A record producer or music producer was once the overseer or operator of a musical act's sound recording and its refinement—roles now typically an audio engineer's—whereas today's record producers, directing or creating the musical sound and song structure, are mainly music composers who arrange the vocal and instrumental contributions while often coaching the musical act.
The producer may gather musical ideas or samples, help improve the song's lyrics or instrumentation, hire session musicians, play instruments, cowrite, or even publicly appear by name in the recording. Sometimes doubling as the engineer, the producer may supervise the entire process of creating a finished recording: preproduction, recording, mixing, and perhaps even mastering. For some projects, the producer also chooses all of the recording artists. Music producers are likened to film directors.
Production todayAs a broad project, the creation of a music recording is sometimes split across three individuals: the executive producer, who oversees financing, the vocal producer or vocal arranger, who oversees vocal aspects, and the record producer or music producer, who, often called simply the producer, oversees the creative process of recording the song in its final mix.
The record producer's roles include, but may exceed, 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. As to qualifying for a Grammy nomination, the Recording Academy defines a producer:
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.
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
Historical developmentsAs the record industry began, a sound recording was attained from all of its artists performing together live. In the 1920s and 1930s, artists-and-repertoire managers, overseeing the process, often leading session orchestras, became the precursors of record producers. Some were Ben Selvin at Columbia Records, Nathaniel Shilkret at Victor Records, and Bob Haring at Brunswick Records. As the 1930s closed, the first professional recording studios owned independently, not by major record labels, appeared, helping originate the record producer as a role distinct from the A&R manager.
By the 1950s, beyond some still writing songs, A&R managers were more commonly directing songs' sonic signatures. Yet others still simply teamed singers with musicians, while yet others had virtually no creative influence. Strictly, the term record production still meant simply the manufacturing of record discs. The term record producer in its current meaning—the creative director of song production—appeared in a 1953 issue of Billboard magazine, and this usage became widespread in the 1960s. Still, a formal distinction was elusive. A&R managers might still be creative directors, like William "Mickey" Stevenson, hired by Berry Gordy, at the Motown record label.
Tape recordingIn 1947, the American market gained audio recording onto magnetic tape. At the record industry's 1880s dawn, recording was done by phonograph, etching the sonic waveform vertically into a cylinder. By the 1930s, a gramophone etched it laterally across a disc. 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. Selections and performance were often altered accordingly. And playing this disc—the wax master—destroyed it. The finality often caused anxiety that restrained performance to prevent error.
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. In postwar America, pioneering A&R managers who transitioned influentially to record production, while sometimes owning independent labels, include J. Mayo Williams add John Hammond. And on moving from Columbia to Mercury Records, Hammond put Mitch Miller in charge of Mercury's popular recordings in New York. On attaining country-pop crossover hits by Patti Page and by Frankie Laine, Miller moved to Columbia and became a leading A&R man of the 1950s.
Mutitrack recordingAcross the 1950s and 1960s, the record producer's role expanded, as the tape medium enabled multitrack recording. Newly recorded first might be only the "bed tracks"—the rhythm section, including the bassline, drums, and rhythm guitar—whereupon later recordings could add vocals and instrument solos. A band could record backing tracks one week, a horn section 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 instrumentsAlso 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. In jazz fusion, Teo Macero, producing of Miles Davis's 1970 album Bitches Brew, spliced sections of extensive improvisation sessions.
Performer-producerIn 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 productionIn the 1990s, producing became more accessible through digital recording, affordable computers, and producing 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 third parties' plugins effect virtual studio technology. DAWs fairly standard in the industry are Logic Pro and Pro Tools. Physical devices involved include the main mixer, outboard effects gear, MIDI controllers, and the recording device itself.
As production technology has drastically changed, so have the knowledge demands. Now a task mainly of the audio engineer, tracking is the act of recording audio to a DAW, or sometimes still recording onto tape. Some musicians and producers favor analog recording—which by the 1950s had transitioned to tape—the standard before digital recording. While some producers explain that they favor analog's sound, others contend that producers and musicians have lost some creative control or sonic control via the increased automation by newer processes and newer instruments.
at a mixing board in Brother Studios, 1976
Women in producingIn a 2018 study, a sample of 300 popular songs' producers found one female for every 49 males. Yet in a 2013 appraisal, producer 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." For example, Wilma Cozart Fine produced hundreds of recordings for Mercury Records. In any case, during 2019, the Recording Academy launched an initiative to increase the numbers of women. Artists and producers agreeing, thereby, to consider at least two women for each producer or engineer position range from Cardi B and Taylor Swift to Maroon 5 and Quincy Jones, among over 200 others.
In classical music, Judith Sherman, nominated 12 times, has won five Grammy awards. Yet outside classical music, after Lauren Christy was nominated in 2004, the first woman nominated again was Linda Perry in 2019. On why no female had ever won in non-classical, Perry partly indicated women's comparative lack of interest in production. Many singer-songwriters female have produced their own albums. Yet there have been historically significant, specialist producers who were female. For instance, Sylvia Moy was Motown's first female. Gail Davies was the first female on Nashville's Music Row. Ethel Gabriel, with RCA, was the first with a major record label. And Lillian McMurry, owning a label, produced historically significant blues records. More recently, Missy Elliott produced in hip hop, and Sylvia Massy produced in rock.