Addressing one of the most common misconceptions in modern music making.
With the advent of music technology and the resulting boom in bedroom beatmakers from all corners of the internet, the term “producer” seems to have become corrupted into a synonym for beat maker.
What’s a producer?
Historically, a record producer rarely played on the actual record, but instead was an experienced head who provided a bridge between the artist / band, who often had little studio experience, the more technical engineers (who were often in those days actual electronic engineers, specialising in sound equipment), and the management suits, who were more interested in having a marketable final product.
Being able to translate the artist’s vision into technical terms, or vice versa, or to massage the more outlandish ideas into a label-friendly result, was an essential part of the job. The producer had to be a master of all three worlds, and a consummate negotiator to try and ensure that everyone was happy.
Over the years, certain producers gained a cult following of their own, and as the role of music producer became more desirable, it attracted musicians and songwriters as well as ex-engineers, who brought a more creative aspect to the role.
So what’s a beatmaker then?
The term beatmaker arose out of hip hop, where kids with drum machines would literally make drum beats for rappers to rap over.
As digital technology became cheaper and more freely available in the 90s and 00s, the drum machines changed into computers, and DAWs + virtual synths gave birth to more electronic forms of music such as trap vs the classic “boom bap” sounds of the 90s.
They sound pretty different. So why the confusion?
As rappers and singers started hooking up with beatmakers, some of these tracks blew up. Beatmakers like DJ Mustard and, in his early days, Kanye, although he’s now a producer in his own right, started to have strings of hits.
However, in most cases, a producer was still required to knit the beat and vocal together in a studio, to ensure the finished track sounded like a cohesive record.
Unfortunately, the album credits often list the beatmaker as a co-producer, and so it became common for beatmakers to start calling themselves producers, despite their lack of experience in making finished records.
To further muddy the waters, the pop world has now adopted the phrase “beat” to describe an instrumental track which is then sent to a team of songwriters to have a “topline” (vocal) put on it.
Erm, do I need a beatmaker or a producer then?
If you are staring at a blank page, trying to write a song and you’re stuck for ideas, a beatmaker may be able to help you. They can provide a number of backing tracks which will hopefully give you a starting point (key, tempo, mood etc) which you can then write a vocal over.
However, if you have already written a song which you want to turn into a finished, releasable record, you really need a producer to put the best possible arrangement around it in your chosen style to enable the lyrics and melody to have the most emotional impact for your audience.