February 15, 2013 - The Producer's Job
A producer's job is to oversee a project and help shape it to make it the best that it can be. However, just what the producer needs to do in order to accomplish that goal can vary very greatly from one artist to the next.
Artists' needs are all different. Some artists come into a project with a very open view of what their finished music will sound like. They enjoy the give-and-take of collaborating with someone else and want to see where that will take them. And then there are other artists who have a very clear vision of exactly what they want their songs to sound like, and need very little outside input.
It's in the cases where an artist is open to collaboration that a producer enjoys the greatest latitude and creativity. He/she helps make decisions on everything, including: the song's tempo and key, what arrangements vocally and instrumentation-wise to employ, guiding the individual musicians on their performances, coaching the vocalists to help elicit their best possible performance, and providing the overall roadmap of where the song is headed. It's not unlike a movie director. The director didn't write the movie and doesn't own it or have a financial stake in it, they're not the star of it, yet he/she's the one who tells the actors how to act, chooses the locations, set designs, outfits, determines the order, pacing, editing - absolutely everything. (If a movie is bad, you can pretty much blame the director - unless of course the script was bad to begin with - and then nothing could save it. Likewise, no amount of production or gimmicks can save a bad song).
In those situations where an artist already knows exactly what they want production-wise, a producer's job is less of a creative decision-maker and more of a facilitator for the artist's pre-defined goals. An artist may say, "I want my drums to sound like this, and I want my overall song to sound like that." The producer having a knowledge of the available tools and resources can then find the quickest and best way to get there. In these cases the artist is largely self-producing and the producer is co-producing or maybe even falling back into the role solely of engineer.
So as you can see, a producer needs to leave their ego out of it and only interject their input appropriately as needed or requested. That's not always easy, but if you want to be really great at your craft, you always have to put the artist's desires and goals first. And that's the producer's most important job.