The Bad Producer RantJuly 28, 2013 at 9:08 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 29 Comments
Tags: bandcamp, indie games, producer, Steam, Super Meat Boy
Allow me to rant a little bit about bad producers.
“Producer” is kind of a weird term, because it seems to take on so many different meanings. There are good producers, and bad producers. And they can often fulfill vastly different roles on creative projects. I should also preface this by saying a lot of producer-related memories were dredged up after watching Tommy and Edmund troll an LA producer who wanted to make a Super Meat Boy movie.
The Recording Industry
During my involvement with the recording industry in Japan, I noticed that the producer was often the person who created the bulk of what made a song a song: composing all of the background music, arranging the different tracks, planning the vocal layers, etc. Often I met people who called themselves “singer-songwriters,” a term that makes it seem like they were the creative force behind their albums. In reality all they did was come up with a generic set of chords, and some passable lyrics. It was the producer who came in and turned that into a real song that people would actually want to listen to. They composed the entire arrangement, they came up with the hook, the bassline, the percussion, the vocal plans, etc. These “singer-songwriters” were not the kinds of performers who could draw crowds at a cafe with what they had created on their own; their songs were nothing special without the producers to help them.
On the flipside, I also met people who called themselves “producers” who didn’t seem to do anything at all. They had no skills, they couldn’t create anything, they were painfully ambiguous about their actual role in any project. In fact, it seemed like their entire platform rested upon their ability to convince you that they were absolutely critical to your success. Even though they wanted you to pay them, even though they had nothing to contribute to the project whatsoever, for whatever unfathomable reason they were somehow doing you a favor. These people prey upon a young artist’s desire to make a living off of their craft, by desperately trying to position themselves as being well-connected within the industry. Somehow, they were the key to your “big break.” You can also spot one of these types through the following:
*Using lots of “industry” lingo and catch phrases to compensate for their lack of an actual concrete explanation as to why you need them, and what they’re doing to help.
*Acting as though the industry has a special language that only they can translate for you.
*Upon noticing that you are losing interest, trying to somehow make you feel insecure about your abilities through subtle jabs in an attempt to get you to think you need them.
*Using terms like “win-win situations” and asking you if you are “really serious” about what you’re doing.
*Basically, a whole lot of this:
The Video Game Industry
When I started working in the video game industry, I noticed a huge variation in the “producer” role here as well. With small dev-team games (1-4 people for example), there are producers who actually play a major role in the development of the game. They are jack-of-all-trades types who in addition to coming up with the initial design for the game, also know how to program enough to create a prototype, understand art enough to be able to create placeholder art and effectively communicate with their artists, and maintain all of the schedules and deadlines without the need for a manager. Sometimes small teams will have a “producer” who handles a mix of legal work, schedules, and PR.
With games that have large development teams (50-100 people for example), I’ve seen producers who take on more of a managerial role. They are extremely organized, and excel at coordinating deadlines, bridging the gap between the various development departments, and handling a lot of the paperwork and red tape that often come along with large scale games. Just as with the earlier examples, they are essential to the completion of the game.
However, just as with the music industry, I’ve also seen several cases of producers who don’t really do anything. They can’t program, they don’t know how to create any sort of art, their “design sense” is more akin to throwing out random ideas at the expense of those who actually have to spend time and energy implementing those ideas… Sometimes they take on the superfluous role of managing an already self-sufficient and self-motivated team. At worst, I’ve seen some producers who actually inhibit productivity by forcing certain things on their development teams. Things like arbitrary paperwork, unnecessary meetings, and worst of all: having the team try out random ideas without any concept of how much time and resources are required to put those ideas into practice (and the subsequent effect of significantly derailing the team’s progress). The major problem with the “try my idea” producers, is the fact that they have no understanding of art or programming, so they’ll easily throw away weeks or months of time without even realizing it.
The worst part of all of this, is that the game industry seems to be crawling with people like this. And I can understand why:
1.) They are excellent communicators, so they can easy impress people at an interview.
2.) Considering that a lot of companies see producing as being synonymous with design (when in reality, design is a skillset all on its own), producers are often hired based on their “design sense.” However, it is unfortunately very difficult to measure a person’s design sense, especially when the person’s only game industry experience was playing the role of a tiny cog in a giant project.
3.) Once they’re in, it’s very difficult to measure their competency. If the development team they’re overseeing would have created a good game regardless of a producer’s involvement, it still reflects well on the producer. But if the team’s game doesn’t turn out well, the verbally gifted producer can shift blame away from themselves and onto members of the development team.
This is why I’ve seen terrible producers that somehow manage to maintain incredible longevity in the industry. This is also why I love the indie game community. In this space, it’s much easier to have development teams that are streamlined, where everyone’s role is clearly defined and measurable. This is also why I love places like Steam and Bandcamp. They allow creative and motivated people the chance to make a living off of their craft, thus making it harder for bad producers to deceive people into allowing their parasitic kind to feed off of other’s hard work.
There are good producers, and bad producers.
But rest assured that everytime I get a message saying, “Hey, I saw your videos on youtube… I don’t know how serious you are about music, but I’m a producer and I can help you get to the next level,” that it’s going straight to the trash :)