Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Music Producers- Creators of Sound- part 1

Most of us know the names of the film directors that creatively guide the making of our favourite film, names such as Spielberg and Tarantino are as familiar as the movies they make. How many music producers can you name? Do you know the vital importance of a good music producer to your best-loved album/CD? Do you even know what a music producer is?

The main problem to understanding what a music producer is lies in the name, which usually leads to a misunderstanding or a misinterpretation of the master of sound’s position in the make up of a song. I asked my friend, accomplished music producer Urs Wiesendanger, how he saw his life’s vocation-

‘A "producer" in music is like the "director" in film. He helps picking the songs, painting an overall picture of a record, picks musicians and engineers to realize the project. He’s also responsible for a good mood in the studio, because without a good mood there's no way to make a good record’.

Having worked with Urs on my CD ‘STORM let me tell you that this is an understatement. When you bring a song to the producer’s studio, it has life. Then, in the hands of a master, as if by some miracle, it gains a soul! The music producer's job is to create, shape, and mould a piece of music through its entire process of mixing and mastering. Due to the double use of the word producer in the music industry the creative producer is often thrown into the same bag as the executive producer - whose job is to oversee a project's finances.
Sam Phillips  working at Sun Studios

It can be arguably said that music production came into its own on June the 5th in 1954, when in the small Sun studios in Memphis, Tennessee, Sam Phillips recorded Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup's "That's All Right", with three young, unknown musicians, lead guitarist Scotty Moore and bassist Bill Black, and on vocals a shy Elvis Presley. It was Sam’s touch which gave those early ‘rock and roll recordings’ their wild rawness, or as Phillips liked to call it the “perfect/imperfect cut”. Phillips was an innovator; most recordings at the time gave substantially more volume to the vocals. Phillips pulled back the Elvis vocals, blending it more with the instrumental performances. Phillips also used tape delay to get an echo into the Elvis recordings by running the tape through a second recorder head. RCA, not knowing the method that Phillips had used, was unable to recreate the Elvis echo when recording. Elvis though learnt a lot from Phillips, and used this knowledge when he moved to RCA, where even though others are credited with music production, it was Elvis who did most of the work. “That’s All Right” still stands as a production masterpiece today, and to many it marks the birth of Rock&Roll!
In the end money talks! Phillips sold Elvis’s contract to RCA for $40’000, a large sum of money in those days, and invested most of it into a small unknown hotel chain called ‘Holiday Inn’, which in the end made him a fortune!
Elvis recording at Sun Studios 1956
The “Wall of Sound” was a term used by music producer Phil Spector to describe his technique. To achieve his signature sound, Spector gathered large groups of musicians and had them play orchestrated parts in a small recording area, often doubling and tripling many instruments playing in unison- for a fuller and deeper sound. This group of musicians became known as The Wrecking Crew, amongst whose midst were musicians such as- Glen Campbell and Leon Russell.
Phil Spector in his 'creative'era.

Phil Spector was not only a brilliant music producer, he was also a very clever business man, creating his own recording and publishing company, Philles, and all those who wanted to work with him had to sign to it. From 1964 through to 1968, Phil Spector’s studio was producing hits, with songs such as "Be My Baby" by the Ronettes, which went to #2 on billboard, and “You've Lost That Lovin Feelin” by the Righteous Brothers, the label's second #1 single. Spector’s final signing with Philles was Ike and Tina Turner, in typical Spector manner his only interest was in Tina, and it was with her that he recorded what he considered  his best work "River Deep – Mountain High". 
Spector became bored with the recording industry, and more or less disappeared from public eye, emerging to produce the Beatles, Academy Award winning album “Let it Be” and John Lennon’s "Imagine". He then continued sporadically producing, but became a very hard person to work with, as the Ramones found out, while recording their End of the Century album in 1980.
The Wrecking Crew 1966
Today the only walls that surround Phil Spector are those of his prison cell in Corcoran, California, where he is serving time for the murder of actress Lana Clarkson.

To be continued ...

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1 comment:

  1. Brilliant and informative piece. There are a handful of producers I've followed, but I'm embarrassed to say that I have no idea who produced my favorite albums.