How do you see the producer's role in the studio? Seal has some fairly clear ideas on the subject...
"The producers that I have respect for are the last of a disappearing breed. They're disappearing! I feel that music is suffering because of it. I laugh when I see these people that call themselves producers — these bloody glorified remixers that have just remixed two records that happen to be a hit, and they think they can call themselves producers. I just think, well, you're talented, yes, but you are not a producer — not in my eyes.
"A producer is a multi-faceted individual. A producer is somebody who understands music theory, so he can communicate and converse with other musicians. A producer is somebody who knows what it is to write a song, the process involved in writing a song. A producer is also somebody who can play an instrument, and has worked on many diverse types of records.
"A producer can take the artist's vision and realise it, and make it coherent and understandable to the masses. As simple as that sounds, that is probably the most difficult thing. You've got to use your expertise and the way that you listen to music, but you've got to keep your personal agenda out, and at the same time, you have to be creative. You've also got to remember that it's the artist's record — you've got to be able to realise the dream of that artist, help them. But that becomes extremely difficult when they're singers and songwriters, because that generally means they've got a personal attachment to the stuff. If I was just a singer, you'd wheel me in and I'd just sing the songs you'd already written and then I'd leave you and you'd go and produce the record. But if I'm writing it, that generally means that it's quite personal, so I can be quite precious about it. You've got to be able to deal with all the different musicians, all their different egos and their temperaments. You've got to know when to push all of us when we're not being pushed enough, and when not to push.
"For example, when you work with Trevor Horn, as an artist, he makes you feel like you are the only person that exists in the world. He makes you feel like he is your biggest fan. He makes you feel like he is a fan of everything you do, even if he isn't! He makes you feel that way because he realises the importance of nurturing or cultivating an idea that you're trying to express. He might not even understand it at the time, but that doesn't mean it's not worth pursuing. And that's why we've done four albums together, even though he's never made more than two albums with anyone else. He's brilliant.
"I've often been asked why I continue to make records with him. I have actually tried other producers, all good people, but they don't bring out what Trevor brings out in me.
"I could never be a producer because I don't have one of the most important qualities: the focus. The fucking focus. The ability to stay in the studio hours after everyone has gone home, figure it out and bear the responsibility. And make that record the best you can make it. For example, Trevor will try to make something work, as far as the orchestration is concerned, but if it's getting in the way, if he's distracted by something and he can't bury it or make it mix, he'll axe it. It's out. And he takes care and pays attention to my vocal track, so that when a person is listening to the record, they have all these things, all this depth going on around it, but they never lose sight of what they're buying the record for, which is the vocal. Very difficult to do. I have so much respect for him. Even for things like Tatu. I just love it that he can do something like that, and suddenly everyone remembers that he can make records. You see, when you don't have a hit record or when you're not in the public eye for a while, people think you've forgotten how to make records or write songs. But you don't produce 90125 or Lexicon Of Love and then suddenly lose that ability.
"I think that Trevor is the last of that disappearing breed. There are certain producers that are the flavour of the moment, and everything they do with every artist sounds like them. And to me, that's not a producer — that's an artist. I listen to certain tracks and I don't want to hear the production first, or the identity of the producer — I want to hear the artist first. Trevor once told me, 'If I make you sound good, then I've done my job'. That is a real producer."
Seal (www.seal.com) was interviewed by Ian Peel. His latest album, Seal IV, is out now.