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Unsung Heroes

Leader
By Paul White

The sad death of Sir George Martin earlier this year got me thinking just how important producers are, and in the case of Sir George, how essential he was to creating the sound of the Beatles — and, indeed, many of the other acts he worked with. He’s often cited as being the fifth Beatle, but I think he might just deserve the title of the first Beatle. After all, he was the one who saw potential in what we are told was, at the time, a rather rough band that had seen their share of rejection. Without him, they may never even have got started. I only met him once, when handling the live sound for one of his garden parties, but his approachable manner and gentle sense of humour were obvious, and these are such valuable attributes when working with musicians, both when engineering and producing.Paul White

So many people go to college to study production or audio engineering, and to a greater or lesser extent they come out with the necessary practical skills — but with so many people now taking these courses, a high level of technical proficiency is just the start when it comes to getting work. The real skill lies in handling the fragile egos and insecurities of creative musicians in a way that encourages them to give of their very best. It certainly isn’t a job I’d want to do full time, as I’m not sure I could maintain the necessary calm for long periods when dealing with difficult people (cue the joke that asks what is the difference between a studio engineer and a toilet seat...), but I have known engineers and producers who are just brilliant at that. I’m fortunate enough to be able to pick and choose projects that I work on, but when it is your main job, you have to deal with pretty much whatever comes along until you climb to the top of the tree, in which case you may have the luxury of more choice. However, it’s a pretty tall tree...

The other talent that makes certain producers stand out is the ability to look at a song and then imagine it being put together in a different way that makes it more appealing to the listener. Sometimes it is difficult to get the artist to go along with your ideas, so again, your personality is what will help get your views across without starting a feud. Nobody said it was easy, but a person with the right bedside manner and the necessary musical vision can achieve great things — even if they don’t always get the recognition they deserve. Oh, and the punchline to the joke, for the few who don’t already know it, is that a toilet seat only has to deal with one arsehole at a time!

Published June 2016