Being questioned has always been the best way I’ve found to discover what I really believed or felt about something. (Sir, have you been drinking tonight?) Searching for the answer often brings up unexpected insight, even when you believe strongly in your opinion. (No osiffer, there was a bee in my car and I was trying to get it out!) Since this column is about the studio, maybe I should make this somewhat relevant.
Do you know who your artist is? Have you taken the time to learn where they come from both geographically and philosophically? Where does their passion lie, what excites them, who do they admire, what do they hate, what do they want to say? Musically, personally, emotionally, and commercially, what are really their goals? Have you even heard them play live? And possibly even equally as important, do they know you?
This world we live in where business masquerades as art (or is it vise versa?), is a brutal place for an artist to truly show their uniqueness. They most likely get but a single chance (or none at all) to show their “stuff”. Those of us who live on the “other side of the glass” are almost never held liable for the failure of a single project, at least not to the point of where one failure ends our career! If we produce or engineer at least one hit act we are brilliant, if we have several we’ll probably get a major label to run. Never mind all those other careers we helped end “cuz we is geniuses now”! A funny thing usually happens to successful producers and engineers, their “batting average” goes down with success. This happens due to the huge amount of work that comes banging at the door when you have a hit. (I must stop to say that some of the legends in our industry have had incredible track records and consistency throughout their careers, but they are the exception, not the rule!) I feel that because of our incredible luck in having jobs that almost always outlive those of the artists, we have a huge responsibility to invest all of the talent, knowledge, and ability we have, to help them extend theirs.
How often do we really bring out the truly unique qualities of an artist, and how many times do we simply plug them into our way of making a record? If we don’t take the time to know who the people are that we are working on, we will most often use our idea of who we want them to be. If we don’t who they are, how can we possibly get the consumer to know who they are? Don’t get me wrong; I feel the people on “the other side of the glass” have incredible talents that are always imprinted on a project, and they should do that. Many artists seek out a particular engineer or producer because they want the sound or style that they heard on another artist’s project, but is it really in the best interest of the artist to give it to them?
The business is packed with acts that are chasing something external (i.e. what radio wants, the newest hit style, to be the next ____, etc.), when they need to be looking inside to see what they truly are and, to make that record. I find it amazing that despite that fact that most all of the truly hugely successful acts are unique and identifiable, the industry mainly churns out acts that are derivative and interchangeable. We have to be the ones who change that, and strive to produce the music that steps out from the pack. (Wow, can’t you just see me pounding the podium? Hehe!)
The process of questioning oneself is also important to the technical side of our business. What is the best way to record an act, (big studio, little studio, analog, hard disk, cassette deck!) and which tools (meat clever, jackhammer, U47) do we use. There is a huge temptation to use what we know works and to mindlessly (maybe not a good word) repeat the process we’ve learned. What I’m asking is, that we think about what we chose to use in the studio with the consideration that this is the unique expression of the act’s sound, and does what you chose to do represent you and your preferences first, or the artist’s?
To wrap this all up, I need to say that balance (as in life, or as a high-wire walker) is possibly the most important thing we can bring to a project. To balance the artist’s best interests and unique qualities, with the often-oppressive interests of the business of music, is our responsibility. All this starts with “Hi, who are you?” or is it “Wanna get a beer?”
Michael D. Clute -Producer/ Engineer
Whose credits include “Safety Rabbit”, “Fargo United-Way”, and oh yeah “Diamond Rio”, “BlackHawk”, “Restless Heart”, “Poco”, “Faith Hill”, and sons
“Charlie and Jamie”, and wife “Laurie”.