Jesse Cannon has worked in nearly every aspect of the music business. In 2000 he formed Cannon Found Soundation and began to amass gear and record bands in his own studio. He has also gotten the good fortune to work with countless amazing bands in a wide variety of genres.
Tell us a little about yourself and your experience.
I am a record producer/engineer who has worked with groups like The Cure, Animal Collective, The Menzingers and about a thousand others. I managed and produced Man Overboard and Transit. I wrote a book on the music business called Get More Fans: The DIY Guide To The New Music Business (getmorefansbook.com). I have taught two classes for CreativeLive on recording and host a weekly podcast on the music business called Off The Record. You can find out more at JesseCannon.com
What drove you to choose your career path?
From when I was about 12 I knew I wanted to be a record producer, write a book and own a restaurant/club. I worked in a club when I was a teenager and lost the itch for that side of it, but the other two paths were just about fulfilling what appealed to me. I started producing records at 15 and by 18 I was having my writing published in various zines. I saw a lot of success from a young age and have been going with it ever since.
How did you go about getting your job? What kind of education and experience did you need?
I followed the punk rock ethos of doing it myself. I started approaching bands and charging a very low rate to produce them and this led to other bands propositioning me to produce them. With my book I published it myself so I really choose myself. As far as education it was really about experience. I wrote over 5,000 blog posts before putting out my book so I had a ton of experience. With record producing my education was reading as much as I could and experimenting at work.
What do you actually spend the majority of your time doing?
5 days a week I work at least 8 hours a day producing, mixing and mastering records. The other two hours of the day is spent doing errands and answering emails. Then about one day a week I work on my second book and a few other projects I am involved in.
What misconceptions do people often have about your job?
That it is a viable career for many people. I don't know anyone who gets into it that lasts more than a decade who doesn't put in 60 hour weeks and even when you are successful you can have crazy dry spells. Even Steve Albini had a dry spell after recording Nirvana's In Utero. It is not a job for someone who wants stability in their life or values having a family they see often. That becomes more and more rare each day. It is an over crowded field and people who put in long hours are rewarded more than those who don't.
What are your average work hours?
I put in a mandatory ten hour day 5 days a week. If I don't have paid work I will do promotional work or clean the studio. About 5 days a month I will put in a 16+ hour day doing a long session to make a deadline. What time I start each day changes every day. I mostly work alone so I wake up when I feel like it and bike 12 miles to work.
What personal tips and shortcuts have made your job easier?
I have an amazing partner/co-producer Mike Oettinger who likes to work in mornings and I hate mornings. That makes my life way easier. I try to automate a lot of the work. I have a certain email every band gets before pre-production that outlines how things work so no one is confused or let down. I like to clearly communicate everything so no one feels ripped off or has unrealistic expectations. Then during the mixing or mastering I have email that outline some common mistakes bands make so they can avoid them. This gets rid of a lot of flaws and makes everyone happier with the final product.
What do you do differently from your coworkers or peers in the same profession?
Mike and I work in two separate rooms. While I record drums, he edits them. He records all of the guitars, bass and keys on records while I do the vocals and mix. This gives bands a way higher quality product in half the time they would normally take to make a record. It gives us and the bands we work with an unfair advantage.
Do you have any advice for people who need to enlist your services?
Everything you do before getting to me is more important than what you do when you are with me. The most important time of a record is perfecting your songs and performances before the studio. Taking the time to get good at what you do and refine your craft is far more important than any producer.
What's the worst part of the job and how do you deal with it?
The expectations of how cheap a band should be able to make a great record for has gotten a little ridiculous. Bands often think they are going to make a record that helps catapult them into having a large fanbase for $1,000. This expectation is pretty silly.
What's the most enjoyable part of the job?
I get to creatively challenge myself every day. Being creative is the most rewarding and energizing thing in my life and the fact I am hired to do it every day makes me live a very happy life.
What kind of money can one expect to make at your job?
For most people, under $25k. Everyone can record at home at this point. You have to have an insane hustle to do any better.
How do you move up in your field?
Do great work, lots of self analysis, experimentation. Lower your rate when you don't have enough work and charge more when you need more work.
What advice would you give to those aspiring to join your profession?
There's no one I know who is a record producer for more than 10 years who is still passionate about listening to music like they were when they started it. Are you prepared to ruin your love of music in exchange for being creatively challenged. If the answer is yes, become a producer, if it is no work somewhere else in the music business.