Do we really need a producer? Part 3

Do we really need a producer?

The idea of using a producer is a proof of a pro attitude. I know, some of you will disagree, and that’s fine. But here is the thing: in so many cases you work hard to put together a song, to find musicians, to rehearse, then put in time and money to record and then, at the mixing, you want something fast and as cheap as possible. A good producer would not allow that; he knows how much time it takes to get the song played right, what’s missing, he can come with suggestions, both when it comes to musicians, arrangements and sound. Usually he knows what he wants at the recording stage. Once done, he expects the mix, but he also gets involved once the mix is close to be finished, as he knows what carries the groove, what is the special thing for the song and how the mix should show that. The mixing engineer is looking for the balance, depth, interest, panorama, but usually the producer is the one that knows what is particular for an act/song, and he calls the shots, until the mix achieves all these objectives.

I know that, at least in the beginning, is hard to think this way, and many folks want to keep the expenses low. What I recommend is rather to have a producer; it may not be cheaper, but you can achieve far better results.

I said in the previous blog the producers wear many hats. However, I would dare to say that there are two general groups of producers: the technical producers and the musically literate producers. Of course, there isn’t a clear line of demarcation here: the great Phil Ramone was a technician who was also a fine musician, and there are so many examples. When the artist is mostly in control, a producer with a strong technical side can help a lot, bringing new sounds, and provides ideas by doing so.  Today, through the technology advancements, everybody can do at home their own mix, everybody can learn, however, there are limitations to this. Just listen to how much music is out there, but most of it sounds almost the same… So that should say that is not the access to the tools, but how you use it, and a technical producer has a lot to offer.

Normally, the musician works hard, is talented, but not really in control, he needs guidance, he lacks objectivity (well, it’s hard to be critical of your own creations), so he needs somebody that sees clearly what is unique and know how to make his music shine. The musically literate producer can do the arrangement (either playing himself, or hiring other musicians), and establish an artistic and human connection with the musician that can take them very far… think of Glen Ballard - for those who don’t know who he is, he is the producer/collaborator of Alanis Morissette’s “Jagged Little Pill”, the first album mostly done in a home recording studio and selling more than 16 million copies –  he worked with Alanis, writing and arranging the songs, and recording them in his home studio (well, with proper equipment, it is a pro studio actually, not the regular home recording studio!) and it was an absolutely fantastic album.

But maybe the best example for a musical literate producer is Max Martin. Two days ago he got the Grammy for the producer of the year.  A shy guy, he shaped the pop music in the last 20 years, he produced for Taylor Swift, Ariana Grande, Kate Perry, Jesse J, Nicki Minaj, Usher, Bon Jovi, Backstreet Boys, Pink, Kelly Clarkson, Britney Spears, actually almost everything you heard on your radio station last year. He has 54 songs on Top 10, more than Beatles, and he’s second only to George Martin as a number 1 hit producer (which I’m sure he will be very soon).  As a songwriter, he has 19 number ones, only Lennon and McCartney have more! It’s not important if you’re a fan or not of these songs – I am not; the songs are extremely well produced! Born in Sweden, he had a very strong music foundation. Actually, in his rare interviews he stresses that he would not have been capable of doing what he is doing if he would have born in any other country, as Sweden has a fantastic policy of giving to all the children a very serious musical education! This guy actually moved the pop over the last 20 years into a singular direction, which is good and bad, but that’s another story! 

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