From producer to therapist may seem like two worlds removed. In some ways, however, these lines of work may not be entirely dissimilar. Creating a piece of music that reflects a recording artist’s reality and personality requires them to be comfortable and open with you. Iconic producer Rick Rubin tries to create a safety zone in which a vocalist’s, “…guard is truly let down and they can truly be themselves.” Nile Rodgers claims, “It feels like my job is to support people. I support great artists…” suggesting that the role of a great producer stretches beyond the button pusher and into the realm of care giver. In this post we’ll look at five ways in which you can build better creative connections with, and amass passionate performances from your recording artists.
Step 1: Rapport
When a producer creates music for a recording artist they’re forming something that captures the intrinsic nature or ‘sound’ of that particular vocalist. What’s the easiest way to get to grips with this? The same way that you get to know a new acquaintance in any social situation; talk to them. It’s essential that you create a friendly atmosphere where the singer can be open and honest. Meet before the session and ask open ended questions and don’t just listen, be interested. Where do they come from? What inspired them to be a musician? What’s their ultimate goal? This may seem unproductive in place of actually writing a song, but the answers will build up a framework of the artist’s aspirations and character, aiding you in understanding and capturing their persona in a track.
Step 2: Understand
Following on from building rapport with the artist, gain an understanding of not only them, but their work. Take time to discover the themes their lyrics explore and unravel why these resonate with them. This will help you to create a piece of music that compliments these emotions. A ballad like Adele’s ‘Hello’ would sound strange if it was backed by a George Clinton styled, funky instrumental. Instead, the producer understood the context of the song and used a simple, tender, grand piano refrain.
Step 3: Reference
Listen to the music that the artist you’re working with sees as an influence on their songwriting. This is an easy way to quickly recognise the musical elements that form their vision and the sound that they want. Don’t be afraid to build on ideas borrowed from songs that they love.
Step 4: Comfort
Ensure that the atmosphere in your studio is relaxed. If the vocalist wants to try a new idea but it sounds silly at first, don’t ignore it. You’re there to foster creativity and you never know if something truly works until you try it. This enables the artist to be more involved in the production of their song. Simple, creature comforts like providing something to eat and drink can help to evoke a calm and open atmosphere. Writing music can make a person feel rather vulnerable, a secure, session without judgement can work wonders for inspiration.
Step 5: Emotion
When it comes to recording the vocals, the artist can be pitch perfect but if there’s no feeling, the song will fall flat. The four previous steps are essential in creating an atmosphere where an artist can let their guard down and expose their emotions on tape. A great exercise to help an artist to communicate the mood of their song is to ask them to close their eyes and breathe deeply. Enable them to think of a memory where they felt this emotion vividly. Allow them to take their time experiencing the sounds, smells and feelings that form that recollection so that they can build a rich, mental picture. Ask them to focus on that feeling for as long as they can and then embark on the vocal recording.
Music production is a fascinating subject as; not only does it include a great deal of fascinating, future bound, technology; it also leads to collaborations with a wide range of captivating people. The better you understand the other creatives that you’re working with, the greater the songs will be.