When Warren Huart asked me to write about “a day in the life of a producer”, my first thought was to finish that sentence with “…is never the same.” It’s true, and to be perfectly honest, it’s one of the things that always drew me to being involved in music production in the first place. This past week, for example, I’ve worked on Pop, R&B and Country songs, traveled for a music video shoot, worked with a pre-teen girl pop group and so much more.
Every day is new, distinct, and exciting and I’m constantly wearing different hats. Every day means working with different people, different styles, different projects. Every day means discovering new genres and re-discovering old ones. Every day means a different artist coming through my studio doors carrying on their shoulders any combination of a thousand different complicated emotions that they need to let out, and as a producer figuring out how to be the therapist who listens, while simultaneously plotting out the best road to translate that story into music. That’s essentially the whole premise of what we do as music makers isn’t it?
Our job, first and foremost, is to tell stories, and that to me is the fun part. In my career as a producer, film composer, songwriter, musician, teacher and more, I’ve had the pleasure of telling tons of stories. Stories in different languages, stories in different genres, stories in different shapes, sizes, ages, views, and walks of life.
My name is Jonathan Camacho and I am head of production at C-Factory Productions, a music production company that I have run for over a decade side-by-side with my business partner, producer and friend, Christian Chavarria. We currently operate inside of the beautiful Drive 35 Studio space here in Dallas, TX, but before we go into what a day (or examples of different days) in the life of a producer looks like for me, I feel it’s important to give a little bit of my background in order to give context for what the different aspects of my life as a producer look like.
I first became actively involved in music at around 8 years old at my dad’s church. But music at our church was not what you would typically expect music in church to sound like. A lot of the musicians at our church, like me, were born in Colombia, which meant our worship times sounded a lot more like if Fania All Stars met James Brown and had a jam session. Seriously. Every Sunday was a salsa, funk, fusion, latin jazz jam session and it was wonderful. So my first interaction with music was deeply rooted in latin music, and because of that it became something that allowed me as a producer to be able to speak that language. Embracing those latin roots and being able to genuinely speak that musical dialect has brought a lot of opportunities my way as a producer.
One of those opportunities was my recent work with a Venezuelan artist named Nio Amesty who was recently mentioned in Billboard Latino and has had much radio success in Latin America. Nio would walk into a studio session with me with voice memos on his iPhone of melodies he had written and an idea of where he wanted the song to go. For example, he would explain to me that he wanted something with a latin vibe that also had hip hop and modern dance elements. So then it was up to me to effectively bring those genres together. The ability to produce hip hop and modern dance production elements came down to me knowing where and how to find the right sounds on my software, keyboards or guitars and spending enough time with my gear, outside of sessions with clients, to know how to produce those sounds quickly. For the true latin vibe, however, we needed to write and arrange live percussion and horn parts, which is where my background gave me an edge.
My primary instrument is piano, but I grew up playing trumpet and working on brass arrangements. I also studied Afro-Cuban and Brazilian percussion at the University of North Texas. All of these things helped me to prepare the arrangements and provide direction to the musicians that I brought in. For that specific project I had the pleasure of bringing in some amazing musicians that I had met during my time in college and in my time as an active musician around town with people that I had built good relationships with. Guys like Juan Chaves, Samuel Perfecto and Daniel Gallard, among others, made those sessions such a blast. I grew up listening to latin music and it felt good to bring that sound back into my life and mix it with all of the other genres that I’ve been influenced by over the years such as hip hop, pop and electronic music. I was also able to get in on the fun a bit by playing trumpet on a few songs (one of the benefits of being the producer).
Another thing that I often did with Nio and that I do with all of the artists that I work with is ask them to share music with me that they are listening to. We spend a good amount of time going back and forth playing music for each other in order for me to figure out the right blend of sounds that they hear in their head.
As a producer, I need to make sure that the chord progressions, instrumentation, and the overall sounds and structures that I suggest will match up to what an artist hears in his or her head. It’s so important (and fun) to sit with an artist and listen to music together to see who they are listening to and who is inspiring them. That has honestly become a major part of my production process because one thing that I’ve seen way too often is producers not taking the time to get to know an artist and then trying to impose a sound that isn’t anywhere near what the artist intended. So a day in the life of a producer means getting to know the people I’m working with and doing everything in my power to help them discover themselves. Because then, putting the song together truly becomes a collaborative effort.
I’ve always loved interacting with people that come from different backgrounds, different walks of life, and even different age groups. It’s something that I’m given the chance to do when I’m working with different artists at my recording studio, and also when I’m teaching. See, a day in the life of Jonathan Camacho, the producer, also means a day in the life of Jonathan Camacho, the teacher at Septien Entertainment Group (SEG).
SEG is a pop music school here in Dallas, Texas founded by Linda Septien who has trained artists such as Demi Lovato, Selena Gomez, Beyonce and countless more. I teach at Septien a few days a week primarily as a songwriting coach. Working with younger artists is fantastic because it keeps me up to date on what kids are listening to. That constant introduction to new music helps me to grow as a musician and as a producer. I also get to take the influences that they bring in and help my younger students connect the dots between who they are currently listening to and the people that came before them. (Because before there was Bruno Mars there was Prince and Earth Wind & Fire. Before there was Lorde there was Imogen Heap and Bjork). Not only do I love teaching because of the interchange of music, but my students also get to see the techniques that I currently use in my work as a producer and as a composer and are inspired by being so close to the action.
This past year for example, I had the opportunity to compose the score for an incredible movie called “What Carter Lost” which was a part of the Emmy Award winning ESPN 30 for 30 series. That movie was such a fun project to be a part of (shout out to the incredible director Adam Hootnick and producer Katie McNeill for letting me be a part of it).
Occasionally, I would open up some of those sessions for some of my students that were getting into production, songwriting, or arranging and show them the composition and production choices I was making for the film score. It’s been great to be able to connect the young artists that I work with who are just starting out to the different aspects of what a career in music could actually look like. One of my favorite examples of that was when I worked with an artist named Cara Onofrio, who now goes by Happy Sometimes.
When she was just starting out, she was stuck in a rut in her songwriting and I introduced her to GarageBand and the concept of using the tools in her computer to put sounds together and write music. Something clicked for her with that approach of songwriting and she was coming back to me with dozens of songs every week and was inspired to make more music. Cara performed at Lollapalooza last year and her song “Love For The Weekend” has over 2 million plays on Spotify.
A day in the life of a producer/teacher for me was also working with an incredibly talented kid from Virginia named Abram Dean a few years back and helping him find his voice and confidence in his own songwriting and style. Abram is one of the best melody writers I know. Last year Abram Dean won a Gold record for his work on the Andy Grammer album “Magazines or Novels” and is currently out in Nashville writing for Warner Chappell.
A day in the life of a producer/teacher for me was working with an artist named Jena Rose for years teaching her the rules of music theory and song structure (and how to creatively break them) and then seeing that incredibly talented 12-year-old girl become a 17-year-old rising pop star who just broke into the Top 20 Billboard Dance Charts.
Over the years I’ve had the pleasure of working with so many incredibly talented young artists like these, helping them grow, and seeing them find success in different areas of the music industry. It’s definitely very fulfilling. Another young artist I’ve worked with that you’ll definitely want to keep your eye out for is Eliza Pryor. I produced Eliza’s first song and worked with her on piano and guitar. She is now starring in an upcoming film with Guy Pearce, Minnie Driver, and Pierce Brosnan.
In the past years I’ve worked on some pretty amazing projects. I worked on the production for Kidz Bop’s live show and an Olympics film for United Airlines and Netflix, among others. But the one that I’m currently most excited for is a project called Hello Shannon. This is a project that I’ve been producing for the last 3 years that is finally in the finishing stages. Not only is the project dear to my heart because of how excited I am about the production and songwriting value, but also because this is a collaborative project between myself and my wife, Shannon Camacho.
Shannon studied jazz and voice at the University of North Texas and is an incredible vocalist and songwriter. In the last 3 years we’ve been lucky enough to be featured at BMI’s Acoustic Songwriter Showcase in Los Angeles, as well as play local, regional and even international shows with a small European tour taking us through England, France and Denmark. The great thing about this project is that we’ve been able to work out of both our professional and home studios which makes it even more special. There are guitar parts that have been recorded in our home studio, mixed with drums that were recorded in the big tracking room at Drive 35 Studios (the professional studio that we work out of), with piano lines that were recorded during breaks at our teaching studio, and more.
As a producer it is very special because everything that you’re involved in, in my case things like teaching, producing other people and other genres, film scoring, writing for commercials and more, all find their way into your personal projects. A day in the life of a producer means learning. Learning from every project that you work on and from all of the people involved.
A few years back I had the pleasure of working with Warren Huart. I learned so much just by watching him work and tweak ideas on the songwriting, production, and mixing level. So many of the things that I sat and watched him do have found their way into my productions. Having also worked with incredible mastering engineers like Adam Ayan and Tommy Granville Jr and receiving their feedback has been such an amazing part of the whole learning process.
Constant learning is one of the most important and most fun parts of this job. It’s so important to surround yourself with people that you can learn from who are willing to take the time to show you something new. One project that changed my life was a project that I worked on back in 2013. My production company was hired by Jon Slott at Breed Productions to do a twelve song latin music project. Our job was to basically write, record, produce, mix, and master twelve songs (in spanish) within a one to two month period. It was one of the most challenging projects I had ever taken on because it involved every part of the music making process. However, because it was the most challenging and intense projects I had ever been a part of made it one of the most important moments of growth in my career. That growth was also largely due to the guidance and help from people like Nick Seeley, who is an incredible producer and engineer (David Guetta, Kanye West, Future, Sabrina Claudio) and a great friend.
My career has been blessed with people like Nick Seeley, Warren Huart, Christian Chavarria, Linda Septien, Adam Hootnick, Joseph Klein, Jay Walls and so many more that have helped me to learn and grow.
That is honestly what a day in the life of a producer looks like: learning, growing, variety, change, adaptation, and new challenges. A day in the life of a producer means being a songwriter, engineer, producer, mixing engineer, mastering engineer, music historian, social media expert, therapist, marketing specialist, and so much more.