The Role of the Recording and Mastering Producer

Steve Barnett

1. I view a successful recording team as having four sides: The conductor, the performers, the producer and the engineer. I liken it to a table with four legs: a) if one of the legs is weak the table is wobbly; b) if one of the legs is missing, the table may not stand at all. It is the producer’s job to make sure that all members of the recording team are working together as one to make the best recording possible. It is a matter of confidence and trust that comes with experience and familiarity. Each side must have the confidence and trust that the other members of the team are as prepared as possible for the sessions and will be doing their jobs to the best of their abilities. The producer’s job is to make sure that this happens as efficiently and seamlessly as possible.

2. The producer works in harmony with the conductor in order to allow the recording process to realize as closely as possible the conductor’s vision of the music, and simultaneously works with the engineer to help that person capture as accurately as possible the sound of the performing group. An experienced and trusted producer frees the conductor to make the very best music possible with their performers, by making that the conductor’s only responsibility at the session. An experienced and trusted producer frees the conductor from any concern with the technical side.

3. The producer is the liaison between the conductor and performers, and recording engineer. The producer must be skilled and knowledgeable in both the languages of music and of engineering, and be able to freely switch between languages to communicate quickly and effectively between all.

4. The producer should be a musician with an extremely well-trained ear who not only can hear the music as a whole, but also the fine detail within. Ideally the producer’s background should also include conducting and also composition/orchestration. The producer should also be someone who knows and appreciates the literature, and knows enough about recording techniques to communicate knowledgeably of the conductor’s and performers’ desires and needs to the engineer. The producer should also be experienced in recording production and have a successful track record as a producer. They should also be knowledgeable of and experienced in the recording business in general.

5. The producer must quickly be able to make musical decisions based on their knowledge and years of experience. The producer is constantly making split-second decisions during the sessions about what to keep, what to pass on, and what must be retaken and must be able to communicate that quickly and effectively to the conductor, performers and to the engineer.

6. The producer can help the conductor choose the literature for recording if they so desire and can also serve as a trusted objective adviser and sounding board for the conductor before, during, and after sessions.

7. The producer runs the session in consultation with the conductor. The producer may help to choose the order of the pieces at each session and paces the session with the knowledge and experience of the needs and skills of the conductor and performers within the allotted time frame.

8. The producer knows how to give criticism with encouragement—the producer knows how to speak to the conductor and performers at their levels of accomplishment and will try to encourage performances beyond their level of skills, if possible.

9. The producer “calls” the session in terms of retakes, by taking detailed take notes so that ideally, by the end of the sessions, everything will be covered as best as musically possible within the limited recorded period, so that when it is time to edit the CD, as good a single performance as possible can be created in the editing suite. The producer also needs to know the digital editing process intimately—what is possible and not possible—so that the called retakes start and end in the right place to cover properly whatever needs improvement—the producer’s having extensive knowledge and experience in digital editing is very important.

10. Whoever prepares the editing plot, ideally the producer should do the editing themselves (or be present to supervise the editing, if they do not edit) rather than passing it off on to an editor who was not present at the session. Because the producer is also the editor, critical musical choices can be made during the process of editing, constantly refining and improving the editing plot. The producer will also try to effect all of the conductor’s wishes once the “1st Edit” is reviewed and notes are presented.

11. The producer helps choose the final CD running order in consultation with the conductor.

12. When the final edit is approved by the conductor, in post-production, the producer also personally supervises and produces the remixing/rebalancing of all tracks, the assembly of the recording in the approved CD order, and personally approves the mastering and creation of the Production Master along with the added skills of the mastering engineer.

13. The producer may also choose to proofread and comment on the print materials for the CD: the booklet, tray card and CD face.

14. Ultimately, the producer has final responsibility for, and approval of, the final musical product before the Production Master is shipped for replication.

© 2002-2013 by Steve Barnett
All rights reserved


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