‘You might be doing a bad job and not know it’: Steve Albini on how to be a better producer

Legendary producer Steve Albini offers some sage advice on how aspiring producers and engineers can improve their skills in an in-depth interview with AMI.

Having produced – or engineered, as he prefers to say – iconic records for the likes of Nirvana, Pixies, The Breeders, PJ Harvey and many others, Albini has accumulated more than three decades of experience working with hundreds of artists on thousands of records. And in a new interview with AMI, he offered some sage advice for up-and-coming producers and engineers keen to develop their craft.

“There are two essential piece of advice,” he said. “The first is to just not quit, to keep doing it. When I started my first recordings in the late ‘70s on a borrowed four track machine with a rented microphone recording everything under the sun to try to make some kind of music out of it, and then [going on to] more realised studio recordings… that process took years. [From starting out] to the point where I was able to quit my job and become a recording engineer full-time, that was a span of eight or nine years. 

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“I could’ve quit at any point and said I’m not making any money and any satisfaction I was getting from it was not worth the hassle. But because I didn’t quit I was able to build up a client base. If you believe this is what you want to do with your life, if that’s what animates you, just don’t stop doing it. You may not be getting paid, you may have trouble finding people willing to let you practice on them, you might just be recording you and your dog goofing around at home, but don’t quit.”

He continued: “Second, if you can find people that think like you and you can work on music with them, then you will have an intuitive understanding of their music and you’ll know whether you’ve dropped the ball or not. If you are just working on whatever random crap you can find you might be doing a bad job and not know it. You might be ingraining into your practise something that is counter productive and you’d have no way of knowing it. 

“So, it’s important to work on music that you understand with people you can communicate with well, so that they won’t be afraid to tell you you’re shitting the bed. But most of the time you’ll notice you’ve shit the bed because you’re tuned in to what you’re working on.”

You can check out the full interview below, in which Albini also recalls his formative experiences in music and offers a detailed look at how his work with Nirvana on their 1993 classic In Utero broke the major label production model.