What Does a Producer Do?
What is a Producer?
A Producer can assume many roles in the music recording process. Usually when we think of a producer we think of someone who collaborates on musical arrangements with the artist and coordinates the recording process. Often times a producer can be put in charge of the entire budget of a project -- hiring session musicians, studios, and engineers. However, sometimes a band or artist just needs someone to produce a song or two on an album. Maybe a band has a budget and they just need help with some song arrangements, or they just need someone to oversee the recording process. A Producer is as much or as little as the band or artist (or record label) needs for their recording project.
As a Producer, it's my goal to consult and collaborate with you within the scope that we pre-determine. Our end goal is a compelling recording that speaks for itself. As mentioned earlier, my role as Producer can be to assist with the arrangement -- composing melodies, harmonies, grooves, and choosing the instruments for those various parts; or to simply guide the recording process -- overseeing session musicians, engineers, studios, and production techniques such as microphone and preamp selection. As a Producer, I can help navigate the recording industry. For instance, a common misconception is that you are required to use the staff engineer at the studio you choose to record -- it's up to you and the producer to choose who records you, where, and how.
Interested to hear what I'm talking about? Check out the different stages of a song in production below, or simply click here to listen to finished products.
Let's Break it Down: Holy, Holy, Holy by Jason Magers
This is a hymn that was put to new music by Jason Magers of The Journey Collective in St. Louis. It appears on his debut EP, Take Away My Darling Sin. I'll break down the various stages of the Producing process, providing a recording and brief description of each stage.
Most songs start out with what I like to call a "skeleton." That's the basic arrangement of the song recorded with a piano or guitar to show chord changes, rhythm ideas, breaks, etc. You'll often hear this called a "scratch" track.
This song was performed live on Sundays in church before it was chosen to record, so a really great drummer had already come up with a good beat. That beat was simply written out in midi format and paired with a drum sequencer to provide a rhythmic foundation. If a drummer hand't already composed a part, the Producer, artist, or a hired musician could write or record one. Often times a Producer will use a drum loop to give the feel they want at first, and later in the process record a drummer or write out a complete part.
The next step is experimenting with and deciding what instruments are going to be in the arrangement. For instance, a syncopated rhythmic synth bass was chosen to carry the low end of this song, paired with a high pitched arpeggiated synth and a mid range pad to fill out the background a bit. The programmed drums were also changed to a more 80's electric drum sound at this stage.
After some tweaking and coming up with more parts, the full arrangement is hashed out, and we have what most people would call the "Demo." Almost all of the parts, instruments and sound effects are as they will be in the final product; although many will end up being re-recorded or replaced, some new ones might make it in, and some might be cut from the song altogether. From here the "real" tracking is done.
After everything is tracked, the mixing engineer takes all the parts -- all the puzzle pieces -- and puts them together so they are no longer lots of puzzle pieces piled on top of each other, but small parts comprising one larger, coherent picture. The engineer uses mechanisms like equalization, compression, panning, and much more to make sure we can hear all of the important parts, and most significantly, that the recording conveys the feeling and emotion of the song.
Once mixed, the mastering engineer will make sure all songs (if part of an album or EP) match each other in terms of level and sonic quality. They will try to enhance what the mixing engineer has done so that it sounds great on multiple media -- whether it's CD, mp3, vinyl or the latest audio fad. The mixing engineer adds the last bit of EQ, compression, and other tools to again make sure that the detail of the recording comes through to convey the true emotion of the song.