Years ago, kids became interested in making music by picking up an instrument and learning how to play it. Not only were they learning the rudiments of melody, chord structure and composition, but through playing with other musicians, they were learning how to be musicians themselves. They would form bands, play gigs, and maybe even get as far as a record deal, all from the initial desire to play an instrument.
Today's kids, however, have a choice. They can either learn to play an instrument, or with a relatively small outlay they can buy a computer, some sequencing software and a sampler, and learn how to create tracks. By experimenting on computers and DJ decks, they are certainly making music, but they are not learning how to be musicians in the traditional sense, and as a result their compositions can appear to lack a certain musicality.
Maybe a traditional grounding is not needed to make computer-generated dance music, and if dance producers and remixers are creating music that the public enjoys listening to and wants to buy, who has the right to criticise? One thing that should be considered though, is that there is still a definite role for older producers in the dance market, because their experience is invaluable when it comes to recording 'live' instruments.
There is a definite skill involved when working with singers and instrumentalists. A good producer has to act as an interface between the artist and the tape recorder, and coax/encourage/drag a great performance from that artist. Many of the younger producers who started out at DJs and remixers don't have a strong background in production. They haven't worked their way up through the ranks of tea-boy, tape-op, assistant engineer and so on, in a studio where they can learn by watching more experienced people at work. As a result, their general production skills are not as finely tuned as they might be.
Getting a good vocal from an artist is something that really has to be learned through experience, so it's no surprise that when a remixer from a club background is asked to produce a vocalist, they often come unstuck -- not because they don't have the talent, but because they have never had the opportunity to learn the relevant skills, and have no experience of this type of recording. Also, in many dance tracks and remixes, vocals are often so oversimplified that they sometimes become nothing more than a repetitive phrase or riff. When a track is remixed, the remixer may change the whole backing track, restructure the vocals, alter the tempo, and even change the key, resulting in the vocals becoming so divorced from the music that the two elements are no longer dependent on each other.
If you want to create a cross-over hit, you often need a more emotionally stimulating vocal and lyric as well as a great backing track. Record companies now recognise this, and tend to employ separate producers and remixers. They get the more experienced producer to record a good vocal track and then rely on the DJ/remixer, who usually understands the current dance floor trends, to come up with the backing track to launch the record via the clubs into the charts.
There is no moral to all this, but there is a conclusion -- a little more understanding and teamwork -- something that was advocated by many producers and remixers at the RePro Remixing seminar, held last year. In theory this is a great idea, but in practice the more 'traditional' producer and the remixer/DJ have too little in common for it to work successfully. For the time being at least, dance music will continue to be split between two people in two different studios, producing music in totally different ways, but who are both ultimately working towards the same basic goal -- a hit record.
Most recently, Phil Da Costa has been concentrating on his production, remixing, and songwriting career. He has produced singles by Ipso Facto (Debut/Skratch), Jenny Jay (indisc/Arcade) and remixes for Imagination (Berwick St), Conrad (indisc/Arcade) and Jannicke (MD Records, Norway). Latest productions include two tracks on the new Jaki Graham album Real Life (Avex/Pulse 8) and five tracks on the Technoclassix album (Avex). Comfortable working in any style of music as an engineer, producer or remixer, Phil is busy with his latest project -- his own 24-track pre-production studio.
Matt Robertson: Björk's Musical Director
Björk's stage show is bizarre and beautiful, and it takes a team of dedicated musicians, technicians, programmers and designers to make it happen.
Maxime Le Guil: Recording Vincent Delerm's Les Amants Parallèles
Under the guidance of engineer and producer Maxime Le Guil, Vincent Delerm forsook grand orchestration for the humble piano — bowed, plucked and hammered...
Inside Track: The 1975 'Chocolate'
The 1975's chart-topping album is just one of a string of hit debuts engineered, mixed and produced by Mike Crossey.
Ron & Russell Mael: 45 Years In Showbiz
From elaborate band arrangements to their pioneering collaborations with Giorgio Moroder, Sparks' music has always been innovative and instantly identifiable.
Will Gregory: Recording Tales Of Us
Will Gregory took the unconventional decision to base Goldfrapp's latest album around a single instrument — which he couldn't play!
On Tour With Green Day
Backstage at a major festival in France, we caught up with the man who has been mixing one of the biggest names in punk for the last 14 years.
Inside Track: Tamar Braxton Love And War
Love And War was not only a remarkable comeback for singer Tamar Braxton, but a breakthrough opportunity for engineer and mixer Mikey Donaldson.
Reviving The West Coast Sound
For Jonathan Wilson, the quality of recorded music peaked in late-'70s LA. His own production career has been a quest to scale the same heights.
Inside Track: Secrets Of The Mix Engineers
A simple song and an outrageous video turned Robin Thicke from a star to a superstar — with the aid of master mixer Tony Maserati.
Composer & Producer
Many classically trained musicians have ended up playing rock. Ólafur Arnalds' career has gone in the opposite direction...
Years before the Minimoog appeared, a Finnish visionary was already building digital polyphonic synthesizers — and they were controlled by light, skin conductivity and even brainwaves.
Secrets Of The Mix Engineers: Duncan Mills
Jamie Cullum's sixth studio album, Momentum, sees the British pianist and singer further expanding his stylistic palette.
Recording Born Sinner
Hey man, nobody ever asks me about this stuff. I love talking about it, so thank you,” exclaims J. Cole.
David Schreurs & Jan Van Wieringen:Recording The Shocking Miss Emerald
Tired of trying to make money, Caro Emerald's production team chose to make music they loved. The result was a worldwide hit album...
Secrets Of The Mix Engineers: Andrew Scheps
Under the guidance of Rick Rubin, Black Sabbath returned to their roots. Mixed by Andrew Scheps, the resulting album topped charts worldwide.
Peter Franco & Mick Guzauski: Recording Random Access Memories
Daft Punk spent four years and over a million dollars on their quest to revisit the golden age of record production. Mick Guzauski and Peter Franco were with them all the way.
Secrets Of The Mix Engineers: Ken Andrews
Ken Andrews won a blind shoot-out against some of the biggest names in the mixing world. His prize: the plum job of mixing Paramore’s acclaimed comeback album.
Recording Live To Vinyl
Vinyl is still the listening format of choice for many consumers. Using it as a recording format is more of a challenge!
Secrets Of The Mix Engineers: Producer Jack Douglas
Their latest album saw Aerosmith return to their roots, with Jack Douglas in the producer’s chair. But it wasn’t all retro...
Janus: Gravedigger Then And Now
Signed to Harvest, Janus made one album — and hated the way it sounded. Four decades later, they finally got the chance to mix it properly...
Producing Emeli Sandé
Shahid Khan has gone from pizza delivery man to in-demand producer — with a little help from Noel Edmonds.
Alan Moulder | Secrets Of The Mix Engineers
The film of Led Zeppelin’s reunion concert was five years in the making — yet Alan Moulder had only three weeks to mix the entire soundtrack!
Secrets Of The Mix Engineers: 2012 London Olympics
Underpinning the biggest spectacle of 2012 London Olympic Games was probably the largest multitrack recording ever made. Just how do you mix a thousand-track project?
Musical Director For The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Concert
Mike Stevens has worked with some of the world’s biggest pop acts at countless high-profile live events, including the Queen’s recent Diamond Jubilee concert.