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Sound Advice

Some Tips For Writer/Producers

By Erik Alcock

Erik Alcock

I’ve been a professional songwriter for 12 or 13 years. When I first started, you’d write a song, you’d work it all out, you’d work on an arrangement, and then and only then would you find a studio, rent out a block of time, and hire a producer to record a demo. But nowadays, since everyone can have a studio on their laptop, that model has changed. Now, you can literally be recording while writing, and as a result, writers (like me) have had to embrace and learn more about production than past generations were expected to. And it’s fantastic.

Sometimes, Producing Is Writing

By the old model, writers were writers and producers were producers. Nowadays, since so much of popular music is done in the box and based off of samples or MIDI programs, I find the instrumental hook and sound of a track can be a big part of the song itself. Most sessions you do nowadays with a producer, they will take a portion of the writing, as well as the production credit. Generally, this does not apply to rock producers or anyone producing a live band. Some of the old-school guys balk at this concept and say, “Well, that isn’t fair and that is a different part of the pie.” But having seen it in action – and it obviously depends on the individual case – there are many producers who I feel absolutely deserve a writing credit because the song wouldn’t be the same without them.

Have Basic Templates As Starting Points For Sessions

This is something any aspiring producer can do in their own time. I’ll have five or six different drum kits that I’ve created that I know are good starting places for different types of songs. I’ll do the same thing with vocal settings and have a few go-to templates that I will then tweak for the individual singer but that offer a good starting point.

When you’re writing while recording, you don’t want to stop the writing process for too long to be able to get the idea across. The writer may say, “This verse is going to be great but it has to be warm and have a delay and then when the pre-chorus comes in, there is going to be a background vocal that is edgier and harder. Then, when the chorus comes in, it all comes together.” You don’t want to have the person do the vocal and then say, “Can you give me 20 minutes to make this sound the way I want it to?” Use templates and tweak afterwards to keep everything moving and to avoid breaking the writer’s creative flow.

Don’t Get In The Way Of The Performance

I used to stop vocalists if they made a mistake. That can be a bad idea because you may get something natural and great, and you can always go back and have them punch a word or two. Even if it’s a little bit out of tune or out of time, sometimes the feeling and performance can overcome that. Grammy-winning producer/mixer/engineer David Bottrill once told me about recording guitars, “The perfect tone will never make up for the wrong guitar part, but a great performance can make up for the wrong tone.” I feel that way about vocals.

How To Ruin A Session

If you’re recording and the song is already written, something I’ve seen producers do is let it show if they don’t think it’s going well. If an artist is already feeling a little unsure about a part or the way they’re playing guitar or performing a vocal and you do not think it is going to work, you should do everything in your power to not communicate that. You could be wrong and it could end up being really good. It is so easy to insert that seed of doubt and then the person will think, “Oh god, maybe I suck” and end it. If you let the idea run its course and it’s not working, then you can suggest something.

Also, during writing/recording sessions, if you take too long and start getting too nit-picky, you can ruin the flow. It is so much about the flow and capturing a moment. If you overthink that or are not prepared, you can miss it. And you always want to be recording and never delete anything. A great example of this is Neil Young’s Tonight’s the Night. The story I heard is that he showed his band the songs then suggested they run them. Unbeknownst to the band, the engineer was recording the whole time and that first, raw run through was what they used for most of the record.

Erik Alcock is a Toronto songwriter and producer and a member of the Los Angeles-based group The New Royales. The New Royales have worked together as producers and songwriters for artists such as Eminem, Pitbull, Pink, 50 Cent, Dr. Dre, and more. Erik can be reached at erikalcock@gmail.com.

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