“Steve is the fourth best producer I have ever worked with. . . the other three? One is washed-up, one is retired, and the other is no longer with us.” – Jimmie Haskell, Three-time Grammy-winner and five-time Emmy-winning string arranger and composer.

I sat down with music producer, Steve Sundholm this week, gleaning his studio insights on working in the music industry. He works with some of the biggest names in the industry, like Cee-Lo Green, Carrie Underwood, Ryan Tedder of One Republic, Randy Jackson, even Madonna. Sundholm has spent the past seven years producing in Los Angeles, the last two of them as Chief Engineer of the world renowned Nightbird Studios at the Sunset Marquis. Trading LA for Portland, Ore., Steve Sundholm is now mixing it up at Kung Fu Bakery, a recording studio on thirty sixth and Southeast Division.

Carrie Underwood, Steve Sundholm, Ryan Tedder (One Republic), Craig Durrance, Zac Maloy

From Left to right: Carrie Underwood, Steve Sundholm, Ryan Tedder (One Republic), Craig Durrance, Zac Maloy

Sound has been key in Sundholm’s career, and is the ruling force of any producer’s work. Still, he revealed that while all producers are dedicated to sound, production styles vary as much as albums do. No two producers are alike. This is something artists need to take into consideration when preparing to record. As many musicians know, the producer holds power in the studio, not the artist. If an artist wants to have any control over the production of their album, they need to ensure production quality by finding the right producer. Steve Sundholm provided some key tips to help artists choose the right producer:

Understand your producer’s process

Each producer develops their own creative process. Some mix, engineer, and produce in stages. Others, like Steve Sundholm, do it all at once. There are producers who like to have the entire band record together, while others prefer to record and perfect each instrument independently. Each method has its own pros and cons. Decide how you want to work and find a producer who meets that.

Learn about the producer’s specialty

There are many different types of producers. Sundholm explains that a worthwhile producer is, “great at something and focuses on that.” Some are musicians and specialize in specific instruments, often focusing on those instruments in their recordings. There are producers who, because they aren’t biased towards a particular instrument, are more interested in the overall sound. Some producers are phenomenal arrangers. Others are what Steve Sundholm calls, “Vibey Producers,” producers who don’t necessarily know music, but know when something’s good. “They’re really good at helping creative people relax or saying just the right thing to get something out of them,” said Sundholm. Know what you’re looking for in your final product, and find a producer who specializes in it.

Know their work

Each producer has a different style or sound to their work. The best way to understand this is to sample their recordings. Learn what genres they’ve produced, artists they’ve worked with and so forth. What does their work sound like? Is that the sound you’re looking for? Get to know the product you’re buying into before you invest in studio time.

Artists maintain power in the studio by choosing their producer wisely. They invest in someone whose method, expertise and track record reflects work the artist can trust. Most of all, Sundholm suggests that artists find a  producer who is able to, “find a balance in protecting the artist from themselves and making bad decisions, but at the same time unlock(s) what makes them (the artist) great.” A great producer doesn’t make it about them. They make it about the artist.

Related Article: Steve Sundholm Series Part 2, “Studio Do’s and Don’ts”

By Marzee Dyer
Interview with Steve Sundholm conducted on Feb 8th, 2012

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