By Stuart Rodger
When accepting her Grammy award for Best Song back in 2012, Adele took to the podium with a seemingly random man, and introduced him to the audience. “This is Paul Epworth,” she said. “He’s the best producer in the world and he brought me out of my skin to write this record.”
The last fifty years have seen the expectations of music producers grow rapidly. At any point in making a record, a producer might have to undergo the duties of an arranger, a programmer, a songwriter or even a performer in the actual recording. Or, in the case of Stephen Street’s work with Blur in the mid-nineties, the producer may be asked to act as a peacemaker, drinking buddy or psychotherapist.
Steve Levine, Chairman of the Music Producers Guild, stresses the importance and responsibility of producing records of all genres. He once said, “The relationship between a producer and an artist is very interesting. Success or failure is on your shoulders.” This level of expectation has led to Levine campaigning to make studio credits visible on iTunes as a means of making the producers work known to music listeners.
So, with Adele claiming Epworth is “the best producer in the world”, his body of work surely deserves further exploration. Most recently the London-born maestro helped Adele on her way to picking up another award: a Golden Globe for Bond theme Skyfall. He also produced critically acclaimed album Ceremonials, by Florence and the Machine, and can be credited with helping Plan B, Primal Scream, Kate Nash and Maximo Park in their respective assaults on the UK charts.
Epworth’s attitude to his role as producer reveals that it’s not all fun and games. “I’m testament to hard work over natural talent,” he says. “I look back at the hours I did and I can’t believe I did it. I’d get to the studio at 7am, work all day and finish at 5am, get two hours sleep, and then come back again”.
He also eloquently expresses his opinions regarding the relationship between producer and artist. “I try to bare my soul to the artist so they can drop their guard and take a risk. You have to make someone feel that it’s ok to share their deepest, darkest thoughts and feelings. The best music has a jaw-dropping candour.”
Butch Vig, another of the producers renowned for being one of the best in the business, is best known for producing the hugely successful Nevermind by Nirvana. This endeavour was the first of many grunge albums that Vig went on to produce; he was also the man behind Siamese Dream by The Smashing Pumpkins.
Like Epworth, Vig stresses the importance of his job in managing the relationships between artist
and producer. When discussing his work with Smashing Pumpkins, Vig remarks, “Smashing Pumpkins were very dysfunctional. A lot of that tension is what makes them a great live band, but in the studio it was very hard and I had to play the father figure a lot”.
So, with the current generation of musicians selling their albums by the millions (albeit through iTunes – sorry HMV) it seems only fair to pay attention to the sound makers, the arrangers, the performers, the peacemakers, the instructors, the programmers, the father figures and the taskmasters. If more musicians spoke up, like Adele did, maybe these guys would get the recognition they so thoroughly deserve.
Taken from the February Issue of Scotcampus