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Tips for Producing a Successful Band Record

The way I approach making records changes quite a bit with each project. Things aren’t as simple as having just one way to produce.

For instance, when I’m producing a singer/songwriter, there’s mostly a conversation of the creative direction between two people. When you produce a band, things can become a bit more complicated. There are more people in the room who feel emotionally attached to their ideas.

There are many things to consider in these situations and some knowledge of psychology can be an important asset.

As a fly on the wall, I’ve witnessed a few band albums fail. In this article, I’m going to discuss my perspective on what makes a successful band record.

Rebuild and Dismantle

The first thing that’s going to create tension is if you start barking orders right away. You’re stepping into a working foreign government and setting up a dictatorship will create friction.

Neutral Territory

One solution is to have the band rehearse the songs at a rehearsal studio. Go to their rehearsals and hang out. Listen before you speak. Make some suggestions and ask them to try your ideas.

The rehearsal room will be a neutral space because there’s no permanence to it. They’re more likely to try an idea and let their guard down.

Some musicians (especially less experienced musicians) get stressed in the studio.

You can develop a rapport in the rehearsal room. It gives you time to see how the band constructed ideas together and observe how they communicate. This will go a long way in developing a record.

You’re also keeping a strong team vibe. One complaint from a lot of bands when they go into the studio is they feel like they get taken apart. Sometimes this is necessary, but if you suggest the same changes in the rehearsal room, you’ll experience less resistance.

From the Band that Feeds

You’re going to experience all types of musicians in your travels as a producer. Stepping into to rehearsal room allows you to assess hurdles you’re going to have to jump.

Hearing a band live exposes their biggest weakness and some weaknesses can’t be fixed while making a record.

As a producer, you must be able to hear who is dead weight. It’s been said, “the tough make the weak stronger”. This is true, however, sometimes the weak make the strong weaker. This can bring up all kinds of issues as a producer.

I don’t know about you, but I hate fixing mistakes. Sure, a few here and there are no big deal, but if you have to time shift every couple of bars of a drum track for each song, it’s going to have a lasting effect on the music. It’s never going to sound right, even when “fixed.”

If someone is hiring you because they want a professional product (not just a hobby), then I believe you have to say something. It’s possible they don’t know and it’s possible they’ve put off saying something.

In these situations, never be insulting or condescending to the band leader. The meeting should be done in private and a chat over coffee or a phone call is best. Avoid email and texts for these type of discussions.

Explain how this will hinder the project and hold it back. Explain the added cost for editing and lay out the truth.

Exception

As a producer, if you’re working for money you have to have a sliding perspective on all of this.

Through your career of paying bills, you’re likely to get some amateur bands. I still stand by the “get them in a rehearsal room” technique, but this is where the weakest link rule changes.

If they’re making a record for fun, they’re not concerned with the same things a career-aspiring band is concerned about. They won’t tell you that, but you should know.

The Spy

There are soft questions you can ask about what they’re up to. You can find out without asking something direct like, “are you guys serious or what?”. Avoid that kind of talk and listen for subtle hints in conversations.

You can ask things like, “what are your plans for the record?”. How they respond to even simple questions will reveal a lot about their trajectory.

If they’re not serious, there’s no conversation about dead weight. They’re just a bunch of friends getting enjoyment through music. It also means they want a glimpse into what it’s like to make a record.

Looking Glass

In both situations, you’re deeply focused on the band you’re producing. Things will go smoothly if you work to figure them out. Don’t expect them to figure you out. You have to come to them in order for them to give you their trust.

Make the record as a team. Embrace that you become a member of the band for a short period of time.

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Mark Marshall

Mark Marshall

Mark Marshall is a producer, songwriter, session musician and instructor based in NYC. More at guitaristmarkmarshall.com


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