By Bobby Benedict
Most music fans have heard of producers but have no real idea what they do or how they can affect music. Depending on the genre of music and depending on the producer, that effect can vary. I know that once Blink-182 lost Jerry Finn they never quite had the same feel. Many musicians hail different producers for different things: Rick Rubin is known for getting sort of a pure version of the artists he produces without any interference, John Feldman on the other hand, is known to work extensively on song structure with his artists and overhauls songs almost entirely. Looking at music from a production standpoint can significantly change the way you look at music all together, you may see patterns you never knew existed in your song choices.
I always knew producers existed, from old music documentaries or studio footage I always knew that a band would be in a studio and someone would have to be at the helm. As I further dug into studio work, I found a wide array of people at the mixing board: mixing engineers, producers, mastering engineers, all working to assist the other in their work as well as whatever band they are working with. Some albums, especially with a band on a constant touring schedule, will have to be recorded in different studios during different months by different people. A good producer has to help keep the sound reigned in so that whichever mixing engineers happened to be in the studio don’t differ too far from what the songs are supposed to sound like.
That’s just a part of the job, and it’s not even required, producers are a strange ilk. Depending on the band and depending on the producer there may barely be a back and forth and the producer just gives the band a thumbs up, like saying, “Yeah, the things you did are what I would have told you to do, maybe turn down the snare in the mix, but otherwise good job.” That’s it. Other producers will take a band, have them in their personal studio for months, make them run take after take or guitar tracks, vocal tracks, and any other tracks possible, and then change the lyrics, the verse/chorus order, or take things out of songs completely.
What is all this information for? Some people say that you don’t really want to see how the sausage is made, that’s true. Having all the ingredients is important though, not only for those that care to recreate the recipe, but for those that want to fully understand what they are consuming, as music now, not sausage. Production is an extremely important part of the music recording process, I’ve heard many people rag on artists who used to be in the spotlight, saying things like, “What have they done that’s relevant in the last 10 years?” For people like John Feldman, lead singer/guitarist of Goldfinger, the production list runs pretty deep from bands like The Used or his own band Goldfinger, to people like Kelly Clarkson or newer acts like 5 Seconds of Summer.
While I am inclined to enjoy the former category of his production, it makes more sense now why I could have a guilty pleasure song like “Since U Been Gone” among my music collection. Many people may have no idea why they enjoy a certain artist’s sound despite not being able to place their sound among other bands they listen to until they realize it’s all in the production. On the flipside, bands that end up going to a different producer than their hit album may end up seeing people turn on their “new sound.”
This happened to The Killers pretty fiercely, though the band had to make the conscious decision to change elements of their band, some of the things that they changed were bolstered by the producers they chose. A fan favorite album, and their debut, Hot Fuss was produced by Jeff Saltzman. Their sound had that dance rock feel that was catching the radio waves, it was post-punk and new wave but had a great vibe.
Move to their sophomore album, Sam’s Town, new producer in Alan Moulder. Now, Moulder is a great producer and evolved the post-punk into a heartland rock style, brought the electronic bits of new wave into a more focused arena rock style. Then bring in Stuart Price for their album Day & Age. This sound is much more associated with Electronica and house music and while still a great sound is not rooted in the same sound that people love about the band. We’re going from producers who are associated with The Smashing Pumpkins, Death Cab for Cutie, and Foo Fighters to someone who works more with artists like Madonna, The Scissor Sisters, and Gwen Stefani.
Checking the liner notes of an album is the domain of music nerds, I get that, but it’s cool to be a nerd now, right? So if you are still buying physical albums then give the notes a little check to see if you can spot the producer. If you’re interested in a few bands that you’ve heard of in a Spotify playlist or Pandora station then do a quick Google, you’d be surprised at how many probably have the same producers.
Plain and simple, producers are out to make bands sound good. Sometimes though, small bands have to play their own producer with their studio engineer. Some of my favorite local bands have some pretty decent albums put together. Here’s some bands whose albums you should check out:
Fluid Karma – These guys are a super tight reggae/rock trio that has been around the scene for a bit. Their last album is a bit older than the others on the list but is still one of my favorite things to listen to because it is relaxed, but full, and if you like Sublime then you’ll love these guys. You can catch their stuff on their site: fluidkarmaband.com/music.
The Odd Life – One of my favorite regional acts, these guys are from Watertown and have been killing it around the area. Their live shows are energetic and emotional while still being melodic and heartfelt. Their recorded stuff hits hard and is anthemic like a pop-punk Rise Against, you can catch their stuff at theoddlife1.bandcamp.com.
Work of Wolves – I’ve told everyone about these awesome dudes before, and they continue to be a force throughout the Sioux Falls scene. Their last album was recorded at The Lab Studios in Sioux Falls which I think helped keep a focused and clean feel to their album which is great for their sound. I’m excited for the new stuff they have on the way, you’ll be able to hear their music at workofwolves.bandcamp.com/.
Stem Cells – I saw this youthful trio at their album release, it was an amazing show and their album is equally amazing. It was recorded in a sprint at Cathouse Studios in Sioux Falls and starts off real skate punk and tapers off into an extremely catchy and sensible Weezer feel. I love this album and I think it may be the most recent one on the list, you can take a listen to Medium Well on their bandcamp: stemcellssf.bandcamp.com/releases.