The Mountain Times

°F Thu, April 24, 2014

Central Vermont's Most Popular Weekly Newspaper

Leone’s Legends: So what does a record producer really do?

Hello fellow Mountaineers, this installment in my "Legends" column will attempt to explain and elaborate a bit on what a record producer is and what he actually does. I know we have all seen their names displayed prominently on some of our favorite records, and have seen them accept Grammy Awards for "Record of the Year," but how many of us really know what they do?

The first way of defining a producers role in the making of a record would be to say that they are pretty much the same as the director in a movie. They both are responsible for everything that goes into the final product, and in the record business it is the song selection, the instrumentation, the tempo, the musicians, the engineering of the overall sound of the record, as well as overseeing all the technical aspects of the project. And like the director of a movie, or even a manager of a baseball team, all final decisions are made by them. And with this power comes the responsibility of the success of the record.

Record producers in the beginning were mostly arrangers, guys who kept the project in budget and worked very close to the record companies. But in the early days of rock and roll, and rhythm and blues the producers started to become more visionary  and conceptual, especially as the technology of the recording business grew. Guys like Sam Phillips from Sun Records, and Leonard Chess from Chess Records created a "sound" that became identified with their labels. This continued with cats like Phil Spector, famous for his "Wall of Sound", Berry Gordy for his "Motown Sound" as well as Ahmet Ertegan President of Atlantic Records who produced and conceptualized the signature sounds of R&B legends like Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin.

But the producer who really put the title of "producer" on the map in rock music was George Martin who produced almost all of the Beatles records. George Martin was a classically trained pianist and arranger who was producing novelty records for EMI at the time he was given the task to "record this new band we've just signed." George's knowledge of music and familiarity of the workings of a recording studio, combined with the unbridled genius of Lennon, McCartney, Harrison, and Starkey produced some of the greatest pop and pseudo avant grade music that will ever be made.

In the decades following the Beatles, record production became a big deal, and the reliance of sound effects, synthesizers (electronic keyboards), drum machines and other technical studio trickery bred a whole new generation of producers. Guys like Steve Lillywhite, Trevor Horn, Nile Rodgers, and  pop producer supreme David Foster, became the new industry standard in the 70's and 80's. There is and old joke in the music industry that speaks to the power of the producer, it says "who's David Foster?" "Get me David Foster" and finally "Get me the new David Foster."

The one name that I have saved for last but not least is Mutt Lange. Mutt Lange was born in Africa of caucasion decent and is known as the producer who made the records sound so simple yet big. He produced records by a band called AC/DC. That stripped down production was influential to producers like Rick Rubin (Run DMC, the Cult, and Johnny Cash) who idenified with Mutt Langes approach. Mutt went onto to make great records with bands like Def Leppard, Foreigner, Bryan Adams, the Outlaws, and a girl he married Shania Twain. Some will say and rightfully so that the records Mutt Lange produced for Shania Twain was the blueprint to the "country/pop" phenomenon we see now.

That's it for me now. I'll see you on the big hill, I'll be the guy with the guitar.

Peace, Joey

Tagged: Leone's Legends, Producers