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Let's talk about record producers
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I suspect that if you have spent anytime in the role of making music, you have probably come across the term "record producer" or sometimes simply referred to as "producer". I have found, depending on where you are in the world and often how close you are to cities that have a large number of record labels, that the understanding and availability of producers vary. But their role is pretty consistent no matter where you are - they make records.
In an age where you can buy some studio time, then take your recording and have it mastered, and finally press your own CDs, you would naturally ask the question "Why do I need a producer?". Well to be honest, in a perfect world you would not. But there are two major activities that producers do and they are pretty critical in making a hit record - content quality control and facilitating the record deal.
There are no hard and fast rules in the music industry, but these two activities often make or break the artistic career of the client of the producer - the artist (I use the term artist to represent either solo artists, singer/songwriters, or bands and groups) . The reason why producers are critical to the artist is that most artists don't have the experience or the ability to step away from their art and view it from an outside consumer or marketing perspective. And if they do, often their view is swayed in a way that are inconsistent with the direction of the record label. Because they have little or no experience in dealing with record labels.
Alternatively the artist may simply have no ability to handle musical arrangement or lack access to various technologies that could add a great deal of value to their music. Its not surprising unless you spend much of your time in recording studios, that you probably don't understand the recording options that are available to make a great record.
That does tend to bring up the difference between an engineer and a producer. Although an engineer ensures that the recording process maintains the best quality possible in the studio and in fact often in smaller studios the engineer often fulfills the role of a producer, unless the engineer is actively involved in quality control of the songs and their arrangements, or has a financial interest in the production, they typically are not producers. In major music capitols, the producer, in fact, is the financial sponsor of the recording process (ie. They are financially reponsible for all costs associated with the production of the record). This financial responsibility is usually underwritten by the artists and record labels together (ie. The record label may advance monies to an artist through a producer in order to make recordings that may or may not become the final recorded product).
As engineers can be hired as required, on larger musical projects, often the producer manages the entire effort. Each producer operates differently and with their own style. Often this style is reflected in the quality of all recorded products that they make - you might notice a similarity in the sound style of recordings that are done by the same producer. Again, it has little or nothing to do with the engineer for the project. Most major producers spend the majority of their time with their clients (the artists) outside of the recording studio, honing the quality of the product before recording it. Its not uncommon to find that this honing process can take up to twelve months on some projects, but normally is much shorter. It depends on what the producer determines are areas that the artist must work on to create a record that everyone is going to be happy with.
Producers generally already have relationships with record labels. These relationships vary, but are usually formed due to previous projects that the producer and the label have had together. It is common that producers often are, have been or may become, part of the A&R (Artist & Repertoire) department of the record label. But it depends upon the independence of the producer in relation to the record label. But no matter what the relationship is between the producer and the record labels, this relationship is critical in ensuring that the artist can obtain a record deal with the label, and that the quality of the recorded product is at a level that the label is happy with. The label's faith in the producer is critical here. Often a record label may locate an artist independently and mandate that a certain producer is used to ensure that the quality control on the recorded product is maintained. Again, its not the engineering that they are most concerned about - its the overall quality control of song selection, musical arrangement, performance, and artistic content. Most of these items are not concerns to the engineer.
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