Peter Ganbarg, 4.16.04
RB: Now I know you’ve covered a lot of genres and you’ve covered a lot of different ways of working with producers. Am I correct in thinking that?
PG: Oh sure.
RB: What are the qualities you value in a producer? What do you look for?
PG: I think it’s combination of what they’re going to bring creatively and add sonically. You want someone who has the chops of an engineer and the creativity of a musician. The combination of both. Basically we take all the raw material we have from the artist and obviously that all different, but we try to match it up as best we can.
RB: Do you tend to use engineer/producers more than just straight producers?
PG; Obviously it depends on the project and if the songs are great and you need to improve them sonically then you need an engineer. But sometimes you need somebody to bring something musical whether it’s to actually play on the record or work on the arrangements a bit more.
RB: Can you tell me more about the process of picking a producer?
PG: It’s a very fun process for an A&R person because all A&R people should be music junkies and this is an opportunity to go through their music collection and say, OK, this act that I’ve just signed really owes a lot to these types of songs or these types of artists and usually there are two or three names that keep popping up with the music that you feel is a kindred spirit to the artist you signed. So when you’re signing an act and looking for producers, you start making a wish list. The wish list is five names, ten names, fifteen names. You have the band do one as well and you cross reference the lists. You come up with a final wishlist of maybe half a dozen names. And then you send the band’s best recorded material out to the guys on the list and you wait for feedback. Usually what happens, depending on what era you are in, say now for instance, if the band is half decent all the producers are going to say I’m in, because they want the gig. Usually they’ll respond based on the merits of the music. If they are interested they may want to speak with the band and they may want to see the band perform. [At this point] you start talking to them about what they would do and what do you think of this song or the arrangement on that song. Listening to this style of music who do think you would want to work with as an engineer? What type of studio do you think is the right type of environment for these types of songs? Stuff like that. Basically, it’s a feeling out process between the artist, the A&R person and the producer and you find the right fit. Kind of like dating girl and getting married, on a per album basis.
RB: Do you find generally you get the producers you want?
PG: Generally, and it’s always been this way, there’s an A list, a B list and a C list. What happens is that the guys on the A list are harder to get than the guys on the B list because everyone wants the guys on the A list. So there are certain producers, in my career, that have never produced a record for me but I’ve always tried. They’re just too busy or they don’t connect with that style of music or whatever.
RB: Do formal qualifications play any part in the selection process of a producer?
PG: Like their resume?
RB: More like degrees or musical qualifications or those things?
PG: No. You could be an unemployed high school drop out and produce a great record, everyone’s going to want that guy. You could be musically illiterate as long as the record sounds great and you come up with amazing stuff, that’s what people are looking for. They’re looking for the magic that they hear on certain records, so if you’re a fan of a certain act and you’re looking at the record and it’s magical. If you can discern that has as much to do with the producer as the band. You have to careful, because sometimes you see a credit on a record for someone you don’t recognize, you go out looking for them and it turns out they were just a friend of the band and the band did all the work. You have to be careful to do your homework.
RB: We all hear stories about the producers who aren’t really there and, in some cases, never show up at all. And every record that has their name is a great record. Is that a problem you come across?
PG: I haven’t come across a lot of those situations. I know people who have, but I‘ve been lucky the guys I’ve hired are the ones making the record.
RB: You wouldn’t have a problem working with someone like that if in the end you got a good result?
PG: No, there are certain people on the AAA list who make great records, but have reputation for not showing up that much. At the end of the day it comes down to the artist’s comfort level with that and the end result of how the album sounds. If the record sounds great then who cares if they’re not there. Generally if you have an insecure artist making their first record they are going to need some hand holding in the studio with someone who’s been around and knows the ropes.
RB: Do you have any idea of how that works? Are they just extremely good managers of talent and find good engineers and people who are willing to go in the studio and make the record for them?
PG: I think like a movie director or anybody in that type of creative role where the buck stops with them, I think everyone has different ways of managing and some guys are Svengali-like, in a good way. They’ll sit with an artist in the beginning, in pre-production and map everything out with the engineers there and their vision is basically seen out by the engineers and the band during the recording. They’ll stop by and say yeah I like this maybe you should do that and then they’ll come back a week later. That works for some people.
RB: That category of producer I call Merlin in the book. It’s usually a conceptual type. There’s a few guys out there who have tremendous amounts of influence without actually being in the studio. How much influence does the manager and the artist have in choosing the producer in your experience?
PG: The more cachet the artist has, whether or not they have sold records in the past or there’s a bidding war for the band and they have creative control written in to the contract as a consequence. It depends, it’s on a sliding scale. A new band without competition that’s just happy to have a record deal has less clout deciding who is going to produce their record than an artist who is very much in demand or who has a track record. Generally, in a perfect world, the A&R guy, sometimes the president of the label, and the manager collectively decide who to work with. Which is why I do the wish list. And what you like to see is when your names and the band’s overlap and those are the people worth pursuing.
RB: Do you have to really push a specific producer over the artist’s choice sometimes?
PG: Sometimes. It’s amazing how many bands want Nigel Godrich to produce their record. Even though he has nothing to do musically with what they are doing. Nine times our of ten any rock band that gets signed, the names on their list are going to Nigel Godrich, Rick Rubin, Brendan O’Brien and producers like that. Whether or not those names are relevant to what they’re doing. They’re going to be on the list because they make amazing records. If you’re a fan of rock music and you listen to Radiohead, System of a Down, Pearl Jam or Rage against the Machine why wouldn’t you want those guys on your list.
RB: How important is it to you that producers have recent hits?
PG: I think that it doesn’t hurt. It’s more of a smart choice if you’ve got somebody with a hot hand. I, personally, have been burned by going after the producer who hasn’t had a hit in a while thinking that it’s just been the projects, not the producer. I brought a guy out of retirement because I thought the records he made back in the day were so amazing that there was no way we could miss with my artist and this producer. Not only did we miss but the record never came out because it was so bad.
RB: Do you think that’s because partly you don’t have the marketing clout with a producer who hasn’t had a hit?
PG: Not necessarily. It always comes back to the creative record making process, specifically the record just wasn’t good not the marketability of the producer. If you have a name like Nigel Godrich or Rick Rubin attached to your debut album, you’re probably going to get more people interested and wanting to listen to it. You will have the promotion people hyping them up. But at the end of the day, if the song is good, who cares?
RB: You look at band like Creed who came out of nowhere with a no name producer, so it happens. But it doesn’t hurt to have the marketability.
PG: At the end of the day 99% of the people buying the record have no idea and/or don’t care who produced it. It either sounds good or it doesn’t.
RB: Well, the industry cares. Do you think radio doesn’t care?
PG: I think there are certain of the gatekeepers who care. But so what, it’s up to us to make the record and let them come around as opposed to, we have to get this guy to produce the record because that’s the only way that KROQ will play it.
RB: How much do you find it helps selling the album internally if you have a big name producer?
PG: I think it doesn’t hurt but I’ve seen a big name producer come in and make the wrong record. Everyone gets excited in the beginning because you got the name producer but when they start hearing the record and playing it for people if they are not getting the reaction they want it doesn’t matter who produced it at that point.
RB: On the flipside, what about producers who have never had hits? Young guy? Is that exciting to you?
PG: Sometimes. I think that everybody needs a break. There are different kinds of A&R people. There are always the ones who have got to get the big guys but the industry has changed. Now there is no such thing as a half a million dollar recording budget for a new band. What you’re seeing now is wow this guy sounds really good, let’s give him seventy-five grand, fifty grand, thirty grand and make a great sounding record.
RB: But you wouldn’t walk up to Santana or Mariah Carey with an unknown producer, but you might with an unknown rock band?
PG: It really depends, if you get the sense from somebody that he’s really the right person for the job, there’s no reason not to hire him. I think days of needing a certain name are a little out of the window because of the financial realities of the business right now.
RB: So how do you best get started as a producer you think? For you, is it a great song, or how the record sounds? What do you like in a producer?
PG: I found a band at Sony who’s demo was fantastic. It was ‘who did the demos, who did the demos, who did the demos.’ We were all agreed that the demos were great but at the time we were shooting for the moon trying to get the biggest producer we could get and we did. At the same time there was a ricochet effect for the young demo producer when I sent the demos around, the producer managers all asked who did them, I started giving out his name and now he’s represented by one of the bigger producer managers in the business and he’s producing records for major labels. So maybe that’s a way, if you can’t get in the front door you get in the back door.
RB: Is it ever disappointing when you get the masters back from the big name producer.
Yeah that usually happens [laughs]. What happens is when you sign a band and getting ready to record the first album, the world is your oyster. It can’t get any better the demos are great the album is going to be great we’re going to get the best guy and stars are in everybody’s eyes. There is a tendency to try to beat everything that you have. Sometimes there is disappointment, you have the fresh, unique spin on the demo and the high priced producer comes in, tweaks a couple of things and the original magic from the demos disappears.
RB: Well, you remember the days when a demo had to be re-produced and now you can just transfer the demo and build on it. Does that change things or not?
PG: Yeah obviously now anybody can make a record and that wasn’t the case ten years ago. You don’t have to be a producer to produce a record anymore. You can just be a band that’s good with a computer and Protools and you can make a record that’s as good sounding in terms of pure sonics as a good portion of the engineers who are out there doing this professionally. That said you can’t do what the Rick Rubins of the world do because they are literally geniuses in the studio. Things sound a lot better than they used to, but you still have to figure out what is in the best interest of the band creatively. Maybe it’s not only about having well written songs that sound good maybe it’s about having some actual production take place where the producer comes in, takes the good songs and makes them into great records.
RB: You definitely in your mind separate the concept of production from the concept of engineering. There’s a real clear line. Am I right about that?
PG: Yeah, especially with the most talented record producers. Sure.
RB: Who is you all time favorite record producer? I won’t necessarily quote it.
PG: I’m a fan of the classics. I think if you look at George Martin and the Beatles, that’s the standard from where everything starts in the rock era. I’m a huge fan of Rick Rubin and the Nigel Godrich sounding records. I’m also a mainstream guy. I love John Shanks’s work. I love the guys who make the shit sound really good. I like the classics combined with the right guys for the moment who bring a really fresh spin to the studio and make really good sounding records.
RB: In your opinion, the producers who are hugely successful deserve to be there and the ones who are not probably just haven’t gotten that far?
PG: Like anything else, your batting average at the end of the day is either good or it’s not. You can have a hit but can you have two or three or four. Are you making beautiful records that are special artistically that people want to own, want to talk about and want to be a part of.
RB: Have you ever worked with staff producers?
PG: Most of the labels I’ve worked with have not had staff producers. Sony has people like Ric Wake so I guess you can say I have. A lot of these guys are so all over the place that the title staff producer is based on your how your contract reads. This is not like a guy who came up through the Sony system who is making records for Sony this is a guy who had hits with Sony and they wanted to take him off of the market.
RB: And usually they’re planning their own projects right?
PG: Yes and no. It depends on the person. Someone like Ric Wake is very busy because he can do everything. While he was at Sony you can throw him Jennifer Lopez, Marc Anthony, Anastasia he can do all that without breaking a sweat.
RB: How about your producing? What have you done in terms of producing?
PG: I’ve done the odd vocal production, things here and there. But I always looked to my role as more of a facilitator, the guy who’s gotta make sure shit sounds right at the end of the day get done, not the guy who’s actually there getting twiddling the knobs. I’d rather hire somebody whose job it is to sit in the studio all day and at the end of the day be able to give them some cogent feedback as opposed to being the guy who’s actually there doing the shit.
RB: Am I reading you right that you don’t like being in the studio too much you prefer to maintain some distance?
PG; Yeah, I think it’s smart we’ve all made the mistake of spending too much time in the studio. It’s tough because you fall in love with demos and you have to worry about demoitis. Some of the biggest hits I’ve had in my career I got in fights with producers where I got attached to the demo and they were like ‘look this is my production not the demo’ and you kind of push and pull. Sometimes you need a referee to come in and say look break it up and let’s get this right and put it out.
RB: How did you get into A&R? What’s your background?
PG: I was always a student of the industry from the time I was a teenager. Rather than being a fan of one group I was more a fan of everything. At the age of thirteen and fourteen I would like to keep up weekly, with what was selling, who was producing what, who was writing what. I’d go to the public library once a week and read Billboard magazine cover to cover. I’d Xerox the charts, commit them to memory and all the fucked up sick things that led to a career in A&R. One thing led to another and as I got money I’d go out and buy these records. Because back then, twenty or thirty years ago, there wasn’t an Internet where you can thirty second preview on iTunes. I started Deejaying, I would do all the local parties and we’d play the hits, but also at the sweet sixteen parties and the graduation parties we’d throw in an import, throw in the next single, throw in shit to gage people’s reactions. Like impromptu focus groups. At college, I ran the college radio station for three years. I started booking all the concerts and I started managing some of the local bands started to feel like ‘Hey, if I could turn this into a career, this is really where my passion lies.’ When I was graduating I met some people who had friends whose families who were in the music business and one thing led to another and I was able to get a promotion job at an independent label promoting records to radio and about a year later, the same friend called me and said his dad was starting a label and met with him and he hired me as his junior A&R person and that started the run of major label A&R work for me.
RB: You didn’t see a clear path through to A&R from being a kid then?
PG: I guess I was always preparing for it, by doing my homework. As a 20 year old student in college, I could sit with a major label President who would ask me what did I think of the production on this and I could say ‘well I don’t like the production on this compared to the last five records he produced.’ And they would look at me like ‘how do you know this.’ It was just what I had been doing. I was not playing guitar in my bedroom I was studying these records in my bedroom.
RB: That’s true because producers and A&R guys are always a little bizarre. No two are alike, but I think there is a lot of cross-relationships between producing and A&R. The only common factors between any two producers or A&R people is an obsessive love of music. Do you think multi-producer albums are becoming more common or are they the same as always?
PG: It depends on the style of music. For pop music absolutely, for rock music not really. For rock music you want the bands who have something to say to have a unified way of saying it. For pop music, it’s more about the single song than the unified presentation of the album. There are exceptions, I am thinking more about the American Idol pop as opposed to Norah Jones pop. Norah Jones is going to want a unified vision for her music as well.
RB: Do you think downloads are going to change the market to more of a singles mentality?
PG: I think yes and no. I think when we were kids, it was a singles model. You ran out and you bought the 45, if you loved the 45 you bought the album.
RB: That’s why it doesn’t freak me out because it’s exactly how it was when I was a kid.
PG: It’s so funny how times have changed and you want to keep up with them. My daughter was in school, in second grade, and she sang a song in school and she told me what it was and it was an old song from the late 50s early 60s called Tie me Kangaroo down Sport. And I wanted to buy it for her, but it wasn’t on-line. That’s the frustrating thing with iTunes and Napster or whoever your provider of choice is, because ultimately you want to be able to find what you want and when you want it. I had every intention of spending my 99 cents on Tie me Kangaroo down Sport, but two weeks ago I couldn’t find it.
RB: Kazaa or Morpheus would have had it.
PG: But I don’t use those. Back in the early days, people didn’t realize how potentially bad it was for business. It was just this is great, this is fun. But now a lot of people are downloading now. A couple of years ago I realized that I can’t do that. It’s biting the hand that feeds me. I wound up going back through my vinyl collection to see if I had the record because I have software that allows me to convert my vinyl into MP3s. That way I can put them on my iPod and be happy. So I’m going through my forty fives and although I couldn’t find Tie me Kangaroo down Sport I found one album that says produced by Richard James Burgess. I was like oh, I should get it autographed [laughs]. I think it was King.
RB: Oh, thank you. I think I got forty cents from that the other day from Sony. How much direction do you give a producer?
PG: It depends on the person and it depends on the A&R person. I’m an A&R person that likes to get very involved. There are producers who like that and there are certain producers who don’t. There are certain producers, especially the very successful ones who are like, you know what, you’re hiring me to do a job, let me do my fucking job. There are other producers who say, ‘you’re hiring me to do a job so tell me exactly what you want me to do so that you’re not disappointed when I bring you the record. You could ask six different producers and get six different answers. What I generally do is sit with a producer and tell them what songs I’m excited about and why, I ask for their comments, they might say, ‘yeah I’m excited about that too but wouldn’t it be cool if we added a string chart on this. And we’ll start talking. Certain producers want the input, others don’t and you figure that out going in.
RB: Do you like to get rough mixes as you go along or do you like to wait till the end.
PG: No. If you wait till the end you could have problems creatively and financially. I like to get roughs as soon as I can and be able to give educated, intelligent feedback as soon as I can. That way they’re finishing up the record in a way that there are no surprises.
RB: How often would you estimate that producers go off in the wrong direction and get removed from a project?
PG: It happens. The same way directors get fired off a movie halfway through. Sometimes you just don’t see eye to eye.
RB: Does it happen because the artist falls out with the producer more or you just don’t think it’s going the right way?
PG: It can happen either way, but generally if I am going to remove a producer from a project it’s because of a problem creatively between my vision and their vision or their vision and the artist’s. There’s an example from the Santana Supernatural project where the producers who were pretty big producers just could not get it right and we kept sending it back and sending it back after three or four times we said this is not working and I’m wasting their time, their wasting my time. I said let me just take what they’ve done and get a fresh perspective from somebody else on it. We did that and we got it right.
RB: Do you see a producer as your guy in the studio or do you see him as the band’s priority, like the go between?
PG: I’ve always felt that if I hire a producer, they’re working for me and we need to have a creative understanding between A&R person and producer. But certain guys don’t feel that way they’re like, ‘you’re job is to find the band, my job is to make the record, leave me alone.’
RB: How do you handle it when producers go over budget?
PG: It’s horrible, especially when you’re working for a major label that’s bleeding money. When you’re called into your president’s office and they’re like, what the hell is going on, why the hell are you $100,000 over budget, this is a big problem. You go back to the producer and say, ‘what the hell are you doing.’ The producer says, ‘I need to make the right record.’
RB: Is that more of a problem with AAA producers or is it the XXX producers?
PG: The “A” guys generally want to get the record right because they’ve gotten every other record right. So if that means they are fifty or seventy-five thousand dollars over budget the label will figure something out. Labels are more tolerant with the budget for a producer who has a good track record. The younger guys are more likely to come in under or on budget. Which is another reason to use the younger guys.
RB: Do you prefer the producer to mix their own tracks or do you like to hire somebody?
PG: It depends on the producer and their track record. How good they are as an engineer. With some guys it’s not up for debate if they produce they mix, if you say no you can’t mix then they don’t do the record. If you let them know up front that you don’t want them to mix then there are no surprises.
RB: If you are working with one of those guys who wants to mix, is that in the contract?
PG: Yes, it can say that you are hiring so and so to produce and mix the record or it is understood that producer has first right of refusal to mix the record. A lot of it is about how badly you want producer to produce the record.
RB: The label doesn’t want to give up control to remix the record if they feel they need to do they?
PG: The label doesn’t want to give up control. Nevertheless you are trying to hire somebody who wants you to give that type of concession. As an A&R person, representing the label, you want to reserve whatever right you can to finish the record with the best people.
RB: How many producers do you think are out there who are in that league and can command that level of contractual control?
PG: Probably about a dozen.
RB: How much of a difference can an outside mixer make to a project?
PG: Again, it depends on the outside mixer. If all they do is mix and you listen to their records you know why it’s worth giving up a point and the fees and taking it out of a producer engineers hands. They are the best that there is. If you know that this is the guy for the job because of his track record then it brings a lot to the project. There are only 6-10 mixers in that league. There’s so few A&R people out there that the majority of veteran, seasoned professionals have worked with these people. So there are no surprises. So if you are working with a band it’s like, is it Tom Lord Alge, Chris Lord Alge, is it Jack Joseph Puig, Alan Moulder, Andy Wallace the names are not mysterious names, they have great track records and reputations based on their work not on smoke and mirrors but because they are great at what they do.
RB: Some of these guys like Tom are really quick? Is that a big factor?
PG: I think most of these guys are quick. Most of them we hire regardless of whether they spend five minutes on mix, which one of these guys who shall remain nameless, or a day on a mix, it’s going to sound good. I don’t care how much time they spend on a mix as long as it sounds good.
RB: It affects the budget but I guess it doesn’t matter as long as it sounds right.
PG: The majority of these guys are getting a flat fee and they’ve done so many records that singles budget is X album budget is Y, the fee is the same the studio time is the same there are no surprises.
RB: Could you give me a sense of the range of points and advances that you see producers getting?
PG: It’s a scale that is sliding back and you may want to get the Andy Kipnes’s of the world to give you that number. Their fees for mixers are usually between $2500 and $4000, $4500 tops plus a point for the top guys such as the Andy Wallaces. The producers are generally at three points to start four points for the top guys with bumps. Fees can range from $35,000 a record sliding backwards and up depending on the guy.
RB: You hear about hip hop guys getting $100,000 a track.
PG: Those days are not what they used to be.
RB: That was the heyday four or five years ago?
RB: About production companies? How likely are you to use them and how do you like those deals?
PG: I like them if I’m able to get the record I want. I don’t like if I don’t.
RB: They can come with a finished record or with a package with a producer and that’s the shakier deal right?
PG: A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.
RB: Do you think production deals are fair to artists and producers or not?
PG: Everyone needs to start somewhere. If an artist needs to sign production deals because that’s where they need to start hopefully they know what steps to take next.
RB: Have you ever turned down a project because it came to you with a local producer attached to it?
PG: I haven’t, but I know people who have.