.Editorial - Know Your Role: The Music Producer
Metal Reviews

Release year: 2021
Reviewed by Ben

There seems to be quite a bit of misunderstanding when it comes to the role of the producer in regards to making music, and more specifically, heavy metal music. I think this has to do alot with the fact that we are probably introduced to the concept of a movie producer before a music producer person. Unless you grew up the son of a Beatle or something, then you probably saw movies and TV shows at a super early age, and during the credits there would be tags such as "Associate Producer / Executive Producer / Produced By." Also, generally speaking, the most well known producers, the kind that do interviews in publications that people used to read while lounging at Barnes N Nobles or the kind that appear in musician biographies, are very rarely metal producers. In other, more popular genres of music, the producer can even end up writing the song for the band during the recording process. Believe me, this rarely happens in metal-land. So, I figured I would just do a brief, rudimentary layout of what I think a good producer can bring to a band as well as his role in being a complement to the band instead of a detriment. My personal experience is being a fly on the wall for recording sessions in actual pro studios in Texas, one in Austin that apparently several gold and platinum records were made, and a studio in San Antonio that was owned by the guitarist in the Chris Lopez band. Also, a week long convergence in Las Vegas happened where two guys came from across the country to stay at a musician's apartment and cut demos. This was "pre-production." Then, other than that, a ton of books and stories, and too many "home studio" experiences.

First things first, there is a difference between the producer and the engineer. When I was a young bloke, I would get these two mixed up constantly. But, like the difference between motels and hotels being motels you enter your room from the outside of the building and hotels you go inside, the difference between a producer and engineer is that generally speaking, the engineer is the knob fiddler and the producer is the head taskmaster. HOWEVER, since this is metal we're talking about, most bands are broke and generally the producer winds up being the engineer. While the band saves a bit of money, the guy consolidates both jobs but still gets paid more than if he only did one job. Theoretically. Also, many, but not all, many producers begin as engineers. In 1985 Martin Birch might not have been engineering records, but that doesn't mean he didn't know how to.

The producer is responsible for being able to hear imperfections in an instrument's tuning and intonation, as well as know about mic placement, and most importantly, HOW TO GET A GOOD DRUM SOUND. One of the most painful experiences in any studio is having to get the goddamn drums set up and mic'd properly. Just to give you an example: Grim Reaper recorded their debut album in like three or four days. Something like one full day was spent just on setting up the drums and getting things just right. But hey, nowadays you can just load up Superior Drummer right? No. Along with these ears being able to detect how shitty the setup is on your guitar, they also have to be able to pick out when your playing lags just one micrometer. And then keep you motivated to do something over and over again. Here be where the trouble begins. Musicians are a finicky bunch. And by finicky, I mean prissy.

Very rarely do you find a musician that is recording their first release who doesn't think they are a first take maestro. Having the ability to self criticize constructively is hard enough but when you throw something subjective in there like "art" it's almost impossible. Prepare yourself for many long and exhausting arguments. However, one thing I have noticed is that musicians who are able to improvise or change arrangements by utilizing the most basic of "theory" (if they don't, THIS will happen alot: "This verse ends on a C before it goes to the pre chorus. What about having the time halved, and the first part be C and the second be an augmented D and then you go into the prechorus." What? "I mean when you play on the third fret on that string, then you go to the next dot and put that finger there, no, the other one, ok... now.. over there, and then that finger over there on that fret. No the other fret. Ok, that one.") are less argumentative than those that "use the Force" so to speak. Credit to Axel Foley for that joke. So, the producer has to have the ability to get someone who thinks they wake up and piss excellence every morning to do something again and again until they get that perfect take. Not only does he have to deal with the band member recording, but he also has to babysit the studio sometimes to make sure things don't get too out of control. Sometimes they have to put the lock on the door so to speak, and limit visitors. Sometimes they have to crack the whip and say, "Ain't no motherfucker leaving until we get this done! You get hungry? Order a pizza! You're broke? Make a not shitty record and get paid! Cos your ass be locked in here!"

This might sound a simple thing but bare with me here. One of the other main duties of a producer is to keep things in the studio moving. This does not mean compromise the sound by letting subpar performances slip through, no, hell no, but what it means is that there is a clear plan on building the songs. If this is a "plug in and play band" (they're not, they don't exist anymore) then they better get good mic placement and fix audio bleed. If they aren't a plug and play live band, then there should be a process of recording instruments. Drums first, bass and rhythm guitars, lead guitars, vocals, acoustics, overdubs, choirs, guitar harmonies, these are all things that need to be considered. Just like movies are rarely shot in chronological order, albums are very rarely made in the order that the songs appear.

Since we're on the subject of the songs themselves, here is where the producer really earns their pay and their reputation. What a producer does that is of utmost importance is that they figure out what works best for the songs the band has brought them. Now, guess what? The more prepared the band is in terms of having their goddamn songs written and rehearsed, the easier it is for the producer to capture that magic. But when people show up to the studio with unrehearsed songs that don't have the correct meter (Hey, uhhh, you do realize you start the next section a couple beats too early which throws off the timing right? Oh. You didn't. Oh, you never played this live until today, just right now, this very moment. Cool.) Even if the songs are well rehearsed, having a professional set of ears to listen to you is always a good thing. Depending on how protective the people in the band are of their precious songs, the producer also is an editor. He trims the fat, so to speak. An experienced producer should be able to tell what sound the band is going for and help them reach their desired goal. If, say, fantasy band X showed up in black leather, with vodka, weed, blow, and beat up Les Pauls and Strats and started ripping out speed metal, the producer should know how to capture that Motorhead vibe and sound of reckless abandon. The producer should be able to suggest additions or subtractions to songs, but he also isn't a complete dictator.

I should stress that very rarely, in metal at least, does the producer actually write the song for the band. While this happens more often than not with pop producers, (Max Martin anyone?) metal has generally been stalwart in its stance that bands write their songs. Excepting a cool cover of course. However, this hardline stance often interferes with the producer and his suggestions. Since metal has a pretty solid DIY ethic, the majority of upcoming musicians tend to think any alteration of their ideas in any way by someone that isn't them is a personal attack. So, you end up having way more pushback from the musician to producer in metal. I think this is where much of the, "I don't need a producer to tell me how to play MY songs!" rhetoric comes from. Another aspect of the recording that the producer is very much responsible for is the energy levels and the attitude of the band's playing. There's many infamous stories about Slipknot and the recording process of their self titled and Iowa albums. Reports range the gamut from having producer Ross Robinson throw plates and shit at Joey Jordison while he was laying down drum tracks, to Corey Taylor huffing dead bird scent before doing vocals. Some bands have singers that like to record with just them and the producer / engineer at three in the morning surrounded by candles with the light hint of vanilla fragrance lingering in the air. Regardless, the producer has to identify which method of recording will pull the best performances from the musicians, whether it's uhhhh, slightly abusive, or super nice, or just being more disciplined than the usual haphazardly put together "home session."

As you can see, I tend to think rather highly of an accomplished producer. Be warned though, in this day and age, every chode with a DAW fancies themself a "producer." Even though most of this info is gleaned from experience that happened a while back, I believe the standards here should still be relevant. Especially in metal, having a good set of helping ears can benefit your recording immeasurably. Beware of fakes and phonies, and if someone says, "I'll fix it in the mix, don't worry brah," pack your shit and run.

Killing Songs :
Ben quoted
Other albums by .Editorial that we have reviewed:
.Editorial - The Curious Case Of Udo reviewed by Ben and quoted
.Editorial - Music Album DLC reviewed by Ben and quoted
.Editorial - Music Video Monies reviewed by Ben and quoted
.Editorial - Drums Of Doom reviewed by Ben and quoted
.Editorial - Costume Saturation Overload reviewed by Ben and quoted
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