Directing Your Project: 10 Things to ask when interviewing producers or engineers for your project
by Devlin Miles
- 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.
- 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?
- 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.
- 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?
- 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?
- Are you familiar with…? (insert names of similar sounding artists to you) and can you help me get that sound?
- Do you have a team of musicians with whom you work and recommend as I am looking for (cello, keyboard, etc) for this project?
- 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.
- 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)
- 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.