Do you need a producer? When and why should you consider bringing one in? What value does a producer add that you can’t get without one? If you’re starting to ask these questions for yourself or your band, or you’re simply curious about the production process and want to learn more, Melbourne producer, mixer and engineer Tristan Hoogland has some insights and advice to share.
With 10 years of professional experience, including time spent as the head staff engineer for one of Australia’s finest and state of the art studios, Gasworks, to now working out of Australia’s premier recording studio, Sing Sing, Tristan definitely knows his shit. He’s worked with artists such as Golden Vessel, Woodes, Fountaineer, OKBadlands, Huntly, Emerson Leif, Abraham Tilbury, Mid Ayr, Paul Dempsey, Ball Park Music, Cub Sport, Oh Ye Denver Birds, Malo Zima, and many others, while also also working under several critically acclaimed and award winning producers such as Paul McKercher (AUS), Steven Schram (AUS), Mick Glossop (UK), Jason Derulo (US), Simon Polinski (AUS) and many others.
Here’s some of Tristan’s insights to help you understand the process and figure out what’s right for you.
You’ve written your song, it’s been rehearsed to death, tested on stage a few times, there might even be a rough demo – you feel it’s time to record. This is the point where you might be asking yourself, “Should I work with a producer or save the money and do it myself?”
It’s a common dilemma that artists are faced with irrelevant of your studio experience or however you’ve worked in the past it. But first, what is the role of a producer and how do they serve the music making process?
What’s the role?
Traditionally a producer was someone external to the project who would facilitate the process of record-making. As time’s gone on, there’s been variations on this. Some producers are hired for their creative input, helping in the compositional and arrangement aspects of production. Some are hired for the pseudo-psychology skills needed to help coax the best performance out of the artist and maintain a positive vibe throughout the process. Lastly, some are hired for their keen prowess on the technical side of the studio, dialling in sounds with equipment in an attempt to sonically create what an artist is trying to convey emotionally. Most producers have a combination of all three qualities in their skill set, but are primarily sought after for one or two of these attributes.
While any of these functions can be handled autonomously, the objectivity and fresh perspective a producer brings to a project can be vital. Think of this person as a representative of your audience. No matter how smart or talented you are, if you’ve lived with anything for a period of time, you’re as doomed as the next person to become acclimatised to ‘how things are’, and might become oblivious to issues that may exist in the arrangement. For example, maybe the intro is too long. Maybe there’s too many ideas happening , the song’s feeling too busy, or the chorus isn’t taking off like it should. A producer will help you see the things you’ve overlooked and give fresh ideas and insights to help improve your music.
But do I need one?
Well like all things, it depends. If you’re the type of person who gets obsessive and struggles to finish things, working with a producer will help tremendously. Like a good friend, a good producer should be someone who both encourages and challenges you to reach higher at every stage, so even you’re surprised at what you’re capable of achieving.
If, however, you’re eager to go it alone, I caution you as equally as I encourage it! Recording equipment is extremely affordable these days, making it possible for anyone with a laptop to use a recording system only dreamed about some 20 years ago. Producing and recording your own work is exciting, the sense of control, learning and experimenting with microphones, compression, EQ, effects, it’s like learning a whole new instrument all over again. With money and time on your side, you can do things the way you want and at your own pace.
The downside to all of this is that it will require the same level of patience and dedication it takes to get good at anything. There will be times of frustration and self-doubt all to the point where you will just want to give up. I’d recommend doing the opposite and instead reach out to a friend who produces for a living and see if they can give you some pointers, you’d be surprised how happy people are to help. Perhaps buy them a beer or two as compensation and who knows, maybe you’ll work with them next time?
Thank you Tristan! If you’re keen to buy him a beer and ask him a few questions about production, mixing or engineering, get in touch with him through his website. WildnFree has personally bought Tristan a beer and can 100% confirm he is an excellent person, so go ahead and reach out.
Scope out Tristan’s mixing skillz on Fountaineer’s Sirens (Parts 1 &2) , produced by Matthew Neighbour, while you’re at it: