As an artist, you regularly have epiphanies, inspirations and visions of your creations. That’s what being an artist is. A creative who interprets life into art and brings to life their vision through their work.
But the challenge lies in the ability to achieve your vision, not dying with the song unsung. It not only takes incredible follow-through, fortitude, to climb the proverbial mountain, but the ability to translate what you “feel” and “sense” into actuality. And that’s no small task.
Sadly, all too often, the vision gets lost in translation. From inspiration to actualization. From a whisper to a song. From ‘a feeling’ to production. From vision to creation. Every step along the way, detailed attention must be paid to deliver.
The conduit is communication, not telepathy. Most of us love when someone reads our minds, and intuits exactly what we want, but unfortunately, you can’t rely upon that happening. Especially not when you’re plunking down your hard-earned cash. That’s too much like playing roulette with your career. You have to aim to hit your mark.
Here are a few tips for how to come closer to speaking producer language. It’ll make it easier and you’ll have a much better chance of hitting your mark.
1. Be specific, not general.
Producers, while artists and visionaries themselves, are not psychics. Examples of music you like (and fit your sound/style) help. Don’t show everything as that’s too wide a spectrum, narrow it down to 3 artists and 3 songs that showcase the style you are looking for (it’s often a blend of sounds.) You may find it hard to be so specific, but it’s much better than leaving the door too wide open. Be sure you are showing musical landscapes not vocals or lyrics because that is what your producer will mostly be listening to as their first task is to create the music.
2. Try to use musical terms more than feelings or broad terms.
If your guitar teacher only told you how to “feel” music and not the mechanics of how to position your fingers on the fretboard or how to strum, you wouldn’t have the details you need to play your instrument. When you speak in feelings, emotions it leaves too much margin for misinterpretation and error. And the problem with that is, you won’t know until it’s too late. Using musical terms will help.
Instead of “I want the song to be more powerful” try saying:
“Let’s punch up the drums, how about a four on the floor?” (a kick drum on the 4 quarter notes in a measure punches up the sound)
Or, “Can we try using more dynamics like stops, or moments where the drums pull out?”
Instead of “I’d like to go more edgy” (“edgy” can mean a TON of different things to different people).
If you’re looking for more of a rock sound try:
“How about pumping up the guitars and maybe adding a distorted guitar or two?”
Or, “Let’s tone down the piano go heavier on the guitars.”
Or let’s say edgy means more electronic like Banks, you might try:
“How about adding a heavier electronic-sounding bass and less synth padding, but keep the critical synths coming in and out?”
If you’re in a band, get the help of your guitarist or keyboardist (whoever the best musician is) or enlist a Musical Director (MD) to help you decipher what you want and put it into musical terms.
Musical language always trumps descriptions that may not be as accurate.
3. Speak in genre or genre-merging terms.
Look, musicians and producers are artists who are creators who are always coming up with new ideas. There’s nothing wrong with that, you want that kind of creativity. What’s wrong is when you mix too many genres on your record, or try to invent one (go too far out of people’s normal sphere) and then you lose them. So you want to start with a base genre and then add your flavoring. But don’t stray far or mix too many genres (overload).
For instance, if you like Pop, but it’s a bit too mainstream for you, and you love singer-songwriter stuff, maybe try flavoring it with Folk or Americana. If you like R & B, but you’re not an R & B singer, you might try Pop as a base and flavor it with Soul = Pop/Soul, etc.
Your job as “artist,” is to know what you want and be able to articulate it, at least as well as to give clear guidance and not be confusing or give mixed signals. And when you don’t know, say you don’t know. That opens the conversation to discussion and collaborative efforts, which is good too. It’s really that as an artist you have to be at the wheel (figuratively speaking) not literally – let your producer be at the wheel. But you’re co-producing whether it’s specified or not. Titles don’t matter (don’t get your ego hung up on it), it’s the outcome. Just keep focused on where you’re headed and help steer the ship. But you’ve got to get the language down first, or you’ll just muck it up further.
If you want to take a big jump ahead…
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