The Art Of Record Production
What's The Job Description?
A good producer can be the little bit of grit that irritates and stimulates the artist to create the pearl. Production can sometimes be about arranging or optimizing arrangements. This is about coming up with, and organizing, all the bits that will comprise the finished record. Finding and choosing material can also be a part of the production process. Jerry Harrison of Talking Heads assumes nothing. The first thing he will do at the pre-production stage is say, "Let's hear everything you have, not just what has been decided on. Sometimes you'll see that the raw way that they play something sounds better than the way they did it on a demo." Sometimes production is about mediating, moderating and protecting the democratic process, other times you need to allow yourself or someone else to be a dictator. "Usually what people are practicing is not democracy, but cowardice and good manners," says Brian Eno (David Bowie, U2, James).
Probably the worst thing that can happen in the studio is for things to descend to the lowest common denominator, to compromise in order to keep everyone happy. Excitement and passion are more likely to produce a great record than conciliation and compromise. Sometimes producing is about defining the parameters, sketching out the boundaries, or "establishing the cultural territory" as Eno puts it. Artists are not always focused. The producer in this case needs to direct the artist's attention, and a good way to do that is by limiting their options. So how do you make a record sound great, balance it all up so you can hear everything, get everything in the right place and make it exciting as well? The first thing is to make the artist feel comfortable. They should be confident in the people they are working with and feel as though their collaborators have confidence in them. Knowing when to push them, when to back off a little and when to stop altogether can be the key to getting that extra special performance from an artist. As Nashville veteran Barry Becket says, "I wish I had taken Psychology 101 in college instead of making music." A little preparation can really lubricate the proceedings. An experienced engineer can pre-set the mic levels, EQ, reverbs and foldback (the mix of whatever music the singer will be singing to, either on headphones or speakers) before the singer arrives.
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