This post was originally posted on my old blog. Recently, while having a conversation with a friend of mine, I realized that this topic needs to be discussed more.
We watch movies, listen to songs/albums and read books. If we like these works of art, we immediately think about their creators and transpose our liking of their works – ‘Wow, great direction!’, ‘Awesome guitar riff!’, ‘Brilliant writing style! What a page-turner!’ and so on – onto them. That’s how it works most of the times, doesn’t it?
Unfortunately, most of us don’t think about or give enough credit to the people who support these artists. Not support as in ‘family support’ or ‘moral support’ but technical associates and assistants who put in a lot of hard work to refine and fine tune the work of art created by someone else.
To a certain extent, I don’t blame the general public. For a reader to appreciate the work put in by an editor, they must first be aware of the kind of work he does. How does their job affect the final, published novel? Surely they must be doing something more than just spell-checking! The same can be said about studio engineers, album producers w.r.t music and editors, assistant directors, cinematographers w.r.t film making (just to give very few examples.)
As a bassist who’s performed with a band and as someone who has been ‘behind the scenes’ a few times observing recordings, I can say that the final song/album of any artist has everyone’s fingerprints on it – the artists themselves, the producer, the recording engineer (his assistants even!), the mixing and mastering engineers and even the record label executives who decide the platform on which the music is going to be published!
Let me go into detail about the role of a producer in the music industry.
In India, many people aren’t even aware of an album producer. That’s because –
- Bollywood accounts for a huge chunk of music production in India – where there is a music director and no producer as such.
- People tend to think of a producer as ‘the guy who finances the production’ only.
The producer, in fact is one of the most important people in any album’s production. To sum it up loosely in one line, a producer is ‘the person who tells the artist what the album should sound like as a whole and sees to it that it does’. The producer generally does not get involved in the composition directly. Of course, even within the music industry, the producer’s role changes with the genre of music.
To illustrate this, I’ll use an example. We’ve all heard Michael Jackson’s songs. We’ve also heard the awesome guitar solo in ‘Beat It’, the funky groove in ‘Thriller’ and the kick-ass bass line of ‘Bad’. Also, in songs like ‘Heal The World’ and ‘Earth Song’, we can hear violins and other string instruments in the background. Now, it’s pretty well known that MJ himself did not play any instruments and so hired musicians had to be involved. Who got the musicians? Who decided how ‘loud’ each song should be? Who made sure that every musician’s work ‘fit’ perfectly in the songs? The producers of his albums. Of course, MJ was also consulted and involved in these processes. A producer in the music industry is analogous to a director in the film industry.
Michael Jackson with Quincy Jones – The producer of his most successful album ‘Thriller’
To explain how a producer’s role varies by genre, let me take the example of a little known band called Linkin Park. As every single Linkin Park fan must’ve observed that their last two albums – Minutes To Midnight and A Thousand Suns – are drastically different from their earlier albums like Hybrid Theory. The band wanted to experiment or change the sound. And so they hired a new producer for Minutes To Midnight (Rick Rubin). Initially, the band discussed their ideas about how the album should sound like, with him. Then they proceeded to create more than a hundred ‘rough’ tracks for the album keeping in mind the overall theme and feel of the album; 12 songs were shortlisted and finished after discussions with the producer.
The band had said they wanted the next album to sound more ‘mature’. The result? The album is much ‘softer’ compared to their earlier work with more emphasis on the melodies. Chester Bennington screams his head off in just one song in the entire album! Also, one should note that Linkin Park still have their ‘signature’ in every song. Be it Joe Hahn’s loops or Mike Shinoda’s rapping. Linkin Park’s guitarist Brad Delson had no solos in their albums prior to M2M. That didn’t mean he couldn’t play solos! So what did the producer do in Minutes to Midnight? He changed Linkin Park’s sound while maintaining their personality.
The aim of this post was not to be ‘technical’ or precisely defining things but to spread awareness about a vital person in the music industry who almost always goes unnoticed.
I’d like to specially thank my guitar professor and a wonderful musician, Shitalchandra Kulkarni for explaining many of the above things to me. Also used as references are many articles on music sites, blogs and videos.
Thanks for reading this rather wordy post! Hope you found it informative! Feel free to give your feedback in the comments section below.