From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
"I see the studio must be like a living thing, a life itself. The machine must be live and intelligent. Then I put my mind into the machine and the machine perform reality. Invisible thought waves - you put them into the machine by sending them through the controls and the knobs or you jack it into the jack panel. The jack panel is the brain itself, so you got to patch up the brain and make the brain a living man, that the brain can take what you sending into it and live." --Lee Perry, unsourced
"...ever since Miles Davis and James Brown transferred their primary creative space from stage to studio, the most succesful musical form in the popular arena has been the dance-groove : where cycles of rhythm, circling ever back to their beginnings, allow for small shifts and changes within the structure to bring with them remarkable shock-force." (Hopey Glass in The Wire).
A record producer is an individual working within the music industry, whose job is to oversee and manage the recording (i.e. "production") of an artist's music. A producer has many roles that may include, but are not limited to, gathering ideas for the project, selecting songs and/or musicians, coaching the artist and musicians in the recording studio, controlling the recording sessions, and supervising the entire process through mixing and mastering. Over the latter half of the 20th century, producers have also taken on a wider entrepreneurial role, often with responsibility for the budget, schedules, and negotiations.
Today, the recording industry has two kinds of producers: executive producer and music producer; they have different roles. While an executive producer oversees a project's finances, a music producer oversees the creation of the music.
A music producer can, in some cases, be compared to a film director in that a music producer's job is to create, shape, and mold a piece of music. The scope of responsibility may be one or two songs or an artist's entire album -- in which case the producer will typically develop an overall vision for the album and how the various songs may interrelate.
In the UK, before the rise of the record producer, an A&R man would oversee the recording session(s), assuming responsibility for creative decisions relating to the recording.
Early record producers
During the 1890s, Fred Gaisberg ran the first recording studio and provided the closest approximation of production by guiding an opera singer closer or further away from a gramophone's horn to match the dynamics in the score. (Citation: Gronow and Saunio 1998, p. 8; Moorefield 2005, p. 1).
However in the first part of the 20th century the record producer's role was similar to the role of a film producer in that the record producer organized and supervised recording sessions, paid technicians, musicians and arrangers, and sometimes chose material for the artist. In the mid-1950s a new category emerged, that of the independent record producer. Among the most famous early independent producers are the famed songwriting-production duo Leiber & Stoller, "Wall of Sound" creator Phil Spector and British studio pioneer Joe Meek.
Magnetic tape enabled the establishment of independent recording studios in major recording centres such as London, Los Angeles and New York. Unlike the old record company studios, which were effectively a "closed shop", these new studios could be hired by the hour by anyone who could afford to do so.
The biggest and best commercial studios were typically established and operated by leading recording engineers. They were carefully constructed to create optimum recording conditions, and were equipped with the latest and best recording equipment and top-quality microphones, as well as electronic amplification gear and musical instruments.
Top-line studios such as Olympic Studios in London, Fine Recording in New York City, United Western Recorders, and Musart in Los Angeles quickly became among the most sought-after recording facilities in the world, and both these studios became veritable "hit factories" that produced many of the most successful pop recordings of the latter 20th century.
Evolution of the role of the producer
Prior to the 1950s, the various stages of the recording and marketing process had been carried out by different professionals within the industry – A&R managers found potential new artists and signed them to their labels; professional songwriters created new material; publishing agents sold these songs to the A&R people; staff engineers carried out the task of making the recordings in company-owned studios.
Freed from this traditional system by the advent of independent commercial studios, the new generation of entrepreneurial producers – many of whom were former record company employees themselves – were able to create and occupy a new stratum in the industry, taking on a more direct and complex role in the musical process. This development in music was mirrored in the TV industry by the concurrent development of videotape recording and the consequent emergence of independent TV production companies like Desilu, established by '50s TV superstars Lucille Ball and her then husband, Desi Arnaz.
These producers now typically carried out most or all of these various tasks themselves, including selecting and arranging songs, overseeing sessions (and often engineering the recordings) and even writing the material. Independent music production companies rapidly gained a significant foothold in popular music and soon became the main intermediary between artist and record label, signing new artists to production contracts, producing the recordings and then licensing the finished product to record labels for pressing, promotion and sale. (This was a novel innovation in the popular music field, although a broadly similar system had long been in place in many countries for the production of content for broadcast radio.) The classic example of this transition is renowned British producer George Martin, who worked as a staff producer and A&R manager at EMI for many years, before branching out on his own and becoming a highly successful independent producer.
As a result of these changes, record producers began to exert a strong influence, not only on individual careers, but on the course of popular music. A key example of this is of Phil Spector who defined the gap between Elvis and the Beatles (1958–1964) with such acts as The Ronettes, The Crystals, Darlene Love, The Righteous Brothers and The Paris Sisters. Spector's Wall of Sound production technique also persisted after that time with his select recordings of The Beatles, The Ramones, Leonard Cohen, George Harrison, Dion and Ike and Tina Turner.
Some producers also became de facto recording artists, often creating records themselves or with anonymous studio musicians and releasing them under a pseudonym. Examples of this phenomenon include the records by fictional groups The Archies and Josie & the Pussycats, produced by Don Kirshner and Danny Jansen respectively, who were contracted by TV production companies to produce these records to promote the animated children's TV series of the same name. Similarly, Jeff Barry and Andy Kim recorded as The Archies.
Equipment and technology
There are numerous different technologies utilized by the producer. In modern day recordings, recording and mixing tasks are centralized within computers. However, there is also the main mixer, outboard effects gear, and the recording device itself.