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Is professionally produced music important anymore?

I’ve had no problem getting work as a music producer, even in a recession. I’m working on 6 albums and keep getting calls for more, but then I’m cheap as far as many music producers go with my experience. Most of my clients hire me because I also compose and engineer in my own studio, so I’m a one stop shop.

This regular work has in no way filled me with delusions about the importance of professionally produced music to the general public though. I have found myself asking more and more, what is the point of what I do for artists anymore? Is there a future in professionally produced music? Do the majority of people care?

Before you scoff at this question, peruse these valid issues that have partially led to it, such as:

  • The decline of record labels and shift of the industry into the hands of DIY artists with limited budgets
  • The proliferation of affordable music production equipment and software allowing artists to Do It Themselves at home
  • The popularity of live, reality ‘Idol’ type music shows and Youtube
  • The proliferation of poor quality music formats like 128 kb MP3 files
  • The popularity of poor quality music playback devices like iPods with headphones
  • The question of the value of music in a world of free downloads

One could argue that people are used to professionally produced music, and so they will still demand it, despite the shrinking budgets for artists and music lovers. There is no question that the world is shifting towards enjoying more music than ever before, and that music is increasing in popularity.

But my most significant argument for the rapid decline in value for the music producer is, given the above, can the average person even tell the difference between music with no producer and that which is professionally produced? Will they be disappointed with acoustic versions of songs?

Tests I’ve done have proven the answer is no. Most listeners primarily want to hear the singers voice, and the melodies sung with simple instrumentation, and everything else seems superfluous.

I think a producer contributes significantly not just to the quality of sound of the music, but to:

  • The performance, emotion, and confidence of the performers
  • The arrangement of the song, including lyric phrasing and song structure
  • The melodies and musical instrumentation of the song
  • The accuracy of pitch and timing and sonic quality of the recorded parts
  • The range of tone across the frequency spectrum of the music
  • The mood, feeling and energy of the song

But of course, I’m biased! And as illustrated, these are decreasing in importance to the general listener.
In industries like film, TV, and advertising, these elements have become standard, so there is no question that they will require professionally produced music.
For music in general though, the question remains, given it is proven most people can’t hear the difference, is there a future for the professional music producer?
Will a shift in the importance of the arts and education in society affect the demand for musical perfection only an experienced producer can provide?

recording in bedroom

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6 Responses to “Is professionally produced music important anymore?”

  1. Darrell Rodgers Says:

    Well, you raise some powerful points. As a DIY guy myself, I would LOVE to put my music into the capable hands of a talented professional producer, but I have to ask myself: to what end?

    When I looked at the excegencies of my latest album: 1) needed it in a hurry for a huge festival event, and ; 2) didn’t have a lot of money, I realized that professional production wasn’t going to fit with either of those two conditions. So I slopped it up and put out an album that has a number of technical flaws (glaring ones to my ear). Strangely, it seems well-received by the folks who bought it.

    But, since the average DIY guy sells only a few units per month, and then typically only AT the live performance venue, and we’re pressing our luck to expect more than about $10 per CD, well, it doesn’t make much financial sense to drive up the per-unit cost on production that we can’t reproduce in a live performance and, as you say, gets lost on the average joe listener anyway. And doesn’t that seem to reflect our fast-food, shrink-wrapped, throw-away kind of buying culture?

    But, I wonder how we could get a glimmer of what music gets repeat-play most often on those personal ipods. Does professional music get replayed more than ameteur music? Of course, from a business perspective, we could ask “who cares?” once the sale is made. But most performers want to do a better job, one in which they can take pride.

    I still think professionally produced music is important, but I can’t seem to play in that league. Or can I? Maybe I should talk with you off-line.

  2. Jarome Says:

    Thanks for your perspective Darrell, this is exactly what I’m talking about!
    You represent the majority of artists out there whether people in the industry like to admit it or not.
    They can’t afford a producer, and their fans are happy with things the way your doing them.

    If I was more near to you, I could teach you how to get better results on your own the way I did with Elika, since she’s in China…
    This week, she’s engineering Grammy nominated Red Grammer!

  3. Jarome Says:

    LOTS of comments for this post on Facebook:
    http://www.facebook.com/reqs.php#/note.php?note_id=100361337553&comments

    I realized I need to only publish summary RSS feeds for my blog posts elsewhere, so I did that. Hopefully now comments will end up here instead of Facebook!

  4. Walter Heath Says:

    Music to me is for uplifting, moving, soothing, arousing, ones emotions, spirit and body. That gets done with a guitar and voice, a band of 6, or a full orchestra. A producer can most often get the best results for each. They will always have an important place in how music is experienced and appreciated. A good producer can take an OK song and transform it into a must hear gem.

    On the other hand, DIYers, can achieve satisfying results, especially in terms of intimacy. A producer could overwhelm that and lose the appeal of the song.

    Can most listeners tell the difference? I don’t know, but they feel the ride a well placed string passage takes them on; they feel the exclamation a horn section delivers. And we would miss the expertise of that.

  5. jeramiah Says:

    Great article…yes, i sometimes think the same thing…good to find a like minded person out there…

  6. TJR Says:

    Will a shift in the importance of the arts and education in society affect the demand for musical perfection only an experienced producer can provide?

    YES, Absolutely. If music education becomes a requirement in public schools again, we will have raised a generation that can appreciate not only professionally produced music, but musiciansship, songwriting, etc.
    I believe this will also change the fortunes of the music industry.

    We have taken music education out of school and raised a generation to worship fame and money over talent and substance.

    I think that the average listener is listening for the song.
    if it’s just acoustic guitars and vocals with minimal production recorded on garageband and the songs are good, and if it is well played and the vocals sound good, the average listener is not going to care.
    I can think of albums that have enormous and painstaking prodcution values that took years to reord that I love, and I can think of albums that where recorded mostly live in the space of a week that sound great too.

    But that doesn’t mean that the listener doesn’t and wont continue to enjoy listening to huge production values.

    TJR
    Bringing Rock’n’Roll Back to the People

    http://www.tjrmusic.com
    Blog: http://www.musicworthbuying.com
    Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/musictjr

    “Be Excellent to one another”…….Bill and Ted