Producing a song can be tough. There are so many factors that need to be balanced together to give a song its maximum emotional impact. The individual instruments, the use of effects, and even the mixing/mastering all have to work together to create a consistent emotional experience.
If you tend to write songs with a particular style in mind then the production process is easier. An acoustic “singer songwriter” artist may only require a consistent treatment…their voice, some guitar(s), and possibly light percussion backing. The production creativity rests with what you do with the pre-determined instrumentation you were already expecting to use and how it’s mixed.
But many “pop artists” have an evolving repertoire that will keep you on edge as a producer. I find that I am constantly looking for new ways to “repurpose” the same instruments [incl. sample libraries and synthesizers], or better yet, to find new and interesting ones that will ensure my productions sound fresh. Each person also has a certain way of thinking that can yield productions that sound different…yet are similar. And that can be good or bad depending on artist expectations and what you want to achieve.
[NB: It’s why I never take it personally when an artist moves on or works with multiple producers. Producers are as much a tool as the tools a producer uses.]
So on any given project, I am balancing these elements…
A great song example of this balancing act is Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball”. The song is about diving into a relationship head first and trying to get someone to open up who doesn’t really want to. So the production needs to get this feeling across…. of “diving head first”, “bursting into a relationship”, and most aptly “to be a wrecking ball”.
In other words, the production needs to hit you like a wrecking ball.
And the producers get this across wonderfully. The song starts off delicate with plucked synthesizers and soft (-ish) singing in the verse and pre-chorus…..followed by brief silence, and… *bam!* Miley and the production hit you in the face with a sucker punch for the chorus. That nice round juicy kick says it all.
Would the song have had the same impact if it was produced with up-sweeps in the pre-chorus, or maybe a more acoustic style kick sample? Not really…if anything, these changes would have blunted the recording. The production wouldn’t hit you like the wrecking ball that the song is about and so the record wouldn’t be as satisfying to the listener.
So when producing a song, the most important thought in my mind is how to ensure that the carpet matches the drapes. If the song calls for impact then figure out what musical elements are going to hit people in the head. If it’s an urban song that has edge and attitude then think about what synthesizer patches will contribute to that edgy vibe.
Someone’s built a house (the song) and you need to dress it up with the decor (the production). You can be as generic or unique as you want to be. Just make sure that the production does the song justice.