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Guitarists and producers.


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A thought occurred to me today while I was at work listening to a rather uninspired guitar solo with a great tone. Which is better, a mediocre guitarist with a great producer who can get the best performance and tone from him/her, or a great guitarist with a mediocre producer?

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A thought occurred to me today while I was at work listening to a rather uninspired guitar solo with a great tone. Which is better' date=' a mediocre guitarist with a great producer who can get the best performance and tone from him/her, or a great guitarist with a mediocre producer?[/quote']

 

I got half way through this and thought you were going to ask which is more important - a great tone or an inspired performance.

 

That one's easy - while ideally I'd like to have both, if forced to pick one or the other, I'd rather have a mediocre tone or so-so recording quality and a musically appropriate, kick-a$$, and totally inspired performance, any day.

 

IMHO, your actual question is a bit harder.

 

A truly sympathetic and talented producer can help draw the best out of an artist, and can help an artist get the sound that's "in their head" - or at least a good sound that works with the track - quite possibly a better one than the mediocre guitarist would be able to come up with on their own. They can also (either alone, or with the assistance of a talented engineer) "comp" together a take that makes musical sense and possibly even exceeds the guitarist's live performance abilities... but there are limits there.

 

Anyone who has ever worked with me has probably heard me utter the phrase "just give me something to work with" at least once or twice. Modesty aside, I've always been pretty good with editing and "fixing things", even going back to the tape era. I'm good with punches and comping in general, and I can make you sound really good... but even with modern DAW editing, the source material is what it is - if the guitarist isn't giving you something to work with, you're going to be limited in terms of what you can do with their performance. You might be able to come up with something that "works" from sub-par source material, but it's rarely going to come out sounding inspired and amazing. It probably isn't going to "move" people, and IMHO, that's the goal.

 

The better the source material is to begin with, the more amazing a good producer or engineer can make the final results sound.

 

Because of that, I think it's probably equally important to have both a good / sympathetic producer and a good guitarist.

 

In the example you gave Gromit, you said the solo's guitar tone was great. Getting a great sound is partly the guitarist's job, partially the engineer's, and ultimately the producer's responsibility. Sounds like the team did a good job there... but you said the solo itself was "uninspired." If the guitarist came up with the part, then it's partially their fault, but the producer bears some responsibility too... they could have suggested another approach to the solo, rearranged the solo or written a new one, let the guitarist try another pass at the improvised solo, tried comping it together differently, etc. But in most cases, the end listener has no idea what went on behind the scenes. Maybe that was the best the producer could get out of the guitarist after spending a lot of time on it - and at some point, you have to move on and can't keep throwing time at the solo with little hope of getting something "better."

 

A good producer is able to make a guitarist sound their absolute best - but it's still the guitarist who is providing the raw material - the producer is just trying to draw it out of them. All the production tricks, all the manufacturing and fixing in the world still can't really make something musically moving if there isn't something there to begin with to work from.

 

Because of that, if you're forced to pick one or the other, I think it would probably be better to pair a great guitarist with a mediocre producer, but only if the mediocre producer is smart enough to get the heck out of the way and let the great guitarist do their thing.

 

But there are so many variables and possibilities here that it's really hard to say definitively either way without getting into specific cases.

 

Like I said, it's a tougher question. :)

 

Now let me ask YOU one: Which would you rather have - a great song and a mediocre production / recording, or a fantastic production of a mediocre song?

 

 

 

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Now let me ask YOU one: Which would you rather have - a great song and a mediocre production / recording, or a fantastic production of a mediocre song?

 

If I want to make money, I'll take the great production of a mediocre song every day, The airwaves are littered with well-produced dreck, while there are tons of great songs that never saw the light of day because the production didn't make the song go anywhere.

 

Don't believe me? I have one shining example of well-produced shlock that made a ton of money: Vanilla Ice. Second exhibit - Van Halen.

 

I would also submit for your thought experiment the majority of 3:30 country songs coming out of Nashville. For every really good songwriter, there are 10 weak ones who manage to fill out the cuts on a top-tier album....and they make money doing it. You can't take anything away from the Nashville studio circuit - those guys are as good as it gets anywhere on the planet, and it is their talent and skill that drives the Nashville money machine. JMO, YMMV.

 

On the other end, I would point out that while Elton John and Billy Joel are fantastic songwriters (Scenes from an Italian Restaurant, Funeral for a Friend / Love Lies Bleeding). they wouldn't have had a career without great producers turning their piano-bar songs into complete orchestral works. Again, JMO, YMMV.

 

Finally, I would pose this question: Can you name a single album that has gone platinum that was really poorly produced?

Edited by SteinbergerHack
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If I want to make money, I'll take the great production of a mediocre song every day, The airwaves are littered with well-produced dreck, while there are tons of great songs that never saw the light of day because the production didn't make the song go anywhere.

 

Don't believe me? I have one shining example of well-produced shlock that made a ton of money: Vanilla Ice.

 

Um...he actually made most of it by plagiarizing "Under Pressure." When he got sued, he worked out a deal to buy the rights to the song.

 

As it turned out, it was the best career move he ever made.

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Um...he actually made most of it by plagiarizing "Under Pressure." When he got sued, he worked out a deal to buy the rights to the song.

 

As it turned out, it was the best career move he ever made.

 

Sure - we all know that. Are you going to suggest that his lyrical styling was an example of epic songwriting? Yes, he ripped off a great bass riff, then added absolutely nothing of substance to it.

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I got half way through this and thought you were going to ask which is more important - a great tone or an inspired performance.

 

That one's easy - while ideally I'd like to have both, if forced to pick one or the other, I'd rather have a mediocre tone or so-so recording quality and a musically appropriate, kick-a$$, and totally inspired performance, any day.

 

IMHO, your actual question is a bit harder.

 

A truly sympathetic and talented producer can help draw the best out of an artist, and can help an artist get the sound that's "in their head" - or at least a good sound that works with the track - quite possibly a better one than the mediocre guitarist would be able to come up with on their own. They can also (either alone, or with the assistance of a talented engineer) "comp" together a take that makes musical sense and possibly even exceeds the guitarist's live performance abilities... but there are limits there.

 

Anyone who has ever worked with me has probably heard me utter the phrase "just give me something to work with" at least once or twice. Modesty aside, I've always been pretty good with editing and "fixing things", even going back to the tape era. I'm good with punches and comping in general, and I can make you sound really good... but even with modern DAW editing, the source material is what it is - if the guitarist isn't giving you something to work with, you're going to be limited in terms of what you can do with their performance. You might be able to come up with something that "works" from sub-par source material, but it's rarely going to come out sounding inspired and amazing. It probably isn't going to "move" people, and IMHO, that's the goal.

 

The better the source material is to begin with, the more amazing a good producer or engineer can make the final results sound.

 

Because of that, I think it's probably equally important to have both a good / sympathetic producer and a good guitarist.

 

In the example you gave Gromit, you said the solo's guitar tone was great. Getting a great sound is partly the guitarist's job, partially the engineer's, and ultimately the producer's responsibility. Sounds like the team did a good job there... but you said the solo itself was "uninspired." If the guitarist came up with the part, then it's partially their fault, but the producer bears some responsibility too... they could have suggested another approach to the solo, rearranged the solo or written a new one, let the guitarist try another pass at the improvised solo, tried comping it together differently, etc. But in most cases, the end listener has no idea what went on behind the scenes. Maybe that was the best the producer could get out of the guitarist after spending a lot of time on it - and at some point, you have to move on and can't keep throwing time at the solo with little hope of getting something "better."

 

A good producer is able to make a guitarist sound their absolute best - but it's still the guitarist who is providing the raw material - the producer is just trying to draw it out of them. All the production tricks, all the manufacturing and fixing in the world still can't really make something musically moving if there isn't something there to begin with to work from.

I'm not a good producer. When I record guitarists, I leave all the tone settings up to them. I will work with the EQ on the track to get it to sound the best it can to my ears but that's after the track is recorded. I guess I'm an engineer more than a producer.

Because of that, if you're forced to pick one or the other, I think it would probably be better to pair a great guitarist with a mediocre producer, but only if the mediocre producer is smart enough to get the heck out of the way and let the great guitarist do their thing.

 

But there are so many variables and possibilities here that it's really hard to say definitively either way without getting into specific cases.

 

Like I said, it's a tougher question. :)

 

Now let me ask YOU one: Which would you rather have - a great song and a mediocre production / recording, or a fantastic production of a mediocre song?

I'll take a great song any day.

 

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Thanks for your answer. I was hoping that you would give your views.

 

Obviously I'd rather have a great song with great production, but I'm greedy.

 

If I had to choose either a great song or great production, I'd usually go for a great song IF the production wasn't so bad as to be completely annoying. I don't think that a bad song can be salvaged with brilliant production.

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Finally, I would pose this question: Can you name a single album that has gone platinum that was really poorly produced?

 

It would be an easier question if you just wanted poorly produced albums without the platinum certification caveat, but I think I can do it, even with the platinum requirement - and my example was even produced by one of my all-time favorite producers...

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sgt._Pepper%27s_Lonely_Hearts_Club_Band_(soundtrack)

 

 

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Sure - we all know that. Are you going to suggest that his lyrical styling was an example of epic songwriting? Yes, he ripped off a great bass riff, then added absolutely nothing of substance to it.

 

Define 'substance'. Especially as it pertains to a pop hit.

 

When my band plays weddings we always do "Ice Ice Baby". And no one in my band raps it. Because there is ALWAYS at least one mid-30s guy in the crowd who gets up and knows every single word to it and knocks it out of the park.

 

That song was obviously a cultural cornerstone to people of a certain age when it came out. I doubt they still listen to it every day--probably haven't listened to it in years--- but they remember every single word of it 25 years later. And there's a lot of words to that mofo.

 

For those of us over a certain age, we all just remember it as the song we hate because he dared to rip off Queen and David Bowie. (And was one of the first big hits to use a sample of a rock song in that manner.) But for everyone else, they couldn't care less about "Under Pressure".

 

 

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Finally, I would pose this question: Can you name a single album that has gone platinum that was really poorly produced?

 

Don't how many copies it eventually sold, but the first Smiths album was a huge hit, at least in the UK, is revered as a classic, but production-wise is a complete piece of garbage.

 

A lot of debut albums by bands were very DIY, ultra-low budget and barely "produced" at all, or very poorly so. Many were very successful and often end up being considered the 'best' album the band ever did.

Edited by Vito Corleone
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Don't how many copies it eventually sold' date=' but the first Smiths album was a huge hit, at least in the UK, is revered as a classic, but production-wise is a complete piece of garbage.[/quote']

 

I think "complete garbage" is an overstatement. It's not great, the guitar sounds are too thin. I think most fans would consider the debut album to be the weakest one overall. I'm sure you'll notice that this remastered, but remastering can't fix bad production:

 

 

 

Pavement's debut album, also considered a classic in certain circles, is closer to complete garbage production-wise.

 

 

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