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Production FAQs

Production Samples
Listen to 90-second streaming
clips of the following songs:

The Bird Song
Buzz Cason/Neil Thrasher
lo-fi mp3
singer Robyn Scott
Canadian single

Heaven Only Knows
lo-fi mp3
singer Lisa Brokop
Brainchild demo

Mail Myself To Mexico
lo-fi mp3
singer Buddy Jewell
Buddy Jewell album cut

Destitute Heart
lo-fi mp3
singer Shelly Rann
Brainchild demo

Jesus Christ, JC Penney
& Johnny Cash
Clark/Jeff Walter
lo-fi mp3
singer Ray Herndon
Brainchild demo

Tennessee Rain
lo-fi mp3
singer Halie Loren
Brainchild demo

Song For
A Winter’s Night
Gordon Lightfoot
lo-fi mp3
singer Tim Buppert
Early Morning Prod. demo

Since I Fell For You
Buddy Johnson
lo-fi mp3
singer Alyssa Nielsen
Canadian album cut

All rights reserved

Production FAQs

1. What does a producer actually do?

George Martin with The Beatles in the studio, early ’60s
George Martin and The Beatles
Many things, varying from scenario to scenario, from producer to producer. Many of us envision the tyrannical Phil Spector-esque “super-producer” of the ’60s, glowering at musicians rooted to their spots for long hours until the “perfect take” was attained. By contrast, think of the elegant George Martin working in gentle collaboration with The Beatles, writing orchestral parts, playing harpsichord, splicing odd bits of tape together to create psychedelic magic, completely devoted to helping the most inventive rock’n’roll band of all time realize its brilliant potential.

Or, turning to a much more contemporary prototype, we find wizards like Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds single-handedly creating entire productions (often of songs they’ve also written), thanks to drum loops, multi-timbral keyboards, and the endless flexibility of digital recording technology.

But, whatever form he takes (and these are just a few examples), the producer bears responsibility for the end product. A recording comprises many ingredients . . . the song, the musicianship, the vocal sound, the final mix, and the emotional whole created when all these parts blend. But, ultimately, the producer answers for all of it. Like the director of a movie, his reputation is the one most precariously on the line.

Nashville has its own pantheon of producer models but certain things prevail here: For one, the song is king. A riff or a cool vocal effect alone does not a Nashville record make. The Music Row recording community also stands as the last bastion of superb five-, six-, seven- or eight-piece rhythm sections that can, following simple charts, create a full-blown, vibrant recording in minutes. And then turn around and, according to the whim of artist or producer, play it again two “clicks” slower, a half step higher or lower, or with a different feel altogether. The studio atmosphere tends to be laid back, free of “attitude,” good-humored (sometimes downright hilarious!) and rather Southern . . . so much so that you sometimes forget that these unruffled pickers are, between anecdotes and jokes, laying down some of the greatest tracks to be heard on the planet.

It’s spontaneous, ensemble music-making at its old-fashioned best — aided and abetted by computerization, virtually endless tracks and all the other bells and whistles that now make near perfect recording achievable.

2. Is a producer different from an engineer?

The two roles are quite different, although sometimes played simultaneously by one person, especially in these days of sophisticated home studios.

Sam Philips
Legendary producer/engineer Sam Philips
The engineer must possess a measure of technical savvy that not all producers share. Engineers know about the technical properties of microphones; reverb, delay, compression and other effects; miking techniques for acoustic guitars, horns and drum kits; EQ; individualized headphone mixes, and how to locate and eliminate that annoying electronic hum that’s driving everyone crazy. Engineers will even be able to perform simple (and maybe not-so-simple) equipment repairs in the studio. These days they’re also expected to be computer experts. A fine engineer has a pipeline to the most arcane mysteries of the sonic universe and is worth his weight in gold, and then some.

3. How do I go about finding great songs for my project?

Well, I could be glib and say You’ve come to the right place! But, in all seriousness, you have — or at least to one of them. The function of a publishing company is to stockpile songs and, in exchange for a licensing fee, make them available to singers and producers, as well as film and TV projects. Cultivating relationships with publishing companies like Brainchild Music is exactly what you the artist need to be doing.

Your job is to be honest and upfront about your intentions (are you recording an artist demo to help procure a record deal, say, or cutting an independent album to sell at gigs and on your website?) and to provide as much information as you can about your stylistic needs and the sound you’re going for. A link to a website (especially one with song clips) or providing a demo of your voice is especially valuable.

4. How important is it for me to write my own songs?

Hank Williams
Hank Williams
Nice work if you can get it, but don’t delude yourself! Some singers are terrific songwriters; many more are only so-so. We can’t all be Hank Williams (and even he occasionally sang other people’s songs). Maybe a sympathetic producer and a group of great musicians can skillfully tweak your songs into unforeseen magnificence. But — unless your artistic integrity and self-image are completely wrapped up in needing to be the sole author of all you do — don’t close the door on the potential gems to be found among the offerings of outside songwriters, many of them craftsmen who write all day, every day, to the highest of standards and who understand how to write commercially as well as artistically.

Bottom line, wherever you find them, songs — great songs — will announce your presence more dramatically than anything else in this business. It’s the one rule that survives all changing trends.

5. I write poetry and song lyrics but don’t play an instrument. How do I find a collaborator?

Finding a collaborator shouldn’t be all that difficult — although finding the right one may take a lot of luck and persistence. It’s not unlike dating in that regard! Find out about the local songwriters’ organizations in your area. For instance, is there a branch of the NSAI (Nashville Songwriters Association International) or SAC (Songwriters Association of Canada)? Perhaps a writer relations representative at one of the Performing Rights Organizations — ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, SOCAN, et al — could be helpful. Check the Internet for newsgroups that might be of interest. You might even advertise in a local music/entertainment-related magazine or newspaper.

But, whether you’re a wordsmith in search of a melodist or vice verse, the main thing is to let people know of your existence, and that you’re serious and committed. If you put out the signals others will respond, though I warn you again: finding the ideal collaborator really is like finding the perfect partner in anything else. It’s always a minor miracle when it happens.

And remember: it’s never too late to think about learning guitar or piano!

6. Sometimes I see three, four or more co-writers listed on songs. How does that work? Is everybody a songwriter nowadays?

It sometimes appears that way. It’s not rare to see five or six co-writers listed on a single song — although that may be simply explained in cases where an entire band divides credit on compositions. Does this mean that everyone contributed equally? That’s unlikely, but if the song evolves during a group jam session, or if the members mutually agree to share writing credits under a cooperative umbrella, percentages can be satisfactorily determined. There’s no one rule.

In Nashville co-writing has become the norm (just check the credits in Billboard or R&R). Most of the time these collaborations do not assign words solely to Writer A and music to Writer B in the manner common to Broadway circles or the Tin Pan Alley era of the Gershwins or Rodgers and Hart. That does sometimes happen but, most often, Nashville co-writing is about two or more people meeting by appointment to share and cultivate ideas. A title may light a spark, or it might be a guitar riff. Someone may tell a clever story or describe something poignant that caught their eye in that morning’s newspaper. Regardless of how the inspiration comes about (and at times it’s not unlike waving a butterfly net through the ether), what finally matters is that, at some point, all parties journey into that creative “zone” from which all great ideas inexplicably spring. And, in the spirit of true democracy, all are equally welcome to participate in the development of the song in its entirety. . . tune, lyric, chords.

More and more nowadays, journeymen writers are opting to work with singers who may or may not be experienced songwriters. The advantages are obvious: the singer reaps valuable insight into the songwriting process. The seasoned songwriters instantly gain an “instrument” for their budding compositions and will, hopefully, find these songs being strongly considered for the artist’s future album (singers naturally favor songs on which they share credit). And, at the end of the day, everyone involved is richer by a song — a song that would not otherwise exist in that exact form, regardless of who did precisely what.

Creatively, politically, logically . . . it’s a win-win situation.

7. How much input should I, the artist and client, have in the recording process?

Chet Atkins and Waylon Jennings in the studio
Chet Atkins and Waylon Jennings
You should feel that you’re a part of the team, bearing in mind that you’re only as good as the sum of that team’s parts. No one can justifiably force you to do anything; only you get to live in your skin.

On the other hand, listen with an open mind and an equally open heart to those around you who deserve your trust — and who may have the advantage of much more experience. Remember, Patsy Cline fought tooth and nail not to record “I Fall To Pieces” and Tina Turner was likewise adamant in her aversion to “What’s Love Got To Do With It.” In both cases the singers were swayed by producers they trusted — and were rewarded with career-making hit songs that they eventually came to love.

Maybe your producer does actually have a vision that, so far, evades you. Maybe that lick the guitar player is so excited about really could be the definitive signature the song needs, or maybe the drummer’s idea for a different feel could indeed put you on the cutting edge.

Listen — really listen — to those who offer heartfelt and knowledgeable advice. But, ultimately, listen to your own inner voice. That’s the one that will haunt you longest if you defy it!

8. People make a big deal about recording in Nashville. Why?

Great musicians — more than you can shake the proverbial stick at. Excellent, cost-effective studios. Top-notch engineers. And, of course, access to the Music Row publishing community, a near bottomless trove of some of the finest songs to be found anywhere, lurking just moments away. Not to mention the fabled Nashville “vibe.”

k.d.lang and Owen Bradley
k.d. lang and Owen Bradley

So much unforgettable music has been made, and continues to be made, in this town. Hank Williams, Elvis, Patsy Cline, Marty Robbins, Reba, Garth Brooks . . . they all achieved legendary status in Nashville. It’s no accident that k.d. lang, one of the most spectacular vocalists of our time, chose to record her 1988 album Shadowland in Nashville. A lifelong admirer of Patsy Cline, lang sought out then-retired producer Owen Bradley as well as many of the musicians who backed up Cline, Brenda Lee and other greats in the ’60s The result was a haunting album that became an instant classic.

Music is unquestionably in the air we breathe here.

9. We hear an awful lot now about ProTools, pitch correction, and other singers’ aids. How important are they? Can technology make anyone sound good?

Billie Holliday commemorative postal stamp No. These devices, along with techniques like vocal comping and punching-in, can certainly help — if an otherwise great performance is marred by one or two slightly “funky” notes, for instance. But there is no substitute for talent; nothing replaces the need to be professionally prepared; no trickery can successfully simulate a truly inspired performance. Pitch correction has its uses but remember, an awful lot of the greatest moments in recording history — from Sinatra and Billie Holiday to Elvis, Patsy Cline and the Beach Boys — happened before it was ever invented. Many of these performances were recorded directly to tape, top to bottom, with nothing redone!

10. Can you make me a star?

poster for the movie “Svengali” No! Nor can any one person, regardless of what you’ve seen in the movies, read in the magazines, or pictured in your fondest dreams. Forging a successful career in this unpredictable business takes talent, stamina, courage and long-ranging vision. It also requires a devoted team with specific goals. I can only say that Brainchild Music, with its catalogue of great songs, production experience, and access to talented players and fine studios, would like to become an important part of your team.

Ultimately your success story can only be built one brick at a time, with every success or failure teaching its own valuable lesson. There are no fairy tales, but there are plenty of horror stories about wide-eyed “wannabes” spending scandalous amounts of money on rushed, assembly-line recordings that any seasoned listener could immediately peg as inferior. Beware of people who promise overnight success — usually with a hefty price tag attached!

11. What are a few important tips to remember when embarking on my recording project?

  • Be realistic and business-like . . . even while you’re chasing your dream. After all, the entire music business is built on holding those two seemingly contradictory mindsets in constant balance.

  • Find, or write, great songs. Nothing worthwhile will happen without them.

  • Remember that a music career is totally built on team effort. Assemble your team strategically.

  • Procrastination is your enemy. Don’t just dream about doing it, do it! On the other hand, choose each step wisely and don’t be in too big a hurry.

  • Get second opinions and multiple budget estimates.

  • Beware of those who promise too much, too easily.

© 2003 Larry Wayne Clark. All Rights Reserved.