10 Things: Directing Your Project

Directing Your Project:  10 Things to ask when interviewing producers or engineers for your project

by Devlin Miles

  1. Are you a producer or engineer? – This can be a murky line in the professional world, so be clear what you are looking for – do you want someone to capture your sound as a band or do you want someone to help you define your sound with instrument choices and arrangements and possibly save you money by playing some of the instrumentation for you.

A producer will help you with the overall sound and help with the choices for the song. The producer also might help arrange a tune, or some are multi-instrumentalists and can play on tracks, which might save you money, but ask the questions up front.

An engineer is someone who is going to help record your sound and have very little to do with the overall sound of the album other than the sonic flavor, they might have an opinion here and there, but they are not going to take accountability for your overall sound, would rather record the band’s sound. This is great for bands or for multi-instrumental artists or a control freak who really wants to control every aspect of the song.

 Note: Neither may have any theory knowledge to help you when needed with harmonies, etc., so ask them if they play an instrument and if they can hear when someone is pitchy.

  1. Can we back up every session? – Is file management included in your fees, which means backing up every session or bouncing down files and exporting all the final files and mixes, this takes time and should be dealt with in the beginning?
  2. Tuning– Do you tune vocals, what program do you use? Are you a singer? This is very important when recording vocals, if the producer/engineer is a singer they will have a better understanding of the voice and performing for pitch perfection- if not, you might want to consider having someone there to coach the vocal parts. A vocal arranger can help with phrasing and tonality. This will overall save you money, if people can sing on pitch and get the right effect, this person will pay for himself or herself, otherwise you will be spending that money and more on tuning. You have to sound radio ready if you want to compete, so tuning is pretty much expected, so prepare and budget for it. Good or bad vocals can make or break a project.
  3. We all make mistakes – if you make a mistake that involves us re-recording any portion of the project.
    • Will you take accountability for it?
    • Will you credit me for the time?
  4. How does editing work?
    • Can you work unsupervised? Will you communicate editing hours to me, so I can budget accordingly?
    • Do you charge hourly?
    • Do you guarantee your mixes, if we need to tweak something- will you without additional costs?
    • Are you ok if I chose to mix my album elsewhere?
  5. Are you familiar with…? (insert names of similar sounding artists to you) and can you help me get that sound?
  6. Do you have a team of musicians with whom you work and recommend as I am looking for (cello, keyboard, etc) for this project?
  7. Are you equipped to send files electronically and possibly incorporate other studio WAV files? Sometimes you might find that you need someone to record background vocals in another city, so you need to work with a studio that is able to share files easily.
  8. Based on what I have described can you give me a written estimate or proposal? – This is really key to holding people accountable for their actions. Most people on the production side are also musicians, which means they may not be great at the business, so be sure to get an estimate in writing, so that you have proof how much you need to budget. (See Know Your End Game: 10 Things to budget for when recording your indie album)
  9. Have you listened to my music? – This may seem basic, but if you don’t ask the question- you won’t know and people have busy lives, it will indicate how available this person will be to you. Express what you did like about that recording and what you learned from it and are looking for in this project. If you expect the vocals to be a similar quality or the overall sound to have the same genre feel, make sure they have listened to your music at least 3 tunes.  If not listen together and get a feel for his/her reaction. Some people just need the money and they may not be passionate about your project and frankly it will be like pulling teeth to get what you want from them, so just as artists are a dime a dozen, so are producers keep looking!!! You want to work with someone who likes your stuff; it will show in their work and follow through.

10 Things-Directing Your Project PDF

10 Things: Be The Best

Be The Best: 10 Things to do before you get to the studio

by Devlin Miles

  1. Practice your instrument – if you are planning on recording your own guitar parts or singing your lead/background tracks, you must practice and polish your tune with a metronome playing the expected tempo.
  2. Record roughs and find the problem parts of your song – what sticks out as a sore thumb in the recording will be, more than likely, a problem in the studio.  Take the time and fix it or perfect it before you get to the studio
  3. Make choices – in the studio I have been asked to make things 4/4 timing even if it is a vocal part that takes the song out of time for a minute.  In the past, I have bent to others wishes, not realizing that they are the unique parts of the song.  Know when you are making a choice to break form and stick to it, as it may be a unique choice of yours.  Also recognize when it is an error you have gotten used to and really should be addressed before studio time.
  4. Decide on tempos and keys whenever possible before getting to the studio, sometimes you might edit this a bit when you are in the studio, but have a good idea of the tempo you want, there is nothing worse than speeding a tune up so much that when you go to do vocals it has completely changed your phrasing and vocal inflections.
  5. Charts and Lyrics written out – Have the charts done and lyrics typed out and bring a copy for every musician, even if you sent them the material over the Internet.  There is always one person who forgets to bring their notes.  Best to be prepared.  Also if you don’t know how to write charts- find someone who can, it will save you aggravation in the studio and make notes right then when you change something on the fly or later you will be trying to figure out how they played that.
  6. Find the right musicians for your project– if you are recording a rock album, don’t hire a folk musician and vice versa.  We all have our strengths as musicians and even though someone might be an excellent player in their genre, they may not be versed in your genre.  Don’t be afraid to audition people- the musician may not be honest with you, that they are not the right person for the job.  Know what you want and find those that can help you deliver your product
  7. Write great songs – don’t stop when the song is ok and you know the bridge needs work, write another bridge.  Make the song as strong as possible and test them out on people – perform them live or pop into an open mic and try out new material.  Hey Jerry Seinfeld does this all the time to try out new material.  Remember if it is a great song, people will be excited to be a part of it.
  8. Be selective – don’t just write 12 songs and say we are ready to record an album, keep writing until you have great songs.  You’ll know when you are ready to record when you have gotten a great reaction from the live crowds and they are begging for a recording of the new stuff or when you are bursting at the seams to share them.  You also don’t have to record every song you write.  Make every track count!  Ask yourself –would a record company back this song?  You are the record company.
  9. Get a reference – find songs that have the feel and vibe you are going for – sure we are all unique in our own way, but we are also under the influence of others and it will be important to the others on the project to help bring what is in your head out.  People cannot read your mind and it is better to have a reference to bring people to your school of thought.
  10. Be organized – we all have our strengths and some people are inherently more organized than others, but it is crucial to the timeline of your project for you to be orderly.  Have each song in it’s own slip folder, so you can quickly reference it as you go along and make production notes every time you listen back, so you don’t forget.  When you are recording a whole album it is important to have every song have it’s own identity. Yes, tracks might have some similarity, but every song shouldn’t sound like the next.  If they are sounding similar the problem might be in the melody or in the chord structures, in which case you are not ready to record yet.  (See also Get It Together: 10 Things Indie Artists should bring to the studio)

Be The Best  PDF