Producers that make (or break) the band

New on Collapse Board

Band-members are like the ingredients of a cake: get it wrong, and the result is bland or sickly. It’s about getting people together who make each other feel comfortable, who can inspire the audience, and who can deflate the ego of an overindulgent songwriter. The producer is the mould. If you pour cake mix onto a baking tray, you’ll end up with a flat, sticky mess. Some producers are like old-fashioned round cake tins, providing a strong but subtle structure that simply allows the flavours to emerge. Others make fancy shapes, so vibrant and daring that its cakeness comes second to its art-form. Like the line-up, the right producer for your band is the one that fits your personal dynamic, and brings out the best in what you, uniquely, have to offer.

The most obvious impact of producer on band is the cake-as-art mould of Andrew Weatherall on Primal Scream’s Screamadelica. They were very much a vanilla sponge kind of band – Stones riffs and attitude and not much else – and Weatherall transformed it into a sky-castle of psychedelia, with shimmering-turret saxophones and deep moats of sub-bass.

Not to denigrate the Primals – Rocks was infectious and charming, for one – but a great producer can spin gold out of straw.

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If you think of the all-time greatest producers, one of the names that springs to mind would undoubtedly be Phil Spector, who is arguably more famous than most of the acts he produced. He was the ultimate producer-as-star; a hit-factory with a trademark “wall of sound” that defined an era.

The sound was produced in a specific echo chamber designed to bounce noise off the walls in a certain way. Spector would record in three-hour sessions designed to exhaust the musicians to the point where they would lose their individualism. Electric and acoustic guitarists would play in unison along with more typical orchestral arrangements to create layer upon layer of sound.

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Spector’s legacy has been profound, influencing tracks like The Beach Boys’ Good Vibrations (recorded using similar techniques by Brian Wilson), Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody, ABBA’s Dancing Queen, The Sex Pistols’ Anarchy In The UK (featuring over 20 feedback-laden guitar overdubs) and McAlmont & Butler’s Yes.

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One of the more notable producers-as-stars in recent years has been Timothy Zachery Mosley, AKA Timbaland, who is also a performer. His distinctive, shuffling percussion and blunt, heavy basslines formed a kind of narrative to R&B pop in the 00s.

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As well as his own records, his production credits include material for Katy Perry, Jay-Z, Chris Cornell, The Pussycat Dolls, Jay-Z, Madonna and Justin Timberlake.

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Canada’s Nelly Furtado was pretty dull before Timbaland challenged her to make an album in a genre that he knew full well she didn’t like, inspiring a newfound respect in her for that type of music.

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Though the album, Loose, was enormously successful, it faced the same criticism as a lot of Timbaland records: that, like Spector, the album is overshadowed by its production. Sure, it provided a career boost to Furtado, but she didn’t sound like Nelly Furtado any more. The records that Timbaland produces sound like Timbaland rather than retaining the identity of the performer. Timbaland has also faced his share of controversy, in the form of accusations of plagiarism after apparently using an uncredited sample on Furtado’s Do It – though I’m pretty sure that, unlike Spector, he’s never shot anyone [In 2009, Phil Spector was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to 19 years in prison – legal Ed.]

[Continue reading at Collapse Board]

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