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
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.'
(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
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.