“Being a good producer is having the ability to adapt to the environment or the people you are with.”
MBW’s World’s Greatest Producers series lets us interview – and celebrate – some of the greatest talent working in studios over the decades. The latest installment features Carter Lang, a Grammy-nominated American producer who has worked with some of today’s biggest artists, including SZA, Lil Nas X and Doja Cat. World’s Greatest Producers is sponsored by Hipgnosis Songs Fund.
This year, producer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Carter Lang received four Grammy nominations for his work on songs performed by SZA, Doja Cat and Lil Nas X.
This recognition marks a watershed moment in Lang’s career which has so far been shaped by a hard work ethic and building relationships with artists he feels connected to.
One such artist is SZA, whose debut album, CTRLthe majority of which were co-produced by Lang, reached number three on the Billboard 200 chart in 2017.
The two met during a studio session, Lang joined his live band as a bassist in Lollapalooza, and their relationship grew as friends first, collaborators second.
“I really got to know her by going on adventures, going off the beaten path and going on crazy bike rides,” Lang says. “I didn’t even know what kind of strength we were going to have together musically, but the friendship made me realize that we would.”
Lang’s 2022 Grammy nominations are for Song of the Year nominee kiss me more by Doja Cat f/SZA, two albums of the year for his work on Doja Cat’s planet she and Lil Nax X Monteroand SZA good dayswhich is up for best R&B song.
Other artists he has worked with as both songwriter and producer include Post Malone and Swae Lee (for their single 13x Platinum Sunflower), Jhene Aiko (for his collaboration with Lee In the dark), Camilla Cabello, Five Seconds of Summer and Chance the Rapper.
Lang, a Chicago native, began his musical journey with after-school piano lessons at the age of seven – he was one of those kids who performed recitals while wearing a bow tie, honing his early interpretive skills.
As a teenager, Lang ditched the bow tie and the piano for a bass guitar, which opened up his social circle and allowed him to collaborate with others. Through various bands and musical outfits (including The O’My’s, which landed a few SXSW showcases), Lang began making beats and took on the role of producer.
After taking a music industry studies course in New Orleans, he returned to Chicago and reconnected with the local music scene, where he broadened his horizons with production by experimenting with different instruments and sounds.
“I felt like I broke the Matrix somehow.”
His first big breakthrough was playing organ and synthetic bass on Rihanna Consideration, which began with SZA, who co-wrote and features on the track. “It was a pretty awesome moment,” Lang recalled. “I felt like I broke the Matrix somehow.”
The song was released in the middle of the making of CTRLwhich gave birth to the radio single love galore f/Travis Scott (produced by Lang), offering another twist.
“I had a few wins in Chicago with little internships here and there with artists like A$AP Rocky and Lil Wayne, but it definitely took time,” Lang recalled. “I came home from school in 2013 and didn’t really touch what I was looking for until around 2016/2017.”
Lang is signed to Warner Chappell Music through a joint venture with Electric Feel Entertainment. Acts he’s been in the studio with recently include Lil Nas X, Omar Apollo, Teezo Touchdown, Miguel, FKA Twigs, Big Sean, and Thundercat.
Here we discuss with him the role of a producer, what goes into a successful studio session, lessons learned throughout his career, and much more.
What does the role of producer mean to you?
Being a good producer means having the ability to adapt to the environment or to the people you are with. Having a few skills that you’re really good at is important, but being able to work in an environment where your skills might be overlapped by someone else’s and learning to contribute or not intervene in that situation is crucial.
“Being able to work in an environment where your skills might overlap with someone else’s and learning to contribute or not intervene in that situation is crucial.”
Establishing your influences, and then understanding other people’s nostalgic influences by going back and listening to completely different music than you’re used to, and listening to the music that’s coming out now, is also very important.
Also, don’t be afraid to let spontaneous things open you up to new relationships or new experiences that you wouldn’t expect that day or week. I don’t even stick to a schedule most of the time; for the most part, I’m just happy to be able to have an environment where some of these spontaneous sessions happen.
What was your most challenging job or production session and what did you learn from that experience?
There was one session where I came across a piece of music that caused the artist to light up and start writing really fast. They pretty much wrote the whole verse in two minutes, walked into the booth, and the engineer was unequipped to handle their writing and recording precision and speed. So the artist left, although two years later they revisited it and finished the song so you never know what a really bad session is.
I’m not minimizing engineers, but it taught me the importance of being prepared. if I had gone to the session knowing who the engineer was, i.e. someone we didn’t know, I might have tried to find someone else to ensure that the flow was leveled. The engineer cannot be a stick in the mud, whatever happens, he must adapt.
“The engineer cannot be a stick in the mud, whatever happens, he must adapt. Having a good engineer or helmsman changes the course of your session so drastically.
Having a good engineer or helmsman drastically changes the course of your session and it really helps, especially when they can organize things. I feel like I’m wondering where my helmsman is because I have to steer the boat. I like it, for now, but when I’m looking to grow the studio in a few years, having a good engineer to help me run the session will be so important.
How about some of the best advice you’ve received in your career?
People have always told me, “Don’t overwork yourself. So I tried to do a little better by taking breaks to enjoy other activities that I was doing when I was less of a reclusive producer. Whether it’s skateboarding, snowboarding or biking, and finding people to do that stuff with… I think it’s really important to mix things up.
And then, invest your money and above all, invest in your friendships. You can reach everyone so quickly that everyone depends on each other that much more now to get things done and done faster. I feel like you want to invest in friends who are hardworking but also very humorous and will grow with you and be there for you for life.
Also, don’t lose touch with your oldest friends and people who do things other than production. That’s the advice I was given.
What would you change in the modern music industry and why?
There doesn’t feel like there’s a very even playing field for making money from music. Depending on whether you have to make music that’s going to be played on the radio, it’s not a terrible place, but you want to find ways to be able to live music without having to try to appeal to the same artists. It’s kind of a small circle.
I wonder if there will be different rates or formats that allow the music to be heard in a certain way. But I also know there’s a formula for stuff that has a certain sound and there’s so much music coming out. I feel like we can get lost trying to keep up with everything that happens and forget the things that happened that are so beautiful and authentic.
“In the future, I hope there’s a way for people to create something out of nothing and really draw attention to those who do things outside of the norm.”
In the future of all this digitization and the world of crypto, I hope there’s a way for people to create something out of nothing and really draw attention to those who make things outside the norm.
This is where my heart sonically resides.
What advice would you give to someone getting into production today?
Going to school for music isn’t a prerequisite, but having experiences of going to college or doing jobs outside of music is so important to how you’re going to be able to work and your expectations and your understanding of life in cheeky motion. Don’t jump right in where you don’t open yourself up to these opportunities because they help make music and work with people in beneficial ways.
Getting a few instruments and getting good at a few things is important. Then being able to adapt to your surroundings and let loose what you’ve learned to move the band storyline forward, or if you’re facing a certain problem in the song or a certain area that you need to help, do the research in order to understand this stuff.
“Even if [your team] starts with one person, if that person is really a great person, they will lead you to other great people.
The most important thing beyond that is having a good team around you. Even if it starts with one person, if that person is really a great person, they will lead you to other great people and your team will start to form. I didn’t really have a team until after CTRL was released and I met my manager, David [Waltzer].
He introduced me to my lawyer [team] and now I have a great accounting team and a great publicist. Ask these different people to help balance your ship as you move forward and try to make business decisions, but also emotional ones, because a lot of business is with friends and you want to feel fluid but also calculated in that what you are doing.
MBW’s World’s Greatest Producers Series is supported by Hipgnosis Songs Fund. Listed on the London Stock Exchange, Hipgnosis was created to maximize the value of music… while proving that value to institutional investors. The music industry around the world