Michael Beinhorn on Business and Creative Process

Renowned music producer Michael Beinhorn has had a legendary career working with superstar acts such as Soundgarden, Korn, Marilyn Manson, Hole, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Ozzy Osbourne, Herbie Hancock and many more. His recordings have achieved combined worldwide sales of more than 45 million albums, and he is one of only a handful of producers to have two separate recordings debut on Billboard’s Top Ten in the same week

In recent years, Beinhorn has turned his attention to the concerns facing today’s artists and producers attempting to maintain their creative ethics and focus on the recording process. He was kind enough to answer some questions about the music business and his creative process pulling from his vast experience

 

MC:

Early on in your career you made the transition from musician to producer. You went from founding your own project in 1979 and within only a year’s time were working with Brian Eno. Three years after that you wound up producing a Grammy award winning single with Herbie Hancock. Other than your talent, what was involved in this quick rise to prominence? Did you do a great deal of self promotion?

 

MB: 

For one thing, you’re speaking of a different period in history. The New York music scene back in the late 1970’s/early ’80’s was an amazing breeding ground for talent- unlike anything that exists currently. Back then, if you did something unique, different or even weird and did it with conviction and or/style, you got noticed and could build a following. This is how someone like Madonna became successful when she came to New York- she was different, she flaunted it, got noticed and found her niche. It’s also the complete opposite of the music business now, since the emphasis for upcoming artists is active encouragement to conform or sound/appear exactly like someone else who had some recent success in their genre. Coming up, I was very shy and had no idea how to promote myself, so I was very fortunate to be in a band with someone who was an absolutely shameless self-promoter- namely, Bill Laswell He handled all of our advertising, leaflet design (that’s how people did it back then), PR, etc and was a first-rate networker- long before the idea was acceptable in music scenes. 

 

MC:

Many years later you must have your pick of what artists to work with. Obviously there is the subjective portion of what you gravitate to creatively, but in deciding who to work with are there character traits of the musicians involved that indicate to you that a project is something you want to be a part of? Are there any other factors involved in your decision on what to produce?

 

MB:

Regarding my criteria for producing an artist, there are only a few. First and foremost, I really have to be in love with the entire presentation- who the artist is, the quality of the songs, etc. Barring that, there needs to be some element that I can connect with- no matter how subtle- something I can relate to that the artist does or that he/she emanates in their music at some level. This is the stuff that matters the most and transcends all the other details. 

 

MC:

You are usually working with very established artists but do you have any interest in working with artists who are just starting out? If so – what would be the best way for them to get your attention?

 

MB:

Regarding artists to work with, my interests are in real talent combined with real drive. I recognize that there are artists like that at every level and they aren’t all signed to major labels. My website- michaelbeinhorn.com is the very best way to reach me. I also have a variety of other services that correspond with the needs of developing artists- these are all mentioned on the Services page of my site. 

 

MC:

You’ve been vocal about the importance of pre-production. Do you find this to be a lost art today? In your eyes is the goal of pre-production making songs more commercial or immediately memorable?

 

MB:

Yes, I have and with good reason. If not completely lost, pre-production is definitely a dying art. This is an issue because adequate pre-production for a recording project is the equivalent of a sturdy foundation for a house. The fact that fewer people incorporate pre-production into their recording projects provides a partial (and very logical) explanation for why people are increasingly complaining about the quality of music these days. However, in my eyes, the goal of pre-production is neither to make a song more commercial or immediately memorable. Its main purpose is to make a song the best possible iteration of itself that it can become. Although pre-production is vital to the process of recording an artist’s songs, it’s not going to work miracles. If you have poor material, your only recourse will be to go back and write better songs. Proper application of pre-production can take a song with great potential (that also has issues with presentation, arrangement, etc) and actualize all the potential by dispensing with all the issues. Pre-production also helps provide an overview to a recording project, to the extent where it becomes obvious that certain songs in an artist’s repertoire shouldn’t be recorded or included with those he/she intends to record. 

 

MC:

What advice would you give to artists on how to select a producer?

 

MB:

My suggestion would be to find a producer who passionately wants to work with you, has a vision for you, can explain it all to you and can also explain why he/she is so excited about your project. If you feel like you have to chase a producer down, offer them fantastic amounts of money to work with you or do something else to get his/her attention, they are probably not the right fit. 

 

MC:

Lastly, If there was one piece of advice you could give to your former self (when just starting out) what would that be?

 

MB:

There’d be two pieces of advice I’d give- first, trust your intuition and, second, get a lawyer.

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