Credit Where It’s Due
PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash
Putting the Spotlight on the Humble and Hardworking Producer
WE all listen to music from around the world…
IN THIS PHOTO: The producer and songwriter Grimes/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
and do not really consider how the songs come together! I love to listen to a lot of classic artists, including Michael Jackson, and so captivated by the actual performance and how it sits in the mind. You often get into the mindset of listening to the song and really not thinking about its creation and development. Modern music relies so much on self-production: so many fresh artists take care of the production side and we can get a complete experience of production and execution at once. I feel we get into the habit of assuming the artist is the star and they are responsible for guiding the music. Look at the legendary producers like Quincy Jones and how they helped push artists to the mainstream. You cannot argue against the impact he had on Michael Jackson’s career and the expertise he brought to the plate. It was not a case of listening to a song and then nodding the head and recording it. The producer has to give their views on a track/album and ensure the vocals/compositions are as good as they can be. It can be difficult making that call and recognising when something is perfect or not. This article explains what the modern-day music producer has to encompass:
“Since the millennium the Music Industry has been losing a huge amount of income from falling records sales due to piracy and subsequent streaming services. As a result, many of these separate creative roles listed above don't commonly exist anymore and have been completely taken on by the modern day Music Producer.
A modern day Music Producer now wears a lot of hats in music production, such as:
Recording & Mix Engineer
Very few Music Producers today work in the Music Industry in the old model of Producer. Many of those producers came from the successful era when record sales funded the growth of the Music Industry”.
There is a lot of work the producer has to shoulder. I know many and, from the big studios through to a more modest setting; they have often to rewrite songs and help bring them to life. It is never a case of listening to songs being performed and then deciding whether they are good or not. The producer has to organise musicians and get them into the studio. Often, various different takes have to be recorded and, in a lot of situations, musicians need to perform from different rooms. Sometimes, you can get that live-sounding performance but, if you have loads of elements together then it takes a lot of patience and organisation. There are others responsible for mixing and engineering a record but the producer is there with the artist to ensure everything sounds great and cannot be improved. Listen to any classic album and, more often than not, someone other than the artist has produced that record.
You might say it is the artist who is projecting the music and, without them, there would be nothing. Very few artists come into the studio fully-formed and know how everything will come together. They might have their own take on a song and sing it one way. The composition might sound good to them but, with another pair of ears, new light and insight come through. A producer might tighten up the rhythm section or suggestion nuances and different elements for the singer. Maybe they’ll add another player/instrument into the mix or take the odd bit out. It is about tidying tracks and making them pop from the speakers. There is a hard balance to walk between making something professional and not over-producing.
IN THIS PHOTO: Catherine Marks/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
Look at the greatest producers like George Martin and Nile Rodgers and it is undeniable what they brought to music. Martin, with The Beatles, bonded with the band and was unafraid to offer his advice and suggestions. He fostered the band and helped them push the music to the very limit. Producers often have knowledge of the equipment and technology in the studio the artist does not. He ensured the early recordings had that live-sounding yet professional sound and then, by 1967, the boys were adding so many layers and sounds to their music. Modern producers like Catherine Marks are not getting the same credit as the world’s best but they are consistent and have a huge reputation. She has worked with the likes of Muse and The Amazons and, like all great producers, bonds with the artist she’s working with and establishes that trusting relationship.
It is not about bossing musicians around and taking things over but, at the same time, it is a balance of assertiveness and imparting knowledge. The producer is there to get the music captured and ensure it sounds as fine as is humanly possible. As this article highlights; there are producers who recognise the importance of going with instinct and having that working relationship with the artist:
“Marc Kinchen is a house and dance music producer from Detroit, Michigan. He's worked with artists including Celine Dion, Lana Del Ray, Enrique Iglesias and Will Smith. He's also co-produced pop music with industry production legend Quincy Jones.
So what's behind his successful career? "It's a combination of skills," he says. "The most important being that, when I make music, I try to put blinders on and not let anyone tell me how I should do it. For me it comes completely from whatever is inspiring me.
"People skills are also very important – often as important as the music you make. When you work with people like Will Smith or Jay Z, you must be able to relate to them and make them feel comfortable. The business is full of different types of people and you have to be able to suss them out and adapt".
The producer often has to work very long hours and make numerous contacts. They attend functions and parties and get involved with the scene. Not only is socialising a great way of meeting artists to work with but it can be a good way of picking up new skills and lessons. The producer is never ever complete. They are always learning, growing and increasing their skillset. Kinchen has some advice for producers coming through:
"Find people you trust and care for, and surround yourself with them. These can be friends, supporters or business people. If you're at the point where you need a manager, look around at your musical friends who may have managers or even ask your mentor.
"Ask questions – ask everyone questions and send your music to your favourite artists or producers. If you have a favourite DJ or producer, see who handles them and try to get a meeting. There are so many ways to reach people now, you can get them through Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter or email”.
IN THIS PHOTO: Sir George Martin/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
The life of a producer is quite tough but it is very rewarding. You get to see a project come to life and can see a potentially great album turn into something world-class. Some producers do rile artists and struggle to build bonds but most of the great producers have that closeness with the artist and they can work to produce something exceptional. The modern producer need not have formal qualifications but there are videos and courses people can take if you want to get guidance and tuition. A lot of the best production comes from instinct and following what feels natural. Getting those relationships established and networking helps get your name out there and artists will come back and hire you for their next project. Learning mixing skills and engineering adds new elements to your production chest and can prove invaluable when it comes to making a record shine and pop. Another interesting piece looks at what defines a great producer and how they can differ:
“Most of the greats typically fall into one of two camps. The first belongs to the ones who have the gift to tap into the essence of an artist or band, helping them discover something in them they didn’t know they had. These producers are also typically the ones who focus on capturing the most honest, vulnerable, and natural performances possible. Guys like Rick Rubin, Jack Douglas, and T Bone Burnett all come to mind.
The second camp consists of producers with their own signature sound. These people bring their own recognizable musical aesthetic to the records they produce, often contributing to the actual composition of the tracks. Phil Spector pioneered this approach with his “Wall Of Sound” technique, later adopted by artists as diverse as Bruce Springsteen to The Cocteau Twins. Another good example is Brian Eno. His productions for Talking Heads, U2, and Coldplay all feature his signature atmospheric synths and his use of “The Studio as a Compositional Tool”.
A lot of big and new musicians do producer their own work – there is so much to be said for the producer and what they add to the music. We forget about them when sticking an album on or listening to the latest chart hit. Whilst many producers are men; there is a change coming it that highlights great female producers and makes the studio less a boys’ club-like space – it is a slow process but will have to get out of the viewpoint all the best producers are men. Whilst we look at changes and the need for parity in the studio; you cannot deny the vital role the producer plays and how they can transform music. When an album sells millions or a song goes to number-one; we never really give props to the producers and others that work on that piece. The life of a producer is a challenge but it is one I would recommend to people. Working closely with artists and helping to create exceptional music is hard to put into words. We all have our favourite albums - and spend hours digesting every note - but it is true none of it would be possible…
PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash
WITHOUT the producer!