Producer Jim Kaufman segued into production and songwriting by way of being a musician. When it came time for his band to record a demo, the task fell largely to him. Ultimately, he transitioned into producing full time when he became friends with Charlie Clouser, who was then the keyboardist with Nine Inch Nails. For several years he assisted Clouser in the studio and it became increasingly clear that Kaufman had discovered his career path. Kaufman now maintains studios in both L.A. and Sedona, AZ, but spends most of his time in the former. He also writes frequently in Nashville, where he co-owns the company, The Song Factory.
“My job is to create longevity for an artist, not just to produce a hit or a single record,” Kaufman says of his approach. “The way I do that is to understand who they are at their core. It’s about showing them to their audience in their purest form, especially with a debut record.”
Kaufman is an advocate of studio experimentation. He recalls one time in particular when this approach paid off while working with a Nashville group. “When we started working on a song, I suggested that we try as many different versions in as many different keys as we could,” he says. “We rewrote choruses several times and walked down as many paths as possible until we were sure we’d picked the right one.
“The record is made in the writing lab,” he adds. “Pre-production is writing and setting it up. Recording is getting it down; when you go in and you’re ready to hit red, you know exactly what you’re going to do. There’s always room for experimentation, but as far as the bones of the song, that should be done before going into the studio.”
This producer’s favorite piece of gear is his Neumann U47 microphone. “When recording digitally, the transients aren’t softened like when recording to analog,” he says. “Using warm preamps and tube compression softens the transients, which makes the sound more warm and organic. The U47 tube and the tubes inside the preamps and compressors help me achieve this while recording in the digital platform. The whole ‘fix it in the mix’ philosophy is the worst thing you can do. It has to be good on the way in.”
Kaufman finds that his biggest challenge is differentiating himself from the slew of producers who have emerged with the advent of inexpensive, accessible home-recording options. “One of the ways I set myself apart is by being very detail-oriented,” he asserts. “I also focus on the song. That’s what the whole business is based on. I’m extremely careful that I’ve explored all avenues to be sure I’ve done what’s right for the artist.”
To young songwriters and producers, Kaufman counsels persistence and dedication. He emphasizes that they should write as many songs with as many people as possible. “Co-writing is the key,” he says. “As a producer, you have to find bands. Don’t tie yourself into making albums right away. Make one or two songs, learn how to be in the studio and know your gear.”
Kaufman’s current projects include work with Nashville band Future Thieves. They’re looking at labels and he anticipates a deal soon. Kaufman is also producing Arizona outfit the Black Moods. His latest project is his solo record, entitled Jim Kaufman – A Party of One, which is planned for release in coming weeks.
By Rob Putnam