So why do you need a music producer?

THE QUOTE: Mate, I’m tellin’ you, I wrote the song, I sing the song, the Band’s been playing the song for a year, not only do we not need a producer, we’ll go into the studio and get it first take – I GUARANTEE IT..!!!!

THE FACT: the only “dud” album The Beatles recorded was the one without a Producer! “Let It Be” – they got it so wrong, they remixed it and re-released it 34 years later.

When Alannis Morisset recorded her “Jagged Little Pill” album that went on to sell 10 million copies or more, she basically lived with her producer for 3 months. Was it because she liked him? No, they had a job to do.

When the Bee Gees recorded an album they had a producer. This is the Band that Barry Gibb was in, the guy who has written and produced more hit songs than anyone EVER. That’s EVER. Not this year or since Kylie was in Neighbours but EVER.

Here’s a guy who produced an album for Barbra Streisand successfully. Think Barack Obama has a hard job? Forget it, try Producing a Barbra Streisand album!

When The Bee Gees do a record, they get a Producer, the man who is a Producers’ Producer gets a Producer.

Why is that do you say? Well I’m glad you asked.

There is no 100% accurate “job description” for a Producer, but I’ll tell you what I do, which wouldn’t be far from the truth.

Unlike a Producer in a Hollywood movie, whose job it is to get the money for a film, a Record Producer basically tries to get the most out of the songs, the musos, the engineer, out of everyone, to get the best possible end product, which gives the Band and the songs the best chance of succeeding. When a Producer listens to the radio, or checks out a CD, it’s a burden. He can’t view it passively, he immediately goes “wow that’s great, why is it great, oh, that’s a great chord at the right time, great melody change there, gee that loop sounds great when it comes in, the lyric is exactly perfect for the vibe” etc, etc. It’s a sad by-product of a life spent studying music and songs, but it sure comes in handy when your gig in life is being a Producer.

I remember when Bunnings, the hardware specialists, re-mixed their ad, they pumped up the drums a bit and I HATED it, cause the vocal couldn’t come through as easy.. so it’s a sad life when radio ads make you upset…!!!

Often, you can go through CD’s with out-takes or other versions of songs to hear the different ways the song has developed and always, the best version of the song is the version we all know and love, THE HIT VERSION. The man who’s decision this is, yep, the Producer.

Yeah, I know what your saying. “I’m in a band, we play 2 times a week, we really GO OFF, every gig, everyone loves us, all’s we gotta do is go into the studio, put the songs down, all first takes, as is, throw it out into the record shops and Bob’s your Uncle”. Well, let me tell you, Bob’s not your Uncle, he’s never heard of you. It’s not that easy. It should be, but it’s not.

Quite often a Band will come into the studio, with little or no experience in a studio – for example, the drummer won’t know that if the song is in the key of “A” and his snare drum is tuned to “A flat”, the drum sound will suck..

If you didn’t know that you could, (or should) tune a drum to a pitch, then I have already succeeded in explaining why you need a Producer.

There’s heaps of stuff like this, e.g. sometimes a song will sound better with a Gibson rather than a Fender, sometimes the chorus needs strings, sometimes the song will sound better if the bass player plays low instead of high…. stuff like that.

A Producer is in a great position to be objective about the songs and the performances of the songs, the drummer will probably take the word of an outside opinion from the Producer that he has sped up rather than from the singer, who has just married the drummer’s girlfriend of 7 years.

A Producer will be in a great position to inform the guitarist that the 3 minute guitar extravaganza including Nazi war propaganda samples and satanic quotes at the beginning of their new single “I Love You, I Really Love You, That’s Why I Love You My Love” is possibly just a touch over the top and might in some way blow their chances of being played on easy listening 106.1 FM. However, the Band likes the idea, cause the whole band has been reading Nazi War Stories on their last tour – it’s good to have an experienced outside stabilising influence.!!

If you listen to any radio station, whether they play Tool, Talking Heads, T-Bone Walker or Tchaikovsky, they’ll play the hits, have a close listen to these songs. Hits have one thing in common, there is no dead wood. That’s the best thing about a hit song, whether it’s from an oldie Band or a new hip-hop genius (very tempted here to say something about that being an oxymoron, but I will resist the urge):

No Dead Wood — examples…

  • The Beatles – She Loves You, bang into the chorus and through to the end
  • Wham – Wake Me Up Before You Go Go – Great recording, great clear vocal and chorus, everyone knows it (almost everyone hates it, but if you’re drunk you’ll dance to it!)
  • Nirvana – Teen Spirit, intro, verse, then into the big pay off chorus
  • silverchair – The Greatest View = the greatest song, interesting from minute one till the end – no dead wood –
  • All the last few Guy Sebastian singles..!! (never thought I’d say that, but it’s true).

They’re all great to listen to. Why? Because they’re all wall to wall songs, no dud bits, no dud guitar solos, no dud vocal bits (Lou Reed and Bob Dylan withstanding), no suspect drum fills, wall to wall FUN!!! But let me state the obvious – that’s why they were hits, don’t think that songs are only hits because someone bribes someone, or a Band is fashionable at the time. 5-10-20-50 years down the line radio only plays the good stuff.

The man whose job it is to get these songs THAT GOOD, is The Producer.

I’ve had 2 instances where a Band has come into the studio, with songs for an album and has played me a song that they don’t really like but played it for me anyway, just in case and on 2 occasions I’ve said “that’s the one, that’s track No-1”. They think I’m joking, but with some minor adjustments,  2 times out of 2, the song has been track No-1 on the album.

Def Leppard had just spent 3 years on their Hysteria album and had 11 tracks, everyone was happy to go home after 3 years and put the album out, but the guitarist was doodling in the control room with a song during the dying days of the mixing sessions and the producer Mutt Lange (he of “Back in Black” fame) said “that’s it, we need that song to complete the album”.

Everyone immediately said “yeah Mutt, I really feel like spending just one more month doing this BLOODY album for 3 years” – NOT – everyone would have hated him, the Band, the record company, the publicity people, the wives and girlfriends (should they ever meet). But he was right. The album stalled at 3 million copies sold then the single “Pour Some Sugar On Me” reignited the album to sell 12 million copies – good onya Mutt.

So I guess the question is, did this guy earn his money? Was it worthwhile to have a Producer, would they have sold 12 million copies without him?

A Producer can SAVE YOU MONEY.

It’s not a case of “can I afford a Producer” it’s more a case of “I can’t afford NOT to get a Producer”

I have heaps of Bands that ring me and say “we recorded a demo at Big Fart Studio and the demo stinks!”. It sounded great on the night, it was loud, but now we have to record it again!

This is a waste of money. If your gear box packs up in your car, it’s a drag, but you get a mechanic to fix it, it costs you, but it’s fixed and you move on. It’s only a REAL hassle when it’s not fixed. That’s a waste of time AND money – a very bad combination.

It’s also the Producers gig to get you to a good, cost efficient studio. The hourly rate of a studio is not always as it seems.

A mate of mine told me he ran into a muso mate who told him that he’d just finished recording with an engineer guy who had offered him recording time at ½ studio rate. But, he said, the guy took twice as long as his usual studio guy did, like getting drum sounds, guitar sounds, mixing etc, and it turned out crap anyway – BUT HE WAS CHEAPER BY THE HOUR. The job ended up costing him more with the cheap guy, than his usual studio guy with a higher hourly rate.

Don’t forget one thing that is often overlooked – if you put yourselves in the hands of a good Producer, you will learn from a professional. As a Producer, I have learned great things from great musicians and Bands, the reason I know lots about guitars and drums etc. is because I have been taught lots by great musicians. My No-1 session guitarist has taught me heaps about great guitar sounds cause he has great guitars and amps, so now I know when I hear a guitar sound, I know if it’s great, good, crook or sucks and I know what to do to sort it out.

Similarly, knowledge is passed down from a Producer to a Band. So whatever you’re paying him, there is payback in more ways than one.

A good Producer will teach a Band about song structure, guitar sounds, vocal phrasing, drum tuning, dedication and will inspire the Band in general and this is while you are recording the CD. If you’ve ever seen the movie The Wizard Of Oz, it’s kinda like this, “the characters are hell bent on getting to where they’re going not realizing how much they are learning along the way, until the very end.”

That’s what it’s like recording an album. Lots of Bands have reported back to me, that after recording, they go on to play so much better live, their fans notice it and the gigs go off better and they get are more gigs as a result..

Fortunately, at “A Sharp”, you get a producer for no extra cost, all included in the Studio price… bargain..!!!!

Jeff Cripps