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The Role of the Producer in the Studio

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This post is part of a series called Creative Session: The Business of Music.
Creative Commons for Musicians: Can You Make Money by Giving Music Away?
The Role of the Engineer in the Studio

The producer has a job that consists of many roles. Some of them happen in the studio, and some of them don’t. I’m going to spend a few articles talking about the various roles in the studio and what to expect from those fulfilling them. These aren’t going to be job descriptions; we’re going to look at the interactions that take place in the studio environment and how to make the most of them.

This article was previously published on the AudioJungle blog, which is moving on to a new format in 2010. We'll be bringing you an article from the AudioJungle archives each Sunday.

In this article, we will talk about the responsibilities of the producer and the headology of the role, how to do a good job as a producer in terms of the interactions with the others in this studio environment.

When you ask a bunch of musicians what the producer does, there’s often a lot of confusion. It gets worse when you ask the producers themselves because they either aren’t too sure, or they all have conflicting ideas. Some producers think they’re there to make the artist’s songs “better” (probably a harmful attitude to have). Others think they’re there to capture a realistic and honest, but aesthetically pleasing and radio-ready recording of the artist’s work. The latter is usually what the artist is paying for.

The producer usually has an engineer to do the hard yards; setting up microphones and guitar stacks, patching a million things in and out of different processors, pressing the record button. The relationship between the producer and engineer is a bit like the relationship between the general and a soldier. The producer makes strategic decisions and guides the progress and development of the track, while the engineer does the grunt work.

If the band hasn’t done an arrangement, the producer’s job may grow to include creating arrangements at the outset of the project. Many bands don’t know where to put what and whether or not a string pad would be appropriate during the break. The producer will decide for the band.

The producer also needs to oversee the studio session and ensure it is productive. They make the decisions about what needs to be tracked in which order and when, and lay out a plan of attack for each individual session. They may want the vocalist to start doing takes of the chorus, or take “overview” takes of the whole song followed by takes each individual verse or chorus.

Musicians can get freaked out or unsure of themselves during a session (particularly vocalists) and the producer becomes a bit of a shrink, comforting and coaching the musician. They work not only to show the musician how to pull off a great take, but act as an emotional support and need to develop a certain level of rapport with the artists to achieve this.

Throughout the recording process, from beginning to end, the producer is a voice of reason and a viewpoint of objectivity for the band who are probably very close to the songs and hence can’t see some of their flaws or are missing some great opportunities to make the song better. This isn’t always well received, especially by tight-knit bands, but it’s certainly a valuable thing to have. You’ll always get the unsolicited “objective” opinion of others but the producer has a trained ear and knows what to listen for.

At the end of the day, the job encompasses many things, but it all comes back to one thing: creating an honest, high fidelity reproduction of the sounds made in the room and the song as a whole. All these other responsibilities, though some may seem far removed, contribute to this primary role and mission.

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