Creating an environment where artists can flourish means building trust, understanding people and valuing everyone’s input.
When I first started working in studios, I found it incredibly intimidating. More often than not I was surrounded by men who were confident and sure of their ideas, at a time when I was unsure of my own voice as a producer. I soon learned that the loudest person in the room often got their point across the quickest and I remember thinking: Where do I fit in here? Where does the shy or quiet artist fit in here? I didn’t want to become a bully just to make myself heard, I wanted to be the facilitator for artists whose voices had been overlooked. When I started producing with empathy, it all changed.
A lot of the artists I work with tend to be women and non‑binary people who have had negative studio experiences with (predominantly male) producers in the past. I once worked with a musician who had had such a bad time with her last producer that she quit music for five years. At first she struggled to even look at me. I knew I had to take my time and allow her the space to find her conviction in the studio again. At that time I felt that this was more important than how the recordings would turn out. But, with our creative trust building she became more confident and, as a result, more able to express her vulnerability. Within a few days she was thriving. It’s easy to get bogged down in recording efficiently and keep one eye on the clock, especially with time and budget constraints, but I truly believe that we wouldn’t have made the amazing record we made without spending the time to build our personal relationship first.
I truly believe that we wouldn’t have made the amazing record we made without spending the time to build our personal relationship first.
So here are my tips to producing with empathy.
I believe that most great songs come from a place of vulnerability, whether you’re working with a brand‑new artist or a veteran songwriter. Therefore, every interaction you have with an artist about their song matters. By actively listening and engaging with them you, as the producer, can create an environment where they feel both supported and encouraged. This empathetic approach helps establish trust and fosters a collaborative atmosphere that allows everyone’s creativity to flourish. So, before setting up any microphones or opening up Pro Tools, it is vital to understand the headspace that created the song. This is the main reason why pre‑production is so important.
It’s crucial to me to begin each production in a social setting, so that I can get to know the artist and find out what makes them tick. I tend to meet them for a coffee so we can have a deep dive into their emotional state, what’s happening in their lives and their motivation behind writing. After initial meetings I then like to make a shared reference playlist and constantly discuss the artist’s song choices. It keeps the creative ideas flowing before you even hit the studio, and helps you to get to know their musical world. By the time we’re close to recording, the relationship is already formed and the trust is there.
This is my way of creating a common understanding that serves as a platform for discussions about structural changes and the sonic palette of the production. When I’m making these suggestions, I try to phrase them as questions and never as a “you should/shouldn’t” statement. I can be confident in my ideas while making space for the songwriter to feel valued and understood. The key thing to remember is how...