What Defines a Music Producer
Updated: Mar 7
A producer is someone who: should know enough about music to converse with musicians, should have a vast knowledge of music to draw inspiration from, should put passion above pay check, should not cross the line of being a guide vs controlling, should empathise with the chaos of the creative process and not have judgement or put unnecessary pressure on the project and above all else should be someone you'd want to spend 6 hours in a room with. Making art is a whole-hearted process and does not confine itself to 4 walls - ultimately, it's a brave decision for an artist to hand over their ideas to a producer and thus should be treated as so.
I'd like to talk about a producer who, I feel, represents the above. His name is Malay - otherwise known as James Ryan Ho - and is well known for his tasty Lofi, Hip-Hop, R&B and electro-soul work. He has produced the likes of Frank Ocean, Zayn Malik, Nao, Lykke Li, Lorde, Sam Smith and the list goes on. Oh, he's also a Grammy Award winner. "At a moment when many high-level record makers promise a signature sound or access to a network of established stars (for buzzy guest appearances), this soft-spoken 38-year-old seems to offer his clients a kind of psychic safe space to experiment." - The Los Angeles Times (WOOD, 2016) In other words, humility will always be a nurturing environment to make art in. Malay said in the same article “When I’m making a record with someone, the record is basically their child,” (WOOD, 2016) This is an attitude I resonate with and as an artist myself, one that I'd expect my producer to have about my music.
"Nowadays a lot of producers have their own signature sound and no matter who they work with it all has that certain flavour. I’m kind of the opposite. I almost want to be transparent, kind of be far under the radar. So working with Frank it was that exact situation." (Interview: Frank Ocean's Co-Writer And Producer Malay Talks About Making "Channel Orange," Andre 3000 and Kanye's Help, And Frank Coming Out, 2012) I really like the humility of Malay and he seems to understand that a producer is there to help an artist, that a producer's 'signature' can be how well they were able to nurture the artist's creativity and sound. "Grammy award winning-producer James Ryan Ho, who's talent has helped artists find their identity" - Harpers Bazaar (Studio Cookups: The story of Grammy Award-Winning Producer Malay Ho - Harper's Bazaar Malaysia, n.d.)
His 3 examples I'm looking to for inspiration to are Ivy by Frank Ocean, Rear View by Zayn and One Thing by Alicia Keys. I'm going to compose an original with my artist Prince Love who already has some ideas. The process would be to take what he has and help in any way I can with lyrics, melodies and chords to get a foundation/rough demo. I will make a few rough beats to provide him with in our session on Friday and see if he vibes them, over which he can play with synth and keys as that's where I feel would be a good place to start. Adding in texture as we go to fill it out and vocals at the end when lyrics and melody fit. However, I think it's best to stay open to his process and that might be starting with melody first and then beats. I think it's best to have our first session and choose a mood/direction which will then decide instrumentation, tempo, lyrics and the rest.
Complex. 2012. Interview: Frank Ocean's Co-Writer And Producer Malay Talks About Making "Channel Orange," Andre 3000 And Kanye's Help, And Frank Coming Out. [online] Available at: <https://www.complex.com/music/2012/07/interview-frank-ocean-channel-orange-producer-malay> [Accessed 10 March 2020].
Harper's Bazaar Malaysia. n.d. Studio Cookups: The Story Of Grammy Award-Winning Producer Malay Ho - Harper's Bazaar Malaysia. [online] Available at: <https://harpersbazaar.my/people/studio-cookups-story-grammy-award-producer-malay-ho/> [Accessed 10 March 2020].
WOOD, M., 2016. Meet Malay, The Nurturing Record Producer Trusted By Frank Ocean And Zayn. [online] Los Angeles Times. Available at: <https://www.latimes.com/entertainment/music/la-et-ms-grammys-malay-20161205-story.html> [Accessed 10 March 2020].