“I think for a lot of people starting out, it’s very daunting. You can walk in and think that you know how to produce records, but then you have to realize that every artist sees it differently, every record company sees it differently. There are all these people involved in making this record… and everybody wants a say over it.”
Howard Benson is an American music producer and multi-instrumentalist. If you don’t recognize his name, you’ll definitely recognize some of the music he has produced.
Howard has produced for iconic names like Santana, Less Than Jake, Blind Side, My Chemical Romance, Kelly Clarkson, Of Mice and Men, Bon Jovi, and even the Veggie Tales soundtracks. He has been nominated for the Producer of the Year Grammy Award in 2007 and 2008 and has produced some 150 albums from 1996 until now. Howard is truly a “hitmaker.”
Becoming a Producer and Defying Labels
Howard has held many roles in the music industry, beginning as a keyboard player in a band in the 70’s and later becoming a major label A&R, a liaison between the band and the record label. However, a consistent role he has thrived in throughout his career has been as a producer.
He says the most concise way to describe his job as a producer is that he is the equivalent of a movie director. It’s his job to trade horses, make and sway decisions, finish a record on budget, on time, and release it within the band or label’s release schedule. And, just like any movie producer or director, it’s easy to get “typecast” as a certain kind of producer. For instance, a producer of pop, rock, or metal. In order to avoid this, Howard intentionally strives to create diverse content with interesting artists.
“When they walk into the studio and see I’ve sold 45 million records… they’ll listen to everything I say. If I didn’t have those platinum records, I’d be fighting with them forever.”
Howard emphasizes that in music, 100% of the project is the song. If you don’t have a good song, no matter how much money you put into it, it’s still a bad song.
As a producer, he is focused on:
- The target audience.
- The band and their desires.
- The record company, and the outcomes they need.
Defining Musical Quality
Everyone has a different interpretation of what makes something good: you can look at things romantically or classically. When you sell music, you aren’t selling perfection, you’re selling emotions. This makes it important to take both a romantic and classical approach when creating music.
A quality song must:
- Evoke strong emotion.
- Have striking vocals.
- Have powerful lyrics.
When he worked for Giant Records at Warner Brothers, he was “on the other side of the table,” sitting in meetings and observing as different records were played. This gave him a unique understanding of what it was that labels were looking for.
“You better have a smash hit song; a no brainer.”
- Don’t lose your cool. If you start to panic with the band, that’s when you know you’ve totally lost the project.
- You have to be able to tell yourself if you’ve got it or you don’t. If you find that you don’t “have it” quite yet, then you’ve got to know how to fix or change it until it’s right.
- Get a little by giving a little. Make compromises in order to make as many people happy as possible while also ensuring success.
Part 2 with Howard will be released next week!