Category Archives: Jesse Lauter

The Never Ending Record

Have you ever worked on a project for too long? Like, so long, that even your own family begins to question you: “Why aren’t you done with that record yet, son?”

I’m dealing with that right now, partially because of financial reasons, but mostly because I want this record to be a masterpiece. I’ve been doing the whole thing “on my back” (def. for free) and it’s the last time I’ll ever do that… though in the back of my mind, I know that’s not true…

Aside from this album’s financial constraints, I have to put a lot of blame into ProTools. The computer makes us lazy at what we do. We don’t commit like we would to tape, and if something isnt going our way, we “Save As,” and put it off until later… Although I pride myself on a strong work ethic, I’ve been working on another demo for a friend for almost two years, all because I know the session safely rests in my computer… and he doesn’t pay for me to work on it…

On the other end, ProTools (or whatever DAW you use) makes us uber-meticulous, editing and adjusting plug-in parameters to no end…

But this is the reality of modern recording. So I say this: sometimes you must work on something for too long. But you have to maintain your enthusiam for the project and keep you ears and mind fresh! Like I said about this record I’ve been working on (it’s only been a year, and I am almost done), I want this to be a masterpiece… Do whatever you can to keep your momentum going. Another project may seem like a bad idea of a distraction (and if you don’t know how to juggle, it probably will be), but if you’re stuck in a rut creatively, it might be the best thing for that other album and your head…

In the end, no one can hear the amount of time put into a record. They only hear several minutes of music and either they like it or don’t like it. Sometimes we forget that that is what it all comes down to…

But to play my own devil’s advocate, it took Bob Dylan less than 60 days to record each of his albums from his 1961 self-titled debut to 1976’s Desire… And just think of all that glory in between…..

 


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Producer as Director, Discuss!

Let’s start a discussion…

I was fortunate enough to go to a recording school that had a very direct philosophy: the role of a record producer is analogous to a film director.

In a day and age where most music consumers don’t know where to even find credits, the respect record producers deserve is dwindling. So let’s collectively curb that.

Please post a response and tell us about your favorite producer/engineer/mixer (active or not) and why. Put some thought into these responses and approach the producer’s work as you would any critical study…or write a haiku…


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Making A Living Producing…

(Preface: Someone wanted to know about how to make a living as a music producer [oh boy], so this week will be a general business discussion. We’ll get back to the creative end of stuff next week… And I promise to get more technical…)

 

This is the worst time since the conception of the recording industry as we know it to become a “record producer.”

 

Firstly, artists are getting better and better at all things production. There is so much information out there that anyone can fancy themselves a producer. On a recent project, not only was the artist telling me what mics he wanted to use but he also insisted on futzing with EQ plug-ins (and being the pacifist that I am…I let him…but I also made sure to constantly Save As so he wouldn’t screw anything up)! This does not mean that the artist should be treated as a producer/engineer, but that’s a whole other topic…  

 

Secondly, CDs are business cards. Staight up. Although it may seem important in the moment, it is practically pointless to negotiate and argue over points on record sales…

 

Thirdly, no one gets credit where credit is due. With the majority of people getting their music digitally, your hard-earned production credit gets ignored. And please tell me who is in charge of allmusic.com. I’d like to get a few things straight with him…

 

And for some reason, the idea of becoming a music producer is still attractive…

 

Sure, this new reality can lead to some serious self-doubt, but there is hope. First thing’s first, as long as you believe in the music your producing, you’re in better shape than most. Sure, I’ve taken on projects for the money (New York City rent is not cheap), but I’ve always offset those with my passion projects. Don’t ever sacrifice your passion and convictions!

 

Any decent business person will teach you this: always follow the money. A great way to begin this trek is the simple act of networking (and move to Los Angeles or Nashville). There really is no excuse for you not to be networking everyday (and with Indaba, you could be doing just that!). Whether that means going to a local coffee shop gig and talking to some random songwriters or having a lunch meeting with a high-profile industry fattie… if you’re not meeting someone new everyday in this industry, then you’re not doing your job. Sometimes I think my job is 90% networking, 10% producing (this isn’t accurate, but you get the point).

 

If you feel like you know just about everyone there is to know in your town/area involved in your type of music (you have an excuse if you live in NYC, LA, and Nashville), then you’re doing a good job at networking…

 

Now you’re networking, but where’s the money in that? Well what does networking lead to? Opportunity! And there is plenty of that to go around… I am operating under the assumption that you, the reader, has a functioning studio to work in. Without a facility, you will get no work (unless you’re a well-established producer who works out of Avatar or Oceanway… and that is probably not you, because then you wouldn’t be reading my blog…). With a good facility, you have the ability to make a good living. Of course, this depends on your cost-of-living expenses, rent amount, debts, yadda, yadda. But let’s focus our attention elsewhere…

 

Most money is to be had in publishing and licensing. You may be focused on engineering and mixing, but if your songwriting and composition chops aren’t there, then you’re behind in the game. Now you may be asking, how do I get publishing and licensing deals? Yes, this is tough…even if your music is good. But do your research! Search publishing companies and see if they take unsolicited demos. Even better, hire a lawyer, and a good one at that. If you have a solid lawyer, then your demos should be landing in the right hands and opportunities should start popping up. Also, there are tons of companies that do one-off licensing deals to get your music into TV, commercials, and film. Although these deals don’t pay a bundle (and the people who broker these deals usually take 50%), a solid $2,000 check for getting your music onto a new Showtime series is better than nothing.

 

Publishing and licensing is a huge topic and my expertise on the subject is miniscule. But I have a grounded understanding on the subject, primarily from Donald Passman’s book  All You Need To Know About The Music Business. GET THIS BOOK ASAP!

 

It’s an extremely tough time to be making money in this industry. For the sake of full disclosure, I’m struggling. Even my friends, who are some of the biggest names in the industry, are struggling. Competiton is higher than ever, artists are not paying for our services, and consumers are not paying for our products. But it’s an exciting time to harness your talents and also for entrepeneurial endeavor. Don’t be negative and don’t foresake your passion…


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Taking Care of (Brain) Business

 

Class begins with some history.

It is undeniable that Phil Spector is the greatest record producer to have ever lived. Everyone from George Martin to Babyface should bow before the majesty of his grandiose productions. He is not necessarily my favorite record producer but I still say he is the greatest, conceiving what I believe to be the finest-produced single of all time— Ike & Tina Turner’s “River Deep, Mountain High.”

I stumbled upon a documentary called The Agony and Ecstasy of Phil Spector. It is streaming on the web. I’m not going to link it due to legalities but search for it. It’s there (you have to download a web player, but it’s super easy, and there are many more internet video goodies that come with it).

This film, initially made for TV, is a work of art (and as a matter of fact, is premiering at the New York Film Forum later this summer). The central focus is an interview with Spector just before his murder trial. These interviews, primarily tackling his most celebrated productions, are juxtaposed with courtroom sequences, among other pieces of Spector memorabilia, all set to the soundtrack of his greatest hits, including “Then He Kissed Me,” “Be My Baby,” “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling,” and “Let It Be.”

What makes the film entertaining is Spector’s off-the-wall personality. It’s the type of documentary that makes your jaw drop when you realize you’re observing a real person (i.e. American Movie, You’re Gonna Miss Me: A Film About Roky Erikson, Grizzly Man). All the more shocking it’s Spector. From attributing his infamous “trial-afro” to NBA player Ben Wallace, to describing his masterpiece “Da Doo Ron Ron” as being “so down and dirty, it was like committing incest,” to constantly tearing Tony Bennett to shreds, The Agony and Ecstasy of Phil Spector is a helluva trip into the current state of mind of a music legend.

And that is disconcerting. It’s sad to see Spector blabbering the way he does on the screen. There is even more pathetic footage of a self-conducted/drugged-out interview from the late 70s (porn-star moustache in tow), showing this once-famed record-producer on his path to self-destruction, a path that has led to criminal conviction and ultimately, the tainting of his legacy. This movie doesn’t even cover the half-of-it (and that ambiguity is what makes the film nearly brilliant). Read Mick Brown’s Tearing Down The Wall of Sound and you’ll know what I’m talking about. Understandably so, Spector is very troubled over the state of his legacy, stating “I am concerned that I have not been made a doctorate at any college and Bill Cosby has.” With his sentence of 19 years-to-life, Spector (age 70) will mostly certainly not be made a doctorate at any university in his lifetime. And as much as I hate to say it, I think this movie implicates him. I won’t give it away, but toward the end, Spector delivers a line regarding John Lennon’s assasination that will scare your pants off.

The redeeming factor of the film is the music (and Spector’s awful Lennon impersonation), amorphous recordings that rock your soul time after time without fail. I think Spector is justified in his self-comparisons to Da Vinci (and definitely to Galileo, a life of brilliance ended in imprisonment). If you don’t already own the Back to Mono box-set or George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass, then consider this an assignment (please, please, don’t download).

But this film teaches us, as record producers, something very important: we are in the brain business and it is our duty to CHECK OUR HEADS!  We as producers must catch firing synapses and maintain our balance as we do such. And not only our own synapses! You’re dealing with raging artists (who’s synapses fire in every which way), tired engineers, rogue mixers, nervous managers and label-folk…. AND YOU ARE THE ONE WHO MUST ALWAYS BE ON TOP OF EVERYTHING! From artful arrangements to playing therapist to putting the puppy out, it is your duty to be the guiding light throughout the recording process! Phil Spector could not keep it together (even though he produced some decent tracks for Starsailor in 2004), and his old age is not an excuse. Al Schmitt, Phil Ramone, Bruce Swedien, and Clive Davis (to name a few) have all had long fruitful careers and are as sharp as ever in their old age. Spector just couldn’t keep up…

Phil Spector was an artist. He had aural visions and carried them out to the best of his abilities. That should be a high-priority goal for all producers. However, Phil did not take care of his mental health, and that is his own fault. Sure, he had a troubled past, but the man blew one too many lines (if he couldn’t give himself more away, he plays a druglord in Easy Rider!) and may have been just as legendary for his gun-play as he was for producing, infamously pointing guns at Leonard Cohen and The Ramones…to only name a few…

As a self-inflicted music-historian, I am concerned for Spector’s legacy, but what I’m trying to tell you IS BE CONCERNED FOR YOU OWN! Don’t be that high-drama producer that doesn’t get the second gig (you want the second gig. Trust me). Don’t be your artist or band’s drug dealer. There is a way to walk through this business with class, dignity, and respect, and you and only you have the power to maintain it. Watch your step and think about your every move. You may have all the best gear in the world, but you’re dealing in the business of people and the commerce of ideas. You can spend all your money maintaining that Pultec, but maybe spend more time and energy on sustaining your mental health!

Spector actually teaches us an invaluable lesson in this film. Although he had creative control over his early artists such as Darlene Love or The Ronnettes, when it came to working with the legends such as John or George, he says he was on the level with them when working on their projects, able to work with Lennon on the atheistic “God” while working on Harrison’s devotional “My Sweet Lord.” Spector didn’t practice what he preached, and you can see in the film, the worlds adapts to him. Spector does not adapt to this world. It is probably why his career did not last much longer past The Ramones records of the late 70s.

Yes you, the producer, are an artist too (if you just want to engineer or mix, I’m talking to you as well). BUT, remember the first rule of production: The Artist is ALWAYS right. Once you can accept this truth, the floodgates of creative collaboration will open in ways you could not possibly imagine… Despite his conviction and kookiness, let’s not forget the spectacular recorded collaborations and works of art Phil Spector granted to human history…

 

 

 


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Greetings

 

My name is Jesse Lauter and I am here to talk to you. Most of you probably don’t know who I am. Maybe that will change through the course of our time together. I have been given free reign by the fine folks at Indaba to talk to you about whatever I want. So our first discussion is going to be on healthcare reform… I only kid….

In actuality, I’m supposed to talk to you guys about what I do, which is making records. I don’t need to beat around the bush and talk about the crazy condition the music industry is in (and all facets of it), especially for producers/mixers/engineers, but indeed, it is crazy out there. I will operate on this principal throughout the course of my blog. The music industry is a chaotic place. So is this world. Maybe we should get over it.

What I want to do is make sense of all the madness with YOU, people of Indaba! Yes, we can talk production techniques, lust over gear, etc. but most of my blogs will be on what it means to be a producer in the 21st century… or the 010’s if you will… A discussion directed through my lens as a music producer struggling to make his way through muck and mire, wind and fire… Can you dig? But all this with the intention, to expand our collective visions as artists and auteurs…

So let the journey begin! Who’s coming with me?

 


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