In part one of a two-part interview, Crē•8 Music Academy’s Director of Education Doug Fenske discusses a broad, wide-ranging array of topics. Skillset, inspiration, approach and client relations are discussed in part one. Check our blog for part two soon, when Doug provides advice and discussion about gear, studios and analog versus digital.
What do you bring to a song?
Experience. I bring 13 years of high-level record production experience to each and every song. This is particularly important when things don’t go according to plan. When things go wrong or take an unanticipated turn, understanding how to adjust approaches and procedures in order to secure the end result is the definition of an experienced professional.
What’s your strongest skill?
My strongest skill is delivery. I’ve become known as a “finisher”, in the sense that I know what it takes to nail a deadline with results that meet, surpass or exceed expectations. Finishing a record essentially boils down to making decisions. Having the experience and the foresight to efficiently and accurately make those decisions directly contributes to a working professional’s ability to finish and deliver.
What type of music do you usually work on?
I usually work on anything that is meant for commerce. In its traditional sense, this means “pop” music….”pop” being an abbreviation for popular. Pop music has five foremost sub-genres: organic, electronic, urban, rock and singer/songwriter. I am well-versed in all of these sub-genres of popular music and know how to maximize their viability.
What other musicians or music production professionals inspire you?
The way I listen…I like to call it “The Circle of Listening”. Say, for example, that I hear a song that is written very well. I’ll research other songs in that writer’s catalog on AllMusic.com and listen to several of them. While listening, I may be inspired by the mix on one of those songs. Then I will research and listen to that mix engineer’s work. During that time, I may run across a record that was produced well, so I will dig in to that producer’s catalog. I may stumble upon a song that was written well while listening to the producer’s catalog, and the circle continues.
What questions do you ask prospective clients?
Communication is paramount to obtaining successful results. However, there is not always a “shared language” between professional and client. I begin with questions about the desired sonic texture of the vocal and/or mix, followed by a request for a reference or target song. After the prospective client’s response, I generally ask a couple clarifying questions to verify that we are on the same page moving forward.
How can we achieve the same result for less money?
This is a challenging one, but is not impossible to answer. For the most part, I spend a lot of time cleaning up vocal tracks before tuning or building entire Pro Tools sessions before mixing. Hence, the less time I spend preparing, the more time I can spend working. If the client is able to accurately prepare tracks or DAW sessions and deliver them as such, I can turn over work more quickly, which saves on the budget as a result.
Can you share one music production tip?
Since we have been speaking mostly about vocals and mixing, one piece of music production advice would be to not over-orchestrate your songs. The DAW will allow us to voice 512 tracks – that doesn’t mean that we should use all of them! Overcrowding the stereo bus with elements that don’t support the song causes two problems: it interferes with the intelligibility of the lead vocal and can become distracting to the listener.
The most important part of any song for commerce is the lead vocal. Songs that have an instrument, effect or element that occur too frequently, clash with the rest of the instrumentation or compete for attention with the vocal rarely become successful. This is especially true for mid-range instrumentation, including an overdose of synths, guitars, FX or the like.
Remember to serve the song.
How would you describe your style?
I would describe my style as detailed and sophisticated. That’s not to say that I don’t know how to allow a raw, emotional performance to remain as such. But I know how to enhance, flatter and properly feature the most important elements of a song. There are myriad processes that are involved to make sure the final version of a song maintains its original creative intent.
Which artist would you like to work with and why?
Although I have been fortunate enough to have worked with many artists of which I am a fan, I would love to work on any project with Justin Timberlake. In my youth, I rejected his style of music. He and I are only one year apart in age. However, as I matured, I noticed his records doing the same. Now, he stands as a critically respected, commercially successful, career artist. The list of artists who meet those three criteria is short. I connect with his music and message.
What advice do you have for aspiring creatives who are looking to hire a professional?
I would advise to do your research! Examine the music industry professional’s catalog. Does their previous work and experience seem like something that would lend itself well to your project? You already whole-heartedly believe in your project and are prepared to commit time and money in order to see it through to the finish line. Shouldn’t you be just as diligent in the hiring process as you were during writing and production? Ask yourself honest questions about what kind of professional would nurture your creativity and help to create the best possible version of your song.
What questions do clients most commonly ask?
Most common questions:
Where in the song should I stack my vocals?
Any place where more instrumentation enters, but the sound of the vocal should remain thick. Remember not to over-stack and be sure to make them tight and unanimous.
How many lead vocal take should I perform?
As many as it takes. For some artists, four or five takes is enough. For others, it’s more like 24 or 25. Either one is completely acceptable, as long as all of the elements of the song are present in the DAW session and performed properly.
Where should I get food in LA?
The late-night LA recording studio staple is definitely Bossa Nova. Brazilian food, open until 3:30AM on weekends 🙂
What do you like most about your job?
The greatest reward of my life is starting with a blank DAW session and ending up with a finished product that has been properly registered, distributed and consumed. The feeling is difficult to describe, but it lives somewhere between achievement, vulnerability, excitement, tension, anticipation and gratification. Fortunately, I get to repeat that process over and over for a living. There is literally nothing else in the world that is comparable. It is my entire existence.
What are you working on at the moment?
Fortunately, I have reached the point in my career as to where I can work on my own terms. Even though I have a wide catalog of work with major-label artists, I have always had a deep affinity for independents. We are at a great moment in time as an industry for that, as the collective success of all indies has begun to outweigh the major labels due to advancements in distribution platforms and technology. With that in mind, it should come as no surprise that I am currently working with independent artists, some of which are start-up. Crafting their first pieces of creativity from scratch, and setting the tone for their entire brand, is very rewarding for me.
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