Light touch vs. heavy touch
There are times to work with a light touch and there are times to work with a heavier touch. And I imagine it will be a critical part of your journey, as it has been with mine, to learn the difference between the two!
I started out with my dial set to “all heavy touch all the time.” I had opinions and ideas and I was young and I thought that someone who was operating in the capacity that I wanted to be operating in was supposed to impose their opinions and ideas upon the process.
I learned eventually that, while that’s sometimes true, it’s not always or even usually true. What’s more true, for me anyway, is that I need to be much more sensitive to what the needs are of the collaborators with whom I’m working — even if they’re not necessarily able to articulate those needs themselves.
A good example of this for me is my mastering practice. Mastering is great because I get to work with people at a wide range of skill levels — and I can adapt my work to fill each project’s needs.
I think of mastering like a game, in which the goal is for each song to reach 100% of its potential. Some songs come to me at 100%, and my job is simply to recognize that and not change it. Some songs come to me at 95%, and my job is to figure out what that last 5% is. And then some songs come to me at like 50%. The mix will have good energy and a good direction, but it won’t feel finished or polished — and so my job is to use the mastering process to finish it as much as possible.
It’s similar with production. Some artists need me to do a whole lot, from arrangement to programming to playing parts to mixing and mastering. And some artists — like my amazing partner — just need me to be more of a mirror, quality-checker, and project manager — to keep focused on the bigger picture and make sure the performances and energy management and album arc are as good as they can be.
If I show up as the same version of myself in every creative relationship, some of those relationships are not going to work. The key for me has been learning how to spot those differences and be adaptable — and how to subsume my desires and interests into a larger truth.
It’s not about me, it’s about the art — jamie