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Is professionally produced music important anymore?

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009

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