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Question from a Audio Masterclass visitor...
What training or knowledge is vital to becoming a record producer?
David Mellor replies...
The shorter the question, the bigger it often is...
There are different kinds of producers. Some producers work with bands that write their own songs and can perform live without any outside musical assistance.
Surely they could just walk into a studio, play their songs and have the engineer faithfully record the sound they make?
They problem is that it doesn't work like that. A live performance benefits from excitement and the fact that it is there one moment, gone the next.
A recording is played at home, in the car, on your iPod, without the aid of the atmosphere of a live performance. And you will expect to want to listen to a recording again and again.
So the standard is simply higher. A recording has to be very much more than a live performance (at least the sound component of a performance).
For this, a producer is required.
The first thing the producer will do is help the band with their songs. It's a rare band that doesn't need any help. Help can be as mild as constructive criticism and encouragement. Or it can extend to co-writing of the songs. The producer will also choose the best songs from the band's repertoire for the record.
Following that, the producer may work with the band in a rehearsal studio. It is always worth experimenting with the arrangement of songs. Even if a new arrangement doesn't work out, it will have an affect on how the band plays their normal arrangement, definitely for the better.
In the studio, the producer should encourage experimentation and the generation of many musical ideas. In conjunction with the band, the producer will decide which ideas are best, and which should be discarded. The object is to get the most out of the song that could possibly be achieved.
The producer will judge takes. For example, which take of the lead vocal is best; which guitar solo is best.
The producer will also work closely with the engineer. The engineer is the expert in achieving good recorded sound, but the producer will have a significant input on that in terms of judging what works best for the song.
Finally, the producer will oversee the mix. Many records are now mixed by someone other than the original producer. But this is still seen as an essential part of the producer's role.
The engineer will be perfectly capable of creating a good, professional mix. But the point of having a producer is that they don't have to worry about the technicalities - they can just advise, comment and recommend on the quality of the sound they hear.
The training and knowledge required to do this is best gained through experience in recording. Probably the producer will have played in a band and written songs previously. It isn't necessary to have any technical knowledge to be a producer of this kind. Musical ability and a good ear for sound however are essential.
But there are other kinds of producers too. Later....