cry!
Not surprisingly, I got a circle of blame/not returning my calls sitch from the executive producer, manager (who had been dumped, so no wonder) and a semi-apology from the semi-big-willie yank producer, and finally a face to face with the artist, who got stuck with my (large) invoice. He was basically left to carry the can after his ‘people’ basically hadn’t done the right thing by him.
To his credit.
I did get an assurance that my credits would be corrected on the ‘label copy’. Which means if they ever go to reprint… but in the meantime, all those copies in the stores credit someone else with my work. Sigh!
Semi-Big-Willie producer basically took all the credit for my work and pocketed the cash, and points.
This happens all the time, and it’s unfair, and it is the producer from hell, and so…. yeh. Don’t let it happen to you, ok?
(Don’t worry, I’ll write a part two post in the next week to help ensure that the odds are that you will never end up in any of these situations!)