Princess Stomper

Producers that make (or break) the band

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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.

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’.

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.

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.

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.

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.]

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13 Responses to Producers that make (or break) the band

  1. Darragh June 22, 2011 at 3:29 pm

    No space for Steve Albini or even Rick Rubin?

    Bob Rock is the the devil as far as I’m concerned. He’s like McDonalds – food easy to get and consume but it’s unhealthy to eat in large doses.

  2. Nate M June 22, 2011 at 3:48 pm

    Hahaha, Bob Ezrin! I would love to see a “Some Kind of Monster” style documentary about KISS recording “The Elder”

  3. nomadiqueMC June 22, 2011 at 3:51 pm

    yeah i was hoping for a bit of a look at rick rubin too. such an aloof, hands-off guy who’s talent seems to be (if i can delve into the wank for a moment) helping flailing artists to ‘find themselves’ and make career-saving albums. with artists as diverse as Metallica, Johnny Cash, and the Dixie Chicks, certainly the sound isn’t the same, but the rubin effect is obvious. but it doesn’t work for everybody of course – Slayer were notably disappointed to never see rubin until the mixdown, only to have him make comments about photos and album sleeves, not the tunes.

  4. Princess Stomper June 22, 2011 at 4:55 pm

    I did consider Steve Albini and Rick Rubin, but they didn’t really fit into the context of the article, i.e. I thought there were better examples in the ones I picked. Perhaps another article. 🙂

    I’d say Bob Rock is more like Burger King – I’d never eat at McDonalds!

  5. Joseph Kyle June 22, 2011 at 7:02 pm

    Great article! I too was expecting to see Albini and Rubin, but it’s no big loss, either. Another good example is Todd Rundgren. Notoriously difficult in the studio, but produces excellent work, and even those who hate him at the time oft don’t argue with the finished results.

    Also interesting is the choice of “River Deep, Mountain High” for Spector’s work, as it was a puzzling failure for Spector, and he quit producing for a few years after it bombed…

  6. Roger Nelson. June 22, 2011 at 9:33 pm

    I was going to mention Todd, he made one of the worst sounding records ever in Patti Smiths Wave. Overproduced and flat. My two idols coming together seemed like a masterstroke but wound up a damp squib. Whoever produced Saxons debut seemed to insist that the drums sounded like wet cardboard being hit by knittting needles. And what of Eno? Managed to make U2 sound half decent (not Lanois, he likes adding layers of syrup).

  7. Matt June 22, 2011 at 9:37 pm

    Rubin should be a therapist – not a producer. Yes, he helps bands re-invigorate themselves but the guy knows next to nothing about sound design and, as a result, ninety per cent of his output is equipped with horrendously bland (Red Hot Chili Peppers Californication) or just outright incompetent (Metallica) production.

  8. Matt June 22, 2011 at 9:56 pm

    Martin Hannett?

  9. Darragh June 23, 2011 at 8:06 am

    Matt – Death Magnetic was actually quite good in Metallica terms. I thought Rubin did a good job here.

  10. hannah golightly June 23, 2011 at 9:05 am

    “Darragh says:
    June 22, 2011 at 3:29 pm

    No space for Steve Albini or even Rick Rubin?”

    Also, I don’t think Linda Perry did Hole or Courtney Love’s solo stuff any favours whatsoever… but 4non blondes was great and what she does for Pink and those pop stars with rock poses works, though I dislike it immensely. I don’t like what Phill Spector does all that much. I also dislike what producers in general have done to metal (emo etc)- it’s so clean and glossy it’s suitable to bring home to meet your parents. There’s more edge on a Timbaland record than in most of it. Makes me sick… it’s like it’s had it’s balls neutered and that does. not. rock.

    Anyone know any good alternative lo-fi producers working in the UK right now that I should be aware of?

  11. Everett True June 23, 2011 at 5:06 pm

    …what really struck me was how vital and exciting the Endino-produced stuff still sounds compared to most of those bands/albums who went straight for the contemporary radio-friendly studio sound.

    He’s also one of the nicest and most interesting fellows around. Weirdly enough, I never really knew him at the time. We only got to hang out from ’98 onwards.

  12. hannah golightly June 23, 2011 at 10:56 pm

    where does he live Everett?

  13. Scott Creney June 23, 2011 at 11:55 pm

    Always thought it was interesting that John Cale produced the first albums by the Stooges, Patti Smith, Jonathan Richman, Squeeze, and Happy Mondays.

    As far as I know, he never produced anyone’s second album.

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