How a good consultant is similar to a music producer.
(In a previous post, I commented on a Daily Beast interview (since moved to Newsweek) with legendary music producer Rick Rubin. I touched on Rubin’s work in particular, and this time I’ll take a look at producers in general.)
Music producers are a strange lot: they rarely write or perform the music you hear, yet they play a vital role in any studio effort. Aside from die-hard music afficionados and members of industry, people would be hard-pressed to name more than a handful, much less explain what they do.
What do they do, then? Producers shepherd an album. They help the band to understand who they are, understand what this album is supposed to be, and make sure that sense of being is properly reflected in the final recordings. It’s a curious mix of experience and guidance that’s brought in to steer a project.
A producer, then, is not unlike a good consultant:
Silent, invisible partner: Producers and consultants are mostly invisible outside of the band or team with whom they’re working. (In larger organizations, it’s quite possible that few people even know that company leadership has sought the advice of an outside consultant.) They may be known within the industry, but rarely outside of it.
They stay out of the limelight to let the band’s album (or client’s project) shine on its own. Producers get a mention in the album liner notes, sandwiched between band members’ names and various acknowledgements.1 Consultants may get a referral to another department in the company, or another firm altogether; but the general public will not know of the consultant’s involvement in a project. This may lead to deus ex machina cases, in which the client’s situation mysteriously improves yet no one outside the firm knows why.
Balances multiple, juxtaposed roles: Consultants and producers see the project-in-progress from a variety of perspectives: as inside contributors, outside listeners, from a high level, and close-up.
As insiders, they learn enough about a project to understand its purpose and influence its direction. Their outside perspective, built on other, similar experiences, helps them to bring to light issues that long-term insiders cannot see. Looking at a project from a high level, they understand where it fits in the organization’s greater, strategic picture. Up-close, they note the minute implementation details that will have large impact over time.
A consultant or producer uses this combined perspective to help a client see and unlock a project’s full potential.
A fan of your work: In that Daily Beast interview, Rubin mentions several musicians he was excited to engage because he liked their sound and had faith in how the album would turn out. It’s not so much that he is a fan first and a producer second; it’s that Rubin understands that a producer must be a fan in order to see an album’s potential and be that guiding force in the studio.
Good consultants, then, are fan of your work in general, and of your project in particular. They must have faith in what you can achieve and how it will improve your business for the long-term. How else can they serve as your guide down a new road?
Consider this list, then consider your company’s upcoming projects. Who will you choose as your producer? Which fan of your work will serve as that source of guidance, and help your project to reach its full potential?
Remember liner notes? Anyone? ↩