Here’s a question I answered recently and I thought there might be some among you who could find it useful. I’m paraphrasing the question, which comes from a writer/producer who is not in a major music center and this is potentially his first major label cut.
“My co-writer and I had a song picked up by a well-known producer who wants to produce it on a new artist who’s been signed to a major label. I put a lot of work into arranging and producing a demo in my home studio good enough for him to be interested. I feel it’s only fair that I try to get producer or co-producer credit for the song since, though he might re-record it, he’ll probably use my production ideas. My co-writer says I should chill. Don’t you think I should at least try?”
The question here is not an unusual one and pretty easily answered. NO! First of all, the chance to get a song on a project that a major label is going to put some promotion behind is so rare that you want to do everything possible to make it happen. Since the decision process is so subject to the whims and economic considerations of a variety of people (producer, A&R, promotion department, label executives who are looking at one and a half million in recording and promotion costs to launch a new artist) production credit is not what you should be interested in for this situation.
Arrangement doesn’t necessarily mean production, and a producer is responsible for the entire recording through the mastering process. So if you arranged the song it doesn’t really count. After you’ve had hits you can start working on tracks that people will actually use (record the vocal to those tracks) and at that point it would be important to go for production credits but not before you actually have a foot in the door. At this point the strategy should be to assist the producer in any way you can to make sure this works for his artist (including re-writes if necessarily) and consider yourself fortunate if the artist doesn’t want to “co-write” for a piece of the writer credits and royalties.
If you’re not part of this new artist’s team and thus responsible for delivering a finished product tailored to her style and key or adapted to creating a style for her you may be a producer but you’re not HER producer. There’s a MUCH bigger picture going on here than you’re part of at this point. Your song is, hopefully, part of a vision for the artist that includes all the other songs chosen for her project.
You should be praying that after all the other songs are chosen, yours still fits the vision and doesn’t get dropped, and you can be sure that other pro writers and publishers who are submitting songs for this project will not be insisting on production credits (unless they’re already successful) for fear they’ll lose the cut.
Commonly, many more songs are recorded than actually get released. I just interviewed Carlos Santana who said they recorded more than 30 songs for his new CD, “Shaman,” and 16 made the cut. After interviewing hundreds of writers and producers, I know this is typical. Successful writers’ lists of: 1. Held but not recorded, 2. Recorded but not released, and 3. Released but not charted, are MUCH longer than their list of hits. So my very strong suggestion is that you don’t push for producer credits, EVEN if he uses some of your actual tracks and certainly not if he uses aspects of your arrangement. The reality is that every pro writer prays that the demo arrangement/production is good enough to get the song considered for the project.
The main objective is to get the song recorded and released as a radio single since that’s where your performance royalties are generated and on a big enough selling CD to get some mechanical royalties too. To risk all that by insisting on production credits would be incredibly foolish and naive, to say the least.
Look at the long view of your career and hope that if the producer is impressed with your songs and production and finds you easy to deal with, he’ll give you an opportunity to shine when he gets his own label and you actually bring him your own projects in which you’ve found, written for/with and produced the artist yourself. That’s the long-range payoff you need to be looking at. The gutters of the music biz are strewn with the failed careers of talented artists and producers who made the wrong moves too soon and failed to see the big, long-range picture because their egos got in the way. There’s a time to hold ’em and a time to fold ’em. Your co-writer is right. Fold ’em.