Quincy Jones on Producing

“Q”s insights can help singers achieve their goals – says Bill Gibson

Quincy Jones is arguably the most important producer of contemporary music who has ever lived.

He’s worked with Michael Jackson, Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand and been behind more mega-hits than any single person in the Music Industry.

In this exclusive interview for VoiceCouncil we speak to Bill Gibson – who has just co-written the book, with Quincy Jones: Q on Producing.

What has it been like to work on a book with a top producer?
When Quincy starts talking about how he produces someone, he is really talking about how to work creatively with almost anybody at anything.

So, what’s his secret to working creatively with singers?
His huge amount of respect for them. He doesn’t ever stand in the studio and yell and make them sing it his way. He really fosters a loving and caring atmosphere that ends up releasing a performance that is better than it would have otherwise been.

Would you say that Q releases “magic” in singers?
I don’t know if I would see this as magic because that sounds like waving the wand. It is not that. Q loves to say that creativity is 90% perspiration and 10% inspiration. However, I truly believe that if a singer is capable of a magical performance, Quincy will find a way to remove all of the obstacles so that magical performance can take place.

That doesn’t sound too glamorous – but it does sound real…
Well, he’s a huge Malcolm Gladwell fan (Blink, Tipping Point); one of the main principles behind incredible achievements is the 10,000 hour rule.

Can you explain this?
Think of Beethoven’s masterpiece, the Fifth Symphony. Malcom Gladwell proposed that if you look at the number of hours the Beethoven likely spent on music throughout his musical life, it took him 10,000 hours to achieve his first major successful composition—the Fifth Symphony. If you’re going to achieve anything, you have to invest time. At two hours a day this takes a while, but if you are consistent, you’ll get there. At ten hours a day, you’ll get there sooner!

OK – but in Q’s work there is clearly more going on than perspiration – what does he say about releasing that other 10%?
He believes that most of our creativity comes from our subconscious and that it is critical to access this part of ourselves.

How does an artist access the subconscious?
He speaks about working in the “alpha state”, which is that stage just between sleep and consciousness. Children live in an alpha state; their minds are open and can move in ways that aren’t inhibited.

How does he access the “alpha state”?
Quincy has had the experience, for example, of working on a big scoring session the night before it’s needed – and getting nowhere with it. At that point he will lie down on the floor and put his feet up on the bed in order to get into this alpha state. Before long he has the experience that the score is writing itself.

Let’s explore this a little more – how do you think this can apply to musicians?
I know that when I can step outside of myself and “be” the music rather than be controlled by my fear of screwing up the music, I can do almost anything. I’ve watched Quincy access this state as a producer and it’s a very pre-sleep state but then he comes up with a brilliant idea.

As a performer, it is different than that because you can’t fully find the spot between awake and asleep and still sing; however, you can consciously open your mind and musical soul to a state of freedom and relaxation. That’s a state where nothing matters but the music. When that happens the performance flows out of the singer or instrumentalist and all physical, emotional, and intellectual inhibitions fall aside.

The fear of screwing up is especially real to singers who are out front and center with no instrument other than their voice between them and the audience.
That’s right. There can be so many fears about singing out of tune or out of time, or just about people are judging their looks. So you have to find ways to get out of your conscious shackles so that you can sing from your soul—that’s where the magic is. In other words, aside from putting in all of the hard work involved in mastering the craft of singing one finds ways, as Quincy has, of ceasing to worry about “right” notes and getting into the state of mind that supports your best performance.

Do you have a favorite quote from Q?
Several! Here’s one: “You can never be a better musician than you are a person.” – that sums up the emphasis on relationships with everyone around him.

OK: give us one more.
“We are a terminal for a higher power.” What he means is that you if you are always trying to control things you get bound up.

Is he talking about God?
It’s not necessarily about a formal religion. It’s about being open to a power greater than yourself, which Quincy openly acknowledges.

Bill Gibson’s book with Quincy Jones is entitled, Q on Producing and is available through amazon

Bill Gibson:President of Northwest Music & Recording, Inc., a Seattle-based artist development, recording, and production company that produces a wide range of music, print, and media content. He is a National Trustee and serves on the Board of Governors for The Recording Academy. Gibson has spent the last 30+ years writing, performing, recording, producing, and teaching music. He is the author of more than 30 books and – Read More about Bill Gibson.

  • Loved this article, thanks a lot !

  • Camilla Koistinen

    Great article and very important. Respect to Quincy!