At this point in time, is it mandatory for an artist to work with a producer?
I have worked with a variety of artists, each of whom were operating at their own capability level when I encountered them. Some artists were at the absolute pinnacle of their talents when we worked together- others were just beginning to find themselves.
Each project has its own unique circumstances and attributes, wherein everyone who participates (myself included) learns something and takes something away with them.
I have loved most of the recording projects I worked on and for different reasons. They each taught me something different- but always something relevant to where I was at the time. Hopefully, at the moment these lessons revealed themselves, I was open and aware enough to accept them.
On reflection, the most substantial projects I have worked on were those where the artist was at the peak of his creative powers. This is mainly because the experienced artist has an certain acuity which is unequaled by that of a novice artist. The experienced artist’s self-awareness and confidence is simply greater and there can be more of a parity- an understanding between everyone involved in the creative process. I’m not suggesting this type of project is particularly better than another, simply that there is more possibility for an even exchange between all participants and therefore, greater substance.
An artist who has a tremendous amount of experience behind him has not only developed a personal sense of expression, he also has developed a very profound sense of who he is. Experience has taught him to invest heavily in this awareness, this feeling. He has learned to trust his innate sense, as much as he might trust that his body draws breath autonomously and without any conscious thought on his part. It all simply works. This sense leads and guides him exactly where he needs to go and to what he needs to do. It informs him of when he is making a good creative choice and when he is making a poor creative choice.
It is a voice that speaks to those who listen for it; not in words, but in feelings and in sensations. On encountering these feelings, the artist will automatically associate them with his own significance in order to interpret the message he is receiving.
This voice is entirely subjective to each individual and 100% accurate. The experienced artist is aware that if he listens exclusively to this inner voice, it will always tell him the truth. He is also aware that there is a distinction between this voice and the sound of his own ego. Through experience, he learns to distinguish between the two.
Such an artist does not require direction. He already is in possession of his own inner compass. He doesn’t require being told what to do, or how to do it. He has done this enough in various other situations to know what works for him and what doesn’t. What he requires is communion with another creative individual (or individuals) in order to enhance or augment that which he already possesses.
The concept of collaboration is most appropriate for an artist with a strong sense of self (and the experience to back that up). In this case, a producer can make an ideal collaborator for that artist if the producer is capable of meeting the artist at the same level creatively (and dispensing with his own ego).
A producer who is intent on exerting his will over such an artist through expressions of dominance and force will often create nothing but conflict in a creative space. An experienced artist will see right through such hollow gestures and from that point, there will either be head butting or complete non-compliance.
Unfortunately, most artists at this point in history are incapable of expressing themselves and consequently feel unable to stand up for themselves in that (or any other) type of situation. To some extent, this is because they have not had the luxury of being able to experience much of anything or find reinforcement pertaining to their art.
The messages they receive from outside do little to dispel this. They are primarily being trained to imitate and to obey. In other words, they are being taught, not to be themselves, but to be followers.
Many of the music industry people they encounter (whom they would otherwise be inclined to trust, emulate or look up to) tend to reinforce these perspectives, as opposed to supporting and encouraging the tenuous position of a new artist. As a result, these artists have not learned how to access their own inner sense of truth (or how they personally express themselves). Instead, they flounder, since personal expression is what essentially defines an artist (not necessarily his ability to be creative).
Nothing in an artist’s experience can make up for discovering how to hear and to trust his inner voice. Without this familiarity, people will constantly make mistakes (in every area of life) and become far too willing to follow someone else.
It becomes easier to follow another person when one isn’t absolutely certain about one’s own bearings. When these bearings are weak and the voice of another person appears to be so plaintive, sure and can drown out everything else, the inner voice becomes even more imperceptible and distant.
When such an artist is working with a person whose role on a recording project is essentially to lead (the producer), this leading becomes more of an ego-driven task, as opposed to being something which is beneficial to the project. Dealing with novice artists, producers are often inclined to come into a situation and implement their own ideas on how the recording is made without consideration for the artist or the music which the artist makes. This producer sees the opportunity he has to make money and knows that he will be able to work in a way that is customary for him with the least amount of resistance from the artist. The artist is hamstrung here because he doesn’t have the experience (or the confidence in his own abilities) to operate at a parity with the producer.
How often do producers take a project with a new band/ artist and apply techniques that they’ve used consistently on other projects because they know that they can get results in a timely manner? What if those techniques (or results) have absolutely nothing to do with the artist in question and in fact, they are actually detrimental to the type of music (and the type of artist being recorded)? Is this approach helpful for the artist or is it primarily a means of aggrandizing the producer (as well as a means of helping him pay his bills)?
With all this in mind, is it mandatory for an artist to work with a producer? At this point in time, I would say emphatically, no. My reasoning is simply this- most artists don’t have the tools to process the information they receive from a producer. They don’t have a sense of self. They can’t ask informed questions and they can’t communicate with the producer as equals. In this scenario, the relationship between artist and producer is virtually useless.
If the artist is on a major label and has any semblance of a budget, the burden is on the producer to get the project done by all means at his disposal. It is in the producer’s best interest to do so, as he is likely to lose money if he doesn’t. In this case, there is a tacit understanding between the producer and the record company that quality is to be spared if completing the project ever becomes an issue. Generally speaking, this understanding trumps any notion of quality well before a note of music is recorded.
With this understanding in mind, record producers are completely comfortable with the idea of editing musical performances and tuning vocals, instead of exhorting the musicians to try hard (and through so-doing, become better at their craft). Convenience has become an essential tenet of the process of recording, as a multitude of tools become available to producers and engineers in order to make their jobs easier (and more expedient). Modern record producers are well aware that they will be more popular (and in this way, acquire more work) if they are willing to put their own artistic judgments aside and concentrate mainly on finishing. In this way, they are providing indirect examples to the artist of how to be a true follower.
Many modern producers fancy themselves generals and they operate by the famous George Patton quote- “Lead me, follow me, or get out of my way”. This type of producer always thinks from the perspective of being the alpha dog. The moment he encounters an artist, he is already looking for the most expedient ways to exploit and manipulate. He has evolved this sense is so he can get his job done, get paid and get on to the next job.
Other producers are somewhat (often, completely) absent from the creative process and simply use this as a means to place their imprimatur on a multitude of different projects. By not being at a recording studio, these producers are able to do multiple projects simultaneously. They become excellent middle- men, hiring great “teams” to work with their artists but never invest any of themselves in the projects they’ve committed to produce.
No, it isn’t mandatory for an artist to work with a producer, not unless that artist and that producer have the ability to speak the same creative language and meet in the same creative space. If the interaction is anything less than this, it will lead to absolutely nothing for the artist.
Most artists in this era don’t have the tools to process the good things which can be derived from the artist/ producer relationship. They are incapable of collaborating with a producer because they haven’t experienced themselves yet. They don’t yet have an idea of their own artistic capabilities, or their own range.
These artists don’t need a producer- they need something else. They need mentoring, support and guidance. They need to learn through and from the experiences of others who have tremendous experience and are willing to share that experience with them.
Instead of being taught (and systematically instructed) how to follow, artists need to learn how to navigate themselves. Instead of finding security in following, or accepting all the commonplace perceptions that all popular music must sound exactly like the music which is played on the radio, artists need to be taught how to pay attention to what their own inner truth is telling them.
Artists need to learn how to feel more than they need to learn how to think. They need to learn how to listen more than they need to learn how to obey. They need to learn how to express themselves more than they need to learn how to be creative. Artistic creativity can’t be imparted, however, a creative person can be taught to be expressive.
Contemporary artists don’t require a producer. Instead, they require people who will creatively facilitate them.