What Producers Do
Originally published June 24, 2014
Not many people are familiar with the role of a producer. They listen to music but are not aware of the critical role the producer plays in the process of making a truly professional and effective recording. Producers do a lot of different things and not all producers do the same things. Essentially, the key role of a producer is to ensure the integrity of the project, which means they are responsible for focusing the creative vision of the project, for acting as an intermediary between the artistic and technical aspects, and for overseeing the logistics of the project.
Focusing Artistic Vision
Producers are the people who decide how best to artistically and creatively represent the artist. Using today’s music as one example, there might be four different kinds of artist/producer relationships: the “personality”, the “singer-songwriter”, the “multi-instrumentalist”, and the “lyricist”. Sometimes producers are songwriters and, in these cases, the producer will select songs either from their own repertoire or from the repertoire of other writers. This used to be the norm in the music industry. For example, Elvis (a “personality”) wasn’t a songwriter – his producers were.
These days it’s more and more common for the artist to be a singer-songwriter. Singer-songwriter type artists generally will provide the producer with little more than the song and its soul around which producers will craft a new, fully realized arrangement. A good example of this sort of thing would be a songwriter who writes songs as solo compositions on the guitar. A producer would then craft and guide the song into a complete arrangement, maximizing the feel and artistic intent of the original composition in line with the targeted genre. To that end, the producer would hire musicians who would be adept at performing the style and character of the music.
Perhaps the most important affect that producers make on the career of an artist takes place when artists have not yet thoroughly developed a mature “sound” and have not yet found a core audience. Producers provide the critical ear, experience, and objectivity that many artists lack on their own and can turn a good song or album into a great one. The degree of producer involvement, and to what ends the production eventually becomes, is often dictated by the client’s budget.
Intermediary between the Artistic and Technical Aspects
In addition to being adept at the musical aspects of song-craft, producers also need to be knowledgeable about the technical aspects of capturing and generating the recordings that represent the song. Whereas engineers are generally technical types – they know the gear and are directly responsible for capturing and manipulating the sound of a recording — a producer is responsible for understanding the creative needs of the artist and the song, and how to technically achieve the desired result. The producer needs to be able to hear the needs of the material and understand what needs to be done to achieve the result. In some studios, the producer is also the engineer. It is always a good idea to have the artist visit the studio, meet with the producer/engineer, and get comfortable with the people and the process. Its also helpful for the artist to have an understanding of the costs and estimated budgets. Once the recording commences the artist can focus on performing and the producer/engineer can focus on creating the arrangements, running the equipment, and keeping everything sounding as it should.
Recording sessions and mastered recordings don’t just magically happen. Producers are responsible for making sure that everything that needs to happen for the project is accomplished. Generally during the negotiation process a producer will come up with an estimated cost for producing the project, which includes an itemized budget for studio time and paying session players.
The Producer is the project manager and point-man for everything that happens in creating the recording.