Hiring a Producer

Ok, so you have realized that you need something better than a live demo in order to shop your band or solo act around. You need something that sounds professional and high quality in order to help you get those lucrative gigs. You need someone with experience to help you select songs, maybe help improve your original material, help with the recording in the studio, and through the whole process of mixing and mastering. Maybe you’re looking to put out a full length album, or maybe just a really good demo with 3-5 songs on it. You need a Producer.

How do you find a good one. You’ve heard the stories about people like you getting ripped off by shady scam artists, and obviously, you want to avoid that. Maybe you’ve already had a bad experience. Either way, here’s where you start: Your own record collection (Or CD’s or MP3’s or whatever people are buying music on now) You probably have some idea what you’d like to sound like. Find the recordings you admire, the kind of music that you want your songs to sound like. Look at the liner notes and see who the producer was. If you don’t have liner notes, get online and find out. None of this is secret information. Good producers rely on getting their reputations out there so that new artists, like you, can contact them and hire them. Most producers that have produced for someone on a major record label are legit and have no interest in ripping anyone off. Of course, they are also very expensive and may be prohibitively selective in who they want to work with, so you may need to set your sights a little lower. Certainly there are really good producers out there who work with the smaller guys. Lots of them. Unfortunately, this is also where the sharks are circling. Lots of them.

Always interview more than one producer. You want to work with someone who understands you and your music. You may find you hit it off great with some producers but not others. You don’t want to find yourself 3 months into a project working with someone you have grown to hate, but can’t afford to fire. You also don’t want to hire someone who wants to take your music in his own direction that nothing like where you want to go. Don’t hire a jazz producer for your punk project.

You can find more producers by simply asking around. There will be some great producers in your area, almost no matter where you live. Ask people in other bands who they have used, look at the locals section at the record store. Google it.

Once you have found someone you think might be worth your time and money. Check them out. Don’t take their word for for anything. If they say they have a Grammy, check it out. This will not be a secret and information will be available online. But don’t assume that a Grammy awarded for playing drums on a record 20 years ago means that person will be a good producer. Ask them what they have done lately. If they claim to have worked with The Fray (or any other hugely successful act) ask them for details about that experience. Were they working as a producer on the song that made the band famous, or were they simply hired to make a live recording that never saw the light of a release? If they claim they helped make someone famous, but their name doesn’t appear anywhere you might expect it to, like as a producer on the album, you should contact the band in question. If the producer did a great job for the band, you will probably get that kind of response. If they never heard of the guy, they will want to know that their name is being abused and put a stop to it. A polite, short, to the point email will likely get a response, even if not from the famous band member. They have people on staff to handle these kinds of inquiries and attorneys to handle the scam artists.

Above all else, listen to examples of music the producer in question has produced. Not just the ones they give you to listen to, but some others. Ask them for names of other artist in your genre they have worked with. Contact those artists and ask them how it went. Listen to some tracks. If the guy is legit, this shouldn’t be a problem. Also see if you can find any other artists he/she worked with whose names he didn’t provide. You may get more honest response from them.

We’ve also seen some producers who will pay a bounty for referrals that sign up. Make sure whoever you are talking to, isn’t getting paid to tell you lies or send you to a certain shady producer.

smarmy producer

Once you have selected a producer, get a contract. Make sure you understand all of it. If you are in any doubt, have an experienced entertainment attorney look it over and explain it to you. We’ve seen contracts where the producer gets publishing rights, and a whole lot more, that they shouldn’t be asking for, in a contract. Don’t get burned down the road. If your song becomes a hit you may regret agreeing to give up a chunk of your songwriting credits to this producer. Producers are entitled to credit for the recordings they produced and if those recordings are used all over the place, they will get some royalties for that. But if you wrote the song, they really shouldn’t get any songwriting credit, if all they did was change the arrangement.

If part of your agreement with the producer is that he will shop the finished recording around, then you are probably dealing with a scammer. A good producer just produces. He doesn’t want to get paid for selling your song in Nashville or getting your band signed. That’s someone else’s job. (A manager or promoter) However, if a producer is really blown away by your song or talent he may pick up the phone and tell his buddies about it. That can open a lot of doors, but don’t expect that from a serious producer, and definitely don’t pay a producer up front for this service.

We hope this helps you with selecting a producer for your next project. Good luck.