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The Recording Process - Part 4- What do Producers and Arrangers Really Do?
By Leon & Sheryl Olguin - 08/26/2002 - 05:22 PM EDT

In this column we continue our primer on the recording process. We’ll take you step by step from conception to completion. We write from many years of experience, having worked on countless album and demo projects.

What Does a Producer Do?

Probably the most famous producer in the record business is Sir George Martin. Anyone who has listened to the best work of the Beatles has heard his work. He’s also produced for Peter Sellers, America, Jeff Beck and Elton John, to name a few. He is a true “renaissance man” of music, being a trained musician, arranger and composer, as well as a technical innovator in the studio. But just what did he do, and what can a good producer do for you?

The producer can help you make all the important choices involved in a recording project. He or she can help you determine your recording method, and how to bring what you record in line with your intended audience and promotional plan. Your producer can help you find a recording environment suitable for you and your music, and direct your recording sessions so that they flow smoothly and creatively. The producer usually is responsible for approving final mixes, and helping you make the best recording possible within your set budget.

A good producer knows how to work in many different musical styles, adapt to different recording methods and environments, and deal effectively with the temperaments of various musicians. The best producers know how to make your talents and abilities shine, and they can teach you how to choose from the infinite possibilities that modern studio recording makes available.

One of the most important things a producer does for you is to be your objective critic. Your musical conscience, if you will. A good producer will tell you without hesitation what works, and what doesn’t. It’s very hard, almost impossible for a performer to be completely objective about his or her work. A wise producer can help the artist determine what songs to record, what type of arrangement would suit the song, when the song is ready to be recorded, which takes are keepers, what overdubs are needed, and when the mix is complete.

If you know any musicians who have worked with a good producer, ask them about it. Musicians who have worked with effective producers would not want to work any other way. They’ll tell you how much they learned about the recording process, and how exciting it was to hear their musical dreams come to life.

Finding a producer can be a challenge. Given the qualities needed to really excel at producing, it’s not surprising that the best ones are in great demand. Also, many of the best producers are on the payroll of a major label, others work on a free-lance basis, but almost exclusively with major label acts.
So what can you do if you realize you need production help but can’t afford or find a professional producer? Studio engineers can often double as producers, because of their experience working with different types of music and musicians. They can be of great help in organizing and leading you through a recording session.

If you know a musician with a great deal of recording experience, that person may make a good producer, especially if he or she has worked with some good ones.

If you desire to act as your own producer, then you may want to consider co-producing with an engineer/producer, or someone else involved with your project that has production experience.

Occasionally, you read of an artist that has successfully produced himself or herself, but they are exceptions to the rule (and I’d be willing to bet that they had more help then they let on…).

Almost every artist can greatly benefit from a good producer. To go back to Sir George, it is almost universally agreed that the Beatles’ best work was done when he was firmly at the helm. After the problems the Beatles encountered trying to produce themselves on “Let it Be,” they asked George to come back and “properly” produce their next (and as it turned out to be, their last) album. As a result, “Abbey Road” is now widely regarded as one of the Beatles’ best works, providing a fitting end to their career together.

What Does an Arranger Do?

Whether you need an arranger or not depends on the complexity of your music, and your own range of musical and recording experience.

A good arranger will take the time to get to know your music, and help you determine the most appropriate style and arrangement. Also, very often an arranger can double as a producer.

You can help an arranger by playing your music for him or her and explaining in general terms what you would like to hear. Do you hear a piano dominated or guitar dominated sound? Do you hear any unusual instruments? What mood do you want to establish for each song? What mood for the project as a whole? Is there a particular well-known (or obscure!) artist who’s sound may be similar to yours? This information will help your arranger to get what you want.

The arranger may work in several ways. Working from your rough demo, he may write out charts and parts for whatever musicians are to be used (rhythm section, horns, strings, backing vocalists, etc.) or he may use MIDI and sequencing combined with live instruments to create a backing track for your song. You may want to work side by side with your arranger, putting a track together as a team, or you may want to “turn him loose” on your song and just see what he or she comes up with, and then make any changes needed.

To review how S.O.L.O. Productions does arrangement and production work, go to:

If you have any questions about what producers or arrangers do please let us know at:

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