Record Producers - What Do They Do?:
The record producer works with the band, sessions musicians and the studio engineer to "produce" the sound the recordings. Often the producer's job is to provide an extra set of ears, to produce a certain sound or to provide experience. They may be involved with arranging parts of the track or even writing it. In smaller studios the role of engineer and producers may be combined, and the band may producer or co-produce the recordings with the engineer.
In House Record Producers:
An in-house producer works in a particular studio, and his fees will usually be included in the cost of renting the studio, although they may also receive "points." Studios can often be keen to retain in demand producers as they can provide a major reasons for artists to come to the studio. Some producers, such as grunge pioneer Steve Albini in Chicago and lo-fi producer Kramer own their own studios. When booking a studio if you want to work with a particular in house producer, make sure that they are available and booked in for your session.
Independent Record Producers:
An independent producer will be employed by a band, or the label on the band's behalf, in order to gain a particular sound or in order to gain from the producer's reputation. The producer and the band will then go into a studio to record. The producer's fees will be separate from the studio rental fees. The producer will usually oversee the recording sessions as well as the mixing and the mastering of the recordings, but make sure this is made clear before the work starts, and that the overall fee is agreed.
How Do Record Producers Get Paid?:
Most producer will be paid a flat fee/advance for their work. Some will also receive points - a percentage of the dealer price of a record and/or a share of the profits made from the recordings. It's common for producers to receive both. A producer may work for a reduced up front fee in exchange for some points, or may secure a fee plus points, if they feel their production will be important to the record's success. Initially some producers may work for free to build up work but top producer can be very well paid. If you're involved in the songwriting process, you can expect royalties on top of your production fees.
Pioneering Record Producers:
Here are just a few producers credited with actually changing the way music sounds:
- George Martin – the fifth Beatle. Working with The Beatles he invented many studio techniques still used today
- Joe Meek – As well as pioneering numerous production tricks he was an electrical whiz who built some of the equipment he used.
- Phil Spector – Used multiple musicians playing the same parts to create the “Wall of Sound” production style.
- Robert Lange – Developed many multi track recording innovations, e.g. recording each string on Angus Young's (AC/DC) guitar on separate tracks for their seminal Back in Black album.
Hip Hop Record Producers:
The rise of hip hop saw the rise of the producer as star, with producers having a higher profile, and higher fees, than many of the artists they produce. Superstar hip hop producers can virtually guarantee a song will be hit, although the flipside is that they often pass in and out of style quickly, meaning the wrong producer at the wrong time can break a record as well.
Bedroom Record Producers:
The availability of computers has seen a rise in home studios, and bedroom producers. One of the most successful is Brian Burton. He began working on tracks in his bedroom under the name Danger Mouse, raising to prominence with The Gray Album, a mash up of Jay Z's Black Album and The Beatles' White Album. As well as bringing him to the attention of EMI's lawyers he caught Damon Albarn's ear, who brought him in to producer the second album by his virtual band Gorillaz, which earned Burton a Grammy. Next up was the worldwide smash hit Crazy, as Gnarls Barkley, and he's now one of the world's most sought after producers.
How Do I Become a Producer?:
Traditionally producers begin work as engineers in studios, or sometime as session musicians, gained experience in the studio environment. Then they begin working as an in-house producer until they gain a reputation. As Danger Mouse's story shows these days a producer can start working from their bedroom, however studio experience is very valuable to a producer. As a producer you'll probably be working with a studio engineer, but you'll be expected to know your way round a mixing desk. Working at your production skills in the bedroom is a good way to start, and try and gain work experience at a local recording studio.
Record Producer Contracts:
As with all aspects of the music industry, contracts are important, not least because they let everyone knows where they stand and what is expected of them. An engineer may feel that they're 'producing' the session - the band may not. A band may expect the producer to oversee recording, mixing and mastering but the producer may be only be expecting to work on the recordings. These issues, along with fees and point are more easily discussed before recording begins, and a contract can clear up any misunderstandings.