As anyone who’s ever produced any sort of entertainment project knows, one of the first questions you might get from a non-music person (like your mother) is, “What exactly do you do?” or, “What’s a producer?” It’s totally understandable since producers in music, television and film take on so many roles, some honorary and some deep in the trenches of the creative tasks at hand, yet are mostly out of the public eye.
But a music producer in the most basic description is different from his similarly named film and television counterparts (where a “line” producer and “coordinating” producer are specific jobs), because the producer on a musical project is many job descriptions rolled into one.
He’s the creative director. Just like the director on a movie has the overall vision for that movie and is the boss on the set, so is the producer in the studio. The producer sees the big picture in terms of how all the songs of the album will fit together into a cohesive package, but can also control the day to day minutiae of how a part is played or even what notes are in the part.
He’s a diplomat. The producers number one job is to bring harmony to the creative process so that everyone can create at their very highest level. Although some producers have used terror as a method to get what they want, most successful producers make everyone feel comfortable about contributing and make the environment comfortable for creativity.
He’s the decision maker. A good producer will be the final decision maker in any creative argument (especially between band members). Even if the producer defers to the artist’s creative vision (which most producer’s will do), it’s still his decision to defer.
He’s the go-between. The producer keeps the pressure from the record label or the outside world away from the artist or band while making the record. In some cases, he may speak for the artist during a session with studio musicians, and generally shield the artist from anything she might deem uncomfortable.
He’s the financier. The producer is responsible for the budget. He makes the deals with the studio, engineer, mixer, mastering studio, rentals, studio musicians, arrangers, songwriters, food delivery and anything else that might need to be negotiated or paid. In some cases, he’ll also administer union contracts and submit cue sheets as well.
He’s the casting director. A good producer will choose the right group of musicians to get the feel that the artist is looking for, which might change from song to song. He might even help choose material for the artist that best showcases her musical attributes.
He’s a project manager. A good producer knows just what needs to be accomplished in a given amount of time and for a given budget. His job is to turn in the project on-time and on or under budget and he must manage each project accordingly.
He’s the “bus driver.” No matter how or on what level a producer is involved, he’s the one that sets the direction for the project. He determines the artist’s artistic vision and helps her achieve it, or may even help her find it with a vision of his own. Either way, he’s the leader that everyone will follow. He “drives the bus.”
He’s the one responsible. In the eyes of the record label and artist, the success of the project is the direct responsibility of the producer. Although the public will judge the artist on the project, ultimately how it turns out falls squarely on the producer’s shoulders.
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