What a Producer Actually Does:
If you read part one, you now know why being a music producer is the best job there is. But what does a producer actually do? We’ve all seen the meme online: “What my friends think I do, what my Mom thinks I do, what I actually do.” Well Mom, this article is for you and all the other moms out there so you’ll finally know.
1) Has An Ear For Talent.
Record producers have become the new wave of A&R workers. A&R people used to walk into a club, hear a great band, and sign them to a label. You find me an A&R person that will do that today and I’ll find you a person who just lost their job. See, record labels want to make sure a band is already successful on iTunes, Facebook and Spotify. They know they’ll benefit from a band like this, and signing them is just smart business. As producers, we listen for talented artists that may be the next big thing. We won’t work with “Johnny No Talent” because our name will go on the bottom of that record. We want to create a product we’re proud of and that a listening audience will fall in love with. So when we scout, we scout for talent.
2) Has Vast Song Knowledge.
My brother is a lawyer. He studied his behind off to pass the Bar, and he did it. While he was reading torts, I was listening to tracks – but contrary to your beliefs at the time, Mom – I was also studying. I was learning all about song structures, arrangements, builds, and dynamics. And I didn’t just confine myself to one genre either. I made it a point to grasp a multitude of styles so I’d be well versed in punk, rock, metal, folk, pop, and everything else. Acquiring this knowledge is crucial for any great producer, especially when it comes to pre-production. Having a whole musical arsenal in our brain allows us to guide our artists in the best direction for their sound. We should always have a reason for our recommendations to our clients, so we’ll say something like, “let’s drop out the lead guitar during the second verse, it will create a softer dynamic, and then chorus will absolutely slam when it hits” instead of “get rid of that guitar part, I don’t like it.” If we’ve done a stellar job in pre-pro, we already know we have the best possible product before tracking even begins. This is the law that I live by.
This is an area that truly separates a producer from an Engineer. An Engineer will hit the record button and sit idly by while every instrument is tracked. A producer will get his or her hands dirty in the process. When we play an instrument, we use that to our advantage. We’ll bounce ideas off of an artist, play a cool lead, and show off a sick drum fill. Most clients appreciate it when I pick up a guitar and show them a few nice passing tones. It’s definitely helpful to throw out ideas when it comes to melodies and lyrics as well. The singers tend to be the hardest on themselves, and they’ll truly admire all creative input. If a band doesn’t like a recommendation, I don’t take it personally – I mean, it is their music after all.
Once the song is fully recorded, we move to the next stage. Mixing is it’s own ballgame, but I’ll give you a little league description. When most people think of mixing, they think of those big fancy boards with all those knobs and faders. Those knobs and faders have a purpose besides looking cool – they actually control things, such as volume, pan, EQ, etc… During mixing, producers will tweak the sounds of the recorded tracks. We make sure everything works together and the tracks sound balanced. Experienced producers will throw in cool effects to impress our clients. We may add a radio effect to a vocal or booming reverb to the drums. At the end of the day, the artist may have a few requests such as raising the guitar, or lowering the bass during certain spots. Our clients always appreciate it when we make the tweaks and this only helps strengthen our relationship with them.
The way I like to explain mastering is with a photoshop analogy. If one were to Frankenstein together a photo of a bear riding a tricycle – one could consider that their mixing process. Now, if someone wanted to take that picture and put it on Instagram, all they can do to that picture is add a filter over the whole thing. This is mastering – effecting a track as a whole. Mastering is used for fine tuning eq, compression, and other effects on our final track and ultimately helping it reach the volume of the other songs in our iTunes playlists. To me, its always been the “eating your vegetables” of the recording process. It’s not very fun, but you have to do it.
6) Makes Connections.
As producers, we make personal connections with each and every client we work with. The music industry is not that big, so burning bridges is never a smart play. We know that even if we get a grumpy artist, we should still treat them with kindness and respect. I share my artists music when it comes out on iTunes, I’ll comment on their statuses, I’ll even go out to a few shows. If our artists like us, they’ll keep coming back and they’ll even bring their friends. It’s a giant game of networking, so it’s important to stay connected.
Now you (and your Mom) know what a producer actually does. And if you ever see anyone posting that meme, just direct them to this article (or better yet, tag them!). It’ll clear up all the confusion. Keep on the lookout for Part 3 where we’ll go over the steps of becoming a producer. Please feel free to subscribe, like, and share. Peace and rock on.