As an audio engineer, I frequently come upon a lot of misconception online as far as the role of a "producer", and what kind of hand they have in the final product that is a song. An overwhelming majority of consumers on YouTube comments and online forums throw around diction like "over-produced" without a fully fleshed-out comprehension of their connotation. I figured, "What better way to pop my Wolfsbane cherry than to write up a short exposition on the relationship between producer and consumer?". While I won't be going into all the technical hoopla of sound design, I intend to dissect the creative process of a song as it goes from band practice to iTunes.
"Producer" could once be tangibly defined as "guy who assists in recording the band and polishes their creative vision". Beyond that would be a separate team of recording engineers (to actually record and arrange the instruments), editors (to polish takes and line them up in-time), mixing engineers (to process and balance each element of the song) and mastering engineers (to "polish the finish" and bring the song up to consumer volume). With the increased accessibility of recording technology, plenty of big studios have closed up shop for the age of the "bedroom producer" (whom, of course, ride entrepreneurship into anything better than a bedroom). These types of producers could offer what a whole team of engineers can while only paying one salary, giving them a minimal overhead and the ability to harshly undercut the rates of bigger studios, without sacrificing much quality at all. This has effectively molded the role of "producer" into an independent, often freelance individual with the ability to deliver creative influence, high quality recording, mixing and mastering all for a concrete price. Somebody call Walmart; they need to take lessons on this value.
Brian Lee White, the man behind the music in several installments of the Halo series of games, broke down the particular process of mixing into 3 fundamental categories with his Lynda Class in 2009: Corrective, Creative and Cohesive. In laymen's terms, Corrective embodies an objectively problem-solving approach, while Creative features an art-centric mindset and Cohesive lies somewhere in the middle. It's important to understand that every mixing engineer (and likewise, every "producer") lays focus somewhere along this spectrum. Some may be on contract with a major record label and have no creative input, while some may serve as a heavy creative force in each project: something that producer Kane Churko (Papa Roach, In This Moment, Five Finger Death Punch) is well-known for. Kane openly speaks about writing several songs for these bands WHILE being the sole producer for several of those projects.
My goal in laying out this seemingly disjointed pile of steamy information is to convey an undeniable reality: producers rarely have a consistent amount of creative influence on the projects they work with. It varies from producer-to-producer, as well as project-to-project. Rest assured, however, that most rock or metal bands hold the seed of influence primarily within the band members or, in a handful of unfortunate cases, the record label.
To start summing things up, "over-produced" is a bad word in my circle. It's far too vague and gives consumers a lazy phrase to reach for when justifying their distaste for a record or song without consciously identifying why they don't like it. The producer is so typically blamed for bastardizing music with over-accessibility, over-polish, excess loudness, inclusion of samples, and etc., but modern record producers don't go through the hell of entrepreneurship to ruin your favorite bands' music; if an album sounds "over-produced", it was very likely the desire of either the band or record label. Not the producer.
So, the next time you're considering why your favorite punk band has 808's and bass drops in their new album, do some research! Through watching studio updates and/or interviews with the band/producer, you can typically tell where in the chain this new influence is coming from: whether it's some seedy label guy, the ever-evolving artist, a line-up change within a band or the rare producer who throws their weight around a little too much. As producers, it is absolutely our job to guide artists as they lay into their canvas. However, it's only guidance. At the end of the day, we're paid to deliver a product to a client. If the client isn't happy, the job is re-done or outsourced nine times out of ten. By law of Adam Robinson's philosophy, there's nothing that doesn't make sense. There are variables everywhere, and only when you identify those variables can you make an educated assessment.
In conclusion, I implore you to go out and make those assessments for yourself! Only informed consumers can change the shape of the industry. If you think artists deserve a little more creative sovereignty, let that affect your decisions as a consumer! Write an email to a record label; open a dialogue through which you can express what you really want from your music. Take a lesson from my vegan friends and buy organic. Music, that is. Or groceries too. I'm not your mom. Do what you want.
Why are you still reading? Article's over. Goodbye!
Written by Jo Trumble