Ebonie Smith on what Hamilton and music production have in common

Ebonie Smith is a renowned music producer, audio engineer, and singer-songwriter based in New York City.

She’s also the founder / president of Gender Amplified, Inc., a nonprofit organization that supports and celebrates women and girls in music production, and she has worked on everything from Janelle Monáe tracks to the cast album of Hamilton as an in-house engineer at Atlantic Records. When she recently dropped by our studio, Smith used the award-winning Broadway show as an analogy for her approach to music production.

“If you pay all that money to see Hamilton, and you get in the theater and there’s no lights, no costumes, no dancing, no orchestration, and no set design… If it’s literally just someone up there reading the script, I think you would feel very cheated — and you would be very right,” Smith notes. “The production is what makes the product.”

So is good production everything? To Smith, that doesn’t seem to be the case either. “To a producer, the script is kind of like a great song,” she states. “The script of Hamilton doesn’t stop being great because it doesn’t have production — the script is still incredible, and a great song is like that. When you have a great song, its lyrics and melodies tug at the heartstrings, and the production around these is what makes it pleasant to listen to. So, production has to be thought of in a theatrical way.”

Thinking of production theatrically requires us to ask ourselves questions as we work. Though it’s a non-exhaustive list, Smith challenges us to consider the following: How are we elevating a song? How are we bringing out the arrangement? How are we thinking about the contemporary elements that make the song pleasant to listen to?

She concludes with a thought that eloquently summarizes her approach: “Production is so critical in elevating a great song, but really, the song is still the star.”

To learn about some of the more concrete techniques that Smith uses when approaching a mix, check out the video below where she discusses imaging, balancing, and sculpting practices using iZotope’s Ozone 9:

Try iZotope’s Ozone 9 Advanced for free with a three-day trial on Rent-to-Own.

October 7, 2019

Harrison Shimazu Harrison Shimazu is the editor of the Splice blog and a composer for video games and film.