Thanks to Mike Green for taking the time out of his day(s) to answer these questions for me. I highly suggest reading all of the text below because it’s extremely informing, especially to those who are interested in pursuing careers in the music business.
How long did it take you to build up your name to the point where you were able to make production your full time job? In other words, when did you realize, “This is my career and this is what I will be doing to pay my bills and survive”?
I always loved recording and have played guitar for 13 years, but never really had any formal training. My formal education was in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at UC Berkeley (Go Bears!) class of 2002. I was designing computer chips for a living when I went to a show and saw a then-unsigned band called The Matches play. I loved the band the first time I saw them and told them that I would record them for $100.00. So we ended up working together for nine months for $100.00!! And those sessions are the ones that are on the Epitaph release of their album!
I was very fortunate that The Matches album on which I worked received a lot of recognition. I’m also very appreciative of The Matches because they also took me to a lot of their A&R meetings where I made some of my best contacts. I had so much fun working on the Matches record that I decided to tell my dork boss to “shove it” and I decided to be a producer/engineer/songwriter full-time. It’s like this: if you have no wife, no kids, no mortgage, and no responsibilities, why not do something you love for the rest of your life?
In response to “how long did it take to make a name”, my first real album came out mid 2004 (The Matches), but I’m too shy to say whether or not I’ve “made a name” for myself, so once I’ve made a good enough name you’ll do the math.
In your own words and based on your own experiences, define the words “Producer” and “Engineer”. What are the main differences between the two areas of business?
I like this question because I feel like when people comment on an album’s “production” on this site, they often are referring to the engineering or mixing. For example, if you like the way the drums sound on a record, that’s mostly because they’re well engineered and mixed; A producer is most like the director of a movie. He/She helps shape the content and feel of a record, like suggesting song arrangements, evoking good performances, adding sonic texture, and helping determine the direction of the sounds on an album. There’s also a lot of non-musical elements to being a producer, like being a therapist, a friend, and often times a babysitter:)
An engineer is a person who records an album. He/She sets up the mics, gets the sounds, edits the parts, etc. The main difference between a producer and an engineer is that the engineer is concerned with HOW an album sounds, whereas a producer is concerned with WHAT is on the record.
What makes a good/bad producer or engineer?
To me, a good producer is one who is perfect for what the band/artist is looking for. Some producers are what I call “just hit record” guys and they don’t really contribute much to the band’s content. These kind of producers are good at letting a band’s true character come across on the album. This kind of approach is perfect for records like Say Anything or The Killers.
Sometimes a band needs a producer who is going to be brutally honest and give them a swift kick in the ass. Usually this involves lots of pre-production and working closely with the band on the smallest nuances of their songs. For me, in these types of situations the hard part is making sure the album sounds like the artist and not like you. But as long as everyone communicates well and has a well-defined vision, then it’s not a problem.
I’m flexible and have been both types or producer, but as of now I’ve worked on more projects where I’m the brutally honest guy who’s working out parts, as opposed to the facilitator.
When an upcoming artist such as Paramore approaches you in regards to working with you on their new record, what needs to be done and accomplished before the band even steps foot in the studio?
Well, the first thing is that I have to hear the band in order to determine if the project makes sense for me. Then, the main thing that must be accomplished is making sure that the band is ready to record. In my world, this is done through pre-production, which for me is just working with the band on their songs and make sure everybody is playing well. I like to start with just acoustic guitars and vocals to really hear the essence of the songs. Sometimes, this will be the stage where I will co-write some songs with the band/artist. The we bring in the whole band; once the whole band is nailing the songs, then the band is ready to record.
Also there’s all the legal bullshit that has to get done, like figuring out the royalties, the writing splits, the fees, etc. but that’s no fun:)
A lot of young producers can’t seem to get around this paradox: For producers to make a name for themselves it seems as if they need to work with some established artists, but to work with these established artists, they need to have a solid name for themselves. Every producer has to start somewhere without a solid history or past, so what’s the best advice you can give to a producer currently trying to get around this issue and get some solid acts into their studio?
The only way a producer can be successful is if one of his/her projects become successful. You could be the best producer/engineer in the world, but if you’re in the room with shit talent, ie bad musicians, the product will be crap. My advice to someone trying to establish a name as a producer would be to find the best local bands in your area that aren’t signed and record them for free or next to nothing.
Also, when you approach them, be very specific and say that you would like to PRODUCE some songs for them.
Does the artist approach you with a set recording budget and you work with that, or do you just complete the album and discuss the financial end after everything is done?
Usually the budget is determined by the record label and all of the details, fees, points, etc are worked out before hand. It’s very bad in my opinion to try and work things out once everything is recorded because that’s just bad business practice, it’s not like people take their groceries home from the supermarket and then the store tells them what they owe.
What advice would you give to an upcoming artist trying to find the right producer for their debut record? What should they look for in the producer and how do they know when one is right for the job?
The advice I would give them is to ask me to do their album :) But if they’re not into that, make sure that your producer is someone who can work with your artistic goals. Also, make sure the producer is someone you can get along with personally, the result won’t be very satisfying if you hated the recording process.
I would suggest talking with potential producers and getting a vibe for them. While it’s important to note which albums a producer has worked on, it can be misleading. Mutt Lange was making Def Lepard records before he produced Shania Twain. Although I have worked with some “pop punk” bands, it doesn’t mean that’s my favorite kind of music, etc. So yea, I would say get to know the producer personally before you work with that person.
How do you pen an artist into your schedule and how do you determine the appropriate length for the recording of their record?
I like to mix up my time between producing/engineering and writing. So that helps determine which projects I work on when. I’ve got some co-writes coming out on albums that I didn’t even produce or engineer that are pop, folk, and blues rock artists.
The type of record determines the length of the recording process. It would make sense to spend 3 months on something like a Tool record, but a band like the Casualties would be better suited by a week-long recording.
Do producers/engineers ever get paid in royalties, or is it just an upfront fee?
Most times it’s a combination of both. Most engineers aren’t paid royalties, but there are exceptions – big mix engineers like Tom Lord-Alge and Andy Wallace get royalties on albums. For producers, they get a fee which is a recoupable advance on royalties. Once the producer’s royalties on album sales have exceeded the advance, then he/she begins to receive additional money.
At this stage of the game, do you only work with signed and established artists or are you open to working with unsigned artists?
A large majority of the artists I work with are signed, but if I find an amazing band that’s unsigned, I love helping that band develop their sound and their career. I worked with an unsigned band called Porcelain, from Australia, who are amazing and have now signed with Universal records. The whole experience has been a lot of fun.