Here’s part 2 of my conversation with American Music Producer, Howard Benson. If you haven’t already, listen to part 1, here!
The Producer Is the Pilot
It’s not uncommon for bands to want to party with their producers. However, Howard says, that’s always a big “no” for him. As the producer, he is the pilot. He is the one that is steering the ship and making sure everything is moving smoothly.
“It’s really important that you’re always on point…once you lose the artist, just a little bit of distrust, you can lose the project…you have to be aware of what’s going on at all times.”
Especially in recognition of the #MeToo movement, it’s extremely important for producers to ensure their clients are responsibly taken care of, and that they feel safe and respected.
Music of the Zeitgeist
These days, the music business is the entertainment business. It’s not just about making good music.
“You have to have a great look, great marketing, you have to connect with the kids, there’s so much that goes into it, that’s why there’s so few successful artists.”
Today’s “zeitgeist” lives in the realm of Hip Hop, R&B, and Pop Music, but that doesn’t mean that other genres of music aren’t finding success.
The Balancing Game
Is there a formula to success? Not an exact one, though Howard provides some advice on what can make or break a band. Really, it all comes down to a balancing game. Throughout your career—no matter what you do—there will be failures and successes. Feel out your industry, learn what works and what doesn’t, and move forward with that knowledge in mind.
For example, Benson is a rock ‘n’ roll producer. It’s what he’s good at, he says, so that’s what he sticks to. All too often, people (especially in the music industry) try to be something they aren’t for success.
Sticking in Your Lane
“All the bands that know who they are and stick in their lanes, they do great… It takes you your whole life to create your brand, why would you destroy it?”
Everyone wants a “hit” record, everyone wants to “rule the world.” In Pop music, the aim is always for #1. If you don’t make #1 then you haven’t made it at all. Howard emphasizes that in rock, however—and many people don’t realize this—you can still have a great career even if you don’t reach the top of the charts.
Many bands think that if what they’re doing in that moment isn’t getting them the “hit” then they need to reinvent themselves. But, what might seem like an exciting new way to mix things up for the band could fall totally flat with the audience.
Howard gives the perfect example: it would be like Apple suddenly changing their iconic logo to an orange—it just doesn’t make any sense, and it would more than confuse audiences. People don’t like being confused.
Rather than trying to change lanes, try to expand your lane (reasonably), you don’t want to lose your existing audience. Rockers, stick to rock, Howard advises.
Your Target Audience
Every band is selling to different demographics; whether it be determined by age group, genre, or streaming platform. Regardless, it’s important that every band and producer knows who their audience is, how to reach them, and how to keep them.
Pro-tips to Rock Success:
- Understand yourself and your target audience.
- Be consistent. Stay in your lane.
- Work hard every day.
- Making sure people get their money’s worth.
- Take your ego out of it and do what’s best for your business.
- Take direction and critique when it’s offered, and have the right attitude as you do.
Confidence vs. Arrogance
“I’m confident in my process, but I’m not confident that I know everything.”
There’s a fine line between confidence and arrogance. It’s any leader’s job to know this line and be able to navigate it.
Trust is Key
For any great business to run well, from the very top there must be trust. A leader must trust their team, their team must trust them, and most importantly, their client must trust them. Howard finds that this confidence he possesses helps him build trust with his clients. The platinum records that line the walls of his studio are proof of just how much his artists can trust that he knows what he’s doing.
Key Points on Ideas and Inspiration
No matter how confident—or arrogant, for that matter—you are, there is no way that you can always know what to do. Inspiration ebbs and flows, even for some of the greatest minds in the industry. It’s like a stroke of lightning, Howard explains. You can try to plan it, but in the end, inspiration can’t be forced.