Advice from Ricardo Robledo of Common Ivy
One of the hardest pockets of the music business to be successful in is music production. While the number of producers keeps growing and growing (in both professional and ameteur settings alike) it’s never been harder – yet easier – to produce music. It’s all at your fingertips, with the best production tools ready wherever, whenever, right on your laptop. But everyone is doing it. Your band’s guitarist helped produce that track, and your friend just made a new beat he’s dying to get in front of people. Production can be the make or break point of your song. If you don’t have the right sound, the right melody, or the right beat, you aren’t going to be able to create a successful brand for you or your band.
Ricardo Robledo, a producer from San Diego, has been producing since he was 19. Now 26, Robledo, though a multi-instrumentalist, is primarily a bassist and producer for pop/rock/electronic band Common Ivy. A producer for over seven years, Robledo has a lot to contribute to the production conversation.
Ricardo Robledo, Michael Schenk, and Dylan Taylor
MZ: Give us a little backstory on who you are and what you do, and how you got into production.
RR: I studied liberal arts at Harvard, with a concentration in music, although that was very “music college” and not so much production oriented. I didn’t start producing until I was 19, so I was a little late to the game. Right off the bat, if I have any advice it’s to start producing as soon as possible. Then early on, you’ll have a defined product where the age that you’re at will coincide with an easier brand that an audience would love to consume. Let’s say an audience wants to consume an 18 year old’s music. That’s good, but that’s why you start early. After refining my production, I had the confidence in myself that my production was unique, but lo-fi. I did not have the quality I was striving for, but finally my creativeness was starting to channel itself. It wasn’t crappy pop tunes anymore, it was actual music with substance. It took three to four years for me to get there.
After graduating from Harvard, Robledo returned to San Diego and joined Boondock Brothers, an old-school blues/rock band. Robledo added a funk/psychedelic element to the band, something that really became his “voice” when playing with Boondock Brothers. Robledo emphasizes finding your voice early on, defining yourself and your music to create an identity when writing a song. This is relevant to independent projects, but also extremely important in group efforts. Robledo, as mentioned earlier, is currently a member of Common Ivy, a band whose production is often very experimental, and definitely “creates an identity.” Since he’s the main producer for the group, I asked Robledo if crediting people was ever an issue.
RR: I’ve never minded that. If you’re part of the group, if you helped even with a line in a verse, I’ll put you in the credits.
Of course, like anyone else anywhere near the music business, producers rely heavily on connections and relationships with fellow musicians/producers/etc. Relationships among band members aren’t the only dynamics producers have to manage.
RR: Getting to know people is tough. You want to make a friend before you make a collaborator, and I know from experience. I’ve tried approaching people solely with professional goals saying things that communicate, “I know you’re better than me, can I get advice from you?” and they’re just turned off by it. You want to be a friend to them, and you want to make sure they’re on-brand for you. If an R&B artist approaches a goth/house artist, it’s not necessarily going to work.
MZ: Can you talk about the differences you’ve found between self producing and having a producer?
RR: For me, when I’m self producing, because my production is often based off of creative endeavors and melodies, I don’t care so much about the quality. I know working with other producers really pushes my product to sound better than ever. Common Ivy’s latest track was co-produced by someone who we’d never collaborated with before, but someone who I knew had great quality. I’ve never heard Common Ivy have a more hi-fi sound.
Getting that “hi-fi” sound can be very tough. Even tougher though can be having the creativity needed to produce a sound that is undoubtedly you. While creating your brand, when making contacts and connections with people, there is one thing to remember: Production is creating a sound that is unique to you, something that really helps to create your musical identity. This is, at its core, what production is all about. Once you’re comfortable with where your creativity is, it’s only a matter of finding what really works for you, and what works for your audience.
Molly Zucchet is a multi-instrumentalist based in San Diego, California. If she’s not playing music, she’s either writing or talking about it. Her musical style is hard to define, but she considers herself a lover of all things jazzy.
Images via Common Ivy