“I see it, I see it
I swear I do
I see extraordinary magic in you”Ben Shive/Ben Rector
What is your favorite part about yourself?
Perhaps, you have the following dilemma as an artist, or even as an individual discovering your purpose…that you have come to the point where there are bits and puzzles pieces of things you are passionate about, or a cacophony of skill-sets you have, or want to have, to the point that you are not sure how to hone in on your thing. Here’s the thing, there is something extraordinary within you, and me, and God knows exactly what that is. He placed it there, after all.
Ben Shive is one of those guys that has honed into his marketable skill as a producer and studio musician, yet, he also has some other notable skillsets that are not obsolete, and actually enhance his primary role, such as a poetic gifting he utilized to write one of the popular songs sung by Ben Rector (quoted above, “Extraordinary Magic”). Ben Shive did not say all of that, but I gathered it as a personal lesson from a talk he gave to my school on October 18th, 2021.
As I observe people who are successful at what they do, I imagine what it must have been like to be just starting out, unsure of where God will lead them, and then I am encouraged. One day, even today, I will be walking out a purpose for which only I was designed. When you decide to take the dive and market one specific thing you are passionate about, you are not giving up the other passions, at least not completely. There are creative ways you will utilize all of what you are passionate about, and those little skills, ideas and characteristics you have, no matter how obscure and seemingly unrelated, to set yourself apart in your field of interest. Because those idiosyncrasies inevitably make up who you are. This is about thinking like an entrepreneur. Ultimately, however, you must surrender each desire and plan to God and ask for His direction.
That was a tidbit of encouragement to start off a series of posts based on presentations and interviews I have had with commercial music gurus. On deck are Jackie Patillo (Gospel Music Association), Leonard Ahlstrom, and a couple of folks from Michael W. Smith’s team. Disclaimer, I am sharing notes from the sessions I attended with them, thus, the words I share are mostly useful advices from the information they shared, non-verbatim.
One major theme I got from Ben Shive’s talk was the importance of networking in a musical community where the people have shared values. He also mentioned listening to music with “a high musical IQ” He has been influenced by artists and groups (some even collaborated with) such as Rich Mullens, Mark Classen, Andrew Peterson, Ed Cash, Colony House Records, J.J. Heller, George Martin, Harry Connick Jr., Spike Jones, Paul Simon, Rick Ruben, and Dave Barnes. One of the most impactful opportunities was working with Brown Banister, his daughter Ellie Holcomb, Amy Grant, and Michael W. Smith. Although Ben Shive’s background as a classically trained jazz pianist certainly helped land him excellent opportunities, he observed other important factors in play when it comes to playing gigs.
Here are some isolated notes for studio pianists/keyboardists as well as for aspiring producers:
Be humble and have a workable/teamwork attitude, know when and what to play, remember what you play…
Do not rely on the instrument, but try to make a melody
Listen to things with a high musical IQ
Learn to be dumber with your playing keys, especially if you are trained classically/jazz because nobody needs that for most records. (think diamond chords, which is particularly encouraging, as you do not have to be impressive, just functional).
Keyboard as an arranger: voice lead, avoid the vocal line, and know where the melody sits in the register so that you can compliment the vocal line
Arrange as a keyboardist: Arrange on the individual instruments’ terms, think “What are these instruments doing?”
Dynamics: What did I do last? You have to remember what you did and change just when it is needed
Do the right thing at the right time, and remember, silence can be just as dynamic; listent to your band mates!
In session playing, be able to receive correction, and be able to hang with what’s going on musically (be skillful/astute as needed), chord on 1st try, and be able to play it back on repeat in the other room if needed
Have technical proficiency, good ear, and think like a part-writer
Production & Technology
Producers do not need to know everything, but they do need to know how to build a team, it’s just cheaper to know more and hire less. 🧐
Be there for the artist: make them feel like a queen or king; the artist needs a chance to be heard; Create rapport with your artist
Have processes in place that never waste money
Producers attract certain types of artists due to the producer’s style
Make one decision at a time, to find out what the artist is NOT
>rather than trying to adjust the whole band at once
>and having references from the artist is helpful, especially when they do not know how to communicate verbally what they want to hear
Any programming should fit with the style of the producer and the band members
Know how to get on the talkback mic, to help get good vocals out of the artist (include very specific instructions and a compliment, so that it is constructive)
If at all possible, try to have session players whom the artist knows
Be assertive, but aiming to please. There will also be a frank exchange of ideas occasionally
Think about tempo, key signature, feel, and form; have quality pre-production
You’re getting somewhere once you feel the emotion when you listen to the artist; “lights are on”
You do not have to be an audiophile, as being a producer is more about workflow
If you are using live piano, it should only be right before the MIX; find what you want to do on a piano sample as it’s easier to adjust before mixing.
Remember what you did last time, talk numbers, and shape the tones you play
As a producer, you will use: subtractive synthesis, juno emulator, oscillators, and signal chains (to shape tone with reverb and delay)
Bonus Note for Artists
You can make a record off of nothing
Play shows and build a following, then think about a budget for an album
If you have any questions about the notes above, please comment below
And I would love to know, are you an aspiring or already established musician or producer? Could you add some tips or questions related to anything mentioned in this post? 🙂
P.S. I am late for my second #bloganuary post, as it is now technically day three