Traditionally, the producer is the person who organises and oversees the whole recording. Nearly always,
the producer is an experienced musician with good organisational skills.
I was once asked what the producer's role really is, and jokingly replied that his only real task was to
have the money. "If he hasn't got the money, he isn't a producer!"
A producer is many things, but one thing he is not, is an engineer. Quincy Jones was a great producer, but
he needed a great engineer in Bruce Swedien. Today, Andre Young (a.k.a. Dr. Dre) is a great, possibly the very best,
hip-hop producer, but he does not like ProTools and has only recently allowed its use in his productions. He is what a good
producer should be, a musician with a wide knowledge of all types of music, guiding other, less experienced musicians to a
A good producer keeps technology at arm's length.
Dr. Dre may be very hands on and even has his
own studio, but he hires someone to engineer for him when he is working. I do not believe that you can run a project,
talk to and guide musicians and listen to the music, whilst you have your head buried in ProTools. Let somebody else
Films go through project management companies that also usually act as agents for a set roster
of composers. Key employees and in some cases, some of the composers are shareholders in these companies. They are given a
set fee for the music and have to come up with the goods. The main theme may be given to a separate star composer or rock
star, but usually the whole thing goes to one agency. They then appoint composers, arrangers, book studios, post rooms, editors,
musicians etc. and put the whole project together.
The people who run and administer these agencies are getting younger
and are getting more and more likely to be women. They are also no longer the old studio hands who worked up through the ranks,
but graduates of top music colleges and places like the Surrey Tonmeister course.
These agencies do not build up from
the bottom, but are created by pinching key people from junior staff from other agencies. In this way, often a
producer will line up a film, talk to his favourite person at an existing agency and tell them that if they got together with
X, Y and Z, he would join them and he has a £2m film score budget to start with, in exchange for a share of the agency.
days of Deutsche Gramophone lining up the Berlin Philharmonic and launching a new series of key recordings of the Ring Cycle
on CD or LP are over. Now the name of the game for the big boys is DVDs and here a project manager is put in charge
of producing a DVD of something like Madam Butterfly, together with one of the broadcasters. Often, it is the live performance
company that instigates the project and they will already have close connections with the broadcaster. The project is
always recorded in hi-def and in Europe, the main focus of classical activity is Germany, with some projects also taking place
in France. Here, the old role of the producer has been replaced by the project manager, who hires the mobile and any
other production crew required.
In the UK, major classical recordings seem to have disappeared, to be replaced by minor
productions by the orchestras, performers and production houses themselves. Either the musical director or the performer
has taken over the role of the producer.
ROCK and POP
In the old days, the producer was someone with a musical
education and an ability to administrate a project, who provided overall adult supervision. When we mention the word
'producer' in rock and pop, people think of George Martin and his role with the Beatles, taking them from the banality of
'Love Love Me Do' to 'Eleanor Rigby.' Of course, this was the old structure of link man who spoke to the engineers,
the musicians, the musical director and the star singer, being pushed onto that new breed, the rock band.
At the time,
the rock band was considered to be going out of style. They'd had Lonnie Donnigan and Cliff Richard and The Shadows
and a hand full of others and it did not seem to be a terribly inspiring breed. The tension between the old and the
new, between the classically trained producer and the wild boys like the Beatles, the Beach Boys and the Stones helped to
form the very foundations of what we today think of as Rock Music.
Today, that producer has more or less (with some
very notable exceptions) completely disappeared. Bands insist on 'doing their own thing' which largely means thrashing
away without the musical guidance afforded their predecessors. With sales of CDs falling and the market breaking up
into so many disparate sections, budgets for recordings are getting smaller and smaller and the labels are only too happy
to see the role of the producer disappear completely.
This is in my opinion, a dreadful mistake, because he is possibly
the most important person in the recording process. He is the one with the vision and the experience to take those performing
to a new and different place. But with more and more bands financing all their own projects, who is to pay for that
To some extent, the manager is taking on the role of the producer, but in reality, this is
just as an adviser. He does not call the shots. The band or artist calls the shots.
In the good old -
bad old days, the producer was the boss. If he said that a song needed a two-bar bridge in F#, then that's what happened.
If he rejected a song, that song was rejected. If he hired in a song-smith or an arranger, that is what happened.
He was hired by the label to spend their money wisely and if the artist felt that he or she could not go along with his decisions,
well, they could always pay back their advance and other costs and find a label that was more amenable to their wishes.
Johnny Rockstar calls all the shots, he has all the power. He does not need the labels and as the Prince CD-give-away
has shown us, he can even bypass the entire market and its structure. Our darling Johnny is certainly not going to listen
to some geezer that tells him that his latest scribblings are 'unsuitable.'
But if you look at who is earning the
Big Money today, it is all people who have had their careers guided at some point by producers. So if you happen to
be Johnny Rockstar (or you want to become such a person!) you might like to hire a good producer!