If you want your music to sound professional through speakers and headphones, then what you need is a music producer. A music producer is someone who helps mix, add instruments, and bring your music up to industry standards. How do you find the right person for your needs? Listen in as Bree Noble gets answers from Emily Satterlee, the CEO of ItyDity, a music platform that allows singer-songwriters to find their ideal music producer. Listen in to discover important insights on finding the right producer that will take your art to its fullest potential.
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Why You Need A Music Producer And How To Find The Right One With Emily Satterlee
I am excited to be here with Emily Satterlee from ItyDity. This is a cool startup, a service and a helpful tool for musicians that I can’t wait to unpack. Before we get into what ItyDity does, I want to find out the origin story of why you started it, how you got started, and why did you choose to start this. What are your music experience and background?
First and foremost, I’m a singer-songwriter. Throughout my twenties, I was playing out live in bars and coffee shops throughout Southern California and working with music producers to produce my songs in Orange County and LA. I had been through the gamut of experiences with working with producers, had a lot of difficulties with it and I wanted to fix it. I would work with producers who I felt were a good match for my songs. I would work with professional producers, pay a ton of money and still be disappointed. I was like, “What‘s going on here?” Sometimes, I would have great experiences. I became fascinated with what makes a good producer match and how could that be easier. I did several startups before ItyDity. I had the biggest Meetup in Southern California called Orange County Songwriters.A big part of being professional is knowing how to keep anything that's essential and take everything else out. Click To Tweet
When did you have that? I used to live in Orange County.
That was in 2011 and it ran. It’s still active but I don’t run it anymore.
I moved from Orange County in 2004 so I missed it. I recorded my first album in Orange County, too. That’s interesting.
How did you find your producer there and how did you do it?
I found my producer because he wanted to publish one of my songs and then he asked me to record a demo for one of his songs because he liked my voice. He was like, “You need to create an album.” He was willing to produce it for free. That’s how I ended up with that. I ended up with the studio that he worked with before. I was putting a lot of stock, hoping that he had the knowledge to do this because I felt totally out of my depth.
That’s exactly the experience I had in the beginning. You walk into that environment. It’s intimidating and you don’t know. Often, the producer is in the producer‘s chair and you are on the side. In my case, one of the first producers I worked with, I was told to sit on the floor. I’m completely put in my place as like, “I’m just the songwriter.” They know what’s going on and they are in charge. The Orange County Songwriter’s thing was to educate songwriters on how the process works, working with a producer and then to match them with producers in their area that could be good for them.
I did a similar thing with a label later on in LA. I was more artist development-focused and more serious. I was the legal liaison there. I’m making sure I had to learn a lot about the contracts and make sure everyone was protected. I went to school for the music business. That was all the stuff I was doing in my twenties. After all of that, I had this idea for providing this support at scale for a long time before I did it. 2016 is when I started ItyDity and transferred this whole guidance and support of walking songwriters to the production process and matching them with producers. I started doing that at scale online.
I love that you started this because you had this pain point. You knew what it was like to experience these issues with producers, also to have good experiences with producers and try to extract from those what is it that makes a good artist-producer match, which is what you guys are doing. They were like Match.com for artists and producers but you also have all these other services that go along with it.
That’s a great way to explain it. Sometimes, we say we were like the Bumble for music production or Match.com but it’s more than that. It’s not just swiping right. You can swipe right and we can talk a little bit more in-depth about how it works and how you get a match. After that, it’s a program of like, “Here are the steps that go into it and here’s how to make sure you are going to get what you want at the end of it.” You are in the power seat. Before, in those experiences I had, a lot of times, I felt not in control. Especially for first-timers who don’t know what to do, they are at the mercy of a producer. The downside of that is if you are not set up for success, you are not going to get the song that you want.
I do want to unpack artist development and stuff like that but before we get into the particulars, how did you get the courage and the funds to start ItyDity? I always find these origin stories interesting, especially for female entrepreneurs.
When I started, I didn’t call ItyDity or myself a startup. I didn’t know that that’s what I was doing. I had the benefit of being naive. I had done these other projects. Looking back, I was always an entrepreneur. I was like, “I’m struggling with songwriting. How about I create a big meetup group to help me and help other people with that? Let’s make a label.” Those were entrepreneurial pursuits but I didn’t realize that at the time. Going into starting what is hopefully going to be this new innovative technology that can disrupt the whole market, I didn’t know that it was just a natural progression of like, “I’m going to take this online and make what I already do available to a lot of people.”
I was in Fort Collins, Colorado at that time. It’s a smaller town in Colorado. I didn’t know if I would have to go back to LA to do it. I was asking around if anybody knew a developer and knew how to help me with it and they were like, “You should go to Startup Week. You should start learning how to pitch this to investors and how to build a business model.” I started doing all of those things. I almost know more about the startup and the technology world now than I do about the music world, which is where I came from.
It’s a different way of doing things for sure than starting and putting a little thing out there like me and then building it. Did you get any startup capital?
We have had one Angel investor in the state and that has been a blessing because we didn’t get a ton of funding. Early on, we had to figure it out ourselves. As much as I had all this experience in the real world, I knew intimately the problems that songwriters have and I knew what goes into making a good producer match. Doing it online was a bit different. We had to figure out, “How do you collaborate remotely? How do you collaborate online so that it’s efficient and effective?” We had to get down and dirty, nitty-gritty to figure that out. Sometimes, when you get funding too quickly, you’ll build out this robust solution that’s not what people need.
Bootstrapping makes you not go too far ahead and build something that was not solving their problem. You think it’s going to solve their problem but as you get into it and you get some customers, you were like, “This is the way we need to help them.” That’s smart. What I love about this is it also includes an element of artist development. You find a producer and for me, it was like, “This dude is willing to produce me for free and he was excited about my music.” That was I got as far as deciding who I was going to work with. I didn’t make a decision. I fell into it.
What happens sometimes is that they have a different vision for you as an artist than you do. I know a friend of mine got this producer that was given to her by this investor that was behind what she was doing in her first album. This producer had this whole different vibe that he had in mind for her. She was going to be this alternative like Sarah McLachlan’s ‘90s style artist but that was not what her heart was in. Her heart was in being more of an acoustic folk singer-songwriter style. Her first album came out and she was like, “These are my songs but these are not in the way that I envisioned them and they were not representing me as the artist that I want to be.” How does ItyDity solve that problem?
When we sat down to think about what is ItyDity going to do, that was exactly that. It could make you a star, this could help elevate your career and take you to that level of commercial success. The whole point of using ItyDity is once your song is complete, your music is going to be authentic to you because of the artist development process you went through and you work with a producer. It’s going to feel like whatever message you are trying to convey worked because it’s the worst feeling when it doesn’t work out that way. You can put time and money in working on a song and it’s like, “This isn’t me. This isn’t what I was looking for.” That’s the worst.
Speaking of bootstrapping, that was one big thing that we learned. It wasn’t just going to be matchmaking but it was going to be a lot of artist development upfront. When you work with producers, they are also looking to work with artists who know who they are a little bit more and have figured themselves out. That can take a lot of years to do. We think that we have refined a process that can help streamline that for artists. One of the things you want to think about when you are developing your unique sound is your unique blend of influences, what artists and songwriters have inspired you. What was tricky about that is, let’s say, you like Billie Eilish but you also like Sheryl Crow. Those are two different sounds and it’s like, “How do you combine those two to create something of your own?” That is something that our technology helps artists flesh out.
What I also love about it is that empowering nature of the fact that it’s more of collaboration versus you are letting this producer have full reign over what you are doing. In the way that you come together as being matched, you are more on the level with them. With your development, you have empowered yourself to be like, “This is who I am as an artist. Now, I want to find somebody that fits well with that instead of letting someone mold me into something that I don’t even know that I want to be.” That is good. Before we get into the super specifics of what you can do on ItyDity, I wanted to mention that you surveyed our group, the Female Indie Musician Community, to get a gauge of what people’s experiences were with producers. I would love to know some of the results that came out of that because they were interesting.
I was surprised because people were engaged with it. There was a ton of responses. We did a couple of them and the questions were around, “Have you felt disempowered when working with producers? Have you had a disappointing or a horrible experience when collaborating with producers?” It got a ton of responses. That said, this is something that songwriters have dealt with and they haven’t had an outlet or a place to talk about it.
Eighty percent of songwriters said they felt disempowered or they weren’t taken seriously when collaborating with producers. Seventy-five percent of songwriters said they had a poor or disappointing experience. Forty percent said they had a nightmare experience or a horrible experience working with producers. There are a lot of comments. It was a poll but people felt like they wanted to tell their stories in the comments. A lot of the comments were the producer ignored their input. They were dealing with inexperienced producers. They weren’t heard or respected creatively. They were taken advantage of financially. The women said, a lot of times, they get hit on or they get unwanted romantic advances in those environments.
I had that experience, too. It happens.
Every time I get to talk to artists about their song, whether this is something that they are ready for production and they want to do, it’s never just a sales call. It’s a story. It’s a conversation. It’s always a story of something that happened to them, which has been a healing experience for me because I have had all these experiences. For a long time, I thought I was the only one. Now, I realized that’s not the case at all.
I love that you said it’s not a sales call. It’s a story. You are understanding what they have been through. That’s a big portion of who you serve but I know you also serve the people that would have been me at the beginning where I wrote the songs and I have no idea how to arrange. I don’t know anyone in the business. I have songwriters reach out to me a lot and they were like, “I don’t even know where to start. I don’t know where to find a producer. I don’t know anyone. I don’t even know anyone to ask. I don’t have a clear vision of how to take my song from its raw form into being produced.” Are you finding that those people are coming to you as well?
We were great for people who are rebounders. They are coming back after a negative experience but we are good for first-timers because the whole process is guided and it’s supportive. You don’t have to know what you are doing. It’s a rubric that you follow that step-by-step. You get a production assistant, too. There’s someone from ItyDity that works side by side with you the whole time. There are a lot of advantages to doing it through ItyDity, especially if you are a first-timer.
Let’s talk about producers because we hear the term producer and we were like, “I don’t know exactly what they do but I feel like I need one because when I look at the Grammys, there’s a category for this best producer. I probably need one of those if I’m going to be on the level with the people I want to be on the level with whether they have won awards or they have produced artists that we like.” How do we figure out what a producer does for us and what we should be looking for in a producer? Of course, what you do now is solving a lot of these problems because your system is going to help us find the right person but let’s say they are not using your system.
We get that question a lot. “What is a music production and what does a music producer do?” It’s a great question because it changed so much over the years. The role of a producer has changed since the label days. Now, you are talking about a whole different world where producers are independent contractors and working out of their bedroom studios or their home studios. The definition has changed so it’s certainly a valid question.
In the case of Sheryl Crow, she has got a full band of instruments playing and the producer is the person who either has contributed to playing those instruments or orchestrated them so they have hired out instrumentalists to help play on that track. That’s the first thing. The second thing a producer does is apply effects and alterations to those instruments and those sounds. That’s a process called mixing. The final thing is that the producer brings those instruments up to industry standard by using things like EQ and compression so that the song is going to play at the right volume. It’s going to sound professional through speakers and headphones.You are the artist, you are the songwriter; it is your song and you have every right to take it seriously and evaluate all your options. Click To Tweet
That’s a lot of describing what I think of as an engineer, how is that different?
Sometimes, a producer will use an engineer for some of those things. Sometimes, they won’t do it all themselves. Although it’s becoming more common that a producer is all in one that does the mix engineering and the production. The production itself in more of the traditional role is that first part where they have this artistry, producers are certainly artists, too. They are hearing what instruments and what sounds are coming in. They are bringing it from a bare bone of the songwriter and their guitar to adding keys, strings, percussion and bass tastefully. A big part of being a producer and you could say this in a lot of different mediums of art but it’s taking away. When you are going through the process at first, a lot of times, you or the producer are adding things. In the end, a good producer knows what to take away and keeps the necessary elements in place.
That’s an interesting idea about what to take away. I never thought about that because sometimes, you overload the track and that’s not helping.
It’s a huge thing. A lot of producers that we talked to say that a big sign of an amateur producer is someone who’s overproducing. They say that a big part of being professional is knowing to keep anything that’s essential and take everything out also. If you listen to your favorite song over and over and what’s going on, you might think there are a lot going on at first when it’s a pop song on the radio but if you listen to it, you are only going to hear a few elements.
Is there a role also on the vocal side or even on the instrumental part side on deciding, “That’s a good take or we need to retake this part?” I remember my producer doing that. I always was like, “What if I don’t like the tape but he likes it?” We move on and then I go back later and go, “I don’t like the way my voice sounded there.”
They should be including you. A good producer has an ear if you are singing in tune or if you did something that had a great emotional quality to it. They are listening for that and they should be able to pinpoint it but also, they should be passing it by you. Producers work in different ways but they should never be hearing everything themselves and deciding. There should be a collaborative element.
How does ItyDity work? If I come to the site, how does my experience flow?
The first step is the artist development discovering your sound process that we talked a little bit about. There are three steps, essentially. The first one is it’s like a program to develop your sound. We are going to take a look at who your influences are and give you a blueprint of what is going to work for your song. That’s like, “What instruments, what genres, which production effects and techniques would likely work for this song?” A place to start like a North Star of the production. That’s the first step.
The second step is matching with producers. We post your demo. A home or a phone recording of your song along with this blueprint and producers who are interested in you, pitch to you, essentially. You get requests from producers. You browse producer profiles if you like them. The key here is if you like them, you get to ask for a sketch. You get to hear a rough draft of what each producer could do with your song and then from those sketches, you swipe right. You choose and hire your favorite producer. The third and the last step is collaborating with your favorite producer. That’s when you get the production assistant. The key here is this part is guided in the step-by-step program that you have to go back and forth and refine your song until it’s perfect.
It reminds me of when I was creating one of my logos and I used 99designs. I was like, “I love this.” They pitch to me and they give me all these options and I can be like, “I like this one but I don’t want to make little changes,” or whatever. Having that versus going off of their experience or their awards or whatever, you can see how they interact with your music, which is valuable.
There are a lot of things that you can look for to improve your chances of finding the right producer but at the end of the day, that sketching process is going to help you get clear on that and reduce a lot of the risk because it can be a big guessing game. You can do everything you can to try to figure out who’s going to be best for you but until you start working with that producer and hear if they are in alignment, you don’t know. That’s what that matchmaking process is all about.
I know we are going to be doing a workshop to show people in my audience how this works with one of your producers and the difference that a producer can make on a track, which is going to be super exciting. I want to throw that link out there, ProfitableMusician.com/production. We will be having that workshop and then after it’s live, it will be available for people to watch it in the future. Is there anything else we haven’t discussed ItyDity that you want to make sure people know?
I don’t know if I want to say anything about ItyDity but about producing your songs and protecting yourself as a songwriter, it’s important to remember that you are the artist and the songwriter. It is your song and you have every right to take it seriously and evaluate all your options. ItyDity is going to help you do that and you are going to leave with a higher level of confidence and pride in the music you created. You are going to get a song that sounds like you.
It reminds me of a thing that comes up all the time that I talked about in my Rock Your Next Release program and other artists that come to me and ask me questions is the legal side. Do you help them get contracts in place so they make sure that they retain all the rights to their master, your producer and the instrumentalists are all work for hire?
I’m glad you said that because that’s a huge benefit. You are protected on ItyDity. We have built-in contracts. A lot of the time, the money that we spent as a startup and as a company was inside these terms of service we have that act as a contract. It protects your copyright, it protects you and you are going to always retain 100% of your ownership of your master recording. That’s beautiful. That happened to me, by the way. I was working with a producer and after the fact, he threw it on me that he wanted to own half of the songwriting royalties and half of the master. I didn’t want to do that because he didn’t write any of the songs, so nothing ever happened with those songs. I lost. He threatened me and didn’t want me to use those funds anymore. I have heard those stories over and over. It was a huge priority for us to protect artists in that way. You don’t have anything to worry about with using ItyDity.
That is good because if you are putting your song out there and getting producers to give you sketches, that would be a worry like, “Couldn’t they go take the song and produce it and have another artist record it?” The fact that you have that in place is key.
Everything is secure. If they did end up trying to do something with your song, you could pinpoint back to the exact moment that they had access to your song and you are all working under these terms that say what their repercussions are, too. It gives you the step-by-step guide if that did happen exactly and how you could go after that producer to help them immediately take down your song.
You have a digital paper trail, which is amazing and you have another company involved that’s making sure that that digital paper trail is there so you are protected. It’s smart. I’m excited to introduce my audience to ItyDity and everything that you guys have available. We’ve got this masterclass that we are doing with your producer. It’s going to be at ProfitableMusician.com/production and it will be available after the fact there as well for people to watch after it is live. Thank you, Emily. I’m glad that we met and we are working together as partners here because I know that your company can help many artists that are in my community.
I’m excited to meet your community and thank you for giving us this platform. We appreciate it.
- Orange County Songwriters
- Female Indie Musician Community – Facebook group
- Rock Your Next Release
About Emily Satterlee
A singer-songwriter herself, ItyDity’s CEO and co-founder Emily Satterlee aims to empower and help songwriters avoid the common difficulties that she experienced early on in her career, as it relates to working with producers and producing their songs. Named by 303 Magazine as one of the “Top Bad Ass Women In Music”, previous to ItyDity,
Emily graduated from Orange Coast College with a certificate in music business, recording and production and spent ten years organizing Orange County Songwriters, Southern California’s largest songwriting network. Later Emily started her own production agency in Los Angeles aimed at connecting artists with vetted producers. Her most recent venture, ItyDity.com makes this 3rd party artist-producer matchmaking available to artists worldwide.