Do we really need a producer? - Part 6

The producer has many responsibilities, and there is one I want to talk about; it’s the preparation that happens before going into the studio, the pre-production stage. No matter the sound, the musician’s ability and the music style, the album is a collection of songs, and it is the song that captures the attention. It is the most important part, without a good song, there is nothing period. The songs are making or breaking an album. The songs are making or breaking an artist.

The artist may want to start to record, but it is the producer role to listen and decide if the songs are ready for that or not. This is a critical moment, many times very hard to handle: in one hand the artist, with his creative effort and sometimes with an ego, on the other hand the producer, who has to judge if the song is ready or not, and if it’s not, he has to do something. Diplomacy helps a lot here. Working with competent producers helps too.

There are many types of situations at this point: a song is ready, a song needs re-arranging, a song needs to be re-written, the song is too long, the chorus is great, but the bridge and the verse so and so, the intro is too long, the balance is off, there is a lack of interest going from the beginning, middle and to the end part of the song, the melodic line is fine, but the harmonic/rhythm support is not helping, the artist has many songs, not all of them great, and a selection is needed… Just a few situations, there are so many…

The producer first and foremost thinks in terms of balancing, arranging, cutting the fat, make the song stand. The producers are approaching the situation in different ways. Some are making suggestions, some are hands-on, recording the song at pre-production and trying different ideas making it easy for the artist to get to understand their vision, some are re-writing parts, like a bridge, some are redoing the whole arrangement and so on. Sometimes recording at pre-production may lead to very interesting things: you can try different things, and you can always go back to the original demo.

Some artists are extremely creative, and they end up with a large collection of songs, but not all of them are good, some need to be dropped, some need work… after a long period of time, it is hard to look at everything and listen with an objective mind, so here the producer role is invaluable, by determining what’s worth to keep and what’s not.

Some producers are playing an instrument, so they can record themselves to show better what they have in mind. It is interesting to note that the instrument that the producer plays somehow influences him; guitar and piano players are generally better at re-writing, while drummers are very efficient at cutting the fat, get things in the groove without clouding the song.

It is also at this stage that the producer acknowledges to what extent he can push things, how willing is the artist/band to accept suggestions, to accept the criticism and be willing to work for the betterment of their song. I don’t know of any great album where there was a permanent conflict between the producer and the artist (because sometimes it leads to that); it is the collaboration of the two that makes the difference.

There is one more important thing at the pre-production stage: is this the first album of the artist or not? Because the overall perspective needs to become clear as to what extent does the artist wants to come with new things or not. Usually, if a record label and a strong fan base are involved, things can get complicated, sometimes the labels are pushing into a radio friendly direction, which the artists don’t always agree, as some are pushing the boundaries from an artistic and not a commercial point of view. But we’ll talk about that in a future article.

Stay tuned,

Flo Fandango

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