With the availability of tools to make electronic music and ways of letting people listen to it, everyone is technically “a producer” now. Having the ability to produce isn’t enough – you have to be able to impress those that hold the keys to the great labels and the great gigs. Even if you do have serious cash to throw at a PR agency, most reputable ones will only work with artists they believe have some unique quality that they can sell. Impressing those within the music industry takes great productions. But ‘great’ can mean anything. What makes the difference between those producers that blend into the background and those that rise to the top and make it onto everyone’s playlists?
How does a great producer appeal to fans?
Fans of a generic producer have expectations that the producer may or may not meet. They expect something of a certain quality and style and if that isn’t met then they can be turned off. Fans of a great producer simply look forward to hearing what the producer has to say. It runs deeper than how the music sounds; they feel a connection with the producer and his/her expression through the music. Think of the EDM pioneers like Chemical Brothers, Orbital and Underworld. They all have genre-bending catalogues but their fans appreciate this and feel connected to the music beyond the genre. These true fans are a real measure of how great a producer is, not the ones that just click ‘like’.
How does a great producer balance self-expression and considering the audience?
The difference can of course be heard in the music too. Great producers’ music never sounds formulaic. They don’t try to sound like anyone else, even though there will obviously be similarities between them and other producers within the genre. They will consider their audience, but the music is made for the producer to express themselves. How do great producers decide what music to make? It is a fine balance between letting creativity roam free and considering the audience. We asked techno start Max Cooper how he goes about balancing self-expression and appealing to an audience,
“I used to design my tracks with other peoples response in mind, but as time has gone on I’ve got more selfish and am making what I want with less consideration for whether other people will like it or whether it’s a good business move. I’ll probably end up making some obscure crap that no one but me will enjoy! It’s a balance, I think you’ve got to push it as far as you can and give yourself the chance to make something exciting and new, while facing the obvious necessity to live from the music somehow.”
We also put this question to Jono of Above & Beyond. We hear a similar story from possibly the most famous, mass-appealing trance super-group …
“You want to come up with your ideas in a ‘free state’ where no one is going to judge you on the music. Then once you’ve done that you want to think ‘actually, does this sound like a record of ours’, that’s when you want to start thinking about those things in a more controlled way.”
Music that is made simply to please an audience can succeed, but it can also fail badly. However, don’t be fooled into thinking that as long as you make something for you then it will be successful. It won’t. As well as having something worth saying, you must able to write music in such a way that others love it too. This takes time and practice, and often writing plenty of pieces of music that shouldn’t see the light of day. Knowing which tracks are simply a learning process and which are worth putting out there is an important skill. So many producers try to release everything they make. Discussing the music that pours out in the studio Paul Woolford told us that
“most of it is bullshit, some of it is good, some of it’s very good, and 1% of it can be amazing if you’re lucky.”
If someone of his standard only releases a small percentage of his music then that is a good benchmark for everyone else.
How do great producers portray themselves?
It is often more than the music that makes a producer great. To reach the top you are not just putting your music out there, you are putting you out there too. Your image and style have to be congruent with that of your music. The closer your natural persona fits that of the music the easier this is. In the same way no one would believe in a gangsta rapper that clearly had a privileged upbringing, no one will believe in your music if the way you portray yourself (on the web or at gigs) isn’t aligned with what your music says. This means having a clearly defined vision of who you are (or who you want to be perceived as) and how your music fits with that. Take a look at all the top producers in any style, they all have this pinned down.
What inspires a great producer?
Often when producers are asked what they listen to they will reply with styles of music that are different to their own. Andrew Bayer is renowned for making some of the best progressive house on the planet but he often cites post-rock and modern classical label Erased Tapes as a favourite to listen to. VIVA producer Darius Syrossian absorbs the sounds from classic funk as well as house tracks. This is something to remember – if you want to make music of the calibre of the great producers, don’t just listen to their music, listen to the music they listen to so you will be inspired the way that they are. There is nothing wrong with trying to recreate the style of some producer you admire, this is an essential part of the learning process. Some even make a living from doing that, but we recommend that it is only treated as an exercise – like tracing a Picasso. It may look good when you’re done, but who wants to be a tracer?