I am a big music nerd. I love to hear the stories behind songs, the details of recording sessions. I want to know what was tried and abandoned, what difficulties were encountered, what was accidental and what was hard-fought until it was right.
I have a tremendous respect for producers. Even as a kid, I loved reading the liner notes of albums, learning who the producers were. My ears perk up at names like Bob Ezrin, Andy Johns, Glyn Johns, Bob Rock, Mutt Lange, Rick Rubin, Ken Caillat, Keith Olsen, Jimmy Miller, George Martin, Phil Spector, Alan Parsons, Brian Wilson, Andrew Loog Oldham, Sam Phillips.
Which brings me to my concern. As brilliant as it sometimes can be, there is one aspect of hip-hop and other sample-dependent music that grates at me: the careless use of the word “Producer.”
To me, a producer like the ones I listed above, is someone who gets the job done. He takes the ideas and notions that a band brings in, at whatever level of completeness they come through the door, and ushers them to fruition. He makes the trains run on time. He watches the budget. But more than anything, he brings an incredible amount of knowledge and creativity to bear in getting a sound to tape.
The producer, working with a good engineer, knows where and how to set microphones. He knows how to place instruments in a room. He knows how to isolate and blend. He knows when to switch out a speaker or an amp tube. He knows what cables to use, which strings to change, and how sound waves interact.
But he also knows about how chords are built, how notes interact between instruments, how a chorus is constructed and how a solo is brought into play. he often plays multiple instruments himself, sometimes better than the band members.
He is an engineer and a musician, but one who has to deny his own ego so that sometimes-lesser stars can shine. He caters to them, cajoles them, votes with them, and puts up with tons of crap. In the end, it is he, often more than any other single person in the room, who gets the lightning into the bottle.
When it is all done, when those songs sail off into immortality, he can rest in the pride and confidence that he did good work here.
And then some cut-and-paste jockey comes along, snips out some pieces of his work, loops them, raps over it, and calls himself the “producer.”
A startling example of this is the song “Butterfly” by the band Crazy Town. The song went number one in multiple countries. Most of the song was a looped sample of a Red Hot Chili Peppers song called “Pretty Little Ditty” from the RHCP album “Mother’s Milk.”
Thanks to copyright laws, all four RHCP members were given credit as writers, and rightly so. But producers of the Crazy Town song were listed only as Bret “Epic” Mazur (one of the Crazy Town rappers) and Josh Abraham.
Josh Abraham later produced for Limp Bizkit, Staind, Velvet Revolver, Pink, Carly Rae Jepsen, Kelly Clarkson, and many more. He is no doubt a good producer. That’s not what bugs me. What bugs me is the name that is mentioned nowhere on Crazy Town’s album.
Michael Beinhorn. Who is Michael Beinhorn? He’s the guy who produced “Pretty Little Ditty” and every other song on “Mother’s Milk.” He’s the guy who set up the mics, rode the faders, contributed to the arrangements, spent more time with recording that song than the band itself — the guy who gets the credit for making the sample that Crazy Town ripped, looped, and blathered over sound good enough to be worth stealing in the first place.
“Mother’s Milk” was one of Michael Beinhorn’s first production credits. Since then, he has done production for Violent Femmes, Soul Asylum, Aerosmith, Social Distortion, Ozzy Osbourne, hole, Marilyn Manson, Korn, Fuel, Black Label Society, and many more. But he has no credit for anything by Crazy Town. Yet, without him, it wouldn’t be there.
This whole travesty gets far worse when some “producer” lines up some “beats” and rip-off “loops” for a rapper, then walks onto a stage the next year to accept an award as “Producer of the Year.”
Kanye West gets to catch reflected glory from Paul McCartney by admitting that he used a bit of Paul’s tune in his own song “All Day.” But not mentioned (other than by law in the liner notes) is Kanye’s sampling of Jamaican singer Noel Ellis’ song “Dance With Me.” And you’ll find no mention whatsoever of Jerry Brown, the man who got “Dance With Me” to tape in the studio back in 1983.
So who is credited on Kanye’s “All Day”?
Songwriting – Kanye West, Paul McCartney, Tyler Bryant, Kendrick Lamar, Karim Kharbouch, Ernest Brown, Cydel Young, Victor Mensah, Allan Kyariga, Mike Dean, Che Pope, Noah Goldstein, Allen Ritter, Mario Winans, Charles Njapa, Malik Yusef Jones, Patrick Reynolds, Rennard East, Noel Ellis
Production – Kanye West, Puff Daddy, French Montana, Velous, Charlie Heat
Co-production – Mike Dean, Noah Goldstein
Additional production – Plain Pat, Travis Scott, Allen Ritter, Mario Winans, Leroy Twist
It took that many people to write and produce this one song? Dave Grohl did Foo Fighters’ first album by himself with one other producer!
Yet, in all that list, Jerry Brown does not appear. Thanks for nothin’, Jerry.
The next time some hip-hop producer wins an award for producing an album, he should have to bring every real producer on whose shoulders he is standing up to the stage with him. The awards organization should be prepared to hand out as many award statuettes as it takes to cover all the samples that producer leaned on to make that album. The number can and does get ridiculous.
“Bust a Move” sampled five different songs.
“Nuthin’ but a ‘G’ Thang” sampled five different songs.
And no honest discussion about sampling would be complete without demanding that Billy Squier and Eddy Offord be invited to every hop-hop awards show until the day they die. Billy Squier’s “The Big Beat” has been sampled in 219 songs. Squier will get songwriter credit, thanks. But producer Eddy Offord gets no love.
So feel free to call them Producers. But there should be an acknowledgement on every album and in every awards ceremony of who did the real magic on those songs. Far too many of these cut-and-paste artists would have no idea how to mic a set of drums. (45)