‘Producing is 50% psychology’: Butch Vig on coaxing top performances in the studio16 August 2017
“There is a lot more than just the technical side of making a record. A lot of what producers do is about getting inside the psyche of the artist, help figure out what their vision is and focus them and steer them on that course” – Butch Vig.
Butch Vig is one of the most recognisable names in music production. Having served as sticksman for grunge band Garbage for the past 22 years, he also has production credits on hugely influential albums, from Nirvana’s Nevermind to Sonic Youth’s Dirty. His close involvement working with iconic guitar bands has made him the hero producer he is today, and it is this psychological aspect of the producer’s role that Vig thrives on.
Sometimes you have to work out problems with people in the band. Artists can be complicated beasts! I feel a lot of the time that 50% of producing is psychological – I’m a psychiatrist in the studio half the time!
That’s not to suggest that his focus on the more technical elements of producing records is in any way lacking, but his emphasis on truly understanding how to coax best possible performances out of artists and his knack for a knockout arrangement is virtually unrivalled among his peers or today’s contemporary knob twiddlers.
“I always tried to bring a fresh perspective that the band might not have thought of because they aren’t as objective about it,” explains Vig. “The more I got into producing, the biggest aspect for me was the psychological aspect, and that entails understanding the band’s vision and trying to help them get there; getting them to relax, let their guard down and try things in the studio so they are uninhibited.
“Sometimes you have to work out problems with people in the band. Artists can be complicated beasts! I feel a lot of the time that 50% of producing is psychological – I’m a psychiatrist in the studio half the time!”
He continues: “When I started out I was very obsessed with sound. I was really looking at production almost from an engineering standpoint. When Steve [Marker] and I started Smart Studios we were just recording bands, and it wasn’t until I’d been recording for a year and a half that someone said they wanted me as a producer, and I said I didn’t really know what a producer did, and they said, Well, you certainly steered us in the right direction and had a lot of opinions. And I am opinionated!
“I guess that’s one of the things that makes a good producer, that a band trusts the producer’s opinion. As I worked more and more with bands it became less of a technical aspect of recording and more about the arrangements and trying to help them play better.”
Humble beginnings, working with Cobain and a growing collection of home studio kit. Read our full-length feature with Butch Vig here.