Identifying elements within a piece that reveal the sonic fingerprint of a producer (continued)

As I stated with my last article (link here) certain producers can leave there own trademark production styles on records they produce. This results in that particular album or track, that you are essentially getting  the artist whose record it is, but through a filter that is at the producers discretion.

Today we got introduced to another 4 producers who have a distinct style, this plus the previous  4, gives me 8 different production styles to chose from. The purpose of this  will be to eventually choose one style to record a cover of John Lennon’s song “Mother” off the Plastic Ono Band album from 1970.

These new additions are as follows:

Phil Spector:

Phil Spector is a American music producer who first appeared in the 1960s pioneering the girl group sound of the time, achieving a total of 25 Top 40 hits over the space of 5 years, most of which were written or co-written by him. Some of his notable works include The Beatles final album Let it Be, The Ramones album End of a Century, as well as John Lennon’s self titled and Imagine solo albums.

One of Spector’s  production trademarks was the pioneering “Wall of sound” Technique, which he used extensively from the 1960’s on wards. The was achieved by having multiple musicians gathered in a studio, performing their parts in unison, with a microphone at one end of the room recording in mono, he then could play the mix in an echo chamber to enhance the natural reverb. Depending on how prominent Spector wanted something in the mix, he would get that part of the ensemble of musicians to stand further towards the microphone. this would record in addition to the dry signal, so both the wall of sound version and the dry version could be heard, so adjustments could be made accordingly.

If you where to walk in the room while recording, the musicians usually would be highly disciplined,but could either being out of time, or making mistakes, however this wouldn’t matter as much in the mix due to when it reverberated in the echo chamber it would blend all the different tones and sounds together. It’s also worth noting that this production technique influenced the later music genres, shoe gaze, art rock and noise rock due the nature of the wall of sound.

Below are two examples of Spectors work, the first being The Ronnette’s song “Be my Baby” and the second being “Da Do Ron Ron” by The Crystals:

Brian Eno:

Brian Eno is a musician and record producer most well known for his work with David Bowie, of which he produced the 3 albums that would form the “Berlin Trilogy”, his time in Roxy Music, as well as his work on U2’s landmark albums The Unforgettable Fire, and the Joshua Tree. He has also had some more recent success with Coldplay’s albums Viva la Vida, and Mylo Xyloto.

Eno has been a record producer every since the start of his solo career back in 1973, and that he referrers to himself as a “non musician” and that his production techniques are more referred to as “treatments”.

An Example of this would be in Roxy Music, where Eno would feed various instruments and even singer Brian Ferry’s voice through a VCS3 Synthesizer, which consisted of banks of oscillators with no keyboard input, resulting in dissonant distortions and wild tonal shifts. this can be heard on the song “Virgina Plane.”

Eno has collaborated with many artists, as a musician and producer, one of these is his work with guitarist Robert Fripp of King Crimson, of which they came up with a recording technique know as “Frippertronics.” this is an early form of looping as a single reel of tape is physically joined together at the ends and then run continuously between the outermost reels of two adjacent decks, the first of which records incoming sound and the second of which plays it back.

The two of them collaborated later with David Bowie on the album “Heroes” with the title track showing a lot of Eno influence. In the track there is a shuddering, Charing sounding synth, this was made using Eno’s EMS Synthi, much like the VCS3 Eno used in Roxy Music,  it didn’t have a keyboard input, so he would adjusted the oscillators producing a very low frequency and then play around with the noise filter.

The guitar on the track which Fripp plays is commonly mistaken for an E-Bow, but instead it was produced by Fripp’s guitar being fed into the EMS Synthi, where he would get the guitar to feedback, check to see what was the closest note frequency, and then mark it on the floor. He would then do the same moving back and forth, and making a mark where the other notes he needed to play where, and then tracked the song by changing the distance between him and the amp, using the lines for guidance.

Eno’s also has worked with U2, producing 2 of their albums, starting first with The Unforgettable fire, allowing the band to re-invent themselves musically, straying away from the Steve Lilywhite produced area-rock album that was ’84’s War. This Collaboration came about with The Edge expressing interest in Eno’s work with the Talking Heads, though Eno was hesitant to work with them because he thought their styles where really different and wouldn’t mesh together, though Bono managed to sway him to produce the record. (a link to the documentary of the making of the unforgettable fire can be found here.)

Eno’s production ethic was very different to Lilywhites’s, while lilywhite would have a particular view to how a song would go, while Eno would see how a song develops and then chase it. They chose to start recording in Slane Castle in Ireland, where Eno chose to use the large Gothic Ballroom as the main area, this was because of its 30 ft high ceiling, allowing him to capture the abundance of natural ambiance in the room, as well to allow The Edge’s already heavily delayed, reverbed guitar sound to flourish, with more focus on sounds-cape’s then conventional song structures. Eno also contributed to the album by coming up with the sonic textures on a Fairlight CMI, which then where elaborated on by adding orchestral and string segments, much like his work with Bowie. This can be found in the Making of the Unforgettable Fire documentary.

Finally Eno’s Production work encouraged lateral thinking, as in the studio, both his solo work or if he was collaborating with someone else, sometimes they would run into creative blocks, where they couldn’t work out how to move forward with the process. It was this that Eno and Peter Schmidt created a set of cards called the Oblique Strategies, which consisted of a number of suggestions, such as “Use an Old Idea” or “Honor thy Error as a Hidden Intention” in an attempt to try pursuing the idea from a different angle.

Below are two examples of Eno’s work, the first of which is David Bowie’s Heroes off the album of the same name, and also the song “Virgina Plane” By Roxy Music.


Dangermouse first appeared on the global music scene with his mash-up album “The Grey Album” in 2004. This consisted of the A cappella versions of rapper Jay-Z’s “The Black Album” and instrumental parts, looped and cut up from “The White Album” by The Beatles.

As a result Dangermouse found himself quickly in demand, producing albums for The Black Keys, The Gorrillaz, Beck, and most recently U2. He has also found success as half of the duo, Gnarls Barkley, with soul singer Cee-lo Green.

Dangermouse’s production style or “Atlanta Sound” comes from where he began as a humble assistant sound engineer for Puff Daddy’s Big Boy Records, where he mainly learned in a rap/hip-hop production style, keeping the vocals, the kick and the snare the most prominent things in the mix with heavy bass.. However during his work with Gnarls Barkley, in order to complement Cee-Lo’s vocals, the aim was to make something with a modern vocals, but more vintage backing, this involved EQing out the high and lower frequencies, due to older recording equipment not having the clarity more modern microphones have.

He also applies rap production sensibilities to other genres he produces, adding Roland 808 drum sounds to the kick and the snare to give it the more heavy bass low end that rap production usually exenterates. He claims the mid range area of a mix is “sacred” and tries to leave it pretty sparse so that the aforementioned elements are more prominent, by mixing them quieter into the mix.

When dealing with a rock band which are quiet guitar heavy, he asks them to try and see what a verse without guitar would sound like, as when it then comes in the chorus it will not only sound bigger, but will add more dynamics, free up the mid range for other instrumental elements in the verses, and keep the vocals more prominent in the mix. He also tries to get the musicians to try playing their guitar parts on different instruments to make the song more sonically diverse.

Some good examples of his work include, the song “Crazy” as part of Gnarls Barkley, “Strange Times” from the garage rock band The Black Keys, and “Feel Good Inc” by the Gorillaz.

Rick Rubin:

Rick Rubin first appeared in the earlier 80’s, initially working with Rap and Hip-Hop artists such as LL Cool J and Run D.M.C, he then moved on to do production for a  lot of heavier bands, including Slayer, Danzig, Metallica and many more.

Rubin was one of the first producers to start applying a rap production style to rock recordings, having them stripped back, focusing on the main elements of the song, with the vocals, kick and snare being most prominent. This production style used to almost exclude all forms of production added elements, such as strings segments, backing vocals etc, but some of his later work has included them, abide at a very minimal level. Dangermouse takes a fair bit of his production style from Rubin’s methods.

One of Rubin’s trademarks is that he encourages the groups he produces to foray into different genres, to add diversity to their music. This can be seen by how he re-ignited Aerosmith’s career by getting them to collaborate with Run D.M.C on the track “Walk this Way” laying the foundation for rap influenced rock bands, or by Johnny Cash covering Industrial rock band  Nine Inch Nails’ song “Hurt.”

However Rubin has also been also criticized for adding to the phenomenon that is the Loudness war. In a separate article I will speak about the Loudness War, but in a nutshell the Loudness War refers to how popular music starting from the early 00’s  has been getting more compressed due to producers wanting the overall volume level of their mix louder. As a result the compressed music lacks the clarity, as the higher frequencies have been brought down in the mix, resulting in a more “muddier” sounding track.

Some albums that Rubin has produced which have been effected by this include the Red Hot Chilli Peppers album “Californication”, “Death Magnetic” by Metallica, and most recently the album “13” by Black Sabbath, where “clipping” occurs distorting the signal.

Some of Rubin’s non clipped works include “Its Tricky” by Run D.M.C,  and Danzig’s “Mother” both of which show a minimalist production style.

So here is another 4 producers who I have spot lighted so that I could potential mimic for their production techniques. It was very interesting reading up on all of them.



2 thoughts on “Identifying elements within a piece that reveal the sonic fingerprint of a producer (continued)

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