I often get asked for advice on how to select a music producer to work with when recording music with the goal of licensing it, and in general what to look for in a producer. Over the years I’ve worked with a half dozen or so different music producers and I’ve had varying degrees of success with each of them.
The first producer I worked with who produced tracks I ended up successfully licensing was in 2002, in Chicago. This particular producer, who was referred to me through a mutual friend, was really talented, but he was also bat shit crazy and very difficult to work with. He also ended up being fairly expensive. He charged 40 dollars an hour at the time out his home, which isn’t too bad in the grand scheme of things, but he spent a lot of time on each track I recorded and it ended up adding up very fast. When I told him about my licensing success for the songs he produced, he informed me he was doubling his hourly rate, if I chose to continue working with him. I politely declined.
After that I found another producer through an ad I placed on Craigslist. This particular producer, Mike, had a home studio in his house where we worked on a number of tracks together. I explained my licensing success with Mike and told him the story about my previous producer and the falling out we had. Mike ended up graciously agreeing to produce my tracks for free in exchange for a percentage of any money I made. This arrangement worked great for a few years. Mike and I worked on a number of tracks together and accumulated several dozen placements over the next few years. Mike relocated from Chicago in 2007 and we gradually lost touch with each other. This was before tools like Facebook and Skype made it so easy to stay in touch.
Over the next few years I produced music either on my own or in one of several home studios that I used at the time. Although I still signed and licensed a good amount of music over the next few years, my success ratio diminished significantly compared to the previous five years. I struggled to maintain the same quantity and quality of output that I had previously and I also became extremely busy with other things as I launched my website, How To License Your Music.com, and grew the website to something that could comfortably sustain me. This took several years of very concentrated effort to realize and as my focus shifted more and more to helping other artists launch their own licensing careers, my own music was put somewhat on the backburner for a few years.
I don’t remember the exact year I connected with my current producer, Gary Gray. I believe it was in 2012. Gary initially took one of my courses and we hit it off in terms of our outlook about the business and our work ethic. We initially began collaborating by creating a course together about music production as it relates to music licensing. Then, motivated by the interest in our first course, we created another course about music mastering. A couple years ago I had Gary work on a few tracks I had already started but wasn't happy with, and over the last year or so Gary has become my full time producer.
Gary already had an impressive list of credits in both the licensing industry and beyond when we connected. He’s worked with and is friends with some of the greats like Quincy Jones and Barry Gordy. He’s had music placed in a wide range of projects including feature films, television and commercials and he's done live sound for some of the biggest acts around. [See his credits here]
Check out this recent video Gary made to learn more about what he’s been up to this year:
Working with Gary was a no-brainer. I sensed a growing interest in the topic of music production when we came together and knew I needed to bring someone on my team whose knowledge of music production surpasses my own. We’ve collaborated a lot since then and have scored a numbers of deals together since, including having a track placed in movie theaters around the USA as a part of licensing deal with AMC Theaters, getting music picked up by an Emmy award winning show on A&E and signing music with a half dozen or so different libraries and publishers this year. I also recently signed with an amazing agency that focuses on ads and commercials, an area I’ve been focusing more on this year. I’m confident this deal wouldn’t have happened had it not been for Gary’s help and his amazing production skills.
[Check out one of our latest tracks below]
When it comes to selecting a producer, here’s what I look for:
1) Someone who has licensing credits – If you want to license your music, then pick a producer who has a proven track record of producing tracks that have been licensed. Makes sense right? Production is really important when it comes to licensing your tracks and if you’re working with an outside producer you want to make sure they have the chops to produce your music for tv and films.
2) Someone who actually produces, not just mixes and masters – Producing music in a way that will work for licensing entails much more than just mixing and mastering a song so it sounds “good”. A real producer will also help you craft your songs in a way that make your tracks sound “current” and “modern”. A good producer will help you bring your songs and arrangements to life, as opposed to just hitting record and then mixing and mastering your tracks. I’ve worked with both types of producers and believe me, there’s a huge difference. A producer actually produces as opposed to just engineering. I give Gary full artistic control of my tracks in terms of production and what he thinks works best. We sometimes have differences, and of course he’ll make changes if I insist and sometimes I do have him make changes. But for the most part, I trust his judgement and nine out of ten times the results are better when I let him take the production reins.
3) Someone who is easy to work with – Like I said at the beginning of this post, my first producer was amazing as a producer and had a great sensibility for what worked production wise. But he was so crazy and unpredictable as a person that it made working with him a pain in the ass. It wasn’t fun and in the end he turned out to be an even bigger asshole than I initially thought. You’ll most likely be spending a lot of time interacting with the producer you pick, so make sure that you pick someone you resonate with, personality wise. It will make a big difference when it comes to the final product.
4) Someone who is flexible – It’s also important to work with someone who is flexible. Gary has been super cool about compensating him for his work and he’s always been reasonable about money. I won’t go into the terms of our arrangement, since that’s between the two of us, but it’s more than fair and works for both of us. This is in stark contrast to my first producer who tried to double his rate when he learned of my initial success. I’m interested in developing long term relationships with people and I always look for people who are going to be easy to work with and fair. Gary and I are currently finishing a new, ten track CD of all new songs that I’ve written this year that Gary has arranged and produced. I’m ecstatic about how the new tracks are sounding and the feedback we’ve been getting is amazing.
Here’s a new song we just finished a few days ago called “Shooting Stars”. Let Gary and I know what you think in the comments!
For more information about Gary Gray and to get in touch, visit http://learnaudioengineering.net/
See all of our courses here: http://www.howtolicenseyourmusic.com/online-store.php
The blog of musician and thinker of deep thoughts, Aaron Davison.