It is extremely difficult to describe, to those not directly involved in the production of recorded music, just how much of a valuable contribution the record producer makes to the final outcome of a recording project.
Many of those professionaly employed in recording and publishing companies and management, allowing for their appreciation of its value, would be hard pressed to come up with a short, concise description of such a varied and multi-skilled activity.
Here’s how record producers themselves describe what they do…
A record producer’s job is to realise the full potential of an artist or band, by supervising their work in the recording studio, often to an extent that the artists themselves had not previously imagined, and which they sometimes will be unable to appreciate until the producer’s work is done.
During the course of this work, both in preparation before the actual recording, and during the recording process, the producer must be supportive, challenging inspiring, demanding, and do whatever it takes to bring out the best in the artist, and capture the highest level of performance at that particular time.
A lot of artists are understandably nervous when recording new works, and lack the confidence which possible subsequent success later brings. The producer must display his confidence in their material and transmit that confidence to the artist so that they can deliver performances worthy of the songs.
Confidence, leadership, diplomacy, and of course, creative musical talent, are all qualities which a producer must possess. A thorough knowledge and familiarity with all of the technology used in contemporary and classic recording is essential.
Some producers develop from roots in musical composition and live performance while others arrive via the studio route, having spent time as recording engineers, and studying, by association, the work of the talented producers with whom they have collaborated.
No matter which path the producer follows, he or she must develop facility in a number of areas, which include musical analysis, song arrangement, technical fluency, familiarity with the latest studio techniques, and the skill to combine these factors in a skilful and creative fashion.
When it comes to studio techniques and style, no two producers work in the same way. Some are very “hands on”, in that they involve themselves in every minute detail of the musical arrangement of the artists’ songs, in effect becoming an extra member of the band. Whereas others take more of a back seat, subtlely guiding the artist through the maze of multitudinous options available when making contemporary records. Some producers move between the two roles, depending on the needs of the artist and the music.
I tend to view the record producer’s role as being similar to that of a film director. A record producer is generally responsible for co-ordinating and steering a project creatively, technically and financially to a sometimes vague, pre-planned conclusion; the desired conclusion has usually been decided through meetings, rehearsals, discussions and sometimes demo recordings.
A record producer has to be a good politician and diplomat, a good listener and an excellent therapist. Wherever possible a Record Producer needs to have no ego and the patience of a saint. Beyond that, a good knowledge of music generally, including music practice and theory. Also a good knowledge of studio technology both past and present is vital. Some general business skills are also very useful.
A record producer makes and implements creative decisions
concerning and directly affecting the overall song, be it choice of singers, instruments, lyrics, melody, samples, style, arrangement, effects etc..
A record producer for me, is a tireless, often talented person who also acts as a major creative influence when contributing towards the process of record making and recording. The influence of a record producer should be paramount in realising the best possible recordings and mixes that reflect the songs presented and suit both the band and their ability and the music fans alike.
It is very important for bands and musicans to develop a longer term relationship with a producer to ease the process of making future recordings together. We are, at times the thankless backroom team of diplomats of the recording world helping and easing the process of great recordings with a wide variety of artists.
We all greatly enjoy the detail of our work and the contributions we seek to make. The best producers. IMHO, are also very capable and proven recording engineers.
A record producer is:
d) Alarm clock
Having interviewed a large number of producers for Resolution Magazine, I have noticed that there is a common philosophy amongst most producers (from diverse genres) which can be summed up as something along these lines: A good producer flies by the seat of his pants, and does and says whatever is necessary to achieve the best result in any given situation!
The role of a producer is to take the Artist on a musical journey. Basically speaking, developing the Band or Solo artist and getting the best out of them.
When describing to a layman what a record producer does, I most often say that we are like a director in the movie business. We make the recording as the director in film makes the film. Of course this is simplistic, but it gets the idea across. We try to use our creative past/experience whatever it is, wherever we have come from in music, to guide/empower the artist to their best recorded performance and stay within a budget.
We attempt to stay within the budget by having input on the appropriate studio to use, at what point to go from professional project studio/pre production to the big studio, if at all these days, then through mastering. We help pick the songs to be recorded by giving an objective opinion to the artist, many times saying what the artist may not want to hear. We cast the musicians/players when needed. One thing that is unlike the movie business director is that we also many times do what the producer in the movie business does as well, which is aquiring the money/budget to make the recording in the first place.
There are many different types of producer:
1) The producer who is also a brilliant musician (i.e. Quincy Jones or Phil Ramone).
2) The producer that came through the engineering ranks and is a brilliant engineer, and Pro-Tools wizard, yet is not a musician.
3) There are those that wouldn’t know one knob from the next yet just have the golden ears to know what will work.
No matter which one anyone is, a common thread seems to be that of acting psychiatrist, and knowing when and how hard to push an artist, or pull back. This is something that takes a long time to get really good at (i.e. Imagine George Martin shepherding the Beatles in 1967 or 1968, or Quincy with Michael Jackson in 1981-1983 to really understand this).
I think even the most experienced producer learns something new on every new project, and puts that in his toolbox for the next one. One thing is for sure. It takes a village to make a great record.
A record producer is the person who combines all his previous expertise (it could be engineering, musicianship, managerial skills, people skills, financial skills, public relations skills or writers skills or any combinations of these) to actualize the making of a record.
It could be a lot of things, mixed, one by one or one to a specific situation:
a “psycologist” first of all, a good musician, a fantastic engineer, an excellent composer/songwriter, sometimes an accountant.
A person who knows or “SEE” what kind of result will be at the end of the work and use and/or know the technology path to achieve the music goal.
Music production draws on managerial and administrative skills, creative and compositional skills, psychological and social skills and technological skills. There is also a core skill base that producers often draw on, that can be a compositional and creative and/or a technichal skill base.
From my findings it is clear that music production is an extremely diverse and multi-skilled discipline and there is no one way to approach it. As much as the role is an evolving one, it draws on age-old communication and listening skills. An emerging music producer must learn from this as well as from experience.
I also found that above all, passion for music is one of the main ingredients to being a successful music producer. The production process can present many financial and emotional obstacles and it is through these difficulties that the producer’s inherent love for music will assert itself as the most vital motivational force.
Chris ‘Krik’ Young
I class myself as a music producer rather than record producer purely because the music I produce doesn’t necessarily end up on a record and globally these days it ends up in a digital format of some sort. This is me personally and doesn’t reflect the way in which other producers term themselves.
A good example of a producers role is when I produce with a band, they write all the music and come to me as a producer as an external critic who is able to understand the direction of the project, I will guide and evolve the overall sound, arrangement and performance of the songs in order for them to reach market potential. To flip this on its head, as a producer of dance music I’m at the controls and will often compose the music as well as be the main producer.
I guess the real job of a producer is to be able to work on many levels really, producing is not just specific to the music itself, I often find myself producing the vocals also, especially with vocal performances that have multiple layers i.e harmonies.
The business model of producing a record/product hasn’t really changed that much although the technology we use has, which I suppose in turn has helped to speed up the productivity of the overall process.
I believe a record producer is the interim member of the band, or indeed the long lost friend for a solo artist. Someone with the understanding, the knowledge and the appreciation for the music of the specific project, but also with the vision, determination and craft necessary to keep everybody focused on the target, the skill to find the shortest path ahead, the endurance to ride the long wave, the cheek to always ask for the impossible and the luck to get it sometimes, the patience to get through hard times and the impatience to get some quick results. But mostly a record producer is a believer – that through music the world is a better place and its people worth listening to.
My understanding of the role of the producer was that he or she was responsible for the artistic performances, for the musicians and the overall feel and sound of the recording.
But my view has changed since I started producing and I now understand that the producer can also co-write the song or use his or hers tools to arrange and develop a sound for the specific song.
Due to the fact that the various roles in the creation of a recording can overlap, the producer has to have an agreement with the other parties that he or she is the producer.
Examples of what a producer would be:
a) Record label or the artist comes to me with just lyrics and melody under the lyrics and ask me to co-write and produce the song. They have obviously heard my previous works and they know what sound they will get. I am the co-writer and the producer.
b) Record label or the artist comes to me with lyrics, melody and basic music, in other words all the songwriting is done, and they ask me to produce the song and put my expertise to make it into a marketable product. I am just the producer.
In essence if you know the various job roles involved in the creation of a recording you will not find it hard to understand the producer’s role. A basic illustration of the chain of people goes like this:
Songwriter -> Producer -> Recording Engineer -> Mixer -> Mastering engineer -> Radio, iTunes, HMV
I didn’t put the musicians in because they can be session musicians that are getting paid a fee to just play their instrument. They would come in around when the recording engineer comes in.
In the case that the musicians are members of a band or the artist then they are probably but not always get involved with the songwriting process. That would make them co-writers.
I believe that the confusion has come with the credits on a CD. It is more fashionable for someone to have the “Produced by” credit than the “Music by” credit even if he is the co-writer. This fashion has come from the States where everyone knows that Timbaland is a producer but they don’t know that he is also a songwriter. Many record labels they would tag their new artists as producers even if they are working with a well known producer, just because it will be a selling point.