5 Non-Technical Tips to Help Your Productions
I’m currently on a flight home from Toronto, where I spent the past week crashing on couches while doing co-writes with other producers and working on the debut single for an upcoming artist. There was little sleep, too much coffee, and lots of late night conversations and sessions that really reminded me that there’s so much more to producing than just the technical side of things. Below are some of the ideas from those late night talks focused into a list of tips on the non-technical side of the craft.
1) TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS
You know when you’re messing around with an idea and you just get that gut feeling that something is cool, even if it’s not polished yet? THAT’S the idea you should run with. Continue to polish it and keep chasing that feeling! If it feels exciting, there’s a reason. I have a rule that if an idea doesn’t feel exciting right away, then I’ll keep digging until I find something else that is. It’s rare that an unexciting idea, once polished, becomes exciting. You can waste hours going down a rabbit hole trying to make it interesting, and the uphill battle can really kill your flow and your mood.
2) DON'T TRY TO SOUND LIKE THE RADIO
I think it’s very important to stay relevant as a producer, and I used to think that meant trying to keep up with what was on the radio. But if you think about it, most songs on the radio were probably written and produced roughly a year ago. This means that if you’re making music that sounds like what’s currently on the radio, then you’re already dated. I think to be truly relevant you should be aware of what’s trending but not exclusively informed by it.
3) IT'S ALL ABOUT THE SONG
As producers, it’s easy to get caught up in the technical side of things, but at the end of the day it all comes down to the song. I think my role as producer is - in the simplest form - to take the song’s message and to convey that message in the clearest and most effective way possible. All of the technical elements should serve that purpose. If the hook isn’t memorable, no one cares how good your snare sounds. Take the time to sit down with the artist and go over the song before you start!
4) TELL A STORY
Building off of the last point, I think strong production serves the story (or emotion) of a song. Every choice should reflect that story. That doesn’t mean that every track needs to feel cinematic - but sometimes a song calls for that! Sometimes it’s fun to be on the nose and really play off the lyrics. Sometimes it suits the song better to be subtle and focus more on the feeling. Maybe the best thing for the song is to totally contradict the vocal with the instrumentation! I think it comes down to just being aware of the message and trying to best serve it with your taste as a producer.
5) REACT, DON'T BLINDLY ACT
Those two things on the side of your head? Use them! I think a lot of what we do as producers should be reactionary. In a way, the song tells you what it needs. We often get caught in the trap of repeating common production structures - “backbeat in at verse two,” “riser before the chorus,” etc. When I’m working on a track, I make a conscious effort to really listen to it with an open mind. Does the verse want a snare or a snap? Does it even need drums? What kind of bass sound would make the chorus pop? I’m a believer in having a reason for every element of the track. If you find yourself adding things just because you think they’re supposed to be there, ask yourself if it’s really serving the song or if it’s just adding noise.
I feel that as producers, it can be very easy to get caught up in the technical side of things. At the end of the day, our technical ability should be used as a tool to realize a song in a way that emphasizes its emotion and supports its meaning.