These are terms which are frequently misunderstood. With my combined music and engineering background, I’m comfortable taking on any of these roles. Following are some nutshell explanations of what each involves.
Every music project of every kind needs a producer. The role of a producer can run the gamut from the person responsible for everything from financing to songwriting to session booking, but can also be as simple as someone appointed to make objective decisions in a decidedly subjective process. This voice of reason is necessary to ensure that the process keeps moving forward without getting bogged down in the quagmire of indecision and micro-managing. Lack of a producer can lead to increased costs and increased likelihood of a project falling apart before completion.
Bands should either bring in an outside producer or name one of their members as such. Individuals are slightly better qualified to self-produce—but I still advise leaving that to someone else.
What frequently happens is that the recording engineer becomes the unofficial, de facto producer because musicians, in the sometimes high-stress atmosphere of a recording session, can’t remain objective, and turn to the engineer with questions about performances and such. We’re used to it, but I’d recommend keeping that in mind when it comes to album credits, regardless of where you’re working.
Every song has an arrangement. The length of the intro…how many verses and choruses there are…is there a bridge…how does the song end…these are all elements of the arrangement. Also critical is the setting, which, in choosing specific instruments, rhythms and ambiences, determines the song’s “vibe.” I.e., how the song will be presented to the listener.
Bands usually work most or all of this out as they write and rehearse a song, but individual singer-songwriters often need help with it. This can involve anything from putting together a traditional or non-traditional group of accompanying musicians to creating a contemporary, MIDI or loop-based arrangement—very common in the pop music realm.
If you have a song that is already well-structured, i.e. you have a complete set of lyrics, a melody and chords, but you need the song “fleshed-out” for delivery to the world, you need an arranger. Collaborating as an arranger with talented songwriters is one of my favorite things to do. Click here for some excerpts of songs I’ve arranged for songwriters.
If you have a song that is not well-structured, or is incomplete, e.g., you have snippets of lyrics and melody and/or no chords, you may need to move to a higher level of collaboration, co-writing. Many of the world’s most famous songs were written by two or more people working together, and while this is most commonly a lyricist-composer tandem, full participation in all facets of the song among partners is also common.
I’ve had many singer-songwriters with little or no instrumental or theoretical skill come to me with songs in just this state, and have helped them finish their works by structuring the sections, adding chords, suggesting lyric alterations, and filling out the setting. While it can be a fine line between arranging and co-writing, in truth, when a song needs this much creative contribution to be completed, it becomes a co-writing collaboration.
The main difference between this and arranging is legal: co-writers are co-owners of the copyrights to a song. While everything is negotiable, I strongly recommend keeping these relationships well spelled out from the beginning, to avoid the tainted-memory disagreements that have been the historical undoing of many musical teams.
Click here for excerpts of songs that I have arranged and co-written with other songwriters.
If you feel you need any of these roles filled for your project, please email or call to discuss the options.