Record producers now sometimes called music producers in these days of downloads being more popular than records, have been around since the 1890’s and have long since developed a significant involvement in making music. So much so that the label ‘producer’ is one that does not –in a modern world- immediately highlight the various roles that a producer employs.
For a long time producers functioned as a technological guide, assisting with- microphone techniques, editing and operating equipment. In the 1950’s producers exercised a larger input into the production of music, they began to juggle the responsibilities of songwriters and pop music visionaries- record production became a Hollywoodized profession that aimed to define artists and achieve huge sales and success-.
Eventually, famous producers such as Tom Dowd (who worked with Ray Charles and Eric Clapton) started to take an entrepreneurial approach to the building of music. But the intervention of music producers has not by any means stopped there; some albums became noted not just due to a talented artist performing on the record but also for the sound true to the producer. Quincy Jones worked with Michael Jackson in the late 70’s on his fifth studio album ‘Off the Wall’. Subsequently Thriller (another Jackson and Jones release) became one of the biggest selling albums of all time, Jackson did not steal the spotlight however as Jones became one of the most powerful men in the music industry.
Over time producers started to add their musical creativity to the music- whether it be drum loops, guitar samples or MIDI recordings. The more and more aware we became of how influential the role of the producer really was, the more musicians started to take an interest into the producer’s role. British songwriter and performer Sting was also a producer who according to filmbug.com said ‘I write music, produce it and the band plays within the parameters that I set.’
What Does a Producer Do?-
These days a lot of artists take a major part in the production and even sometimes produce it themselves. The term ‘record producer’ can never be simple; some producers regard the music as a separate entity to their work. Rick Rubin told NME ‘I don’t know anything about music. My job has very little to do with music. It has more to do with taste and culture and balance.’ Muse however have recently recorded and produced their new album ‘The 2nd Law’.
I mention these examples because it demonstrates how ambiguous and how individual the term music producer is in the world of today, producers will now write, record, mix, arrange, perform and sample music. As much as television can portray a record producer as a glamorous career, it is definitely NOT all parties and fame. If we are going to look at production in the sense of mixing and editing, the work requires a huge amount of patience, creativity and commitment. A producer can spend hours on a 30 second guitar section; he will be listening to the same riff over and over and over again. This is because he will be cancelling out frequencies, adjusting volume and experimenting with effects such as delays and reverb. A sound engineer is often
responsible for the technical operations whilst the producer oversees the recording but this is not always the case.
If we are discussing production in context of the relationship with the artist it wont be just about the knobs and effects, it will be about building a comfortable friendship with the recording artist. Working on an album can take months so getting along is important; to build a great album requires a great connection between the person who knows the equipment and the industry and the person with the musical talent. Producers will give all their support to the artist and communicate any issues and ideas professionally. The aim is to achieve a great piece of music that will sell whilst maintaining the artist’s style and goals.
The producer will guide the artist on when to sing louder, play softer. It is not just about dynamics though; the producer may comment on extending a chorus or changing the musical arrangement. Finally the producer will be in charge of making all the records play smoothly one after another, finalizing the records and possibly delivering the finished piece to distribution.
Producers can involve themselves in the music in various ways. Ultimately they are responsible for ensuring that the artist is happy and that the music has marketability. There is a modern demand for producers with musical creativity, however, it is important to acknowledge that all producers will have their own individual approach to their job and to their records.