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Producers/engineers: Do you have a "sound?" Is an identifiable "sound" a good thing?

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  • Producers/engineers: Do you have a "sound?" Is an identifiable "sound" a good thing?

    What I mean by that is a distinct sonic signature or "sound" that you're known for, or that is unique and identifiable.



    Some producers and engineers have very individual sonic styles, and they're known for certain things. For example, one of my heroes, Roger Nichols, was well known for his impeccably clean and technically well-executed recordings. Others are known for other specific things about their approach, working methodology, sound, or style. Another example - Phil Spector's "Wall of Sound" and love for mono. Can you think of others?



    How about you? Is that something that people tell you that you've achieved, or that they have noticed about your work? Is it something that you strive for? Is a sonic signature, or being known for a certain approach to your work actually a "good thing", and if so, in what ways? Is there anything to be said for taking a less identifiable approach with each record - being more of a sonic chameleon? Or maybe having a sonic signature that you're aware of and can adapt, accentuate, or minimize as required by the musical situation at hand is the key. What do you think?*



    I'm really interested in reading what everyone thinks about all of this.









    *That reminds me of an old joke...



    Q. How many producers does it take to screw in a light bulb?

    A. I dunno - what do you think?
    **********

    "Look at it this way: think of how stupid the average person is, and then realize half of 'em are stupider than that."

    - George Carlin

    "It shouldn't be expected that people are necessarily doing what they appear to be doing on records."

    - Sir George Martin, All You Need Is Ears

    "The music business will be revitalized by musicians, not the labels or Live Nation. When the musicians decide to put music first, instead of money, the public will flock to the fruits and the scene will be healthy again."

    - Bob Lefsetz, The Lefsetz Letter

  • #2
    I like the topic, though I'm not a producer or engineer



    A few producers that come to mind whose signatures are as much a part of the sound as the artist:



    Bob Ezrin

    Chris Thomas

    Roy Thomas Baker

    Mutt Lange

    Steve Lillywhite

    Trevor Horn

    Flood

    Nigel Godrich

    Dave Fridmann



    The pro to having a signature sound is that the artist can somewhat anticipate or predict what the chemistry will be like between the compositions, performances, arrangements, and production values. This can be useful if the artist already has some sort of vision for the project.



    I suppose the con is that the producers might end up putting themselves in a corner, and once their sonic style has become passe, it might be more difficult to reinvent themselves.

    Comment


    • #3
      I like the topic, though I'm not a producer or engineer



      A few producers that come to mind whose signatures are as much a part of the sound as the artist:



      Bob Ezrin

      Chris Thomas

      Roy Thomas Baker

      Mutt Lange

      Steve Lillywhite

      Trevor Horn

      Flood

      Nigel Godrich

      Dave Fridmann



      The pro to having a signature sound is that the artist can somewhat anticipate or predict what the chemistry will be like between the compositions, performances, arrangements, and production values. This can be useful if the artist already has some sort of vision for the project.



      I suppose the con is that the producers might end up putting themselves in a corner, and once their sonic style has become passe, it might be more difficult to reinvent themselves.

      Comment


      • #4
        Phil, I'e read some of your philosophy on bringing out the best in the artist and the performance; but if you had to describe your own identifiable sonic signature, what would it be? What are your tendencies when you are asked to shape the song or performance?

        Comment


        • #5
          Phil, I'e read some of your philosophy on bringing out the best in the artist and the performance; but if you had to describe your own identifiable sonic signature, what would it be? What are your tendencies when you are asked to shape the song or performance?

          Comment


          • #6
            I'm right in the middle of a million problem cluster**************** right now, regarding a major studio redesign, and

            I need a distraction, so put this in your pipe and smoke it you f-ing dopefiends...

            As a producer, I dont have a signature sound, but rather many. It is directly proportional to the type of material. For punkish and metallic, it's raw and distorted, carefree and angery, for classical and refined, it's quiet and pure, and hella sublime for nuance shine, for electronica it's loud and in your face, for maximum grace. For pop and hop, It has to thump enough to punch you in the gut and leave a dent in your mind. For guitar driven power chording, it is clean and mean with the FX in between, for vocalism driven ism's it's loud and proud not fit for the cloud. Get the idea? Most of these techniques are derived from the material itself, and then the gear play's it's part, which is huge. The more tools in your box, and the more profficeint you are with using them will allow you to identify and refine your own signature sound, I know for a fact I have several, but also that they are always changing and evolving. Also the quality of the gear you use is going to vary the result considerably. With mega $ studio's, they can come up with any type of sonic signature they like, for they usually have equipment and skills enough to produce in any direction they please. As they say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and the pro's do this all the time: stealing, borrowing, copying and learning off each other. I go outta me way to do just the opposite, for I may stand on the shoulders of giant's I have no intention or interest in repeating the past for my own or any other's benefit.

            I wish I had time enough in my life to produce all the idea's in my head, I woke up this morning dreaming of a 16 note bass riff that almost made me piss my pant's . By the time I got my coffee it was gone.

            Nowhere is a song more important than in your own head, for it matters not when your dead.

            Work with others or by yourself the lesson is the journey and the destination unknown...

            Comment


            • #7
              I'm right in the middle of a million problem cluster**************** right now, regarding a major studio redesign, and
              I need a distraction, so put this in your pipe and smoke it you f-ing dopefiends...
              As a producer, I dont have a signature sound, but rather many. It is directly proportional to the type of material. For punkish and metallic, it's raw and distorted, carefree and angery, for classical and refined, it's quiet and pure, and hella sublime for nuance shine, for electronica it's loud and in your face, for maximum grace. For pop and hop, It has to thump enough to punch you in the gut and leave a dent in your mind. For guitar driven power chording, it is clean and mean with the FX in between, for vocalism driven ism's it's loud and proud not fit for the cloud. Get the idea? Most of these techniques are derived from the material itself, and then the gear play's it's part, which is huge. The more tools in your box, and the more profficeint you are with using them will allow you to identify and refine your own signature sound, I know for a fact I have several, but also that they are always changing and evolving. Also the quality of the gear you use is going to vary the result considerably. With mega $ studio's, they can come up with any type of sonic signature they like, for they usually have equipment and skills enough to produce in any direction they please. As they say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and the pro's do this all the time: stealing, borrowing, copying and learning off each other. I go outta me way to do just the opposite, for I may stand on the shoulders of giant's I have no intention or interest in repeating the past for my own or any other's benefit.
              I wish I had time enough in my life to produce all the idea's in my head, I woke up this morning dreaming of a 16 note bass riff that almost made me piss my pant's . By the time I got my coffee it was gone.
              Nowhere is a song more important than in your own head, for it matters not when your dead.
              Work with others or by yourself the lesson is the journey and the destination unknown...

              Comment


              • #8
                I think it's harder to say whether engineers have a signature sound (or should), since they are responsible for executing the vision of the artist and the producer. Abbey Road had hundreds of nameless engineers in addition to Geoff Emerick, and I'm sure they all executed their jobs impeccably, but do they have a sound? There are a lot of engineers who are known for present, balanced, punchy or warm sounds--but that sounds like a long-winded way of saying "good," which isn't much of a description at all.



                When the engineer also mixes and sometimes produces, I think the sound presents itself more obviously. Alan Moulder and Steve Albini come to mind. But then you have the guys who rarely touch a microphone or a fader, and they still have an obvious sound, like Rick Rubin.



                There's also the team effort thing where it would be hard to separate who is doing what. "The Joshua Tree" has Brian Eno, Daniel Lanois, but also Flood and Steve Lillywhite. But Steve Lillywhite only mixed four of the tracks, and the rest were done by this guy: http://www.recordproduction.com/mark_wallis.htm



                (I never knew that until very recently)

                Comment


                • #9
                  I think it's harder to say whether engineers have a signature sound (or should), since they are responsible for executing the vision of the artist and the producer. Abbey Road had hundreds of nameless engineers in addition to Geoff Emerick, and I'm sure they all executed their jobs impeccably, but do they have a sound? There are a lot of engineers who are known for present, balanced, punchy or warm sounds--but that sounds like a long-winded way of saying "good," which isn't much of a description at all.



                  When the engineer also mixes and sometimes produces, I think the sound presents itself more obviously. Alan Moulder and Steve Albini come to mind. But then you have the guys who rarely touch a microphone or a fader, and they still have an obvious sound, like Rick Rubin.



                  There's also the team effort thing where it would be hard to separate who is doing what. "The Joshua Tree" has Brian Eno, Daniel Lanois, but also Flood and Steve Lillywhite. But Steve Lillywhite only mixed four of the tracks, and the rest were done by this guy: http://www.recordproduction.com/mark_wallis.htm



                  (I never knew that until very recently)

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    As I've gotten older I have developed more of a sound in my head that I strive for than I did in my younger days.



                    When I was younger I was into all the latest technology and sounds as they came out.

                    Gated snares, digital synths, lots of digital reverb and effects etc.. When I listen to some of the recordings that I made twenty years ago I cringe. Not because of the material but because of the production choices I made at the time. They sound extremely cheesy and dated to me now.



                    Today I think more in terms of what I consider to be timeless or classic sounds. Things like Hammond organs, vintage synths, acoustic pianos, Rhodes and Wurltzer pianos and other electro-mechanical instruments like mellotrons etc... I also try to use less distortion on guitars than I used to but the biggest thing that I focus on now that I really didn't used to be as concerned with would have to be drum sounds.



                    I have really come to appreciate the sound (and playing styles) of the drums on the classic rock records of the sixties and seventies. I feel that those sounds play a major part in what I and other people like about classic rock music and I rarely hear any new music that has those sounds. In fact a lot of what I don't like about a lot of modern music has to do with how the drums sound.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      As I've gotten older I have developed more of a sound in my head that I strive for than I did in my younger days.



                      When I was younger I was into all the latest technology and sounds as they came out.

                      Gated snares, digital synths, lots of digital reverb and effects etc.. When I listen to some of the recordings that I made twenty years ago I cringe. Not because of the material but because of the production choices I made at the time. They sound extremely cheesy and dated to me now.



                      Today I think more in terms of what I consider to be timeless or classic sounds. Things like Hammond organs, vintage synths, acoustic pianos, Rhodes and Wurltzer pianos and other electro-mechanical instruments like mellotrons etc... I also try to use less distortion on guitars than I used to but the biggest thing that I focus on now that I really didn't used to be as concerned with would have to be drum sounds.



                      I have really come to appreciate the sound (and playing styles) of the drums on the classic rock records of the sixties and seventies. I feel that those sounds play a major part in what I and other people like about classic rock music and I rarely hear any new music that has those sounds. In fact a lot of what I don't like about a lot of modern music has to do with how the drums sound.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        I think whether having a "signature sound" is a good thing or a bad thing very much depends on what the sound is. If you become known for a sound that's something of a gimmick, it's likely to become worn and dated after awhile. I thought ELO had some good records in the 70s, but in the 80s when Jeff Lynne started producing everybody and their brother and making them all sound exactly like ELO with a different singer... well, I wanted to strangle the guy. And, honestly, the Spector Wall of Sound wears pretty thin for me too.



                        So, in general, I think I most admire producers who can bring out the best of whatever artist they're working with, and make them sound like them. I like it best when the producer is more or less invisible.



                        All that said... I have personally carved out something of a niche for myself by having a sonic signature, I suppose. To me, it seems like I'm just trying to get a big, natural sound that's real and human, and doesn't have a whole lot of candy coating or processing or use samples or Autotune or edit everything to a grid or any of that stuff. But nowadays, apparently that stands out because almost no one does this. People come to me when they want sounds like the 60s/70s, which to me just means recordings that sound like real people playing real instruments.
                        What The...?
                        http://www.what-the.com
                        http://www.facebook.com/whattherock
                        http://www.myspace.com/whattherock

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          I think whether having a "signature sound" is a good thing or a bad thing very much depends on what the sound is. If you become known for a sound that's something of a gimmick, it's likely to become worn and dated after awhile. I thought ELO had some good records in the 70s, but in the 80s when Jeff Lynne started producing everybody and their brother and making them all sound exactly like ELO with a different singer... well, I wanted to strangle the guy. And, honestly, the Spector Wall of Sound wears pretty thin for me too.



                          So, in general, I think I most admire producers who can bring out the best of whatever artist they're working with, and make them sound like them. I like it best when the producer is more or less invisible.



                          All that said... I have personally carved out something of a niche for myself by having a sonic signature, I suppose. To me, it seems like I'm just trying to get a big, natural sound that's real and human, and doesn't have a whole lot of candy coating or processing or use samples or Autotune or edit everything to a grid or any of that stuff. But nowadays, apparently that stands out because almost no one does this. People come to me when they want sounds like the 60s/70s, which to me just means recordings that sound like real people playing real instruments.
                          What The...?
                          http://www.what-the.com
                          http://www.facebook.com/whattherock
                          http://www.myspace.com/whattherock

                          Comment


                          • #14






                            Quote Originally Posted by Lee Flier
                            View Post

                            in the 80s when Jeff Lynne started producing everybody and their brother and making them all sound exactly like ELO with a different singer... well, I wanted to strangle the guy.




                            But don't you reckon that artists like Tom Petty, George Harrison, The Travelling Wilburys, and the surviving Beatles deliberately chose Lynne because they wanted that sound? It's hard to imagine that some record company exec coerced any of those artists into making Lynne their producer.

                            Comment


                            • #15






                              Quote Originally Posted by Lee Flier
                              View Post

                              in the 80s when Jeff Lynne started producing everybody and their brother and making them all sound exactly like ELO with a different singer... well, I wanted to strangle the guy.




                              But don't you reckon that artists like Tom Petty, George Harrison, The Travelling Wilburys, and the surviving Beatles deliberately chose Lynne because they wanted that sound? It's hard to imagine that some record company exec coerced any of those artists into making Lynne their producer.

                              Comment



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