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The New World of Recording: How to Find the Right Producer

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Producer Billy Bush (The Boxer Rebellion, Neon Trees, Garbage, The Naked and Famous)

As the world of music has continued to change drastically over the past 10 or so years, it’s no secret that musicians have been left with the stale bath water of the old industry model, trying to figure out how to toss the water and keep the baby, so to speak.

This week we wanted to hone in on the topic of the producer. The diminishing of the traditional recording model has undoubtedly given power to the home studio and shifted, even diversified, the role of the producer. We wanted to know how the home studio has changed recording, how to find the best producer, what an artist should bring to a producer, if pre-production matters and more.

We pitched some questions to producer/engineer/mixer Billy Bush* (The Boxer Rebellion, Neon Trees, Garbage, The Naked and Famous), who works with full-service management company GPS to see what producers offer the modern, more autonomous artist and how you can find the best one for your next project.

How have you seen the role of the producer change in the past 20 years with the advent of the home recording studio?

In a way, it’s gone back to where it was in the beginning, where the producer was responsible for nearly everything related to process of writing, recording and releasing music. You see many more producers who are capable of performing practically every role in the process. They are as capable engineering a drum sound as they are writing, arranging and performing all the instrumentation for the track. The role can also extend to the more traditionally A&R or label role of discovery/development/signing of talent.

Is there a secret to finding the best producer for a specific project?

Each project has its own set of needs whether it be musical or psychological, so it’s a matter of finding the right combination of ingredients to help facilitate the artistic vision. Some projects require more musical or sonic assistance, while some artists need someone to help them feel comfortable while stepping out of their comfort zone. It’s important for everyone involved to understand what the artist is trying to achieve before figuring out who is best suited for the task.

How important is the artist/producer relationship in your opinion?

The relationship is incredibly important, as it is one of the most intimate relationships you can have. Helping someone achieve their artistic vision requires trust and communication that needs to exist from the very beginning of the process and that can be incredibly difficult to establish.

Do you think the DIY movement is a good thing for producers?

I think it’s good for music in general, as the more educated music makers are about every element of the process, the stronger the industry will be. [The] more educated [artists are] about how music is distributed and where the money goes, the less likelihood there is that musicians will be taken advantage of. I think demystifying the process is a good thing.

Digital vs. analog? What is your preference and why?

It shouldn’t be an either/or thing. Both are great mediums for what they do, and we shouldn’t try to make one do what the other is great at. It also very much depends on the type of music one is trying to record.

What should an artist bring to the table before working with a producer? Ideas? Finished songs? Demos?

It really depends on how the artist creates their music and the type of producer they are working with, as it’s all about getting across what they are trying to accomplish. Some relationships require more collaboration from the beginning of the songwriting process, and others are more of a supporting role. If it can be communicated with some loose ideas, then great, and if not then maybe it takes demos or a finished song to get it across.

How important is pre-production?

Given the budgets these days, it’s can be the best money spent. If you can be prepared going into the studio, you can get a whole lot more done in a day than if you go in and try to figure it out on the fly.

Do you think traditional albums are dying? If so, are you excited to work on more singles, EP’s and/or other types of projects?

I am still a fan of the idea of the album as long as it has coherency to it. Less so if it’s a collection of the best handful of songs that someone has at that moment in time. But I do feel like there is no better way to express emotion than in a well-thought-out and executed album.

If you could wave a magic wand and change anything about the music business or the business of making music, what would you change?

I would try to return the industry to its roots of allowing artists to grow and evolve. I think we do society a disservice by making artists so expendable. If you were to imagine where the world would be without all the great artists that didn’t really hit their stride until their third, fourth -- or, in the case of Pink Floyd -- their eighth album, it would be much less interesting world.

*Billy Bush is a highly acclaimed record producer, engineer and mixer. Bush has worked with the likes of The Boxer Rebellion, Neon Trees, Garbage and The Naked and Famous to name a few. In addition to his work as a producer and mixer, Billy Bush joined the band Garbage on tour to help reconcile the band’s technology needs with their live performance – pushing the boundaries of and blurring the lines between live performance and the recorded domain. Billy Bush is currently producing, engineering and mixing the forthcoming Boxer Rebellion album, and recently mixed the No. 1 single “Everybody Talks” by Neon Trees.

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