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Leader: Trust Your Gut

Sam Inglis By Sam Inglis
Published June 2024

Trust Your gut

Does knowing about production change the way we engage with music? Definitely. And on the whole, I think that’s a good thing. Above all, it means we can find something to hold our attention in absolutely any song. The melody might be forgettable, the lyrics clunky, the vocal performance below‑par, but if you have an interest in production, there’s always something to pique it. How did they get that bass sound? Is that the original sample, or have they re‑played it? Why is the snare off‑centre?

At the same time, though, I think there is also a down side. The expression ‘I don’t know much about art, but I know what I like’ is widely mocked, but it captures something that’s quite important about how the majority of people experience music. Preferences are formed unconsciously, and decisions about what’s good or bad are made unreflectively. People either like something, or they don’t. Whether or not it makes innovative use of wavetable modulation is not taken into account.

The deeper we dive into the technical side of music, and the more analytical we become, the harder it is to recover that instinctual reaction. We lose touch with the immediate emotional response that says ‘Yeah, this is great!’ or ‘Yuck, I don’t think much of this.’ And what separates the really great producers from the rest of us is that they are able to recover that naïve perspective when it’s needed.

We can all tell when a vocal is out of tune or the drummer is speeding up. A much rarer skill is the ability to know when it matters. When we’re working on our own music, things quickly become over‑familiar, and we start second‑guessing ourselves. When we work with others, the pressure is on to be positive all the time, because the producer is supposed to be supportive and encouraging.

Great producers can see the bigger picture, but more than that, they are able to influence it.

Great producers can see the bigger picture, but more than that, they are able to influence it. They have the awareness to know when their instinctual reaction needs to be acted on, the insight to know what the appropriate action is, and the authority and the charisma to convince others to go along with them. It’s easy to take responsibility when you’re agreeing with someone, much harder when you need to change someone’s mind, or take a decision that no‑one else can see the need for.

The analytical and technical skills that we develop through experience are essential. So too are ‘people skills’. But ultimately, they are all in service of something else. Call it what you like — taste, judgement, gut feeling, instinctive reaction — but ignore it at your peril.

Sam Inglis Editor In Chief