Being a music producer means you have a lot on your plate.
You have to know your equipment, have an ear for sound and be able to interact well with the artists.
How do the pros do it? In a post on MusicRadar, Nashville producer Dave Cobb discusses his top five tips, giving insights from his years of experience, which includes work with artists such as Waylon Jennings and The Oak Ridge Boys.
Below, we’ll take a look each of Cobb’s suggestions, and how you can apply them to your efforts in the studio.
1. Work for free (to start)
A big part of gaining a foothold in the music business is simply to work.
Sometimes, however, that might mean putting in hours for free. In doing so, you can make industry connections, gain experience and demonstrate your skills.
As Cobb told MusicRadar:
“I did my fair share of free stuff back in the day, but I always made it a point to work on music that I could feel good about. People can feel passion; they can feel it. Pretty soon, people started hearing what I did, they like it, and one thing led to another.”
Working for free is obviously not sustainable. But everybody starts somewhere, and you may need to do it to get your foot in the door.
2. Work with people more talented than you
This is a great way to learn more about the industry, studio techniques and tricks of the trade.
Cobb, in the post, discusses an old-school British system in which everyone started at the bottom and worked their way up. It’s a good lesson in hands-on learning and the value of meeting talented peers and mentors.
Whether it’s the latest developments in sequencing or editing, working with people more talented than you can give you new insights and ideas about music production.
This seems like a good piece of advice for people in any profession, but it’s doubly important in the world of music production, where interpersonal relationships are often key to studio work.
You’ll get more out of an artist, and foster a creative atmosphere, if you are simply nice to people, Cobb told MusicRadar.
Of course, success in the music business is often built on networking, and being a jerk can ruin your reputation, Cobb said.
4. Know your equipment
As is the case in nearly every industry, technology continues to change the way things are done. Knowing your equipment is paramount.
But it’s more than understanding the latest advancements in the field, according to Cobb. It’s also the practical applications, like knowing which kind of microphone will work best with a particular instrument or even a singer’s voice.
Having a handle on your gear also helps producers craft their own sound and know which equipment will work best with a particular music genre, Cobb said.
5. Don’t chase trends
As a producer, you certainly want to have a working knowledge of what’s popular.
But that doesn’t mean you should chase trends.
“That’s not to say you can’t be influenced by what somebody else does, because of course we all are. I listen to Gabriel Roth from Daptone, and I think, ‘My God, I wish I could make records that sound that cool.’ He’s amazing. When I was a kid, I adored Brendan O’Brien’s stuff — he was very influential for me. But I’m not trying to copy those guys, because I’ve gotta do my own thing to do. Those guys have their sound down; they don’t need me to be a second-best to them.”
It’s about developing your own identity and finding your niche in the music business. Being true to your own style can also help you master your sound, instead of working to replicate music that might not be in your wheelhouse.