Princess Stomper

Producers that make (or break) the band

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Most producers are a lot more subtle in the way they direct the records. Timbaland is like an auteur director, or – if we’re retaining the cake analogy – he’s a fantastically-shaped mould into which vanilla sponge mix is poured. Bob Rock, by contrast, is like a cupcake mould: the outcome depends on the ingredients, but its sheer cupcakeness guarantees a hit.

Think of most of the radio-friendly trucker rock albums of the late 80s and 90s, and you’ll be aware of Bob Rock’s work: Metallica’s eponymous record known as the Black Album, and albums by Aerosmith, Bon Jovi, Cher, Mötley Crüe, Skid Row and The Cult.

Even though the songs are very polished and commercial, they’re still immediately recogniseable as being by the artist. Unless you were a particular fan of the producer, it would be hard to distinguish his work from that of other blockbuster producers like Bob Ezrin. Where these producers earn their reputation is in retaining just enough edge to keep the music palatable to the rock fans who buy the albums, but knocking off all the rough edges so it won’t upset the folks listening to daytime radio.

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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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