Record producer

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Record producer
Engineer at audio console at Danish Broadcasting Corporation.png
Engineer with audio console, at a recording session at the Danish Broadcasting Corporation
NamesMusic producer, record producer
Occupation type
Activity sectors
Music industry
Competencies Instrumental skills, keyboard knowledge, arranging, vocal coaching
Fields of
Recording studios
Related jobs
Music executive, recording engineer, executive producer, film producer, A&R

A record producer is a music recording project's overall supervisor whose responsibilities can involve a range of creative and technical leadership roles. Typically the job involves hands-on oversight of recording sessions: ensuring artists deliver acceptable and quality performances, supervising the technical engineering of the recording, and coordinating the production team and process. The producer's involvement in a musical project can vary in depth and scope. Sometimes in popular genres the producer may create the recording's entire sound and structure. [1] [2] [3] However, in classical music recording, for example, the producer serves as more of a liaison between the conductor and the engineering team. The role is often likened to that of a film director though there are important differences. [1] [3] It is distinct from the role of an executive producer, who is mostly involved in the recording project on an administrative level, and from the audio engineer who operates the recording technology.


Varying by project, the producer may or may not choose all of the artists. [4] [3] If employing only synthesized or sampled instrumentation, the producer may be the sole artist. [3] Conversely, some artists do their own production. [3] Some producers are their own engineers, [5] operating the technology across the project: preproduction, recording, mixing, and mastering. Record producers' precursors were "A&R men", who likewise could blend entrepreneurial, creative, and technical roles, [2] but often exercised scant creative influence, [6] as record production still focused, into the 1950s, on simply improving the record's sonic match to the artists' own live performance. [3]

Advances in recording technology, especially the 1940s advent of tape recording—which Les Paul promptly innovated further to develop multitrack recording [7] —and the 1950s rise of electronic instruments, turned record production into a specialty. [3] In popular music, then, producers like George Martin, Phil Spector and Brian Eno led its evolution into its present use of elaborate techniques and unrealistic sounds, creating songs impossible to originate live. [1] [8] After the 1980s, production's move from analog to digital further expanded possibilities. [3] By now, DAWs, or digital audio workstations, like Logic Pro, Pro Tools and Studio One, turn an ordinary computer into a production console, [9] [10] whereby a solitary novice can become a skilled producer in a thrifty home studio. [11] [12] In the 2010s, efforts began to increase the prevalence of producers and engineers who are women, heavily outnumbered by men and prominently accoladed only in classical music. [11] [13]

Music producer Sir George Martin, best known for his work with the Beatles, pictured with members George Harrison, Paul McCartney and John Lennon at a recording session at Abbey Road in 1966 Beatles and George Martin in studio 1966.JPG
Music producer Sir George Martin, best known for his work with the Beatles, pictured with members George Harrison, Paul McCartney and John Lennon at a recording session at Abbey Road in 1966

Production overview

As a broad project, the creation of a music recording may be split across three specialists: the executive producer, who oversees business partnerships and financing; the vocal producer or vocal arranger, who aids vocal performance via expert critique and coaching of vocal technique, and the record producer or music producer, who, often called simply the producer, directs the overall creative process of recording the song in its final mix.

The producer's roles can include gathering ideas, composing music, choosing session musicians, proposing changes to song arrangements, coaching the performers, controlling sessions, supervising the audio mixing, and, in some cases, supervising the audio mastering. A producer may give creative control to the artists themselves, taking a supervisory or advisory role instead. As to qualifying for a Grammy nomination, the Recording Academy defines a producer: [2]

The person who has overall creative and technical control of the entire recording project, and the individual recording sessions that are part of that project. He or she is present in the recording studio or at the location recording and works directly with the artist and engineer. The producer makes creative and aesthetic decisions that realize both the artist's and label's goals in the creation of musical content. Other duties include, but are not limited to; keeping budgets and schedules, adhering to deadlines, hiring musicians, singers, studios, and engineers, overseeing other staffing needs and editing (Classical projects).

The producer often selects and collaborates with a mixing engineer, who focuses on the especially technological aspects of the recording process, namely, operating the electronic equipment and blending the raw, recorded tracks of the chosen performances, whether vocal or instrumental, into a ''mix'', either stereo or surround sound. Then a mastering engineer further adjusts this recording for distribution on the chosen media. A producer may work on only one or two songs or on an artist's entire album, helping develop the album's overall vision. The record producers may also take on the role of executive producer, managing the budget, schedules, contracts, and negotiations.

Historical developments

A&R team

(Artists and Repertoires)

In the 1880s, the record industry began by simply having the artist perform at a phonograph. [14] In 1924, the trade journal Talking Machine World , covering the phonography and record industry, reported that Eddie King, Victor Records' manager of the "New York artist and repertoire department", had planned a set of recordings in Los Angeles. [15] Later, folklorist Archie Green called this perhaps the earliest printed use of A&R man. [15] Actually, it says neither "A&R man" nor even "A&R", an initialism perhaps coined by Billboard magazine in 1946, and entering wide use in the late 1940s. [15]

In the 1920s and 1930s, A&R executives, like Ben Selvin at Columbia Records, Nathaniel Shilkret at Victor Records, and Bob Haring at Brunswick Records became the precursors of record producers, supervising recording and often leading session orchestras. [6] During the 1940s, major record labels increasingly opened official A&R departments, whose roles included supervision of recording. [15] Meanwhile, independent recording studios opened, helping originate record producer as a specialty.[ citation needed ] But despite a tradition of some A&R men writing music, record production still referred to just the manufacturing of record discs. [6]

Record producers

After World War II, pioneering A&R managers who transitioned influentially to record production as now understood, while sometimes owning independent labels, include J. Mayo Williams and John Hammond. [6] Upon moving from Columbia Records to Mercury Records, Hammond appointed Mitch Miller to lead Mercury's popular recordings in New York. [6] Miller then produced country-pop crossover hits by Patti Page and by Frankie Laine, moved from Mercury to Columbia, and became a leading A&R man of the 1950s. [6]

During the decade, A&R executives increasingly directed songs' sonic signatures, although many still simply teamed singers with musicians, while yet others exercised virtually no creative influence. [6] The term record producer in its current meaning—the creative director of song production—appearing in a 1953 issue of Billboard magazine, became widespread in the 1960s. [6] Still, a formal distinction was elusive for some time more. [6] A&R managers might still be creative directors, like William "Mickey" Stevenson, hired by Berry Gordy, at the Motown record label. [16]

Tape recording

In 1947, the American market gained audio recording onto magnetic tape. [17] At the record industry's 1880s dawn, rather, recording was done by phonograph, etching the sonic waveform vertically into a cylinder. [18] By the 1930s, a gramophone etched it laterally across a disc. [19] Constrained in tonal range, whether bass or treble, and in dynamic range, records made a grand, concert piano sound like a small, upright piano, and maximal duration was four and a half minutes. [14] [19] Selections and performance were often altered accordingly, and playing this disc—the wax master—destroyed it. [19] The finality often caused anxiety that restrained performance to prevent error. [19] In the 1940s, during World War II, the Germans refined audio recording onto magnetic tape—uncapping recording duration and allowing immediate playback, rerecording, and editing—a technology that premised emergence of record producers in their current roles. [19]

Multitrack recording

Early in the recording industry, a record was attained by simply having all of the artists perform together live in one take. [18] In 1945, [7] by recording a musical element while playing a previously recorded record, Les Paul developed a recording technique called "sound on sound". [18] By this, the final recording could be built piece by piece and tailored, effecting an editing process. [18] In one case, Paul produced a song via 500 recorded discs. [18] But, besides the tedium of this process, it serially degraded the sound quality of previously recorded elements, rerecorded as ambient sound. [18] Yet in 1948, Paul adopted tape recording, enabling truly multitrack recording by a new technique, "overdubbing". [18]

To enable overdubbing, Paul revised the tape recorder itself by adding a second playback head, and terming it the preview head. [7] Joining the preexisting recording head, erase head, and playback head, the preview head allows the artist to hear the extant recording over headphones playing it in synchrony, "in sync", with the present performance being recorded alone on an isolated track. [7] This isolation of multiple tracks enables countless mixing possibilities. Producers began recording initially only the "bed tracks"—the rhythm section, including the bassline, drums, and rhythm guitar—whereas vocals and instrument solos could be added later. A horn section, for example, could record a week later, and a string section another week later. A singer could perform her own backup vocals, or a guitarist could play 15 layers.

Electronic instruments

Phil Spector producing Modern Folk Quartet, 1966 Phil Spector with MFQ 1965.png
Phil Spector producing Modern Folk Quartet, 1966

Across the 1960s, popular music increasingly switched from acoustic instruments, like piano, upright bass, acoustic guitar, and brass instruments, to electronic instruments, like electric guitars, keyboards, and synthesizers, employing instrument amplifiers and speakers. These could mimic acoustic instruments or create utterly new sounds. Soon, by combining the capabilities of tape, multitrack recording, and electronic instruments, producers like Phil Spector, George Martin, and Joe Meek rendered sounds unattainable live. [8] Similarly, in jazz fusion, Teo Macero, producing Miles Davis's 1970 album Bitches Brew , spliced sections of extensive improvisation sessions.


In the 1960s, rock acts like the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and the Kinks produced some of their own songs, although many such songs are officially credited to specialist producers. Yet especially influential was the Beach Boys, whose band leader Brian Wilson took over from his father Murry within a couple of years after the band's commercial breakthrough. By 1964, Wilson had taken Spector's techniques to unseen sophistication. Wilson alone produced all Beach Boy recordings between 1963 and 1967. Using multiple studios and multiple attempts of instrumental and vocal tracks, Wilson selected the best combinations of performance and audio quality, and used tape editing to assemble a composite performance.

Digital production

Brian Wilson at a mixing board in Brother Studios, 1976 Brian Wilson 1976 crop.jpg
Brian Wilson at a mixing board in Brother Studios, 1976

The 1980s advent of digital processes and formats rapidly replaced analog processes and formats, namely, tape and vinyl. Although recording onto quality tape, at least half an inch wide and traveling 15 inches per second, had limited "tape hiss" to silent sections, digital's higher signal-to-noise ratio, SNR, abolished it. [20] Digital also imparted to the music a perceived "pristine" sound quality, if also a loss of analog recordings' perceived "warm" quality and bass better rounded. [20] Yet whereas editing tape media requires physically locating the target audio on the ribbon, cutting there, and splicing pieces, editing digital media offers inarguable advantages in ease, efficiency, and possibilities.

In the 1990s, digital production reached affordable home computers via production software. By now, recording and mixing are often centralized in DAWs, digital audio workstations—for example, Pro Tools, Logic Pro, Ableton, Cubase, Reason, and FL Studio—for which plugins, by third parties, effect virtual studio technology. [9] DAWs fairly standard in the industry are Logic Pro and Pro Tools. [10] Physical devices involved include the main mixer, MIDI controllers to communicate among equipment, the recording device itself, and perhaps effects gear that is outboard. Yet literal recording is sometimes still analog, onto tape, whereupon the raw recording is converted to a digital signal for processing and editing, as some producers still find audio advantages to recording onto tape. [20]

Conventionally, tape is more forgiving of overmodulation, whereby dynamic peaks exceed the maximal recordable signal level: tape's limitation, a physical property, is magnetic capacity, which tapers offs, smoothing the overmodulated waveform even at a signal nearly 15 decibels too "hot", whereas a digital recording is ruined by harsh distortion of "clipping" at any overshoot. [20] In digital recording, however, a recent advancement, 32-bit float, enables DAWs to undo clipping. [21] Still, some criticize digital instruments and workflows for excess automation, allegedly impairing creative or sonic control. [22] In any case, as production technology has drastically changed, so have the knowledge demands, [23] although DAWs enables novices, even teenagers at home, to learn production independently. [11] Some have attained professional competence before ever working with an artist. [12]

Hip hop production

In the 2000s, with the advent of technology that made traditional record production accessible, especially with hip hop beatmaking and electronic music. Within these genres, the term producer is applied to a number of roles and has popularized the use of more niche terms and credits including executive producer, co-producer, assistant producer, and additional and miscellaneous production to differentiate contributions. [24]

Women in producing

Mixing console Audio mixer faders.jpg
Mixing console

Among female record producers, Sylvia Moy was the first at Motown, Gail Davies the first on Nashville's Music Row, and Ethel Gabriel, with RCA, the first at a major record label. Lillian McMurry, owning Trumpet Records, produced influential blues records. Meanwhile, Wilma Cozart Fine produced hundreds of records for Mercury Records' classical division. For classical production, three women have won Grammy awards, and Judith Sherman's 2015 win was her fifth. [12] Yet in nonclassical, no woman has won Producer of the Year, awarded since 1975 and only one even nominated for a record not her own, Linda Perry. [25] After Lauren Christy's 2004 nomination, Linda Perry's 2019 nomination was the next for a woman. [25] On why no woman had ever won it, Perry commented, "I just don't think there are that many women interested." [12] In the U.K., Lynsey de Paul was an early female record producer, having produced both of her Ivor Novello award-winning songs. [26]

Across the decades, many female artists have produced their own music. For instance, artists Kate Bush, Madonna, Mariah Carey, Janet Jackson, Beyoncé, Lana Del Rey, Taylor Swift, and Lorde have produced or coproduced [11] [27] and Ariana Grande who produces and arranges her vocals as well as being an audio engineer. [28] [29] [30] Still among specialists, despite some prominent women, including Missy Elliott in hip hop and Sylvia Massy in rock, the vast majority have been men. [11] Early in the 2010s, asked for insights that she herself had gleaned as a woman who has specialized successfully in the industry, Wendy Page remarked, "The difficulties are usually very short-lived. Once people realize that you can do your job, sexism tends to lower its ugly head." [11] Still, when tasked to explain her profession's sex disparity, Page partly reasoned that record labels, dominated by men, have been, she said, "mistrustful of giving a woman the reins of an immense, creative project like making a record." [11] Ultimately, the reasons are multiple and not fully clear, although prominently proposed factors include types of sexism and scarcity of female role models in the profession. [12]

Women producers known for producing records not their own include Sonia Pottinger, Sylvia Robinson and Carla Olson.

In January 2018, a research team led by Stacy L. Smith, founder and director of the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, [31] based in the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, [32] issued a report, [33] estimating that in the prior several years, about 2% of popular songs' producers were female. [13] Also that month, Billboard magazine queried, "Where are all the female music producers?" [12] Upon the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative's second annual report, released in February 2019, [34] its department at USC reported, "2018 saw an outcry from artists, executives and other music industry professionals over the lack of women in music" and "the plight of women in music", where women were allegedly being "stereotyped, sexualized, and shut out". [32] Also in February 2019, the Recording Academy's Task Force on Diversity and Inclusion announced an initiative whereby over 200 artists and producers—ranging from Cardi B and Taylor Swift to Maroon 5 and Quincy Jones—agreed to consider at least two women for each producer or engineer position. [13] The academy's website,, announced, "This initiative is the first step in a broader effort to improve those numbers and increase diversity and inclusion for all in the music industry." [13]

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Recording studio</span> Facility for sound recording

A recording studio is a specialized facility for recording and mixing of instrumental or vocal musical performances, spoken words, and other sounds. They range in size from a small in-home project studio large enough to record a single singer-guitarist, to a large building with space for a full orchestra of 100 or more musicians. Ideally, both the recording and monitoring spaces are specially designed by an acoustician or audio engineer to achieve optimum acoustic properties.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Mastering (audio)</span> Form of audio post-production

Mastering, a form of audio post production, is the process of preparing and transferring recorded audio from a source containing the final mix to a data storage device, the source from which all copies will be produced. In recent years, digital masters have become usual, although analog masters—such as audio tapes—are still being used by the manufacturing industry, particularly by a few engineers who specialize in analog mastering.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Multitrack recording</span> Separate recording of multiple sound sources to create a cohesive whole

Multitrack recording (MTR), also known as multitracking, is a method of sound recording developed in 1955 that allows for the separate recording of multiple sound sources or of sound sources recorded at different times to create a cohesive whole. Multitracking became possible in the mid-1950s when the idea of simultaneously recording different audio channels to separate discrete "tracks" on the same reel-to-reel tape was developed. A "track" was simply a different channel recorded to its own discrete area on the tape whereby their relative sequence of recorded events would be preserved, and playback would be simultaneous or synchronized.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Reel-to-reel audio tape recording</span> Audio recording using magnetic tape spooled on open reels

Reel-to-reel audio tape recording, also called open-reel recording, is magnetic tape audio recording in which the recording tape is spooled between reels. To prepare for use, the supply reel containing the tape is placed on a spindle or hub. The end of the tape is manually pulled from the reel, threaded through mechanical guides and over a tape head assembly, and attached by friction to the hub of the second, initially empty takeup reel. Reel-to-reel systems use tape that is 1412, 1, or 2 inches wide, which normally moves at 3+347+12, 15 or 30 inches per second. Domestic consumer machines almost always used 14 inch (6.35 mm) or narrower tape and many offered slower speeds such as 1+78 inches per second (4.762 cm/s). All standard tape speeds are derived as a binary submultiple of 30 inches per second.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Digital audio workstation</span> Electronic device or application software used for recording, editing and producing audio files

A digital audio workstation is an electronic device or application software used for recording, editing and producing audio files. DAWs come in a wide variety of configurations from a single software program on a laptop, to an integrated stand-alone unit, all the way to a highly complex configuration of numerous components controlled by a central computer. Regardless of configuration, modern DAWs have a central interface that allows the user to alter and mix multiple recordings and tracks into a final produced piece.

Programming is a form of music production and performance using electronic devices and computer software, such as sequencers and workstations or hardware synthesizers, sampler and sequencers, to generate sounds of musical instruments. These musical sounds are created through the use of music coding languages. There are many music coding languages of varying complexity. Music programming is also frequently used in modern pop and rock music from various regions of the world, and sometimes in jazz and contemporary classical music. It gained popularity in the 1950s and has been emerging ever since.

Automatic double-tracking or artificial double-tracking (ADT) is an analogue recording technique designed to enhance the sound of voices or instruments during the mixing process. It uses tape delay to create a delayed copy of an audio signal which is then played back at slightly varying speed controlled by an oscillator and combined with the original. The effect is intended to simulate the sound of the natural doubling of voices or instruments achieved by double tracking. The technique was developed in 1966 by engineers at Abbey Road Studios in London at the request of the Beatles.

Overdubbing is a technique used in audio recording in which audio tracks that have been pre-recorded are then played back and monitored, while simultaneously recording new, doubled, or augmented tracks onto one or more available tracks of a digital audio workstation (DAW) or tape recorder. The overdub process can be repeated multiple times. This technique is often used with singers, as well as with instruments, or ensembles/orchestras. Overdubbing is typically done for the purpose of adding richness and complexity to the original recording. For example, if there are only one or two artists involved in the recording process, overdubbing can give the effect of sounding like many performers.

Home recording is the practice of recording sound in a private home instead of a professional recording studio. A studio set up for home recording is called a home studio or project studio. Home recording is widely practiced by voice actors, narrators, singers, musicians, podcast hosts, and documentary makers at all levels of success. The cost of professional audio equipment has dropped steadily as technology advances during the 21st century, while information about recording techniques has become easily available online. These trends have resulted in an increase in the popularity of home recording and a shift in the recording industry toward recording in the home studio. The COVID-19 pandemic and COVID-19 lockdowns resulted in a dramatic global increase in the number of remote workers in 2020, which is anticipated by experts to remain a permanent shift in the field of sound recording when the pandemic ends.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Hip hop production</span> Creation of hip hop music in a recording studio

Hip hop production is the creation of hip hop music in a recording studio. While the term encompasses all aspects of hip hop music creation, including recording the rapping of an MC, a turntablist or DJ providing a beat, playing samples and "scratching" using record players and the creation of a rhythmic backing track, using a drum machine or sequencer, it is most commonly used to refer to recording the instrumental, non-lyrical and non-vocal aspects of hip hop.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Delay (audio effect)</span> Echo-like effect

Delay is an audio signal processing technique that records an input signal to a storage medium and then plays it back after a period of time. When the delayed playback is mixed with the live audio, it creates an echo-like effect, whereby the original audio is heard followed by the delayed audio. The delayed signal may be played back multiple times, or fed back into the recording, to create the sound of a repeating, decaying echo.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">History of multitrack recording</span>

Multitrack recording of sound is the process in which sound and other electro-acoustic signals are captured on a recording medium such as magnetic tape, which is divided into two or more audio tracks that run parallel with each other. Because they are carried on the same medium, the tracks stay in perfect synchronization, while allowing multiple sound sources to be recorded at different times.

<i>The Shaming of the True</i> 2000 studio album by Kevin Gilbert

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Audio engineer</span> Engineer involved in the recording, reproduction, or reinforcement of sound

An audio engineer helps to produce a recording or a live performance, balancing and adjusting sound sources using equalization, dynamics processing and audio effects, mixing, reproduction, and reinforcement of sound. Audio engineers work on the "technical aspect of recording—the placing of microphones, pre-amp knobs, the setting of levels. The physical recording of any project is done by an engineer... the nuts and bolts."

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Audio mixing (recorded music)</span> Audio mixing to yield recorded sound

In sound recording and reproduction, audio mixing is the process of optimizing and combining multitrack recordings into a final mono, stereo or surround sound product. In the process of combining the separate tracks, their relative levels are adjusted and balanced and various processes such as equalization and compression are commonly applied to individual tracks, groups of tracks, and the overall mix. In stereo and surround sound mixing, the placement of the tracks within the stereo field are adjusted and balanced. Audio mixing techniques and approaches vary widely and have a significant influence on the final product.

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A mixing engineer is responsible for combining ("mixing") different sonic elements of an auditory piece into a complete rendition, whether in music, film, or any other content of auditory nature. The finished piece, recorded or live, must achieve a good balance of properties, such as volume, pan positioning, and other effects, while resolving any arising frequency conflicts from various sound sources. These sound sources can comprise the different musical instruments or vocals in a band or orchestra, dialogue or foley in a film, and more.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Recording studio as an instrument</span>

In music production, the recording studio is often treated as a musical instrument when it plays a significant role in the composition of music. Sometimes called "playing the studio", the approach is typically embodied by artists or producers who favor the creative use of studio technology in record production, as opposed to simply documenting live performances in studio. Techniques include the incorporation of non-musical sounds, overdubbing, tape edits, sound synthesis, audio signal processing, and combining segmented performances (takes) into a unified whole.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Bedroom production</span>

A bedroom producer is an amateur musician who creates, performs, and records their music independently using a home studio, often considered a hobbyist opposed to a professional record producer in the recording industry that works in a traditional studio with clients. Typically bedroom producers use accessible digital technology that costs less than the equipment in a professional studio, such as MIDI controller-based instruments and virtual studio technology, to create music for release to the world. While a professional record producer oversees and guides the recording process, often working alongside multiple people such as studio musicians, singers, engineers, mixers, songwriters, arrangers, and orchestrators, a bedroom producer does everything independently: creating the ideas, recording them and processing them for release. Bedroom producers are often self-taught, learning sound design, mixing and music theory by reading music production blogs and watching tutorials on the internet. As bedroom producers depend on the accessibility of music technology, bedroom production has been made easier with advances in home computing power and digital audio workstations (DAW).

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  33. Stacy L. Smith, Marc Choueiti, Katherine Pieper, Ariana Case, Sylvia Villanueva, Ozodi Onyeabor & Dorga Kim, "Inclusion in the recording studio? Gender and race/ethnicity of artists, songwriters & producers across 600 popular songs from 2012–2017", Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, University of Southern California, 25 Jan 2018.
  34. Stacy L. Smith, Marc Choueiti, Katherine Pieper, Hannah Clark, Ariana Case & Sylvia Villanueva, "Inclusion in the recording studio? Gender and race/ethnicity of artists, songwriters & producers across 700 popular songs from 2012–2018", Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, University of Southern California, Feb 2019.

Further reading