On Being the Producer

I’ve been watching the miniseries documentary Soundbreaking the last few days, and it’s given me a lot to think about.  It’s a wonderful series, focusing more on what it is to create recorded music than it is about telling lurid stories about fame or who knows who.

I knew they were Doing It Right when they decided to dedicate the first episode not to the band or to the music or the industry, but the producer.  Often overlooked unless you’re well known like George Martin or Linda Perry, the producer is an extremely vital part of the production…and yet their job is to make their own work on the finished product as invisible as possible.  Their job, ultimately, is to make the song be as true as possible.

What do I mean by that?  Well, here’s the thing:  they’re not aiming for perfection.  They might want the musicians and singers to hit all the right notes, but that’s not the main goal.  Nor are they solely aiming for the perfect pop hit that will reach number one on all the charts and make everyone involved  hell of a lot of money.

What they’re doing is taking the creativity and the ideas of the musicians and the songwriters, as well as the emotional drive behind the song, and maybe even the happy accidents that happen to resonate with the track, and pull it all together.  They’re also doing their best to make sure the song reflects the emotions of its creator and not their own.

Sure, there are some producers with signature sounds.  Phil Spector, of course, is known for his Wall of Sound (i.e., let’s have forty musicians in the room playing the same thing and drench it reverb until it drowns).  Nigel Godrich is known for giving bands a rich and resonant sound.  Jeff Lynne likes his drums front and center in the mix.  And there are musicians who produce their own work.  But the point still remains: they’re aiming for something specific, something that will make the song ring true.

In book speak: they’re your editor.  They are not there to put their stamp on it.  They are there to make sure this is all your work.  Sure, part of their job is to point out grievous spelling and grammar errors, and maybe suggesting that the plot take a gentle curve instead of a neckbreaking hairpin turn.  But their job, really, is to figure out what the writer is trying to convey, and help them get there the best way possible.

 

As a self-published author who’s decided to do the job of the editor as well, I had to keep this in mind when I started the major revision work of the Bridgetown Trilogy a few years back.  I knew it was more than just about fixing grammar and cleaning up the prose.  I had to connect with the trilogy on a level where I understood what I was aiming for on a deeper level.  But I also had to view it on several levels as well: I had to figure out how it flowed, what I was trying to say with it, and how I was saying it.  Even as the cover creator I had to keep these things in mind — how was this initial image going to tie in with not just the book but the other two as well?  And to top it off: how to produce the end result without making it obvious that I’d done all the work myself?

A lot of moving parts.  It’s a hard job, but with time, practice and dedication, it can be done.

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