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Defining the Producer: The Studio Superstar

In today’s up-and-coming engineering circles, I’ve noticed a trend with so many young engineers, especially in hip-hop, claiming the title of “Producer” every chance they get, whether or not they understand the responsibilities or duties. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not implying hip-hopper’s are the only ones loosely throwing around the terminology, and I’m not against anyone calling themselves a producer of any sort. I believe It’s important that you understand the differences between “Producers” and “Engineers,” in which I will attempt to clarify, hoping these distinctions will help you on the path of choosing your career, or choosing the engineer & producer for your next recording project.

A producer may fall under one of three categories; the documentarian, project leader, or the studio superstar. Typically, the producer is in charge of operations or definitively speaking, they’re expected to handle the projects expenses, and the inspiration of the artist’s intended goals. If the producer has several “mega” hits under his belt, he may have a little clout to throw down his opponent, in most cases the label, which may result in a larger budget. If a label is not already in the picture, a producer may also be responsible for delivering the final product to the necessary parties in order to sign with management, agents, and record companies.

Renowned producer and former co-owner of Atlantic Records, Jerry Wexler, described the three kinds of producers. Basically, the documentarian “replicates in the studio what he hears in the bar” as opposed to the project leader who “finds the right song, arranger, band, and studio” in order to reach the end product or vision. Now, in my opinion, the most valuable producer of them all is one who holds all the qualities of an artist or musician, arranger, engineer, and manager into one studio superstar, a one-man stop n’ shop, a jack-of-all trades; quite possibly an all around musical genius, so to speak.

Nevertheless, a producer, whichever category he/she may fall under is expected to provide the record company with the highly anticipated hit song as well as handling the projects budget. Frankly, if the guy you plan on hiring to produce you has problems managing his own expenses, then I wouldn’t expect him to be trustworthy to handle your recording projects budget either, never-mind how much or little that may be.

A producer is also in charge of time management, which means tough decisions will inevitably cross paths with everyone involved eventually. This means the producer will ultimately decide whether or not to pursue a certain time wasting “science experiment” the beloved guitarist persists on tracking when this part has no business in the arrangement. The producer acts as a buffer between each member of the band, taking the heat when tough decisions need to be made. In short, good money management skills, time management, and decisive people make good producers. Indecisive people need not apply :)

The producer, not only is in control of budgetary aspects and scheduling, but is also expected to help the artist and record company create the best possible recordings and final product that exposes the artist’s vision. This type of producer often falls under the category of project leader and actively collaborates with an artist or group and guides them through the recording process. Often times they will assist in the selection of songs, help focus the artistic goals and performances, and help translate those performances into a final, marketable product, in which the technical and artistic help of an engineer is duly noted.

Now combine those talents with a creative genius and you have the studio superstar! This producer is highly sought after by singers and songwriters. These producers typically have a musical vision from beginning to end simply after hearing an acoustic demo of a song. They hear the rhythm section, string arrangements, background singers, lead vocals, solo instruments, and have all the ideal players in mind to achieve such a vision. Not only that, but they have the skills necessary to engineer the entire project themselves, typically because they began their journey as an engineer before becoming a sought after producer. Engineers tend to find themselves tacking on the role of producer on top of engineering because they spend most of their working time with musicians and industry professionals; therefore becoming a “jack of all trades”.

Hopefully, these distinctions will help you decide on the particular producer your recording project needs, or which category you fall under as a producer. Whether your looking for the documentarian, the project leader, or the notorious studio superstar, understanding the different roles within the industry will help you market yourself in a more specific fashion, as well as focusing on a specific demographic, landing you the right producer for the job, or getting hired over another. As always, I encourage you to capture matchless performances through the art of recording!

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