As tempting as it may be to hire the first self titled "Music Producer" that crosses your path, there are several factors to consider and even more questions to be asked before you take the plunge. These questions not only give you a better idea of the person's skill level, but they will also (and maybe just as importantly) allow you to get to know the type of person you are about to commit yourself and your art to.
First I'll provide a list of a few skill level and experience questions that you should always ask. This is not a comprehensive list, but will serve as a good starting point:
1. How long have you been producing on a professional level?
2. Is production your full-time job?
3. Where did you receive your education / how did you learn to produce?
4. Do you work solely as a producer or do you also engineer? If you don't engineer, do you factor the cost of hiring an engineer into your rates?
5. Who else have you worked with? And, can you provide me with samples of your work?
6. Where is your studio located? Can I take a tour of your studio before I commit to anything?
Equally as important are the more personal questions. These types of questions will ensure that you and your producer will have a similar vision for your project as well as provide insight into their working style and whether or not you will mesh both personally and musically in a studio environment:
1. What kind of music do you listen to / what is your favorite type of music? Note: these are both important, because the answers should be quite different for each question. A seasoned producer should listen to all types of music and stay current with who's on the charts. He then may say that his favorite music is a completely different genre than "top 40" and will give you insight to his personal taste.
2. When you work with an artist do you typically sit back and let them create, or do you dive in and try to make sure you retain an aspect of control over what's being recorded? Believe it or not, some "producers" will actually do nothing in the way of arrangement, progression, etc. they simply hit record and make sure it all sounds tight and equalized. A good producer should always be listening for the best parts of a song and pointing out it's strengths and weaknesses. The material should be in a constant state of improvement. Even if these improvements are minor in nature, they can mean the difference between a hit single and getting lost in the album.
3. Have you ever had a situation where you and your artist didn't get along in the studio? How was that situation resolved?
Now, on to the nitty-gritty: MONEY. I won't spend a ton of time on this, as I have covered it in previous articles, but here's a few.
1. Do you charge per song, by the hour or by the day?
2. What do you include in your rates?
3. Do you have paperwork that itemizes your costs?
3. Are you negotiable? Can you work with artists with a budget? Do you ever negotiate points in lieu of payment up front?
The majority if these questions may seem obvious, but you'd be surprised at how many artists and bands jump into production agreements without hearing any of their previous work. Before you spend money or sign any agreements, you MUST ask questions! Here's a little hint: most of these things should be brought to you by the producer before you even have the chance to ask. When that happens, you know you've got a keeper! Good luck on your search and as always, don't hesitate to send questions my way: firstname.lastname@example.org