Yesterday I was prepping a couple songs to send to my buddy Tim to track drums. These are songs I’m producing for a client, so I am squarely wearing the “Producer Hat” on this one.
The client and I recorded a basic guitar-vocal demo of the songs, and now my job is to produce an awesome, full-band arrangement around that demo.
But rather than record the demo and go on her merry way, the client also gave me a reference track, a popular song she wanted me to use as a guide for the production of the song.
Nice move, client. Here’s why.
See, as I was bouncing the two songs for Tim yesterday, I was typing up notes for him. Things like “Don’t come in until Chorus 1.” and “This needs to have a more straight-forward 4-on-the-floor beat to it.”
As I listened to the guitar-vocal, my brain was taking the song in one direction. Then I remembered the reference track the client gave me. I flipped it on and gave it a quick listen.
Screeeeeeeeech. Hit the brakes there, Joe.
While the direction I was taking the song might have been a cool one, it was definitely NOT what the client wanted.
I was hearing more of a folky approach to the song, with really light drums. The song she gave me had a very powerful and simple drum beat (with a BIG kick drum).
My gut approach would have been wrong for the song.
Some people might bristle at this, thinking that the client is asking me to copy someone else’s song, but that’s hardly the case. She did the same thing on a previous song we worked on together, and the finished product sounds WAY different from the reference track. However, it wouldn’t have turned out as well if she hadn’t given me some direction.
We all tend to gravitate towards a certain style of production. Nothing wrong with that.
If you’re like me (kind of a folk/rock kind of guy), then you’re going to need some extra guidance when hired to do a pop project.
There’s no shame in that.
The only shame would be to take the song in a direction the client really doesn’t want.
Wanna know one way I get tons of ideas for producing songs? Mixing other people’s songs.
Joe Gilder is a Nashville-based engineer, musician, and producer who also provides training and advice at the Home Studio Corner. Note that Joe also offers highly effective training courses, including Understanding Compression and Understanding EQ.