"A good performance will override any production idea or sonic idea that you can have." - Record Producer Daniel Lanois (U2, Peter Gabriel, Willie Nelson, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, etc)
Of everything I'm about to discuss with this article, the above statement is perhaps THE most important aspect of a producer's role. The performance is the key. It is the responsibility of the performer to show their best, and the responsibility of the producer to take them further.
The Record Producer
In the previous article, I mentioned a handful of definitions related to the term producer. While they're all valid, for the purposes of this article, I'll only go into depth on two of those terms.
The Record Producer vs The Electronic (music) Producer
The quick and dirty difference between the two is to think of the Electronic producer as more of a songwriter. He/She is the one creating/sampling/manipulating electronic sounds or noises into something that (hopefully) sounds really great. A couple examples are local producers James Sadoway and Eleazar.
The traditional record producer, on the other hand, is more easily thought of as the manager or boss of the recording. They pay attention to all aspects of the recording from songwriting to performing to budgeting to time management. After that, the field is pretty wide open for what a producer is. They can be mentors, documentarians, songwriters, musicians, fans, or even artists. One thing a producer MUST have - and everyone seems to accept this (though I prefer Jerry Wexler's take most of all) - is an ear for music. A producer has to be able to hear that it's in tune, that the players are in the pocket, and that what they're doing will work.
Certainly the digital era seems to take care of much of this responsibility. I can even make a swinging drummer fall in line with the metronome if I need to or retune a bass guitar when it's out... but there's no replacement for getting it right the first time.
A common misconception is that the producer has to be a technical wizard. While this can sometimes be the case, many producers make use of engineers to manage the technical side of the recording process. Why worry a buzzing cable or recording levels when those kinds of things can often be a distraction to the creativity and the performance. It is the best argument for a team involved in every recording. It is also one of the reasons we've set up our studio the way we have. A good place with an engineer (myself) who understands the technical nuances and manipulates it to get the best sound possible... all so the artist or producer doesn't have to think or worry about it. In following articles we'll be talking about engineers.
Producers & Budgets
I'm assuming, if you're reading this article, you don't yet have the budget to hire a producer, or you're looking to become a producer yourself. Perhaps you're just forced into it because no one else is willing to take the role. Or, perhaps you've hired a studio and simply expect THEM to be your producer. At my shop, as much as I try to help, I usually have no idea where the song is going until we're over half done the recording. So it then falls on the shoulders of my clients to assume the responsibility of making sure we're all going in the right direction... anyone know how to use a sextant?
So let's ask a few question to figure out if you can be your own producer.
- Do you know how you want your song/album to sound or turn out? Can you see the big picture, understanding how each smaller part contributes to or effects the outcome?
- Can you help others involved in the project perform better? Do you know or can you find the right ways to motivate the singer, energize the drummer, focus the guitar player? Are you capable or willing to make the final call on A vs B?
- Do you understand budgeting and time management? Do you know how long it should take to record each part for each song? Do you know how much mixing and mastering will cost? Do you understand how each of those elements fit into the overall budget for the project?
- Are you and the others in the project willing to accept you as the 'boss' of the recording?
If you answered yes to most of these questions, congratulations! You likely have what it takes to be the producer for your record... maybe even the records of others. On the other hand, if you answered no some of the questions, that doesn't mean you can't produce your own record. Perhaps you could split up these duties amongst those involved. If you want to learn how to turn some of these no's into yes's perhaps you could come pay us a visit. We're always happy to help any way we can.
The point to all of this is every project needs this role filled and as an unsigned artist, it's up to you to make sure that someone is getting the job done. If that's you, then fantastic. If, budget allowing, you need to hire someone, you should at least know what you're hiring and why. When it comes right down to it, the Producer is the second most important role in the making of your record next to you.