With all the wonderful production software, sound libraries, loops and gadgets that exist today, musicians are able to create incredible sounding tracks & mixes that could only be done with large-scale budgets just 10 years ago. Most songwriters and musicians today have some type of home studio, or at least access to one. The home studio can be an amazing tool for the skilled songwriter for both creating music and producing demos, yet it can often serve as a dangerous crutch for the amateur.
Good songs stand on their own without the help of production elements. Production is very much like icing on a cake. Icing can make a great cake taste like heaven. And it can also make a bad cake taste better. Many folk’s favorite part of a cake may actually BE the icing. But unfortunately, production is the favorite part for many songwriter/musicians, and therefore the thing they spend the most time on during the creation process. A good producer can certainly take it over the top with the icing of production. However, a good songwriter most often creates the song first, then applies the icing.
A well crafted song will stand on it’s own without the help of any production. Well crafted songs are generally strong on acoustic guitar, or on piano, or even sung a cappella. In my opinion, the test of a great song is whether or not the average Joe can sing or whistle it in the shower, or in the car. Take HAPPY BIRTHDAY, for example. Or AMAZING GRACE.
I’ve seen a lot of producers spend their career putting icing on bad cakes. They do a fantastic job and really know how to create the “wow” factor using their incredible production talent. Initially, the end product looks pretty good (sounds good). But when the listeners dig inside, they often don’t really like what they find. In other words, when the icing wears off, the cake tastes bad. One of my business associates used to call this, “polishing a turd”. You get the picture.
Simply keep in mind that a skilled producer does not a songwriter make. You may be a very talented producer and your demos or indie albums may blow people away with your sounds and arrangement ideas. Just because your production is strong however, doesn’t mean your songs are. Strong songs will hold up production after production, style after style, cover recording after cover recording. You CAN be both a great producer and a great songwriter. My friend, Ian Eskelin is a perfect example. An award winner on both accounts. But I watch him spend hours each week in the songwriting room with just a guitar or piano (and often a co-writer), miles away from his studio. If you’re a producer and want to be a solid songwriter as well, make sure you’re spending quality time developing both crafts. Develop them separately. Produce other people’s songs. And write your own songs without the help of all your production tools. If your song can stand alone like that, then go for it with the recording later.