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How many producers does it take to record one song?

In the early days of recording, there was no producer, then there was one, now each track can have up to ten or twelve 'producers'. So who is in charge?

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In the early days of recorded popular music, there was no such person as a record producer. The record company's Artist & Repertoire Manager (A&R man) would supervise the recording, but largely the process was under the joint control of the musical director and the engineer.

During the 1960s the role of the producer as an intermediary between the musicians and engineers became defined, and soon became universal practice. The record producer was born.

During the 1970s and 1980s the producer would supervise all aspects of the recording process from rehearsal through to mixing and even mastering. In the public's awareness, this is still what the producer does.

But now things have changed, particularly in mainstream chart music. No longer is there anyone who could really claim credit as being the producer of the whole track. Instead, it is common practice to record a song in terms of drum track, bass line, a rudimentary top line and vocals on top.

From this point, where the basic outline of the song is complete, the track will be given to perhaps five or six teams of 'producers', 'remixers' - call them what you will. They will work separately on the song, each team producing their own take on it, with virtually anything apart from the vocal up for grabs for creative enhancement.

Ultimately, these five or six mixes will be presented to the record label, where the A&R manager will choose the version that will be released. Perhaps he will detect creative moments of value in more than one of the mixes, so a further stage is necessary where these 'golden sounds' are extracted and combined.

This raises two points. The first is how do you credit all of these people? In fact, if someone's work didn't appear at all in the final release, do they deserve a credit? The answer is that it is often impossible to credit everyone. Only the most significant contributors will be named. Hopefully, everyone will get paid though.

The second point is that things have come full circle. With the work of production now being done by so many people, the person in overall charge is again the A&R manager. In fact, the A&R manager is now the producer. Just like the old times.

P.S. Can you name the producers in the pic?

By David Mellor Monday February 6, 2006
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