All to often I find myself talking to other producers and engineers when inevitably the same old arrogant view point comes up about how the musicians that they’re currently or just finished working with have no clue what they’re doing and no idea what they really want. And while I can relate to this sentiment of several levels (as well have found myself thinking from that same arrogant position on a few occasions), I just don’t feel sorry for the producers situation or think that the problem lies entirely on the shoulders of the band.
So what does this have to do with being a musical translator?
Going back to what I mentioned earlier, I think that the musician generally DOES know what they’re saying, they just might not know HOW to say it in a way that makes sense to the producer from an audio engineering stand point. And honestly, why should they? They’re not the engineer and if they had all the knowhow and expertise to explain themselves perfectly in our language, then they probably wouldn’t need our services to begin with!
In my opinion, one of the most rewarding parts of this job comes from working with artist and getting to addyour own creative input into the mix (pun absolutely intended), and I draw heavily from my conversations with the musicians to help find the inspiration that will benefit the song.
Here are some good examples of things you might hear in this situation and a more positive way to look at it.
The artist might say something like, “I want this part to feel like you just saw your grandma punch a baby in the face!” but what they’re really trying to convey is, “I want this part to grab your attention like you just saw something you’ve never seen before!”
Or, on the less extreme (and more tedious) side of things, someone might say, “I feel like the bass is too quiet throughout the whole song, is there any way you could turn that up?” But, it’s important to recognize that turning the bass up might not actually be the right answer to this feedback. For example, maybe it would make more sense to just turn down the surrounding instruments in order to preserve headroom in the mix and make the bass appear more audible in the song.
I know this may all seem counter intuitive, but thats kind of the point. It’s not always easy and it doesn’t necessarily come naturally, but the trick is in anticipating what the music needs and converting what the artist says into what they actually want.
In the end, it all boils down to building better social skills.
This means that both parties have to actively be working to establish open communication right from the start of the Band/Producer relationship in order to develop trust between everyone involved in the project and keep the creative vibes flowing.
If you’re the producer, this probably means you’re going to have to come around to the idea of living outside your comfort zone and accepting that its okay to get half-baked feedback as long as you can use that information to serve the music in a positive way. Getting worked up over the unclarity of what the artist might say is just a waste of your time and inflating your ego for knowing more than the musicians is really just patting yourself on the back for doing your job.
If you’re the artist, you might have to admit to yourself that sometimes you’re too closely attached to the music you’ve written to know when something isn’t working with the song. Simply allowing your producer to do what they do best and being openminded to their feedback without taking it personally will actually make you a better musician and a better person.
Case and point, nobody’s perfect and we all have a lot of room to grow.
The band is hiring the producer to capture their musical performance in its best possible state and relying on his/her expertise to guide the process in a way that makes this a possibility.
The producer is relying on the band to communicate their musical vision in order to accomplish what they’re being hired to do effectively and with the best interest of the music in mind.