HomeRobert Dietz: You Need A Producer

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Let’s look first at sources outside of your group. You have your music selected, arranged, and now you’re ready to record.  It’s at this juncture that you should seriously consider hiring a producer to help you with the album.

The title of “producer” is often used differently in the a cappella community than in the entertainment industry at large.  A producer, generally speaking, is someone who has larger oversight over an entire project.  This person (or group of people) coordinates all of the individual elements of the project, such as finances, overall sound, design, and the timeline for completion.  In a cappella we often refer to our engineers (Bill Hare, Tat Tong, Dave Sperandio, et al) as producers because, to quote Bill himself, “it used to be that the producer called the shots and the engineer had to make it translate using the technology of the day.  With modern recording tools, that gap has been taken out of the picture - anyone can make the stuff work with little or no training.  The key is the creativity (not the technical wizardry) of the operator, so now they are really a "producer" in every sense.”  In other words, with increased access to studio technology, these folks now do it all (often from home!).

While I personally recommend working with a dedicated a cappella producer (for reasons of experience I’ll talk about in a moment), a producer can truly be anyone musical who is not a current member of your group. It’s not a bad idea to have a current member be involved with production, but an outside producer is critical for perspective (more on that in a moment as well).  No matter what, make sure you feel that this person understands your music.

A huge mistake I see groups make is not listening to a producer’s criticism.  If you are an average high school or college student working on an a cappella album you may have one, maybe two complete albums under your belt.  The aforementioned producers have hundreds, perhaps thousands.  That alone gives them a leg up on you.

They have something else though too, something you might not even think is important.  What a producer can offer your group is fresh ears.  Your audience is not you; they truly don’t care about that alto line in measure 23 (though I’m sure it was fun to sing!).  What they do care about is the overall package.

You as a group member have a particular relationship with the songs you’re recording.  Most likely you’ve performed them many, many times live.  You have an emotional connection to the music, and an intricate knowledge of the composition of the song that your audience can’t touch.  This relationship makes you the ideal candidate to record the music – you know the parts like the back of your hand – but it also can blind you to your audience.  Try as you might, you won’t ever be able to hear exactly what they do when they hear your music for the first time.

You know who can hear it though?  A producer!  Not only can they offer you fresh ears, but also like I said before they can offer you experienced fresh ears, tempered by years of feedback from many different groups and audiences.  Why wouldn’t you want to listen to that person?

How can you use your producer specifically to be creative? Let’s look at the definition of creativity I set forth in my first entry – “pleasantly surprising your audience by exposing them either to something brand new, or to something familiar in an exciting way.“  What a good producer can offer you is the knowledge of what “brand new” entails (based on years of exposure to the genre), and this wisdom and instinct to help you craft a “pleasant” surprise (based again on experience, and by using their unbiased, musical ear to determine what works best for your sound).  There’s a big difference between calculated creative decisions and the “let’s just do this because it’s different” approach.  A producer can help you navigate that territory.  

Discuss with your producer beforehand the vision for your album. Even the most basic album should have some sort of vision, even if it’s simply “let’s record our best songs really well.”  Know that if you go that route, you’re automatically walking down a more beaten path, and thus not setting your project up to break much new ground.

As I mentioned in my introductory article, depending on the goals of your group, that may be totally OK and in line with what you want to produce.  I’ve definitely been at the helm of projects that had more of a “yearbook” feel – capturing the best of what the group had produced in its recent life.  There are things you can do to make even that approach more creative.  But that’s a topic for next time.




About the author:
Robert Dietz is a recent graduate of Ithaca College in upstate New York where he received a dual major in music and business. He began singing in high school when he founded the Contemporary A Cappella Recording Award (CARA) winning male quintet, Ascending Height. During his time at Ithaca College, Robert had the pleasure of performing with and conducting Ithaca College’s only all male a cappella group, Ithacappella. Along with Ithacappella, Robert had the honor of twice advancing to the finals of the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella (ICCAs), as well as sharing the stage with the internationally renowned rock band, Incubus.  In addition to his CARA awards and nominations, Robert also holds three ICCA awards for outstanding vocal percussion, and his 100th arrangement received the award for outstanding arrangement at the ICCA semifinals at Rutgers in 2009. He currently lives in Brooklyn, and works in the Manhattan office of MusicMind Tracks (www.musicmindtracks.com), a brand new music production library.


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