Dave Chang, Record Producer

The Art Of Production

There are a number of issues and problems that need to be dealt with and solved when producing music. This article states my interests, priorities and outlook on production, and is divided into 3 parts in order of significance, though it is always my aim that each of these areas are realised to the full.

Overall, I try to take the perspective of a listener to the music. I like to consider someone who hears the music and band for the first time, a fan who already loves the band and their live shows and previous recordings, a reviewer, and a fan who wants to listen to the recording over and over again. I also consider fellow musicians and peers, but this crosses over into new listeners and fans.
 
The Song
The main thing that appeals to people is the song. A song is a combination of musical ideas, riffs hooks and rhythms, melodies and lyrics, which together provide a meaningful experience to the listener. For me the goal is to make sure all the musical ideas are comprehensible, working together to make something greater than the parts. To achieve this, there are a number of issues that need to be addressed.

The arrangement or structure - making sure sections of the song are ordered for their maximum effect, that the parts don't go on too long and lose the listeners interest.

The instrumentation - sometimes also called arrangement, but by this I mean what instruments are playing each section, whether vocal parts are required over instrumental sections.

Writing - if there are weaknesses in the song, giving the musicians inspiration and a creative space to rewrite and improve parts that are not working for the song.In practice, this means paying attention both to the overall song and the detailed components of it, and getting a good impression of what the band are trying to say with it (in musical terms, not necessarily lyrical). The song should have emotional power, maybe transport the listener to a new place, and it is vital to have a feel for exactly what the song is trying to do from an early stage in the production process.
 
The Performance
After the song, the thing that a listener latches on to next is the performances and playing of the song. Each part of the instrumentation has to be played (or programmed and sequenced if appropriate).

Each part must be played correctly, but also the groove, tightness and feel of the part is vital. A melody or riff is rarely just a sequence of notes, usually it is a communication with some sentiment behind it, built in when it was written. It is vital that the musicians mange to recreate the sentiment to its best - in some cases performing beyond how it has been played before in order to realise the idea that had only been in the musicians head up till then.

The producers job is to recognise when guidance and encouragement is needed, being bold enough to tell the musician so and tactful enough not to destroy their confidence in doing so! As well as making sure that the musicians are excelling, the song must be held in mind at all times, because the performance must also make space for the other musical parts.

Songs often contain tiny ideas and hooks, which can easily be lost if not performed appropriately, so the producer must always listen out for these and make sure they are intelligible and working to their best.

Most of the music I produce is multitracked, each part is recorded separately rather than live. So the other thing that must be ensured is that the result still sounds live, as if the musicians are interacting organically together. To get great performances, the musician must be comfortable and focused. To aid this, I do my best to make sure that they have a great monitor mix, an inspiring sound of their own instrument, and the right relaxed environment to play in.
 
The Sound
Often you can hear only a few seconds of out of the middle of a great record on the radio, and already you are thinking 'this is great, what is it?'

There are 2 reasons for this - firstly sufficient attention has been paid to performance so every note is loaded with recognisable emotion. Secondly, the overall sound has been crafted to hit you in the appropriate manner for the song and band.

As I stated earlier, a great song can transport you to a new place, and part of this atmosphere is created by the sound.

The sound of an instrument affects how intelligible the musical part is, how clearly you can hear the performance of the player, and contains the character of the voice.

But it is also vital to bare in mind the whole, how the sounds of the different instruments compliment each other, how the sounds will work together for the song.

To create detailed and interesting sounds, I firmly believe in getting a great sound at source, which is a combination of good instruments, tuned and set up properly; great performance, for with many instruments the timbre and tone is created by the musician; excellent sound engineering, using appropriate microphones, pre-amps recording equipment and recording techniques.

Although I have done 'rescue mixes' of less well recorded material that bands have brought me, and you can get a very satisfying end result, you cant put in the detail that wasn't there to start with.

So ideally mixing for me is a matter of balancing the instruments, and subtly compressing and or eq'ing to make sure the instruments make room for each other to create a sonic picture that has the appropriate power to strike the listener, but space to let the performances breathe.
 
Conclusion
Well that's where I am coming from when I work. Depending on the band, I may do work 'behind the scenes', doing what needs to be done, but letting the musicians focus on playing and doing what they know, but acting and guiding on the principals I have described. For other bands, I work on the production with them.

It should also be noted that I take an "if it aint broke, don't fix it" approach, I don't want to stick my oar in and change things just for the sake of changing and stamping my ego on, or to change the band into something they are not. I prefer to act as an intensifyer, bringing out what is already there and making sure the band's greatness and strengths can be heard at their best.

Metal, Rock, Punk, Extreme Production
Copyright 2003-2014 Dave Chang