What is a music producer? Interview with Dan Korneff
What Is A Music Producer? Describe how producers fit into the big picture of recording artists?
Dan Korneff: There seems to be a terrible amount of misinformation about what a music producer actually is. Some people think that if they program a synth part or add an element to a song that they now become a producer. No. You’re a programmer. That’s what programmers do. A music producer should be compared to a foreman on a construction site. They oversee the entire process. Music producers arrange music and suggest musical and lyrical changes. A music producer collaborates with the artist to select which songs make it on the album. They give ideas about what the sonic landscape should be. The music producer selects audio engineers/mixers and supervise the entire creative process.
These days, the lines are so blurred. People think a music producer is a mixer/engineer/mastering engineer/digital editor/songwriter/programmer. Although a Producer could be capable of all of these functions (and in many instances, performs them all) it’s really not the roll of a music producer.
About Dan Korneff:
Dan Korneff is a Producer, Mixer, Engineer that has an extensive discography including some of the biggest names in new rock (Pierce the Veil, Paramore, Papa Roach, Breaking Benjamin, Sleeping With Sirens, My Chemical Romance). He’s been busy producing and mixing at his studio, Sonic Debris Recording Studio, in Long Island, NY. The studio is a full service, multi-room operation featuring a Solid State Logic 8048G console. His latest projects include Mixing Young Guns album Echoes (Wind-Up Records), Producing and Mixing the The Devil Wears Prada album Transit Blues (Rise Records), Producing and Mixing The Color Morale’s album Desolate Divine (Fearless Records)
How To Start Producing Music
Did you set out to be a music producer, studio engineer, live engineer, mixer, or mastering? Or did you want to be a mix of all?
Dan Korneff: I originally set out to be an engineer. When I was a kid, I didn’t really understand what a music producer was and my only knowledge of what they did came from articles in magazines. Most of the time it was some sort of negative remark, like “this album is overproduced” or “the producer sucked the life out of this band”. I felt a music producer got in the way of the band’s true vision, so I focused on the technical side. As I got a little more experience, I realized that most bands don’t have the ability to be a producer. They are focused on their instrument. Wanting more control over the creative process, I quickly started to Produce and Mix music.
What was the inspiration and motivation to want to engineer and produce music?
Dan Korneff: The very first demo I recorded with my band would be the motivation to move to the other side of the glass. The experience was like no other, and at that time I was just a musician. Long story short, the final product was unlistenable. I sat around for days wondering what could have went wrong. I kept saying that I could have done a better job myself. With a little help from my parents, I got some basic gear and start recording. Nothing too involved. Just a 4 track cassette deck and two Radio Shack microphones. With a little bit of research and hard work, I was able to surpass the results of this demo. Unfortunately, it was very easy to beat my demo, but very difficult to match the sounds on albums I really loved. That quest continues to this very day!
Tell us about the first paid project you worked on, how it came together, and how it went?
Dan Korneff: The first paid project was comprised of two local kids that were doing some off the wall music. It was like Beck on meth. Wild stuff. I’d like to think that I was very proficient in the recording process at this time, but I honestly had no idea what I was doing. I was micing everything wrong, I was using compressors on aux sends, I used a D112 as a vocal mic, I accidentally erased the left side of my drum track when trying to perform a reverse reverb effect. The list goes on. Luckily, I was able to learn a lot of lifelong skills on that recording. At the same time, Meth Beck was really excited about the strange way all of the tracks turned out. It was a win win situation.
What was the breakthrough or turning point in your engineering / producer career?
Dan Korneff: The breakthrough point in my engineering career is when I teamed up with David Bendeth and starting making some awesome records. He was just leaving his position as A&R at RCA records, and I was leaving Water Music as Chief engineer. Perfect timing. I think we made like 5 platinum records back to back right from the start. My breakthrough moment as a music producer was making the Pierce the Veil album “Collide With the Sky”. We took a lot of sonic chances on that album, and it paid off. It was my first Gold record as a producer.
Are there any myths about the work that you would like to dispel? What is the lifestyle of a music producer really like?
Dan Korneff: There seems to be a misconception that working in the music business is some kind of dream job where I can party all the time, play with my toys (gear), and get super rich. This job requires 101% of my attention, 101% of my time, and completely removes any chance of having a personal life. I haven’t seen my friends in years. And to top it off, some of the people in the music business are the absolute worst. Whenever someone asks me what it’s like to work in the music business, I always refer to the famous quote by Hunter S. Thompson. “The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There’s also a negative side.”
What’s your best tip for a young person looking to become a music producer or engineer?
Dan Korneff: The best tip is “don’t do it.” Seriously. I wouldn’t wish this upon my worst enemy. But… if you decide that you really want to pursue a career making music, there are a bunch of things you need to be prepared for.
#1 – Learn your craft!!!! I can’t say it enough. Don’t be one of those knuckleheads that just turns knobs “until it sounds cool”. Learn what sound is. Learn what’s happening inside your gear. It’s all science. Learn it.
#2 – being the best at your craft isn’t going to insure a career in this business! Remember, it’s a business. Be aware of all the facets of your business. Political motivation, negotiations, constantly connecting with industry professionals. You can’t have one without the other.
Are there any cheap purchases or tools that you recommend for young people that will help get them started?
Dan Korneff: Things are a lot different these days than when I started recording music. In a time where everyone’s laptop comes preloaded with Garageband, and a mic/headphone/interface bundle is less than $200, you don’t need to spend very much to get started. Once you get started and have an idea what you’re doing, invest in quality gear. I’d take one quality piece of gear over five cheap pieces any day.
How To Hire A Music Producer
If a band is looking to hire a music producer / engineer for their demo or first record, what pitfalls should they avoid? Any other advice for first timers?
Dan Korneff: My advice is to do your homework on the person you want to work with. Talk to other bands about their experiences. If you get a couple people saying “insert name here” is a real piece of crap, then take that into consideration. Learn your songs. Don’t arrive unprepared. Learn your songs. Don’t tell the producer what to do: you hired them for a reason. Try to get a realistic schedule together for the record, and stick to it. I can’t tell you how many young bands I see take a year to complete something that could have been achieved in a couple of weeks.
What should bands do to be better prepared for recording a record?
Dan Korneff: Did I mention LEARN YOUR SONGS yet? Make sure you know the material. Practice to a metronome night and day. Become one with the metronome. Also take some time to learn your instrument and how it works. If you are a guitarist, you should know how to intonate a guitar. Record yourself on your phone and listen back to critique your own performance. Is it sloppy? Is it in tune? Are you in time with the click? Once you learn your songs, be prepared to have them rearranged by the producer. Draw a chart or outline if you have to. It’s not uncommon to write the song arrangement on a snare head so the drummer remembers what’s going on.
Generally speaking, should young artists take the plunge and invest in a well known producer on their demos or first recordings? If they just can’t afford their favorite producers/engineers, what’s the next best thing for them?
Dan Korneff: I think this depends on the expected result from the recording. If you’re making a demo that MAYBE 100 people are going to hear, don’t hire Rick Rubin. It’s a waste of everyone’s time. Be honest about your expectations. If you’re shooting for the moon, do whatever you have to do to afford the best person for the job. If you’re still trying to figure out who you are and what your band is doing, drop a couple hundred bucks on some gear and figure out how to make a demo. This obviously comes with some pitfalls. There’s no objective opinion if you do it yourself. You’ll lose focus on the music because you’re dicking around with recording.
Singles Vs Albums
What’s your opinion on artists releasing singles, EP’s, and albums? Do you take many projects where it’s just one or two tracks at a time? Or is there a minimum amount of tracks you recommend recording in one session?
Dan Korneff: The concept of an album cycle is in a transitionary period. Previously, you could make an album that could have a lifespan of a few years before you have to record again. These days, it appears to be beneficial to release material on a constant basis. I don’t see anything wrong with releasing two EP’s in the time you would have released a single album. I prefer to record entire albums, but not opposed to doing singles. Also it could be a better use of time to record a bunch of songs than it is to do a single. And I think it makes an album more consistent when you record the material all together. Unless it’s a compilation, it kind of bugs me when I hear an album that has 4 different producers on it, and everything sounds different.