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Chaos in the Control Room II: The Producer

In our last blog we looked at ways of navigating conflict and tension in the studio. The recording environment has a unique way of subjecting your songs, your chops, and your very resolve to a brutal microscope.

It’s only natural – the studio is the laboratory where every note and verse is scrutinised. It’s art, but at times it can be a very precise one. Egos get shorn, ideas collide, and emotions run high.

But if you’re lucky, you’ll have a little help in there – an assist from an often unsung hero who has mastered the art of steering your ship. This person is your producer, the one tasked with not only getting the best out of your song, but out of you as a musician.

The legendary producer Quincy Jones has often said he considers himself a psychologist as much as a technical guru, someone tasked with people management and atmosphere control. Brooklyn-based producer Nick Messite agrees, estimating that his job is 40% technical mastery and 60% psychological manipulation.

What do producers, these masters of the dark art of the studio, have to say about dealing with the chaos of the control room? We rounded up a few gems for you below:

“Your job is to orchestrate personalities, to leverage their quirks and mitigate their foibles, all in service of their material. Under no circumstances should you contribute to chaos.”
- Nick Messite again, from this great article on running a successful studio session.

“I’ll spend time with an artist and listen very carefully to what they tell me and get them to talk about their true goals, their highest, highest goals. We’ll go back to the heart of why they started doing what they are doing in the first place.”
- Superstar producer Rick Rubin gives insight into his zen-like approach to getting to the heart of a band’s ambition and helping them leave their ego at the door.

“My role becomes that of a coach. Getting the very best out of the artist. Helping them perform at their very best when it’s game time. One way to get them there is to bring them out of their comfort zones. To coach them a little, get them to try new stuff.”
- Hitmaker Max Martin on why it’s important to be fully present with your artist as a producer

“Having an awareness of [a musician’s] emotional connection to the music can allow you to communicate better. Sometimes an artist doesn’t want to change a part, not out of ego, but because of an emotional tie. Depending on the way you approach the subject, you can encourage change or create a standoff.

I’m not saying don’t push for change; I’m saying think about the way you communicate and don’t be dry or harsh.”
- Mark Marshall on knowing when to fan the flames, and when to douse them.

Closer to home, the producers in our community have some great stuff to say:

“I always try to consider the artist’s ideas but I always like my ideas too to be equally considered. I’m interested in pushing the artist into unknown territory - not for my sake but for the betterment of the artist. In my opinion, the artist should always be open to ideas and never cap anyone in the rooms who has suggestions. The studio is an open creative space - leave any tension at the door and be game to try stuff...and remember: there is always backspace!”
- Rory Noble

“Trust and mutual respect are huge. As a producer, you have to know the personalities you’re working with; some artists need robust feedback, some artists need to have the gold slowly coaxed out of them. Only when you and artist trust each other can you get to that place. It’s important they respect you as a producer too - then can you challenge them, push them, and drive them into ambitious new corners.”
- Nic Manders

Luke Oram