Today’s music business demands a lot from artists: To be successful, it’s not enough to be talented; musicians need to have a working understanding of everything from songwriting to marketing. Artists have vast resources at their disposal, and there’s no question that they can do things that were likely once financially and technically out of their reach.
But it’s important to have perspective on your strengths and limitations, and to recognize when a dedicated specialist can help take your art and career to the next level. Whether or not you subscribe to the “10,000-hour rule” popularized by Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers, we can all agree that there are no instant experts. A specialist is someone who has invested a lot of time and energy cultivating expertise in a specific discipline; it’s someone who offers focus, advanced skills, and deep knowledge; and who works in a dedicated environment, with specialized tools.
Working with a specialist in the music business can go a long way toward putting your best foot forward. It's making sure that you as an artist are able to put out the truest representation of yourself and the art you're trying to convey: The music, the message, the vibe, the feel, the sound, and the experience you want your listeners to have.
You wouldn’t want a general practitioner or jack of all trades performing a very specific process or procedure: If you're getting your car serviced, you wouldn’t want to take it to a tire shop if you needed a new head gasket. If you need your taxes done, you wouldn’t just hire anyone with basic math skills and no experience with tax codes. And you certainly wouldn’t hire a foot doctor to perform open-heart surgery.
When people listen to your music, they're probably not paying attention to the process behind the recording. They don’t care how much time or money you spent making your record; all they care about is whether they like it or not. How does your music make them feel? Does it sound good? Do they want to dig in, or move on?
That’s why, when you’re making a record, you always want to work with somebody who is a specialist in his or her field, who understands your work, and who knows how to get your musical message across.
When it comes to your art, you never want to compromise or put out something half-hearted, because that's how you’ll be presented. Remember, once it’s out there, it’s out there. It’s how people perceive you. It’s the same when it comes to your masters. You want to make sure that your masters are prepared by someone who understands the manufacturing and distribution process. For example, if you're making LPs, you want the person cutting your lacquers to be knowledgeable, experienced, someone who understands the art form—not just the mechanics, but the art itself.
Every format requires a deep understanding of the requirements of that particular format. Whether you’re creating surround tracks, high-res audio, downloads, lacquers, CDs, or LPs, just like when you’re recording or mixing, you want to hire a mastering engineer who knows how to help you be more you.
For me, the production process is like a pendulum swinging back and forth between left brain and right brain. Attempting to handle everything yourself, you’ll constantly be going back and forth between the artistic and the technical sides, as the pendulum will never swing very far in either direction. You won’t be getting the most out of the art form, or the technology. I believe you should never compromise on your art if you want to build a successful career.
Your music tells a story—not just through melody and lyrics, but also through sonic context. Everyone who works on your music should be the best that they can be, helping you to be your best, too.