A great producer wears many hats, but perhaps the most significant is the role they play in the development of the artist-fan relationship. This is an often-overlooked aspect of the record making process and an important factor to consider when choosing a producer. I was fortunate enough to get the chance to chat with Producer Shaun Shankel (Natalie Grant, Plumb, For King & Country) over coffee last month and enjoyed hearing his take on this critical piece of the production puzzle. Shaun was adamant about this particular role being one of the most important contributions a producer makes to a record. “The producer’s job is to first and foremost be a servant. They should be serving the artist, the project and the music,” he explains. “I don’t subscribe to the idea that a producer is hired for their brilliance and therefore the artist should ‘do what they say’, that approach does not foster artistry or trust.”
Because the success of a record relies so heavily on the producer’s vision, it is imperative that the producer work to build trust between themselves and the artist. “The best artist-producer relationships happen when a producer is not only able to stay true to the artist, but also his own creativity. The goal is to find the place where those two connect and it’s hard to accomplish that when you haven’t built that trust on the front end.” Shaun describes many creative relationships as seasonal but sometimes necessary, “It is exciting to see where God directs in these situations; although sometimes short lived, but I believe that is just what creativity is; it is finding new places of inspiration and sometimes that comes in the form of a new creative relationship.”
Another crucial role for the producer to play during the recording process is to simply believe in the artist. “In order to appropriately serve an artist, their music and the record, a producer must always see the artist better than they see themselves. As Shaun explains: “A producer must have the ability to guide an artist to a level that they are often unaware they’re capable of”. This is important, because the producer is an integral factor in fostering the relationship between the artist and the fan. In every decision, suggestion and edit he makes, he should always be, as Shaun puts it: “working towards capturing the best the artist has to offer at that moment in time”.
Capturing the best performance an artist can offer is important to growing the fan base and expanding an artists’ reach; but more importantly, an artist must first understand their audience. Shaun describes this as the “starting point of any creative, collaborative effort”.
“An artist must have a clearly defined understanding of their audience and who they are making music for. From there, the producer can step in and highlight the places in the artist’s performance that will speak to and move that audience in the most powerful way. This is significant in driving and enhancing the artist-fan relationship.” He continues: “Artists who understand that music is about an experience between the artist and the fan, and know how to grow and nurture those relationships will always find success.”