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3 Common Roles of a Music Producer

As a producer I may take one of three paths for a project. What kind of producer I am depends on the needs of the project.

Let’s look at three paths to production.

1. Get Out of the Way

Not every artist needs a producer to walk in and redesign their work. Some have a very clear direction. This means my work shifts from creative captain to project body guard.

With an artist that is practically capable of self production, I support some of the non-creative tasks they’re probably not as experienced in.

I help find the studio, choose engineers, choose mixers, choose mastering and oversee the budget.

The Job Interview

I also help choose musicians and act as a musical matchmaker. This alone is a vital part of any project. Not every musician has the same feel even when they’re experienced at what they do.

You have to know people’s flavors and how they’ll fit together.

Sometimes, I’m there to be the bad guy. The artist may be feeling pressure to use a friend on the sessions. Maybe it’s someone that’s been playing with them for a little while, but isn’t cutting it. This can be dilemma for an artist.

This is where I step in and make the changes. It acts as a buffer for the artist.

Guardians at the Gate

There have been other times where I’ve had to keep my eye on the studio. For instance they may have a Pro Tools crash and can’t get it sorted out. Sometimes, they may try to give you the half off for the down time trick. Not on my watch. If your gear is broken, the clock stops running.

I basically have their back so that they don’t get taken advantage of. I’m there to make sure they can achieve their vision.

Lost in Translation

I act as mediator to the engineer and musicians. Translator if you will. I know all the techno-jargon that musicians use. The artist may say I want it to sound like a red furry bunny. It’s my job to figure that out.

I still have some creative input on the project, but my job here is not to mold.

2. Playdough

There are projects where an artist just has shells of songs. There may not be a clear idea of how to put it all together. They have a rough idea on sounds they like, but in a vague sense.

My job on this type of project is to mold the song out of clay. The core sound of the song will likely have quite a bit of my identity.

I’ll be overseeing everything from song structure, to key signatures, tempo, instrumentation, etc..

Most of the time I’m trying to imagine what the artist is dreaming of. Sometimes, in these situations the artist doesn’t respond much. They may say “that sounds great” or “really digging this.” Often on creative decisions you get the “I don’t know” or “whatever you think.”

This is fine. It requires a different mindset though. It’s almost as if you’re composing the song. You have to build a house from a napkin drawing.

3. Collaboration

This is where the situation is a split balance of input. Team work. The artist has strong ideas and vision, but needs help connecting the pieces.

This can be a lot of fun because you can end up on some very interesting roads. Roads neither of you would have expected to be on.

It’s all about chemical reaction. These tend to be my favorite projects because the sessions are likely to have a lot of each of your identities.

This requires you to check your ego. It’s about the sum of parts, not individuality.

Mission Assessment

If you assess each situation and decide what kind of a producer you’re going to be, it can help your sessions move smoother with better results.

There will be less of a chance for friction. Instead of trying to take over and be the wizard behind the curtain, be a support system.

You can do a wider variety of work this way. This of course means knowing what each artist needs.

Before pre-production sessions I always have a sit down with an artist to talk ideas and interests. I’ll listen to some of their demos and past albums. I’ll listen to a playlist of songs by other artists that influence them.

At this point I usually know what kind of producer the project will require.

Birth in Reverse

This doesn’t mean that things can’t change a bit later on in the project. An artist may get more comfortable and come out of their shell. Make sure to welcome this.

Just because they’re not experienced doesn’t mean they don’t have good ideas. You don’t have to know fancy language to be creative.

Great production is about adaptability.

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Mark Marshall

Mark Marshall

Mark Marshall is a producer, songwriter, session musician and instructor based in NYC. More at guitaristmarkmarshall.com
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  • Brian

    good article, thanks

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