Masters of Production Part 1: The Curse of Albini
In the run up to the 20th anniversary of Nirvana's In Utero, the album Wal Mart helped to change the tracklist of, you can't have failed to notice the original letter to Kurt from God Like Genius Producer Steve Albini making the rounds.Producers can get way too much credit and power, or else way too little.Albini is just one of the best in a long line of luminaries that have made great music possible, made it themselves, or prevented it being made. And I've decided to delve darkly into that credit we so often ignore, curse or fail to understand. Buckle up and adjust the Bass a bit...We'll start at the start and get to Steve later.Our era is as devoid of decency as it is of irony. The fact that this letter rejects usual corporate cock in a way that perhaps his Seattle friends could not, and that the release of it actually IS a PR thing, is little commented upon.I must Declare a Disinterest. I never was INTO Nirvana. I did not dislike them, and view their work with a lot of respect.Respect is not interest, however. I knew bands that came before, and the perhaps necessary but still uncomfortable "alternative to MTV yet ON MTV" contradiction was hard to swallow. I bit like a hipster pop up Burrito Cafe that just happens to be welcome at and located within Pizza Hut.Perhaps the whole thing was analogous to the under acclaimed work of master Director, Paul Verhoeven. Paul made "mainstream" films like Robocop, Basic Instinct, Showgirls and Starship Troopers. The multiplex livestock LOVED them.But if you're open to it, there is a totally true alternative vibe going down. Showgirls is not just an uber camp way to see teen idols get nekkid, but one of the most intelligent, abstract expressionist film noirs ever made (and very clearly referred to in David Lynch's Mulholland Drive). Starship Troopers is not just dumb multiplex mong bang fodder, but a dark satire on the fascistic New Age DNA of mainstream Sci-Fi and the hyperconnected, vapid World to Come. Paul's Producers stopped loving and funding him when they finally got the joke - and it was on them.At least Film Producers usually have a very clear role. They manage the money and people to get the result."Record Producer" is far less useful term. A Producer could be a record label impresario, DJ and businessman with some technical chops like Sam Phillips. Or they could be an electronics genius and sonic artist with an interest in leather like Joe Meek. A control freak with heroic hair and a firearms obsession like Phil Spector. A collaborative tape dub innovator like Teo Macero. A Multilevel Messiah like King Tubby. Or just overpaid snow blinded oaf.But what are the different sorts, and how should a producer behave? Let me rip off Wikipedia to start off the debate:"A record producer is an individual working within the music industry, whose job is to oversee and manage the recording (i.e. "production") of an artist's music. A producer has many roles that may include, but are not limited to, gathering ideas for the project, selecting songs and/or musicians, coaching the artist and musicians in the studio, controlling the recording sessions, and supervising the entire process through mixing and mastering. Producers also often take on a wider entrepreneurial role, with responsibility for the budget, schedules, and negotiations.Today, the recording industry has two kinds of producers: executive producer and music producer; they have different roles. While an executive producer oversees a project's finances, a music producer oversees the creation of the music.A music producer can, in some cases, be compared to a film director, with noted practitioner Phil Ek himself describing his role as "the person who creatively guides or directs the process of making a record, like a director would a movie. The engineer would be more the cameraman of the movie." The music producer's job is to create, shape, and mold a piece of music. The scope of responsibility may be one or two songs or an artist's entire album � in which case the producer will typically develop an overall vision for the album and how the various songs may interrelate.In the US, before the rise of the record producer, someone from A&R would oversee the recording session(s), assuming responsibility for creative decisions relating to the recording."You can see the tensions implicit in the idea of a producer right there. "Oversees the creation of the music." Now that could mean being a tech bod that makes sure the record that's cut is the best record (as in media representation) of a band in performance, or a puppetmaster putting a pretty pop face on their own innovations and groupie pumpin greed.And as we revealed before, the majors are in a back catalogue barrel scraping time. So sometimes the original band's vision was somehow compromised by production, and an earlier version of the record can be brought out and resold. Or else maybe the original producer somehow was thwarted by the moneymen, or the artist lost their nerve...all these are superb reasons to sling out a Special Edition.So tune in next time to another Special Edition Sleeve where we'll look at the first generation of producers from the Jim Crow infested swamps of Memphis to Los Angeles Gun Club with a very special detour to 304 Holloway Road.