A record producer or music producer oversees and manages the sound recording and production of a band or performer's music, which may range from recording one song to recording a lengthy concept album. A producer has many, varying roles during the recording process. They may gather musical ideas for the project, collaborate with the artists to select cover tunes or original songs by the artist/group, work with artists and help them to improve their songs, lyrics or arrangements.
A producer may also:
- Select session musicians to play rhythm section accompaniment parts or solos
- Propose changes to the song arrangements
- Coach the singers and musicians in the studio
The producer typically supervises the entire process from preproduction, through to the sound recording and mixing stages, and, in some cases, all the way to the audio mastering stage. The producer may perform these roles themselves, or help select the engineer, and provide suggestions to the engineer. The producer may also pay session musicians and engineers and ensure that the entire project is completed within the record label's budget.
A record producer or music producer has a very broad role in overseeing and managing the recording and production of a band or performer's music. A producer has many roles that may include, but are not limited to, gathering ideas for the project, composing the music for the project, selecting songs or session musicians, proposing changes to the song arrangements, coaching the artist and musicians in the studio, controlling the recording sessions, and supervising the entire process through audio mixing (recorded music) and, in some cases, to the audio mastering stage. Producers also often take on a wider entrepreneurial role, with responsibility for the budget, schedules, contracts, and negotiations.
For Grammy qualification The Recording Academy definition of a producer is:
In the 2010s, the producer role is sometimes divided among up to three different individuals: executive producer, vocal producer and music producer. An executive producer oversees project finances, a vocal producer (also known as a vocal arranger) oversees the vocal production, and a music producer directs and oversees the creative process of the production and recording of a song to its final mixing stage.
The music producer also often wears many hat's as a competent arranger, composer, programmer, musician or songwriter who can bring fresh ideas to a project. As well as making any songwriting and arrangement adjustments, the producer often selects and/or collaborates with the mixing engineer, who takes the raw recorded tracks and edits and modifies them with hardware and software tools to create a stereo or surround sound "mix" of all the individual voices sounds and instruments, which is in turn given further adjustment by a mastering engineer for the various distribution media. The producer also oversees the recording engineer who concentrates on the technical aspects of recording.
Noted producer Phil Ek described his role as "the person who creatively guides or directs the process of making a record", like a director would a movie. Indeed, in Bollywood music, the designation is actually music director. The music producer's job is to create, shape, and mold a piece of music. The scope of responsibility may be one or two songs or an artist's entire album – in which case the producer will typically develop an overall vision for the album and how the various songs may interrelate.
At the beginning of the record industry, the producer role was technically limited to record, in one shot, artists performing live. The immediate predecessors to record producers were the artists and repertoire executives of the late 1920s and 1930s who oversaw the "pop" product and often led session orchestras. That was the case of Ben Selvin at Columbia Records, Nathaniel Shilkret at Victor Records and Bob Haring at Brunswick Records. By the end of the 1930s, the first professional recording studios not owned by the major companies were established, essentially separating the roles of artists and repertoire (A&R) man and producer, although it wouldn't be until the late 1940s when the term "producer" became widely used in the industry.
The role of producers changed progressively over the 1950s and 1960s due to technology. The development of multitrack recording caused a major change in the recording process. Before multitracking, all the elements of a song (lead vocals, backup vocals, rhythm section instrument accompaniment, solos and orchestral parts) had to be performed simultaneously. All of these singers and musicians had to be assembled in a large studio where the performance was recorded. With multitrack recording, the "bed tracks" (rhythm section accompaniment parts such as the bassline, drums, and rhythm guitar could be recorded first, and then the vocals and solos could be added later, using as many "takes" (or attempts) as necessary. It was no longer necessary to get all the players in the studio at the same time. A pop band could record their backing tracks one week, and then a horn section could be brought in a week later to add horn shots and punches, and then a string section could be brought in a week after that.
Multitrack recording had another profound effect on music production: it enabled producers and audio engineers to create new sounds that would be impossible in a live performance style ordering. Examples include the psychedelic rock sound effects of the 1960s, e.g. playing back the sound of recorded instruments backward changing the tape to produce unique sound effects. During the same period, the instruments of popular music began to shift from the acoustic instruments of traditional music (piano, upright bass, acoustic guitar, strings, brass and wind instruments) to electric piano, electronic organ, synthesizer, electric bass and electric guitar. These new instruments were electric or electronic, and thus they used instrument amplifiers and speaker enclosures (speaker cabinets) to create sound.
Electric and electronic instruments and amplifiers enabled performers and producers to change the tone and sound of instruments to produce unique electric sounds that would be impossible to achieve with acoustic instruments and live performers, such as having a singer do her own backup vocals or having a guitarist play 15 layers of backing parts to her own solo.
New technologies like multitracking changed the goal of recording: A producer could blend together multiple takes and edit together different sections to create the desired sound. For example, in jazz fusion Bandleader-composer Miles Davis' album Bitches Brew, the producer cut and edited sections together from extensive improvisation sessions.
Producers like Phil Spector and George Martin were soon creating recordings that were, in practical terms, almost impossible to realize in live performance. Producers became creative figures in the studio. Other examples includes Joe Meek, Teo Macero, Brian Wilson, and Biddu.
Another related phenomenon in the 1960s was the emergence of the performer-producer. As pop acts like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Beach Boys and The Kinks gained expertise in studio recording techniques, many of these groups eventually took over as (frequently uncredited) producers of their own work. Many recordings by acts such as The Rolling Stones, The Kinks and The Who are officially credited to their various producers at the time, but a number of these performers have since asserted that many of their recordings in this period were, either wholly self-produced (e.g. The Rolling Stones' Decca recordings) or collaborations between the group and their recording engineer (e.g. The Small Faces' Immediate recordings, which were made with Olympic Studios engineer Glyn Johns).
The Beach Boys are probably the best example of the trend of artists becoming producers – within two years of the band's commercial breakthrough, group leader Brian Wilson had taken over from his father Murry, and he was the sole producer of all their recordings between 1963 and 1967. Alongside The Beatles and Martin, Wilson also pioneered many production innovations – by 1964 he had developed Spector's techniques to a new level of sophistication, using multiple studios and multiple "takes" of instrumental and vocal components to capture the best possible combinations of sound and performance, and then using tape editing extensively to assemble a perfect composite performance from these elements.
At the end of the 20th century, digital recording and producing tools and widespread availability of relatively affordable computers with music software made music producing more accessible.
American women and record producing
According to a 2018 study covering by the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, "The ratio of male to female producers across 300 popular songs is 49 to 1."
In 2019, The Recording Academy's Task Force on Diversity and Inclusion announced the "Producer & Engineer Inclusion Initiative." This initiative asks musicians, record labels, studios and others to consider at least two women for each producer or engineer position. Major artists, producers and organizations have signed on including Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga, Quincy Jones, Pearl Jam, John Legend, Pharrell Williams, Pink, Cardi B, Maroon 5 and over 200 others.
In 2019, record producer Linda Perry was nominated for a Grammy for Producer of the Year, Non-Classical. She was the first woman in over 15 years to be nominated for the award. When asked about the disparity between male and female record producer by Billboard, she attributed it to many women not being interested in record production.
Previous Grammy nominees for Producer of the Year include Lauren Christy (2004), Sheryl Crowe, Lauryn Hill and Janet Jackson. None have won the award.
In the classical music field, Judith Sherman has won Grammy for Producer of the Year, Classical, five times and has been nominated twelve times. Anthony Tommasini, a music critic for The New York Times is quoted as stating, "In the struggling field of classical recording, it's the producers who take the real risks and make things happen."
Wilma Cozart Fine produced hundreds of recordings for Mercury Records.
Producer Wendy Page describes being a record producer, "The difficulties are usually very short-lived. Once people realize that you can do your job, sexism tends to lower its ugly head. I tend to create a happy studio 'family' where everyone is glad to be there, especially the artist. Good communication and diplomacy usually sort any little problems out."
The path to record producing for many female singer-songwriters is through self-producing their own albums. Major artists who are "record producers" (on their own albums) include Taylor Swift, Mariah Carey, Beyonce, Toni Braxton, Lady Gaga, P!nk, Adele, Lauren Hill, and Missy Elliott.
- Sylvia Moy (Motown's first female record producer)
- Gail Davies (First female record producer on Nashville's Music Row)
- Ethel Gabriel (First major label record producer; 40-year career with RCA)
- Lillian McMurry (Producer/Label owner who produced historically significant blues records)
- Linda Perry
- Sylvia Massy
Equipment and technology
There are numerous technologies utilized by record producers. In modern-day recordings, recording and mixing tasks are commonly centralized within computers using digital audio workstations such as Pro Tools, Logic Pro, Ableton, Cubase, and FL Studio, which all are often used with third party virtual studio technology plugins. Logic Pro and Pro Tools are considered the industry standard DAWs. However, there is also the main mixer, outboard effects gear, MIDI controllers, and the recording device itself.
While most music production is done using sophisticated software, some musicians and producers prefer the sound of older analog technology. Professor Albin Zak claims that the increased automation of both newer processes and newer instruments reduces the level of control and manipulation available to musicians and producers.
Production has changed drastically over the years with advancing technology. While the producer's role has changed, their duties continue to require a broad knowledge of the recording process.
Tracking is the act of recording audio to a DAW (digital audio workstation) or in some cases to tape. Even though digital technologies have widely supplanted the use of tape in studios, the older term "track" is still used in the 2010s. Tracking audio is primarily the role of the audio engineer. Producers work side by side with the artists while they play or sing their part and coach them on how to perform it and how to get the best technical accuracy (e.g., intonation). In some cases, the producer will even sing a backup vocal or play an instrument.
Many artists are also beginning to produce and write their own music.
Influential record producers
In 2012 NME identified 50 of the greatest producers ever.
- DJ Shadow
- Paul Epworth
- George Clinton
- Pete Rock
- Roy Thomas Baker
- Jerry Wexler
- Jimmy Miller
- Steve Albini
- Trevor Horn
- Steve Lillywhite
- Trent Reznor
- Mark Ronson
- Max Martin
- Jeff Lynne
- Danger Mouse
- Jimmy Iovine
- Tom Dowd
- Sam Phillips
- Berry Gordy
- J Dilla
- Mutt Lange
- Teo Macero
- John Leckie
- DJ Premier
- Jim Steinman
- Chris Thomas
- Andrew Weatherall
- Daniel Lanois
- Todd Rundgren
- Stephen Street
- The Neptunes
- T Bone Burnett
- Nigel Godrich
- Arif Mardin
- Lee Scratch Perry
- Dr. Dre
- Butch Vig
- Brian Wilson
- Brian Eno
- Rick Rubin
- Phil Spector
- Nile Rodgers
- Quincy Jones
- George Martin
- Joe Meek
- Audio engineering
- Electronic music
- Hip hop production
- Music executive
- Producers and Midi