Hi my name is Lucas and I’m a music producer. Don’t believe me just watch.
If you made it :08s in to that video you probably you heard me give a nice little soundbite. You see, Philadelphians are clamoring for my nice little soundbites, because I recently co-produced the new music for Philadelphia’s oldest news radio station (one of the oldest news radio stations in the world in fact), KYW Newsradio 1060. In fact if you turn your internet radio dial right now to this station, you’ll probably hear some music I produced within five minutes of listening— I’m talking headlines, I’m talking weather, I’m talking sports, I’m talking traffic… you got a news segment? I can produce the music for it! Or more accurately, we (at Man Made Music) can produce the music for it.
Quick sidenote: If you made it to :54s in that video you heard me give a not-so-nice soundbite. I mean the sentiment is nice, but the delivery? Oof. I don’t like it. Basically I was just riffing, and I came across this phrase “This piece has got soul to it, because Philadelphia has soul!” And I guess I didn’t say it cleanly, or clearly enough the first time, so they made me say it again, and then I got all self-conscious, and it felt like I was acting, and frankly, I’m a bad actor. So I delivered it all weird and self-consciously. But they kept it in anyway. Look people, don’t make me repeat myself. I’m good at improvising and saying things spontaneously, but I am not good at delivering lines. Maybe I should take some acting classes? That sounds fun…
Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah. I’m a music producer! But what the heck is a music producer? Well, broadly speaking, a music producer is someone who helps facilitate the creation of recorded music. This helping facilitate can encompass a wide range of different activities. It can be a primarily directorial role — with a producer coaching singers and musicians during the recording process to achieve their best performances. It can also be more of a project manager position — with the producer planning and budgeting for the entire process of writing, hiring musicians, recording, mixing, mastering, registering, and releasing music. A producer may also be the writer or co-writer of a piece of music. In fact Webster’s dictionary defines a producer as… just kidding.
It is a big catch-all term, and there are as many different approaches to it as there are producers. You might be a Rick Rubin, who, among other things, acts in part as a meditation coach for the artists he is producing. Or you might be a Timbaland, who, among other things, creates tracks from scratch for artists to sing or rap over. Or you might be a Lucas Murray, who, among other things, flies by the seat of his pants, communicates with composers, sends emails to clients, arranges recording sessions, books musicians, records guitar parts, edits the music, and ultimately gives clunky soundbites to Philadelphia radio stations. That’s how you know the project is coming to a close— when you’re in that clunky soundbite stage.
Here’s a soundbite (or textbite?) for all you armchair philosophers out there: You can’t possibly know what era you are living in. This is true in any field. Its up to historians to define your era long after you and all your friends have died (easy on the looming mortality talk Lucas! Jeez!). Beethoven wasn’t writing his fifth symphony, all smug, thinking to himself “I truly am ushering in the romantic era.” But music historians often point to that symphony as the inflection point for a new era in music (or was it Beethoven’s 3rd? It’s been a while since I took a music history class. Look it up, dear readers, because you have a lazy writer who doesn’t care to fact check himself). The point is, I don’t know what musical age we are living in, but if I were a betting man, I’d put my money on this being the age of the producer.
This is a vain proclamation. Its pretty convenient that right when I become a music producer I take to my blog and tell my tens of readers that we’re living in the age of the producer, isn’t it? If someone had asked 19 year old Lucas what era we are living in, he’d probably be all like “the age of guitar, man!” Luckily no one ever asked me that. Plus the difference between 19 year old me, and me now, is I’m right and he’s wrong. I’ll go out on a limb and say unless you’ve developed a drug habit, this is true in almost any discrepancy between one’s 19 year old self, and one’s 30 year old self.
Quick side-note: I’ll look forward to my 50 year old self treating my 30 year old self with this same flippant dismissal.
Anyway, instead of just dunking on him and walking away, let me go back in time and try to prove to little 19 year old me that this is the age of the producer. Ok, so, 19 year old Lucas (I’m going to call you young Luc— obviously that’s pronounced “Luke” — read it that way). Young Luc, I’m going to ask you to do something you’ve probably never intentionally done in your life. I want you to listen to the Spice Girls’ hit song “Wannabe.” Now I know everyone overdosed on this song back in the late 90s, but they did so for good reason. This song is pure ear candy from front to back and take my word for it that it still sounds great in 2019. But why? The melody, harmony, and form are good, but there’s nothing revolutionary there. The incredibly energetic performance from the girls in this song also shouldn’t be understated. But the special sauce is the production. It is the result of people paying attention at all levels (from performance, to recording, to mixing to mastering) to the sound of the sounds.
Let me get a little professorial on you young Luc. Pull up a chair.
For almost the entire musical history of mankind, how music sounded boiled down to some pretty simple questions:
- who is playing it?
- what instruments are they using?
- what piece of music are they playing?
- where are they playing it?
Correct me if I’m missing something, but that’s pretty much it. Then with the invention and continued advancement of recording technology, the influences on the sound of music have expanded exponentially. In addition to the questions above, we now must ask: what kind of microphones we’re using, are we recording digitally or analog, are we replacing or augmenting any sounds, do we use auto-tune, how are we going to equalize this, how much compression do we use on each instrument, are we using any samples, how much and what kind of reverb do we use, are we adding effects and which ones, does this need any editing, etc… etc… etc… Oh and who is going to do all of this? Well, young luc, the producer is the one who is going to at least need to have a vision for all of this, if not outright do it herself.
Now I’m not ready to say that production is unequivocally the most important influence in making a song great. Called me old-fashioned, but I still believe you need to write a good song (ya know, one with a good melody, good harmony, good form, good groove, and good lyrics). However, I believe that most if not all of the musical elements that are new in our era, fall broadly under the domain and responsibility of the producer. And that is why this is the Age of the Producer. What do you think about that young Luc?