Christian Music - Reviews, News, Interviews

Ask Charlie - Finding A Producer

  • Updated Feb 01, 2002
Ask Charlie - Finding  A Producer

Charlie Peacock IS HERE with YOU in Musician Resources on the Music Channel at to answer YOUR questions. Think of it as your chance to have Charlie as your mentor - your virtual mentor here on

Charlie won't be able to answer every question, but he'll pick one or more to address as part of his new regular column, ASK CHARLIE here in Musician Resources. To send Charlie a question for consideration, just email him at

Isaiah Gannaway wrote:

I was curious what it would take for you to produce my music. You are by far the biggest influence in every aspect of my songwriting. That would make you my first choice. So I am very interested in what you think makes a demo worth listening to. I am still new to this whole process so any advice at all would be much appreciated.

Thank you for any time you may put into this.

Isaiah Gannaway

Dear Isaiah,

Yours is a common question which deserves a thorough answer. Unfortunately, in order to attend seminary and work on new directions in my own music, I'm not entertaining any production work at this time. Nevertheless, let's do think through what "it would take" to interest someone you admire, whether it be me or some other worthy producer. Your dilemma can be broken down into three categories: access, conventions, and interest.

1. Access: You first have to have access to the producer you are interested in. You gained access to me because I allowed direct contact through the internet. That was easy! In fact, these days the internet is your best source for names, contact sources and addresses. Here's just a few of the useful links available (warning--not all this info is free): (UK Producer mgmt. firm) (Music Biz Book with Producer listing) (Encyclopedia of Record Producers) (Black Gospel Record Producers) (More producers) (Christian music networking guide w/producer listings)

Although it's amazing how much access you have to great talent via the internet and resource books, there are some conventions, or accepted practices common to the contacting and soliciting of producers. Let's turn to those next.

2. Conventions: Artists looking for producers can be divided into three basic categories--signed artists, unsigned independent/custom artists, and unsigned developing artists. Note: Not all producers work with all three types of artists.

Generally, established producers only work with artists signed to major labels and major indies. Many of these same producers also do some talent development, i.e., they produce demos or masters on both unsigned independent/custom artists and developing unsigned artists they believe in. Then, if pleased with the results, they solicit a contract with a label on behalf of the artist and their production company. If you are a signed artist, the generally accepted practice is that your record company or manager contacts producers on your behalf. If you are a developing artist looking for a major record deal, and interested in a specific producer who does talent development, you may contact the producer directly. If you are an independent/custom artist (i.e., self-financed recording artist) seeking a major label contract via working with a producer first, you may also contact a producer directly. Note: contacting the producer directly may actually mean speaking to the producer's manager or assistant.

A few things to know regarding unsigned artists soliciting producers: Though you may find their names and contact info in print, this does not guarantee that they're interested in unsolicited material. You should always ask first. In addition, producers are extremely busy and preoccupied. Quick turnarounds of submissions are not their forte. You may never hear back from a producer unless he or she is authentically interested in your music (this includes yours truly).

Finally, while some established producers do work on independent custom projects (usually artist financed), very few are interested or able. This does not mean you should give up contacting those you hope to work with. You'll see why in the next section.

3. Interest: The final component has to do with gaining and sustaining the interest of a producer. You can see how an artist might contact a major producer and do it with respect to the conventions of the record industry. But without authentic interest on the part of the producer, all the leg work and music biz knowledge in the world will come to nothing. So, let's try to answer the question of how a producer's interest is gained and held.

Interest is gained via one or all of the following: music, money, and people.

a) Music: If the producer likes the music and believes in the artist there may be authentic interest in working together, particularly if there's time in the schedule for it.

b) Money: If the producer likes the advance and the budget, there may be significant interest even though the interest in the music is nominal or nil.

c) People: The producer may desire to work with the record company you're signed to, or your A&R person. This alone may be significant enough to capture and sustain interest.

What producers really want though, more than anything, is to have all three--good music, good money, and good people. Though they'd like to have it all, one or more of these will gain and sustain interest. Some artists will naturally be turned off by this reality. Test it though. Is it not, in principle, the core reality of almost every human enterprise?

Here's the most important thing I can tell you in the midst of breaking all this down: Often a producer will pass on a project that involves working with a record company they dislike, or a budget they think is ridiculously low. But almost never, will a producer pass on the chance to work with an astonishing artist. This is what we live for. To sit behind the console in the presence of greatness is what makes all the tedium and the long hours worthwhile. The point being, if you don't have a great budget or a great record company this is no excuse for not having great artistry. Artistry is something you can control--something you can be faithful and responsible to. This being so, true interest is gained and sustained through true artistry. True artistry will almost always override all else in gaining and sustaining interest.

Producers are really looking for just two things with respect to artistry. Either the producer is looking to work with an artist who is competitive artistically, or competitive commercially. These two constitute the bottom line. They are the most easily defined measures of success. For example, Backstreet Boys, at this moment, are very commercially competitive. Though their artistry has attracted millions of fans, few people (except for the fans) would attempt to build a case for BB's artistic competitiveness. Would you speak of them in the same breath as The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Prince, {{Phil Keaggy}}, Lauryn Hill, or {{Rich Mullins}}? No you wouldn't. Yet, you would speak of artists such as Jeff Buckley, {{Mike Roe}}, David Wilcox, Beth Orton, {{Sarah Masen}}, and Sam Phillips as artistically competitive, though none of these (and hundreds of other worthy artists like them) have ever achieved anything similar to the commercial success of Backstreet Boys.

The average record producer would love to work with a commercially competitive act like Backstreet Boys, an artistically competitive act like David Wilcox or {{Sarah Masen}} (pictured), and would be thrilled to work with a group like U2 who possess both artistic and commercial competitiveness. In other words, like The Beatles and Rolling Stones before them, U2 managed to have hits, sell millions of records, and remain artistically competitive. What producer wouldn't want to have a U2, a Paul Simon, a Sheryl Crow, a Jars of Clay and a Beck in their discography?

Considering all this, it is important for artists who solicit the help of producers, to have their goals clearly in mind. Those artists (and producers for that matter) who dont - generally create albums that fall through the cracks. They are neither commercially nor artistically applauded. They don't find a home in the culture and as a result vanish quickly.

{{Charlie Peacock}}

Charlie Peacock, seminary student and author of At the Crossroads: An Insiders Look At the Past, Present, and Future of CCM is currently working on a new CD of piano improvisations.

To send Charlie a question for consideration, just email him at