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What’s The Difference Between Musicians and Producers?

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With the crazy boom of Electronic Music, or EDM, so many people have been getting into music production and the various skills and techniques behind it. A big debate that has become more and more popular is the question of EDM being “real music.” While that’s constantly being debated, the real issue is not a matter of it being music or not – it’s a matter of understanding what Music Production is.

First off, Music Producers are musicians – I more put that title for SEO/Searchability :). Breaking the difference down even further, I think the real question is the main difference between instrumentalists (those who play a musical instrument) and producers. I do consider music production programs, like Ableton, an instrument – but that’s for a different post.

Now, it’s interesting to see how times have changed. If you listen to songs in the 90s and earlier, the singer/performer was the one who was mentioned. For example, Everybody was sung by the Backstreet Boys, and produced by Denniz Pop and Max Martin. In this case, the artist – Backstreet Boys – are mentioned, but the producers are not (I actually had to do some research to find out who the producers were).

Times have shifted, as the producer – not the instrumentalist – is starting to be mentioned. In the song Wake Me Up by Avicii, only the producer – Avicii – is mentioned. Aloe Blacc, the singer on the track, isn’t mentioned (although you can do some research to find out that he was the singer).

With this huge change in music, and so many producers popping up everyday, the question becomes even more important: What is a producer?

I played piano for 10 years (mostly classical) and saxophone for 7 years (jazz, ska and concert), so I figured that production wouldn’t be too difficult. I thought production was like the program Finale (which is used to make sheet music). You type in a note or melody, pick an instrument or synthesizer, add some drum loops, and boom. There’s your EDM track.

This is far from the case.

I had to think long and hard about this, because it’s difficult to explain what music production is. After a lot of thinking, I came up with an analogy that I think is pretty close to not only explaining what a producer is, but the key difference between an instrumentalist and producer.

Anyone walking in New York, or any other big city, can easily see through the windows into pizza places where they’re tossing the dough and doing all sorts of tricks. It takes a lot of skill, practice, hand-eye coordination, and more to become good at it. Likewise, making the pizza – where you combine numerous ingredients, flavors, spices, toppings, and more, takes a lot of hard work and skill as well.

Using the analogy above, I look at instrumentalists like the pizza dough tossers and producers like the chefs. Just like you would easily pay to see someone shred a guitar, people pay to watch professional pizza tossers (no joke – there’s a USA Team). On the flip side, while everyone knows cooking is a hard skill to master, you wouldn’t pay to see it done. You would definitely pay for the end result – the food – but not a ticket to watch the process (unless they’re doing something flashy).

This is also why people have no problem paying for EDM tracks – the “finished product” – but not a ticket to watch the process. The process is extremely tedious, time consuming, and takes hours upon hours tweaking small details (just like cooking). There’s a lot that goes into production, too much to mention in a single post.

Even Deadmau5 said that Electronic Music is all about sitting in a bedroom, tweaking knobs and parameters – this is how the superstars in the business are born.

I also think this is why Electronic Music is quickly regarded as “not real music.” Personally, I can’t cook. At the same time, however, I have an idea of the intricacies of cooking and how it takes years to master. With Music Production, on the other hand, most people don’t have an idea what goes into it. It’s a relatively new field that people not only don’t understand, they don’t have any referable knowledge.

For example, if I said that I’m learning to improve my scales on the trombone, even if people didn’t understand music, they would have some idea as to what that means. On the flip side, if I said that I’m learning to EQ and bus my synths better to make my Kick/Snare pop more, people wouldn’t know how to respond.  Production is still new, so it will definitely take some time until people completely understand it (and electronic music altogether).

Nonetheless, playing an instrument and production are both incredible ways to look at music, as they both highlight different aspects of it. We’re currently living in the most creative time in human history, as people are now able to learn an instrument, write a song, record it, produce it, and distribute it – just with a laptop. As time moves on, the line will become more and more blurred between producers and instrumentalists, and every day there’s new equipment, software, and more coming out. This is only the start to see what the possibilities are, and it’ll be interesting to see how music further evolves throughout the years.

Check out my music here: Freccero Soundcloud

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