An excerpt from "Modern Record Production" by John Boylan - From Chapter 1 "Origins and Definitions"

The Producer's Style

"Is there more than one style of record production, or more than one type of record producer?" The answer is an unequivocal "Yes." And after contemplating this question for a long time, I've come to the conclusion that a case can be made for many different types and styles of production. However, when you take the long view, almost all record producers, no matter how different their individual approaches are, fall into one of two main style categories. For want of an established name for these categories, I've chosen to call them "The Obstetrician Style" and "The Author Style."

The Obstetrician Style Record Producer

This style of record production is named after the type of doctor whose job it is to deliver children into the world. Like an obstetrician, this record producer is most concerned with preserving the integrity of what is being delivered. A good obstetric producer never interferes with the artist's musical style, but concentrates instead on making sure that all the elements are in place to insure a perfect delivery. The most important trait that this style of producer needs is the ability to suppress his or her own ego in favor of the artist's needs, never forgetting that the artist's name is on the front of the album cover, while the producer's name is on the back. Since an artist's music is the child of his or her creative brain, it follows that this producer's job is to deliver that brainchild. Examples of this type of producer are: Jerry Wexler, George Martin, Peter Asher, Tony Brown, Don Was, and Robert John "Mutt" Lange.

The Author Style Record Producer

I used to call this style the Auteur school of record producing, borrowing the word from the French film critics of the 1960's who first proposed the idea that the director, not the writer, is the actual author of a film. But after a while, using a fifty dollar foreign word in place of the more direct English word seemed pretentious as hell, so I changed it.

This style of production is much more involved with the actual music than the first style; in fact, if you look closely at some of the producers who fall under this category, you'll see that they are at least as responsible as the artist for the musical content of the record. In some cases, even more so. This style of producer is often what's referred to in the entertainment industry as a "hyphenate," meaning someone who is doing more than one job: the writer-producer, or the producer-engineer. It is usually quite easy to tell the work of an author style producer, because no matter who the artist is, the record has an identifiable sound. Examples of the author style are: Phil Specter, L. A. Reid and Babyface, David Foster, and Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis.

Do I have a preference here? Speaking for myself, of course I do. I have chosen to work in the obstetric style because it is best suited to my own natural abilities. And that's how every budding record producer should choose the style in which they want to work. You should start by looking very carefully at your own abilities, and then asking yourself a few questions:

Are you a great organizer but only an average musician? Are you a sympathetic listener and a natural leader, but someone who shies away from the spotlight? Are you a chameleon when it comes to musical taste? Chances are you'll be an Obstetrician Style Record Producer.

Are you an excellent musician and a good, collaborative songwriter? Are you talented enough to be an artist yourself, but unwilling to stomach the idea of life on the road? Do you favor one type of music over all the others? Chances are you'll be an Author Style Record Producer.

If you study the credits on a large number of albums, you'll find that certain artists will prefer one style of producer over the other. Let's look at some examples:

Self-contained bands and singer-songwriters would be most likely to prefer working with an obstetric-style producer, since they generally do not wish their music to be altered beyond their control or intention. A producer who is adept at creating the right creative atmosphere for recording without trying to make any unwanted stylistic changes in the music is much more likely to get the results that these types of artists are seeking. A good example of someone who favors this type of production is Robert John "Mutt" Lange. In the past few years, this South African-born producer has had huge hits by artists as diverse as Def Leppard (a hard rock band from England), Billy Ocean (a pop/urban/dance artist from the Caribbean), and Shania Twain (a Nashville-based, country singer-songwriter who hails originally from Canada). Listening to them back-to-back, one is struck by how diverse these records are. Even the most astute listener would be hard-pressed to tell that they were all the work of one record producer. In fact, if an obstetric producer does the job right, the only similarity among his or her albums would be the high quality of the production.

Artists who prefer not to write their own material, or who have the ability to work in more than one style, are the ones most likely to need an author-style producer. A perfect example of someone in this category is the Los Angeles based artist-producer Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds, who has had a remarkable string of pop/urban hits both alone and with his sometime partner, L. A. Reid. In December of 1995, Babyface had hit singles by Whitney Houston (from the "Waiting To Exhale" soundtrack), TLC, Jon B., and himself. If you listen to these records back-to-back, you are struck by their stylistic unity. They all bear the unmistakable artistic stamp of Kenneth Edmonds.

Naturally, it is possible to combine elements of both of these styles, and in fact, most good producers of one style will invariably have a certain, small number of elements from the other style in their work. And some exceptional producers have combined both styles almost equally, the most famous of which is probably the legendary Quincy Jones.

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