What Exactly Does a Producer Do?

By Steve Millikan

So what exactly does a producer do? If I had a dime for every time I've been asked that question – and it is a legitimate one – I could pose a formidable multiplication problem to my son.

Hm, let's see – I play the keyboards, do most of the arranging, and sing backup vocals, but none of that is necessary for a producer. My job is to make the best record possible with the available resources – money, time, ability of the artist, the songs, the musicians, studios, engineers, etc.

The songs are my first priority. In any field, it's hard to make it without really good songs. I once made a record for $12,000 that sold over 100,000 copies. How? Great songs. Now a great song is not what critics say is a great song. They can guess, but the people know. They know it when they hear it. It makes them buy a record. It makes them cry. It makes them feel as though the singer knows exactly what it's like to fail, to be wanted, to be loved, to be disappointed, and it makes them feel those feelings deep inside. It gives them hope. It can change their lives.

The second most important lesson I learned about producing was that I don't have all the good ideas, my ego not withstanding. I don't have to. During the course of a project, there are so many creative people involved. The producer, hopefully, is one of them. The players, the engineers, the artist and other involved can make valuable contributions to the recording process.

Recently I finished mastering Ray Boltz' latest record, Seasons Change. I co-produced it with Phil Naish, who also produces for Steven Curtis Chapman, Michael Card and others. Ray thinks it is his best record yet. I personally think it will surpass Thriller in total sales.

Anyway, I hope that gives you a little bit better idea of what a producer-type person does, If you really have a deep grasp of it, write me a letter and enlighten me. And don't forget, ye budding artists, the song is the thing. If you're a writer, your songs probably need more work. (Trust me). Write, rewrite, rearrange, rethink, rewrite. If you're a singer but not a writer, search incessantly until you find the right songs that say just what you want to say for our audience.

If you're a producer or a producer wanna-be leave your ego at home, learn all you can about music, recording equipment techniques, and don't forget that four-letter song, SONG.

Thanks for letting me answer some question you probably weren't asking . . .

Steve Millikan is a record producer and musician.