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What do you actually do as a producer?
Old 28th January 2014
  #1
Gear Head
 
Xaser's Avatar
 

Thread Starter
What do you actually do as a producer?

Hi Sylvia,

the question sounds pretty trivial, however I know that many people, even though they know that there is a producer behind every professional album, don't actually know what you actually do as a producer.

Maybe you could give a short summary of a typical album-creation-process and what your part in it is?

Regards,
Max
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Old 31st January 2014
  #2
Radiant Being
 
SylviaMassy's Avatar
The broad definition of a Record Producer is someone responsible for making sure a project gets done within time and budget constraints. There are also 3 sub-types of Producers. The musician/producer, like the Neptunes or Rodney Jerkins, the engineer/producer like Jack Joseph Puig or Nigel Godrich, and the fan/producer, like Rick Rubin and Jimmy Iovine. The musician/producer usually creates all the music and often writes the songs, bringing in vocal talent to front the project. The engineer/producer will craft the sound of an existing project, often using equipment and technique to create the magic in the studio. The fan/producer may never actually touch the console, but will help choose the songs and guide the project by bringing the right people together.

I find my production style falls mainly between the engineer and the fan, but I'll often add musical elements including string arrangements, vocals, mellotron. My function in the studio is to keep the project going, to tell an artist when a performance is not good enough, and to let them know when it is. Many artists can't tell when they have finished, especially with endless ProTools tracks and the ability to continue to change without commitment. Someone has to say "stop" or the record never gets finished, so I can be the artist's "reality-checker."

A typical album production starts with me directing an artist to write 30 songs so I can choose the best 12. Day one of recording will have us listening and discussing the songs and agreeing on the list to record. I usually work with an engineer who will set up the studio the way I like it, mic-ing the entire band to play the songs live to a click. I'll detail the drum sounds, tune the kit, move mics, adjust EQ until we are ready to record. We will record a bit of a song and discuss the sounds. I will make any additional adjustments until we are all happy and ready to go. We then record several takes of each song and I'll give the engineer notes on what parts to comp together for the ProTools tracking masters. Then, depending on the project, I'll have the engineer fine-edit the drum performances on the multi-track masters before continuing into overdubs.

I map out a strategy before doing overdubs, and make a plan on how to complete the project within the time given. I'll often give the engineer the job of recording the foundation tracks, and I will come in afterwards and approve performances. I want the foundation tracks to be done quickly so we can dig into the vocals and the color parts as soon as possible, this is where I can really help a project. I like to bring out unusual instruments so we can experiment with sounds and parts. I'll give musicians writing tasks that inspire them to stretch their wings. We will try the Hammond C3 or an Optigan on a part. We'll drag out the huge suitcases full of percussion instruments. We'll try adding group vocals or string parts. Maybe a sitar. If you are so caught up in fussing over a rhythm guitar sound, you may never get the chance to really get creative.

As a producer I approve mixes before the band comes in for a listen, and I'll often do the mixing myself. I prefer to have another engineer set up the mixes so I can take a fresh listen to the songs before finishing. I hope I have interpreted the artist's vision and gone beyond their expectations!

PS: There's another aspect to Producing that I didn't mention above, and that's the ability to get great performances. There is so much to Producing a record that goes beyond gear, engineering or other details. It's the performance! I do have somewhat of a reputation in this area, and I've been known to be a bit outrageous in my efforts to push the artist into that magical zone where they stop over-thinking and pour their heart out into the microphone. The psychology of how i accomplish this is my secret sauce, and it's a recipe that can't be easily reproduced. I've fired guns into pianos, driven motorcycles into the studio, thrown guitars off cliffs, burned almost everything, etc. It's the ability to open a scene where suddenly people stop internalizing, and start spontaneously creating. Lightning in a bottle, so to speak.
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Old 31st January 2014
  #3
Gear nut
 
Everland Studios's Avatar
 

Damn, I thought I just had to buy a few 1073's... now I find out I need a motorcycle and a gun too!!
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Old 31st January 2014
  #4
Lives for gear
 
Travst's Avatar
That is without a doubt the best answer to this question I have ever heard.
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Old 31st January 2014
  #5
Lives for gear
 
Drumsound's Avatar
That's one of the best posts in Gearslutz history!
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Old 31st January 2014
  #6
Lives for gear
 

FANTASTIC answer. Wow, you've given me lots to digest. Thank you for doing this!
Old 31st January 2014
  #7
Gear Head
 
Xaser's Avatar
 

Thread Starter
Wow, thank you for taking the time to write this down, definitely one of the most interesting posts I've ever read!
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Old 31st January 2014
  #8
Gear Guru
 
FFTT's Avatar
 

The one line I highlighted below from your most exquisite response caused a collective gulp of humility to be heard 'round the world.

Go write 30 songs and come back when you're ready is probably the most
honest, down to earth advice we have seen come across these forums in years.



Quote:
Originally Posted by SylviaMassy View Post
The broad definition of a Record Producer is someone responsible for making sure a project gets done within time and budget constraints. There are also 3 sub-types of Producers. The musician/producer, like the Neptunes or Rodney Jerkins, the engineer/producer like Jack Joseph Puig or Joe Barresi, and the fan/producer, like Rick Rubin and Jimmy Iovine. The musician/producer usually creates all the music and often writes the songs, bringing in vocal talent to front the project. The engineer/producer will craft the sound of an existing project, often using equipment and technique to create the magic in the studio. The fan/producer may never actually touch the console, but will help choose the songs and guide the project by bringing the right people together.

I find my production style falls mainly between the engineer and the fan, but I'll often add musical elements including string arrangements, vocals, mellotron. My function in the studio is to keep the project going, to tell an artist when a performance is not good enough, and to let them know when it is. Many artists can't tell when they have finished, especially with endless ProTools tracks and the ability to continue to change without commitment. Someone has to say "stop" or the record never gets finished, so I can be the artist's "reality-checker."

A typical album production starts with me directing an artist to write 30 songs so I can choose the best 12. Day one of recording will have us listening and discussing the songs and agreeing on the list to record. I usually work with an engineer who will set up the studio the way I like it, mic-ing the entire band to play the songs live to a click. I'll detail the drum sounds, tune the kit, move mics, adjust EQ until we are ready to record. We will record a bit of a song and discuss the sounds. I will make any additional adjustments until we are all happy and ready to go. We then record several takes of each song and I'll give the engineer notes on what parts to comp together for the ProTools tracking masters. Then, depending on the project, I'll have the engineer fine-edit the drum performances on the multi-track masters before continuing into overdubs.

I map out a strategy before doing overdubs, and make a plan on how to complete the project within the time given. I'll often give the engineer the job of recording the foundation tracks, and I will come in afterwards and approve performances. I want the foundation tracks to be done quickly so we can dig into the vocals and the color parts as soon as possible, this is where I can really help a project. I like to bring out unusual instruments so we can experiment with sounds and parts. I'll give musicians writing tasks that inspire them to stretch their wings. We will try the Hammond C3 or an Optigan on a part. We'll drag out the huge suitcases full of percussion instruments. We'll try adding group vocals or string parts. Maybe a sitar. If you are so caught up in fussing over a rhythm guitar sound, you may never get the chance to really get creative.

As a producer I approve mixes before the band comes in for a listen, and I'll often do the mixing myself. I prefer to have another engineer set up the mixes so I can take a fresh listen to the songs before finishing. I hope I have interpreted the artist's vision and gone beyond their expectations!

PS: There's another aspect to Producing that I didn't mention above, and that's the ability to get great performances. There is so much to Producing a record that goes beyond gear, engineering or other details. It's the performance! I do have somewhat of a reputation in this area, and I've been known to be a bit outrageous in my efforts to push the artist into that magical zone where they stop over-thinking and pour their heart out into the microphone. The psychology of how i accomplish this is my secret sauce, and it's a recipe that can't be easily reproduced. I've fired guns into pianos, driven motorcycles into the studio, thrown guitars off cliffs, burned almost everything, etc. It's the ability to open a scene where suddenly people stop internalizing, and start spontaneously creating. Lightning in a bottle, so to speak.
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Old 1st February 2014
  #9
That was better than reading the whole Zen book on producing.
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Old 1st February 2014
  #10
absolutely brilliant *ctrl-c ctrl-v*

this Q&A, even in its infancy, has been the most interesting stuff I've read for awhile. You really are a "radiant being"
thank you
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Old 1st February 2014
  #11
Gear Nut
 
Deviated's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Travst View Post
That is without a doubt the best answer to this question I have ever heard.
+1
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Old 1st February 2014
  #12
Lives for gear
 
ELI-173's Avatar
Thank you so much for this amazing post, Sylvia. YOU ROCK!
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Old 1st February 2014
  #13
Gear interested
 

this is my first reading on gearslutz..i ve just signed in and it made me realize how much time a waste!
thanx from Argentina!
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Old 2nd February 2014
  #14
Gear Addict
 
kuasalogam's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Robby in WA View Post
That was better than reading the whole Zen book on producing.
truth be told
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Old 2nd February 2014
  #15
Gear Nut
 
Amroth's Avatar
Wow, some fresh thoughts and concepts to chew on here! Thanks for taking the time to write that all down Sylvia.

If I was an artist and I got told to write down 30 songs so you could choose the best 12, I would swallow a big gulp in my throat! ***** just got real!*
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Old 2nd February 2014
  #16
Gear Addict
 
spurratic's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by Drumsound View Post
That's one of the best posts in Gearslutz history!
+1

Greatest post I've ever read on this site
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Old 3rd February 2014
  #17
RiF
Lives for gear
 
RiF's Avatar
Sylvia, this is the first Q&A where I've actually read and will read ALL of the Q&A-host's posts. So clear and informative yet very entertaining to read: brilliant.
Thank you!
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Old 3rd February 2014
  #18
Gear Maniac
 
grevan's Avatar
 

What a magnificent answer! I'm printing a copy to read each day before a session. Sylvia, I am a fan of most of your recorded and produced output and now I know (a little better) why! Thank you!
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Old 3rd February 2014
  #19
Gear interested
 

Thats the best thing i've ever read on GS
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Old 3rd February 2014
  #20
Geariophile
 
Karloff70's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by SylviaMassy View Post
PS: There's another aspect to Producing that I didn't mention above, and that's the ability to get great performances. There is so much to Producing a record that goes beyond gear, engineering or other details. It's the performance! I do have somewhat of a reputation in this area, and I've been known to be a bit outrageous in my efforts to push the artist into that magical zone where they stop over-thinking and pour their heart out into the microphone. The psychology of how i accomplish this is my secret sauce, and it's a recipe that can't be easily reproduced. I've fired guns into pianos, driven motorcycles into the studio, thrown guitars off cliffs, burned almost everything, etc. It's the ability to open a scene where suddenly people stop internalizing, and start spontaneously creating. Lightning in a bottle, so to speak.
Gold! I love the firing a gun into a piano bit!

The whole post very obviously details behaviour of someone excellent at this production lark, but this paragraph I believe is pure gold. Crack them open. LOVE it!

Much respect, Sylvia! Thank you for letting your ways hang out on here, I'll have to read all the rest now, too.
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Old 3rd February 2014
  #21
Gear interested
 
mixr's Avatar
 

This is one of the most brilliant responses I have ever heard to this question. I am going to retire my tired "a producer is like the director of a movie" script and start telling younger people this. I will cite Sylvia of course!
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Old 3rd February 2014
  #22
Gear interested
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by SylviaMassy View Post
The broad definition of a Record Producer is someone responsible for making sure a project gets done within time and budget constraints. There are also 3 sub-types of Producers. The musician/producer, like the Neptunes or Rodney Jerkins, the engineer/producer like Jack Joseph Puig or Joe Barresi, and the fan/producer, like Rick Rubin and Jimmy Iovine. The musician/producer usually creates all the music and often writes the songs, bringing in vocal talent to front the project. The engineer/producer will craft the sound of an existing project, often using equipment and technique to create the magic in the studio. The fan/producer may never actually touch the console, but will help choose the songs and guide the project by bringing the right people together.

I find my production style falls mainly between the engineer and the fan, but I'll often add musical elements including string arrangements, vocals, mellotron. My function in the studio is to keep the project going, to tell an artist when a performance is not good enough, and to let them know when it is. Many artists can't tell when they have finished, especially with endless ProTools tracks and the ability to continue to change without commitment. Someone has to say "stop" or the record never gets finished, so I can be the artist's "reality-checker."

A typical album production starts with me directing an artist to write 30 songs so I can choose the best 12. Day one of recording will have us listening and discussing the songs and agreeing on the list to record. I usually work with an engineer who will set up the studio the way I like it, mic-ing the entire band to play the songs live to a click. I'll detail the drum sounds, tune the kit, move mics, adjust EQ until we are ready to record. We will record a bit of a song and discuss the sounds. I will make any additional adjustments until we are all happy and ready to go. We then record several takes of each song and I'll give the engineer notes on what parts to comp together for the ProTools tracking masters. Then, depending on the project, I'll have the engineer fine-edit the drum performances on the multi-track masters before continuing into overdubs.

I map out a strategy before doing overdubs, and make a plan on how to complete the project within the time given. I'll often give the engineer the job of recording the foundation tracks, and I will come in afterwards and approve performances. I want the foundation tracks to be done quickly so we can dig into the vocals and the color parts as soon as possible, this is where I can really help a project. I like to bring out unusual instruments so we can experiment with sounds and parts. I'll give musicians writing tasks that inspire them to stretch their wings. We will try the Hammond C3 or an Optigan on a part. We'll drag out the huge suitcases full of percussion instruments. We'll try adding group vocals or string parts. Maybe a sitar. If you are so caught up in fussing over a rhythm guitar sound, you may never get the chance to really get creative.

As a producer I approve mixes before the band comes in for a listen, and I'll often do the mixing myself. I prefer to have another engineer set up the mixes so I can take a fresh listen to the songs before finishing. I hope I have interpreted the artist's vision and gone beyond their expectations!

PS: There's another aspect to Producing that I didn't mention above, and that's the ability to get great performances. There is so much to Producing a record that goes beyond gear, engineering or other details. It's the performance! I do have somewhat of a reputation in this area, and I've been known to be a bit outrageous in my efforts to push the artist into that magical zone where they stop over-thinking and pour their heart out into the microphone. The psychology of how i accomplish this is my secret sauce, and it's a recipe that can't be easily reproduced. I've fired guns into pianos, driven motorcycles into the studio, thrown guitars off cliffs, burned almost everything, etc. It's the ability to open a scene where suddenly people stop internalizing, and start spontaneously creating. Lightning in a bottle, so to speak.
In essence when do you as a producer know when to stop? Has someone ever challenged you at that point and said with all their heart they know they can get something better and were right?
How did you develop you ability of getting great performances and doing spontaneous things? Was this something you always thought about, or was it goofing off that returned awesome results?
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Old 3rd February 2014
  #23
That was awesome
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