The musician as producer

Photograph of Timbaland against an orange background

Timbaland, © MTV Music

The traditional separation between the control room and the studio suggests that power relationships are at work in the recording process. As Steve Jones (1992: 156) notes, this separation illustrates the

"separation between musical activity and production activity... musicians occupy the studio; the producer and engineer remain in the control room, and presumably remain in control."

However, such power relationships are not always the case and the last forty years have seen many musicians becoming more involved with the production of their own music.

In the 1960s it became common for rock artists to both write and perform their own material, and this had a knock-on effect on the studio. Many successful artists were in a position to negotiate much more control in the creative process. This included a more hands-on approach to the production side, with musicians often composing in the studio and having much more of a say in how their music was recorded. Indeed the financial and creative muscle of the late-1960s generation of rock stars meant that in some instances they were allowed to produce themselves. (Joni Mitchell, for instance, is credited as producer on her 'Ladies of the Canyon' album of 1970). This change was also related to developments in technology which meant that the studio could now be used almost as an instrument. The Beach Boys' 1966 album 'Pet Sounds', for instance, was produced by Brian Wilson himself. The album featured pioneering techniques using four- and eight-track recorders to achieve Wilson's complex multi-layered arrangements. Not content with self-production, Wilson and other stars such as Paul McCartney were producing records for other artists by the late 1960s.

The increasing scope given to some musicians also meant that in some cases recording moved out of the studio environment. Neil Young's highly acclaimed 1970 album 'After the Gold Rush' was recorded in the basement of his Topanga Canyon home and was co-produced by long-time collaborator David Briggs and Young himself. The Rolling Stones went one step further by investing in their own mobile recording unit which enabled them to record their mid-1970s record albums at Mick Jagger's Stargrove home in Newbury and at Villa Nellcôte, a sixteen-room chateau in the south of France. The idea proved to be popular, and the Stones' mobile unit was used to record a number of classic rock albums of the 1970s including Led Zeppelin's 'III' and 'IV' and Deep Purple's 'Machine Head' and 'Burn'. The 1970s also saw the success of a new breed of producer/artists such as Todd Rundgren and Boston's Tom Scholz.

With contemporary styles of dance music and hip-hop the lines between performer and producer are even more unclear. Producers such as Pharrell Williams, Sean Combs (P Diddy) and Timbaland have become stars in their own right. All are primarily known for their original signature sounds, songwriting and arrangement on the records of others (which are marketed using their names as well as the name of the artist) and have also released their own successful projects as performers.