A record producer or music producer has a very broad role in overseeing and managing the recording and production of a band or performer's music. A producer has many roles that may include, but are not limited to, gathering ideas for the project, selecting songs or session musicians, proposing changes to the song arrangements, coaching the artist and musicians in the studio, controlling the recording sessions, and supervising the entire process through audio mixing (recorded music) and, in some cases, to the audio mastering stage. Producers also often take on a wider entrepreneurial role, with responsibility for the budget, schedules, contracts, and negotiations. In the 2010s, the recording industry has two kinds of producers with different roles: executive producer and music producer. Executive producers oversee project finances while music producers oversee the creation of music.
A music producer can, in some cases, be compared to a film director, with noted practitioner Phil Ek describing his role as "the person who creatively guides or directs the process of making a record", like a director would a movie. The audio engineering [person] would be more the cameraman of the movie." Indeed, in Bollywood music, the designation actually is music director. The music producer's job is to create, shape, and mold a piece of music. The scope of responsibility may be one or two songs or an artist's entire album – in which case the producer will typically develop an overall vision for the album and how the various songs may interrelate.
In the US, before the rise of the record producer, someone from A&R would oversee the recording session(s), assuming responsibility for creative decisions relating to the recording. With the relatively easy access to technology in the 2010s, an alternative to the record producer just mentioned, is the so-called 'bedroom producer'. With 2010-era technological advances, it is possible to achieve a professional quality production without a multimillion-dollar studio, using a laptop and a good-quality microphone. In most cases the music producer is also a competent arranger, composer, musician or songwriter who can bring fresh ideas to a project.
As well as making any songwriting and arrangement adjustments, the producer often selects or gives suggestions to the mixing engineer, who takes the raw recorded tracks and edits and modifies them with hardware and software tools and creates a stereo or surround sound "mix" of all the individual voices sounds and instruments, which is in turn given further adjustment by a mastering engineer. The producer will also liaise with the recording engineer who concentrates on the technical aspects of recording, whereas the executive producer keeps an eye on the overall project's marketability.
Prior to the 1950s, the recording and marketing process had been carried out by different professionals within the industry – Shells records found potential new artists and signed them to their labels; professional songwriters created new material; publishing agents sold these songs to the A&R people; staff engineers carried out the task of making the recordings in company-owned studios.
Freed from this traditional system by the advent of independent commercial studios, the new generation of entrepreneurial producers – many of whom were former record company employees themselves – were able to create and occupy a new stratum in the industry, taking on a more direct and complex role in the musical process. This development in music was mirrored in the TV industry by the concurrent development of videotape recording and the consequent emergence of independent TV production companies like Desilu.
The new generation of independent producers began forming their own record production companies, and in many cases they also established their own recording labels, signing deals that enabled the recordings they produced to be manufactured and distributed by a major record company. This usually took the form of a lease deal, in which the production company leased the usage rights to the original recording to a major label, who would press, distribute and promote the recording as their own, in return for a percentage of any profit; the ownership of the master recordings typically reverted to the producer after the deal expired.
Producers would now typically carry out most or all of the various production tasks themselves, including selecting and arranging songs, overseeing sessions (and sometimes also engineering the recordings) and even writing the material, although it became a common practice for producers to claim a writing credit even if they did not actually contribute to the song.
Independent music production companies rapidly gained a significant foothold in popular music and soon after became the main intermediary between artist and record label, discovering and signing new artists to production contracts, producing the recordings and then licensing the finished product to record labels for pressing, promotion and sale. (This was a novel innovation in the popular music field, although a broadly similar system had long been in place in many countries for the production of content for broadcast radio.) The classic example of this transition is renowned British producer George Martin, who worked as a staff producer and A&R manager at EMI for many years, before branching out on his own and becoming a highly successful independent producer with his AIR (Associated Independent Recordings) production company and studios.
As a result of these changes, record producers began to exert a strong influence, not only on individual careers, but on the course of popular music. A key example of this is Phil Spector, who defined the gap between early rock and roll and the Beatles. Although many of Spector's productions were credited to acts such as The Ronettes, The Crystals, and the Righteous Brothers, in reality they were created using a crack team of top-rank Los Angeles session players (now known as "The Wrecking Crew") and often featured an interchangeable lineup of lead singers, including Ronnie Spector and Darlene Love. The prime example of Spector's modus operandi is the record widely regarded as his masterpiece, "River Deep, Mountain High". It is credited to "Ike & Tina Turner", but was actually performed by Tina Turner, as it is now well known that Ike Turner was paid $20,000 to stay away from the sessions; the backing track was in fact performed by the Wrecking Crew, and the backing vocals were provided by a chorus of 21 singers — Ikettes Janice Singleton and Diane Rutherford and most of the female singers on Spector's roster, including Ronnie Spector, Darlene Love and Cher. Spector's Wall of Sound production technique also persisted after that time with his select recordings of the Beatles, the Ramones, Leonard Cohen, George Harrison, Dion and Ike and Tina Turner.
Some producers also became de facto recording artists, creating records themselves or with anonymous studio musicians and releasing them under a pseudonym. In the UK in the early 1960s, Joe Meek was the first British pop producer to make records with studio-created groups, and he had major hits with singles like "Telstar" and Heinz's "Just Like Eddy".
Other examples of this phenomenon include the records by fictional groups the Archies and Josie & the Pussycats, produced by Don Kirshner and Danny Jansen respectively, who were contracted by TV production companies to produce these records to promote the animated children's TV series of the same name. Similarly, Jeff Barry and Andy Kim recorded as the Archies. The same producer-as-artist phenomenon can be found with many modern-day pop-oriented street- and electronic-music artists. In later years this became a prominent and often successful sideline for major producers, as evidenced by the string of albums by the studio group The Alan Parsons Project (created by former EMI/Abbey Road staff engineer Alan Parsons) and the successful musical adaptation of H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds, devised and produced by former David Essex producer Jeff Wayne.
Another change that occurred for the role of producers occurred progressively over the 1950s and 1960s. The development of multitrack recording and new technology such as electric guitars, amplifiers, and better microphones led to a fundamental change in the way recordings were made. The goal of recording no longer was simply accurately capturing and documenting live performance. Instead producers could manipulate sounds to an unprecedented degree and producers like Spector and Martin were soon creating recordings that were, in practical terms, almost impossible to realise in live performance. Producers became creative figures in the studio and were no longer reserved to the role of functional engineer. Examples of such engineers includes George Martin, Joe Meek, Teo Macero, Phil Spector, Brian Wilson, and Biddu. These producers became known as creative producers who turned the studio into a creative space.
Another notable related phenomenon in the 1960s was the emergence of the performer-producer. As pop acts like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Beach Boys and The Kinks rapidly gained expertise in studio recording techniques, the leaders of many of these groups eventually took over as producers of their own work, although this was often not credited. For example, many recordings by acts such as The Rolling Stones, The Small Faces, Donovan, The Kinks and The Who are officially credited to their various producers at the time: Andrew Loog Oldham. Mickie Most or Shel Talmy; but a number of these performers have since asserted that many of their recordings in this period were, in practical terms, either self-produced (e.g. The Rolling Stones' Decca recordings) or were collaborations between the group and their recording engineer (e.g. The Small Faces' Immediate recordings, which were made with Olympic Studios engineer Glyn Johns).
The Beach Boys are probably the best example of the trend of artists becoming producers - within two years of the band's commercial breakthrough, group leader Brian Wilson had taken over from his father Murry, and he was sole producer of all their recordings between 1963 and 1967. Alongside The Beatles and Martin, Wilson also pioneered many production innovations - by 1964 he had developed Spector's techniques to a new level of sophistication, using multiple studios and multiple "takes" of instrumental and vocal components to capture the best possible combinations of sound and performance, and then using tape editing extensively to assemble a perfect composite performance from these elements.
Equipment and technology
There are numerous different technologies utilized by record producers. In modern-day recordings, recording and mixing tasks are commonly centralized within computers using Digital Audio Workstations such as Pro Tools, Logic Pro, Ableton, Cubase, and FL Studio, which all are often used with third party virtual studio technology plugins. Logic Pro and Pro Tools are considered the industry standard DAWs. However, there is also the main mixer, outboard effects gear, MIDI controllers, and the recording device itself.
Despite the fact that much of the music production is done using sophisticated software, there are some musicians and producers who prefer older analog technology. This is because "the older instruments have fewer automated features than today's instruments and thus allow musicians a greater deal of control". The automated processes have caused concern about the specific sounds that musicians are able to create.
Production has changed drastically over the years to accommodate the changing society. Where the producer's role has changed, they have always been seen as the professional without well-defined skills as they have to be capable of doing every aspect. Within a studio his or her job is fairly straight forward. The producer needs to be that magic ingredient that takes the mix to the next level by communicating the passion from the band to the audio engineer and pushing the band to their full potential.
Pre-production refers to all the steps that bands take to prepare before they go into the studio to record their song or album. At the pre-production stage, the producer may listen to the song and make suggestions about changing the arrangement or instrumentation (e.g., replacing an electric bass with an upright bass for a rockabilly song). In some cases, pre-production may involve recording the songs so that the producer and the band can hear how the arrangement and performance sounds. This pre-production recording may lead the band to modify the song and its arrangement.
The role of the producer varies significantly depending upon who the producer is. The actual definition of a producer is very vague which gives them the ability to define and re-define themselves in an ever-changing industry. Many will begin their role at the Pre-Production phase which includes songwriting and arranging the song. Their goal is always to take the song up a level by adding their unique sound to it. The songwriting process for the producer is usually much more a role of critiquing than actual writing but it’s not uncommon to see them collecting royalties from artists they’ve produced for lyrics in their songs. Other aspects of post production will be running through the song with the band and simply looking for what doesn't fit and making the call to cut the area from the song or not. At its core, pre-production is simply making sure that the song is as good as it can be before the artist sets foot in the studio so that they arrive prepared.
Tracking is the act of recording audio to a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) or in some cases to tape. Even though digital technologies have widely supplanted the use of tape in studios, the older term "track" is still used in the 2010s. Tracking audio is primarily the role of the Audio Engineer. This is when the producer’s role is most important. Producers work side by side with the artists while they play or sing their part and coach them on how to perform it in a way that will best convey the emotion of the song and how to get the best technical accuracy (e.g., intonation). In some cases the producer will even sing a backup vocal or play an instrument if that’s the sound that they needs to bring the song to the next level. Even within the tracking phase, the idea of constantly trying to make the song one step better is always at the forefront of their mind.
Post-production, commonly referred to as mixing is the phase after tracking the recording when the artist is far less involved and it’s down to the audio engineer and the producer to define the sound of the audio. This will typically start with finalizing the arrangement via moving around audio files and cutting the instruments from the mix that are no longer necessary for the desired sound. After this the audio engineer will use effects like Compression or EQ to create the desired sound from each track within their DAW (Digital Audio Workstation). The producer’s role in this is usually something more of an extra ear and guiding the audio engineer for the sound that he or she wants to hear. After this it is moved on to mastering, which is usually the end of the producer’s role in the project. A mastering engineer makes the final adjustments to a recording (compression, levels, etc.) so that the song meets the professional standards of songs for radio airplay or CD release.