For the purposes of this section, we have divided sound recordings into two broad categories of recorded music, namely; contemporary 'pop' music; and 'classical' or orchestral music.

Crudely speaking and acknowledging that some European countries have slightly different broadcasting priorities, pop music accounts for approximately 90% of record sales and broadcast uses and classical music 10%.

The role of the Music Producer when recording each of those categories of music is different and is therefore described separately below.

(a) Role of Music Producers – Pop Music

The majority of recording artists do not have the expertise to produce their own recording. Record companies do not have that expertise either. Record companies almost always engage a freelance or independent Music Producer to direct and supervise recording sessions.

All successful Music Producers have a sound grasp of modern recording techniques and what the market wants. However, it is important to understand that those techniques are only the Music Producer's tools. The art of producing fine recordings is distinct from the techniques used to pursue that art. Thus, while a Stradivarius cannot make good music without a good violinist, so a top quality-recording studio cannot create good recordings without a good Music Producer. The better the violinist, the better the music. The better the Music Producer, the better the finished recorded product.

It is also important to understand that although the technical expertise of Music Producers is important, it is less important than their organisational, creative and artistic capabilities. One important element of the Music Producer's role is to listen to the raw performances of the performers and to imagine what type of 'sound' and 'artistic feel' the finished recording based on those performances should have. This is a defining moment in the creative process. These creative ideas must be accompanied by the ability to direct and supervise the recording process so that imagination becomes reality in the form of high quality finished recordings. Both elements require high levels of skill and artistry. It is usually a Music Producer's experience imagination and artistry rather than purely technical ability which leads a record company to engage him in preference to another. No two Music Producers share the same imagination or methods and they are likely to produce radically different results from the same raw material. As such the Music Producer is the Producer of a Phonogram, i.e. responsible for the first fixation of a performance in order to arrive at a marketable product.

Music Producers are every bit as much artists and creators as those who are regarded as 'performers' in the traditional sense. A Music Producer has technical skills and administrative responsibilities, but as with any other artist, it is the creative ends to which those skills are employed that distinguishes a great Music Producer from the rest.

A Music Producer is capable of transforming the songs and performances, which he records. His activities pervade every element of the recording process from writing and arranging to mixing the finished master tape. Yet it is the very diversity of the Music Producer's role, which has caused it to elude definition hitherto. Legal definitions tend to recognise 'performers' merely in the traditional sense as being those who play instruments and sing and 'producers' as those responsible for first fixation (that is to say record companies).

Ironically, record companies themselves have no doubts whosoever about the importance of choosing the right Music Producer for a particular project. Record companies recognise that the two crucial parties required to make a good recording are the featured artist and the Music Producer. One will not work without the other and both are indispensable. That is why featured artists and sometimes Music Producers receive a royalty on the sale of records in contrast to session players and studio owners who merely receive a fee for services rendered and facilities provided. The fact that Music Producers are themselves artists has long been recognised as commercial reality by record companies. So it seems churlish for them to refuse to recognise legal rights on the basis of purely economic considerations.

That fact is eloquently expressed in the following quote from an article written by a representative of the 'IFPI', an international organisation that represents record companies' interests throughout the world.

'In the early days of sound recording, the phonogram (sound recording) was merely a fixation which sought to do no more than to reproduce, as faithfully as possible, the sounds being recorded, and only involved technical skill. Today, with the increasing sophistication of recording techniques, record production is an art which may be exercised with as much creativity and skill as that involved in composing a piece of music.' (IAEL 1990)

(b) Role of Music Producers – Orchestral Music

(i) General Role

In contemporary pop music, the role of the Music Producer has been recognised as integral and vital to the creation of successful products for some time but the development of multi-track and digital recording techniques has signalled similar changes in the role of Music Producers working in the 'classical' music field. The process of recording orchestras and smaller ensembles of classical musicians and singers was, originally, a largely technical one, the main task being to ensure that a clean, balanced and undistorted recording of a single performance was 'fixed' in a medium such as acetate discs or on magnetic tape. The development of multi-track recording afforded the same opportunities to correct, augment and edit performances in the classical realm as it did for pop music and it was in these areas of additional flexibility that Music Producers began to exercise a great creative influence.

(ii) Editing and mixing

The ability to combine parts of various different 'takes' from recordings of performances of the same work provides for the Music Producer a responsibility to choose which performance is best or at least most compatible with elements on other recorded takes of the same work. This is a highly valued creative skill requiring consummate musical knowledge and sensitivity and which greatly influences both the musical quality and commercial viability of the recording. Where a conductor is steering the performances in an orchestral recording he will most often rely upon the Music Producer's judgement regarding many of the artistic decisions which will govern the direction of the recording and hence the quality of the final product. Such questions as tempo, phrasing, the balance between the individual instruments and the various sections of the orchestra will be decided only after consultation between the Music Producer and the orchestral conductor. In addition, observations and judgements about the quality of the musical performances, wrong notes, incorrect inflections, pitching, style and intonation and whether the ensemble are playing sufficiently 'together' will be made by the Music Producer and remedied in consultation with the conductor and the leading players. The musical performances that take place in the recording room of the studio are in many cases directed by the Music Producer being made on the control room side of 'the glass' (soundproof window).

Multi track, discontinuous recording techniques that are invariably used to record orchestral music today have introduced a new reality in terms of the precise stage at which artistic direction takes place. Often, the first stage is to record a number of takes of the same work performed by the orchestral musicians under the combined direction of the conductor in the recording room and the Music Producer in the control room. Both the conductor and the Music Producer exercise an artistic influence over the proceedings as described above.

The second stage of the process, after the musicians have gone home, is editing which is described above.

The third stage is the mix. The mix gives the Music Producer the opportunity to recreate a composite of optimum takes and performances adjusting, where necessary, the relative levels of individual instruments and, by the judicious application of auxiliary electronic effects, smoothing-out idiosyncrasies in the timbre and depth of the overall sound.

Where a conductor has been involved in the first part of the process the creative choices will at least be shared with the Music Producer but in recordings of small ensembles, singers or soloists with piano accompaniment who do not use a conductor, the creative choices are made almost entirely by the Music Producer and the performers will rely upon his judgement.

In addition to the creative choices to be made in a multi-track recording, there are also many circumstances in which a recording is made directly to two-track stereo. Such recordings are often of orchestral works that can only be adjusted by re-recording and creative editing, a process, which demands great artistic skill and creative sensibility.

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© The European Sound Directors Association, 1996-2009