Welcome to The Definition: a series of articles designed to eliminate some confusion and arguments inside and outside of the music industry. Sometimes the wording may be boring, but even boring information is useful.
The Definition of a Music Producer
There seems to be a lot of confusion these days about what a music producer does. To some, a producer is the one who made the beat, while to others, a producer is the person who mixed the song. Both could be completely correct, but not necessarily so. In order to clarify, we’ll take a look at the dictionary to start.
Definition of producer (from Merriam-Webster)
1: one that produces
especially : one that grows agricultural products or manufactures crude materials into articles of use
2: a person who supervises or finances a work (such as a staged or recorded performance) for exhibition or dissemination to the public
3: an autotrophic organism (such as a green plant) viewed as a source of biomass that can be consumed by other organisms
So, in the strictest sense of the word, from definition #1, a producer would be anyone who makes a product (in this case, music). If that’s the definition you want to roll with, congratulations, you’re done. However, if you want to go with the industry definition of a music producer, it’s a little more in-depth. (Definition #3 has no application in this discussion)
If we look at #2, we get the definition used in the music industry. The supervisor(s) and/or the financier(s) of a song are the song’s producer. If a person composes and records an instrumental track, in-and-of itself, they produced that instrumental, However, if someone other than the beat maker uses the instrumental beyond that, the beat maker is no longer the producer of the song. They’re just a songwriter and possibly a performer. Occasionally, “producer” can be a courtesy title granted (such as songwriter to individuals not involved in the songwriting), but in practice, the person who contracted the instrumental would usually be the producer from that point.
The Roles of a Music Producer
There are a lot of roles that are filled in the making of a song (or an album). Sometimes the producers themselves perform these tasks, and sometimes they delegate the task to someone else.
- Songwriters – These are the people that write the lyrics and the accompanying music in a song, whether actually transcribed or not. If lyrics/music are performed without any preparation (ad-libbed, freestlyled, etc) the person which performed them would be considered the songwriter. Beat makers and arrangement composers also fall into this category.
- Performers – These are the people that perform the written songs. They can be the people who wrote the song, but they don’t have to be. Most popular songs that you hear aren’t written by their performers. If a musician is hired to play music written by someone else, they are considered a “session” musician. This category also includes orchestral musicians.
- Engineers – These are the people that perform the technical aspects of music creation to prepare it for release. They record (track) the artists, mix those tracks, and master the project.
The producer is the person who coordinates all of these tasks. They pick the studio. They decide who performs which task, to get the best possible result in their vision. They’re usually present at engineering sessions to oversee the results and to get the performances how they want them, but with the internet involved, it’s a less common presence than it used to be. Vocal producers fulfill the same role, but are more targeted towards the performance of a vocalist towards the whole song, rather than the whole song itself.
Example 1: A person composes an instrumental track that they sell to an artist. While they were able to determine the tone and feeling of the beat they made, they weren’t the ones to determine it was the best fit for the song as a whole. They are not the producer.
Example 2: The same person composes the same instrumental and hires an artist to record their lyrics to it, or is approached by the artist and works with them to create the song how the beat maker envisioned it. By seeing the project through from beginning to end, that person IS a producer.
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Songwriters, performers, and engineers MAY be the producers of a song, but don’t have to be. The person who sees the entire song through to the end is the producer.
If you’re still unsure about the definition, feel free to drop your questions in the comments below. Also, if there are any other definitions in the music industry that you’re unsure of, request them for an article!