Producing a song can be a lot of fun. Layering sounds, adding little bits of guitar in the background, ratcheting up the vocal effects. When you are feeling the groove of a song, it all seems to come together effortlessly….until you near completion of the mix. In those final auditions, you start to wonder if all the elements that made you fall in love with the song are still there.
This happens to me all the time. You want the recording to be as good as it can be and in all that enthusiasm you end up overdoing it.
Production at its best simply frames the song. It provides a backdrop to enhance the emotion the audience should be feeling. But it’s very easy to overdo the production and lose the beauty of the melody or lyrics that you worked so hard to create. Especially when an audience is coming in cold to your record, it’s harder for them to “get it” with all the distraction of a big production around it.
To give credit where it’s due, I don’t think this really sunk in for me until I read a songwriter advice column by Holly Knight.
As an example of where a full production might have ‘gone too far’, here is a song I recently produced called “What I Can’t Have (feat. Aaron Davis)”:
When I listen to the song, I get it immediately because I’ve heard the track hundreds of times over. But someone coming in to the track for the first time has all the production to contend with. If you’re a commercial artist and your record is being worked on radio, it’s less of a problem because you’ve got repetition on your side. Someone may not get it the first time but on subsequent listens the song has a much greater chance of sticking.
My thought on this is that people are more likely to get the song if you strip it down to its core elements:
So does it pay to do a full production all the time? I think it’s good to take the production as far as you can take it, but then challenge yourself towards the end by soloing the vocal and adding back elements one by one. The vocal should sound great “a cappella”, and then each element you add should bump up the experience.
As they say, “less is more”.
Unless you are Yngwie Malmsteen.