In this prime collection of first-hand interviews, 37 of the world's top record producers share their creative secrets and hit-making techniques, from the practical to the aesthetic. George Martin reveals the technical and musical challenges of working with the Beatles, while Phil Ramone, producer for such artists as Billy Joel, discusses studio wall treatments. Offering real-world advice on everything from mics to mixing to coaching a nervous singer, producers interviewed include Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys, Alan Parsons, Arif Mardin (Norah Jones), Al Schmitt (Diana Krall), Elliot Scheiner (Steely Dan), and many more.
Howard gives an overview of the book:
How is a hit record made? What makes a great record producer? For many people, record production seems to be a kind of black art, imbued with an almost mystical secrecy. After all, it's easy to understand the roles of pretty much everyone else involved in making a CD: the songwriter creates the music; the artist (who is sometimes the same person) interprets and performs it; and the engineer is responsible for getting the sound successfully on tape or to hard disk by looking after the faders, knobs, meters and other technical aspects. But then there's that other person -- the one hovering in the background, often engaged in deep conversation with the musicians and the engineer. What exactly is he (or she) doing?
That's what this book sets out to answer.
Originally conducted for a feature series in Musician magazine called "First Take" (later continued in EQ magazine in the "From the Desk" series), the interviews you'll read in these pages give a fascinating perspective on what it takes to be a successful record producer and provide a wealth of real-world tips and techniques that every musician and student of the recording arts can add to their arsenal of creative tools. Today, of course, every musician has the capability of creating a hit record in the comfort of his or her bedroom -- witness Alanis Morissette's wildly successful Jagged Little Pill, recorded in producer Glen Ballard's home studio (a process he recounts in great detail in his interview). That makes the collective wisdom presented here even more relevant for the latest generation of artists, who, more and more, find themselves wearing the hats of engineer and producer as well.
Making hit records is, of course, an international phenomenon, not something that's restricted to America. In particular, ever since the so-called "British invasion" of the '60s, English records have had a strong influence on American tastes (just as American records have always had a major impact on English artists and producers). As a result, I interviewed almost as many British producers as American ones (as well as a few Americans who made their careers in England, and vice versa). I also wanted to take advantage of the unique interplay that can occur when you get several creative people to attack a question at the same time and bounce ideas off each other, so I decided to conduct two group interviews -- one in New York and one in Los Angeles. Beyond revealing some interesting cultural differences between the two coasts, the resulting dialog was every bit as entertaining as it was illuminating.
While all thirty-four producers interviewed here have much in common-for example, their deep, abiding love of music and a heartfelt passion for their work -- they also have very distinctive personalities and opinions. Some come from a musical background, others from an engineering background. In their interviews, some chose to focus on technical aspects; others preferred to take a more philosophical approach. Phil Ramone talks about room treatments; Geoff Emerick reveals the secrets of McCartney's Sgt. Pepper- era bass sound; Tony Visconti provides an illuminating primer on the power of psychoacoustics. But you'll also find Arif Mardin describing how to go about selecting the best key for a song, George Martin reflecting on randomness and the Chaos Theory, and Nile Rodgers dissecting the meaning of "groove."
As you go through these pages, you'll notice that I sometimes ask the same questions of different producers. I assure you that this was not due to laziness or lack of imagination on my part; instead, this was done purposefully so that the reader could compare and contrast the responses. Some answers varied greatly from producer to producer; others were much more homogenous, lending credence to the theory that perhaps there are some universal factors to making hit records -- for example, starting with a strong song and eliciting an emotional performance from the artist. To be sure, there are at least as many intangible variables, but that's the voodoo-the magic "fairy-dust"-of record-making.
Some wag once said that talking about music is about the same as listening to a painting, but creating a great record is equal parts craft and art. As creative and open as the process is, there's much that can be articulated, and a great deal that can be gained from listening to the voices of those who have achieved the pinnacle of success. Meeting and interviewing these gifted, talented people was an amazing experience for me, and I know that I learned a lot. I hope that you get as much out of reading their words.
Long Island, New York
This was my first published collection of interviews, conducted when I was an editor with Musician and EQ magazines. It first hit the bookshelves in 2000 and remains in print to this very day, which proves the point, I think, that wisdom from the masters of their craft is inherently timeless. I'm especially gratified that this book is so widely used in recording schools worldwide, where it has become part of their core curriculum, and I'm always blown away when I cross paths with a young recording engineer who tells me how much this book influenced them. Hopefully Volume II (released in 2009) will enjoy the same success!
Howard Massey is a music journalist, musician, and recording engineer/producer who was formerly an editor at Musician and Performing Songwriter magazines.
He is also the author of fifteen books, including two collections of interviews entitled ...