15 tips from music producers who’ve changed the game

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Music producer tips from Eno, Deadmau5 and Spector

[This article, which originally appeared on the LANDR Blog, was written by Rory Seydel, a musician and Brand and Community Manager at LANDR.]

In an era where one billion new songs are produced every nanosecond, it’s more important than ever to find your own sound.

After all, it’s what makes you stand out.

So here are some quotes from the music producers who’ve changed the game, to inspire you in your own sound journey.

[Editor’s note: all of the following quotes are from male music producers, which points to two problems — 1) music production is still a male-dominated industry, with as few as 5% of producers being female, and 2) we need to do a better job of highlighting the production work of women. Check out THIS ARTICLE for a list of women who’ve produced classic rock, pop, folk, and hip hop records.  And THIS ARTICLE for a list of current female producers/artists in the world of EDM. And THIS article, where 13 women talk about how to change male-dominated studio culture. Now, with that being said…]

Phil Spector

“I felt obligated to change music to art, the same way that Galileo proved the Earth was round to the world and that the Sun did not stand still.”

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“There was a time when the Stones were really writing contributions. See that’s a big word to me – contributions. ‘Satisfaction’ was a contribution…. You have a time when they were contributing all of it. Everything was contribution. They’ll go down as a contribution. They’ll be listed as a contributing force in music. An important influence.”

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Gold Panda

“I don’t have a studio. I just make it in my room, next to by bed. I really like that. I like there to be a window and light. I couldn’t work in a studio. I’d hate it, and the tracks — well, I’ve tried, and it just doesn’t work. I’m not really a person who’s into the studio thing. I like it to be a living room with a studio in the corner. I can just go and get a cup of tea or watch a bit of TV when I’m doing something.”

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Brian Eno

“In the 1960s when the recording studio suddenly really took off as a tool, it was the kids from art school who knew how to use it, not the kids from music school. Music students were all stuck in the notion of music as performance, ephemeral. Whereas for art students, music as painting? They knew how to do that.”

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Deadmau5

“I’m really big on advocating technology, especially to my younger audience who wants to get into music production and stuff like that.”

“I don’t want you to fake your way through life and have this contrived career thinking that you’re going to make a million dollars being a DJ. The message really is that you’ve gotta put in the work.”

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“If wealth means being able to create something, and have a self sustainable business, even if a profit margin is extremely minimal…AND everyone’s having fun…then fuck it. I’m having a great time then.”

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Rick Rubin

“Before Def Jam, hip-hop records were typically really long, and they rarely had a hook. Those songs didn’t deliver in the way the Beatles did. By making our rap records sound more like pop songs, we changed the form. And we sold a lot of records.”

“….I try to get the artist to feel like they are writing songs for the ages rather than songs for an album. As they write, they come over and play the songs for me. For some reason, most people will write 10 songs and think, That’s enough for a record, I’m done. When they play the songs for me, invariably the last two songs they’ve written are the best. I’ll then say, ‘You have two songs, go back and write eight more.’ ”

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Flying Lotus

“Before saying This track is so dope, it’s gonna go on the album, I like to take some time away from it and see how I feel about it in a few months. If it’s gonna get released, I gotta love it; it’s gonna have my name on it forever.”

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“It’s okay to not be working all the time, and to be gentle on yourself when you’re not. When it feels like you’re losing that inspiration—or you’re in a rut, not making stuff, and your head gets all weird—be gentle on yourself. Just ease into things naturally. But you still have to ease into it, you still have to sit in the chair. You can’t just expect things to happen, but do it gently.”

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Audion (Matthew Dear)

“Sometimes the story itself hardly matters. The words and phrases, from their connotations to their purely phonetic properties, function like the loops in techno.”

“I was naive and so in love with the idea of a movement and a cultural force. Before that, I was really into 60s rock, but once I found rave and dance music, I found it to be my generation’s version of what I loved about the 60s.”

“There are those who claim dance music culture has lost that sense of movement, that sense of extra-cultural enlightenment. I don’t wanna say there’s no movement, because that’s too naive. You’re just too-cool-for-school if you think that. Something is happening. Something is always happening. The present day is always the best time to be alive. If it’s not, you need to open your eyes because you’re not going backwards. You can’t live in the future. If you can’t make your movement, you don’t deserve it.”

“The most uncomfortable moments tend to lead to awkward beauty. Every time is a total crapshoot, man. You can sit at a computer or a guitar for eight hours straight, and if the magic’s not there, the magic’s not there. You just have to be open to it when it comes.”

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George Martin

“I’ve always regarded technology as a tool. When I first started using automation and computers, I insisted that they should still be tools, and that the synthesizer should be an instrument. I’ve always liked the combination of synthesized sound with natural sound. That happens to be my taste. A purely synthetic sound tends to be a little bit too sterile for me.

I just think a budding record producer should keep an open mind always, examine every kind of music, and appraise the good in everything, rather than channel himself too much in one direction.”

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Steve Albini

“Know what you’re trying to do before you do it. Turning knobs at random isn’t enlightening any more than throwing paint at a wall blindfolded will let you paint a nice picture.”

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Skrillex

“I think the biggest piece of advice I can give anybody about audio is don’t pretend to be a snob. Know what you know, and be ready to admit that there are things you don’t know. It’s okay to know that something sounds good, but don’t convince yourself that things are good when they’re not.”

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Geoff Barrow

“I really wish autotune would die. It’s not even funny anymore”

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“you don’t need to overindulge musically to create emotion.”

“When you’re really young, you don’t really notice music in the same way and then there’s this realisation – ‘That’s a song.’ I was scared by it, but I felt intrigued by it too.”

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Who are your favorite producers, and what do you love about their approach to music-making? Let us know in the comments below.

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  • TEAB

    “Be conscious of conformity” – Hawk Toof

  • Rida Bone

    Taking 2015 summer out with my new smash hit single “A$$ Galore” HotMusikZone!!! Getn Great Reviews from fans around the globe..Turn Up!! https://soundcloud.com/bonefideent/a-galore-rida-bone

  • Al Walser

    great notes …what i kept hearing and really works for me is to not force anything upon music, just listen what it needs …one of the hardest things out there, especially in today’s world where we have access to so many tools, is to learn that less is often more. It’s always harder for me to strip away than to add, especially when you’re in creative mode and you got a million ideas to add to the picture. ~ Al

  • BoboSwenson

    I couldn’t disagree with Steve Albini’s advice more. There are countless classic recordings and songs that would never have been made if the artists followed his advice and didn’t allow themselves to follow some crazy indefinable feeling into the darkness that ultimately led them to a masterpiece.
    “Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm”- Winston Churchill.

  • Flab Oy

    I would love to ask Propellerheads to make a Figure a bit more advanced piece of music software – I need to add vocals and I’d love to have song composer so I could join all the small songs (tracks, patterns…). Please!!!! I love Take but would be better to mix both and add some features.

  • DeborahHenson-Conant

    “Please let there be at least one powerful woman on this list” I said to myself before clicking the link. Please tell me there was, and I just missed them?

    • Oh wow. That’s a pretty glaring oversight. I’m sorry about that. It’s a guest post, so I was mostly paying attention to editing typos and such. I suppose this points to two problems: 1) music production is still a male-dominated field (one study shows only 5% of music producers are female), and 2) neither the author or I noticed. I’ll address this in an editor’s note at the beginning of the article and link to some sites that highlight notable female producers.

      ChrisRobley

      • DeborahHenson-Conant

        Thank Chris. Much appreciated. One way to change the reality of the status quo is to illuminate the outlyers. Thanks for helping to do that!

        • Sure thing. Sorry I didn’t think to do it before publishing the article.

          @ChrisRobley

          • Kevin Chang

            Oh you pussy, man up will you? Just listen to yourself fold like a house of cards because of one feminist’s complaints.

            “Please let there be at least one powerful woman on this list” – who cares? Gosh you people are obsessed with gender and race. It’s starting to get really sickening.

            Ladies, you want to change the status quo? Simple – start making more music.

          • I didn’t “fold.” That would mean I had some stubborn resistance to her claims. I acknowledged her concerns, and as a feminist, I agreed with them.

            Yesterday was the 95th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, which all came down to one man’s vote in Tennessee who was personally against women’s suffrage but voted in favor at the last minute because his mom pressured him. THAT is how close we (men) were to NOT letting women vote.

            I mean, it would’ve happened eventually, but my point is, it’s been less than 100 years since Americans took it as a given that women should have the right to vote. A lot has changed in 100 years, but a lot hasn’t.

            I say until we can take it as a given that women (who are 50% of the population) can pass through all social, economic, and political thresholds without having to leap over barriers based on sexism, then hooray to our readers who point out bias, and who actively encourage more women to get involved in music production, or any field that remains, by and large, a boy’s club.

            @ChrisRobley

    • Christine Infanger

      Not many women in the industry side of music, even fewer in the tech/production side. I work really hard to get more female types involved but were grossly underrepresented.

      • esolesek

        Some women are very tenacious, but its a minority, just like few men are tenacious, and that’s what it takes to be an artist. I think its ridiculous to blame men for the lack of women in the arts (and in visual arts, there is no longer a lack). There is some other reason, mostly I think it’s that women need to feel special to justify their place in the world, and can’t take the evisceration of ego that comes with being an artist. There are always exceptions, and women are ultimately more durable than men in many ways once they find themselves, but women don’t like to be critiqued, and this society keeps telling them all they do is great just for being women, and that kind of automatic A-OK doesn’t fly in the arts, where you have to relentlessly self-examine. Plus, almost all great artists put family second, and that isn’t how women are wired in general.

    • Jason McNinch
  • Merrill

    I’m curious how most of these “game changing” producers have actually changed the game? Rick Rubin? Yes. Phil Spector? Yes. George Martin? Yes. Most of the rest? Not as much. Where’s T-Bone Burnett or Dr. Dre?

  • Sheryl Diane

    Yeah where’s Kate Bush.

  • Two of my favorite producers right now are Michael Elvis Baskette and Howard Benson. They know very well how to treat each instrument individually (including the vocals) and then mix them together to create a hard rock ‘sound’. Each band has its own imprint on the world and they still allow that to stamp its grooves onto the record. They keep the cookie cutter sound from happening.

  • I hardly see education, encouragement, or support (which I assume is what Christine is offering) as an intrusion into people’s lives, especially in a profession where many doors have unwritten “no girls allowed” signs hanging above them. I mean, obviously there are plenty of female music producers, but they’re the exception to the rule. Only 5%! That’s terrible when women are 50% of the population.

    @ChrisRobley

    • Christine Infanger

      Exactly, Chris. I’m an advocate, consultant, and mentor. It’s not like I’m dragging women out of their chosen professions and forcing the music industry upon them.

  • travelergtoo

    Dre Is a scumbag that likes to beat up on women.

    • Vas Deferens

      So was James Brown. So was Ike Turner. So is Sean Connery. Jimmy Page is a hebephile and statutory rapist. As is Roman Polanski. At what point should we stop differentiating between a person and their work?

      • travelergtoo

        His music sucks too. The ones you listed don’t have any good works.

  • esolesek

    Skrillex, unusually for a young person, really does nail one of the biggest pitfalls of not just musicians, but all artists. Most makers imagine the feelings they want their music to create, instead of listening to what is actually happening. Art is the same way. The biggest trick for an artist is to view and hear their work for what is actually is. This may be a bummer, and you don’t want that bummer to make you stop (although smart people often do stop, and lots of terrible artists never face the reality that they are not moving forward), but if you can’t judge things objectively, you cannot improve and fix what’s wrong. This is also where getting critiques by supportive pros with experience is worth seeking AND listening to.