A couple of years ago, I taught music and music production to teenagers at a summer camp. I took the gig as a sort of vacation, so I could hang out rent-free in Maine for two months (one of my favorite places in the world). Quickly, however, it turned into one of the most rewarding experiences of my life, culminating in a 22-track album written and produced by the students.
The kids I taught? They had different musical goals from mine as a child. Sure, we taught some lessons centered around musical instruments, but I didn't see many children interested in guitar. No. These kids were lining up to learn how to "produce." And forget about dubstep—these kids were into deep house.
All of this got me thinking, what does it mean to be a music producer in 2017? Has the job fundamentally changed? And, while we're at it, what are some of the production hallmarks of 2017? What’s making our time sound like our time?
To answer these questions, I called on Jayme Silverstein, a working producer in Los Angeles, and an old friend.
Jayme started out as a bass player and composer (I mixed and mastered his first solo jazz outing, as a matter of fact). Over the years, he’s toured with Miguel and Nico and Vinz among others, but he always had an eye on production; if you remember that "friend in top-line crime" I told you about in my recent compression article well, that was Jayme.
While I migrated to post-production, article writing, and less poppy pursuits, Jayme continued to hone his craft. Now, going by the name of BRIDGES and working with The Trust Music Group, he's on the verge of a break: He’s working on albums for South African pop star Lira (she’s currently a judge on The Voice South Africa), finishing up an album for American pop group JAGMAC, starting production work on Teen Wolf's Dylan Sprayberry, and celebrating other accomplishments—for instance, having a #1 single on France’s Billboard charts this year with Richard Orlinski.
Since Jayme and I saw a little of the game when we worked together, and since he waded through the muck to garner those respectable creds, I figured he'd have an interesting perspective on what makes producing music in 2017 different from earlier epochs.
He did not disappoint. What follows are highlights of a conversation between me and Jayme, subdivided, categorized, and presented around certain points. Fair warning, these claims represent our perspectives—and perhaps, ours alone—but I think they're borne out in the context of our contemporary music scene.
1. We Might Be Closer to the '50s than the '90s
Everybody likes to go on about how the 90's are back, but Jayme spun my gears in a different direction when he brought up this essential point.
"I don’t think a music producer’s job has fundamentally changed that much through the years," Jayme said. "As a producer, your job is to finish music. Your job is to see anywhere from the song to the project from a bird’s eye view and deliver."
I asked him if that was really true. After all, up until recently, bands had a greater stake in the mainstream musical landscape, and what is more, tended to write their own music. A producer’s role, it seemed to me, was a little more hands-on now, be it in the writing, coordinating, or arranging departments.
“The tools have changed,” Jayme said, “but it’s still fundamentally the same job. Whereas now I’m reaching for Omnisphere or Battery or something, back in the day it used to be, ‘Let me call Anthony Jackson,’ or ‘Let me call Steve Gadd.’”
And that's when the big statement bolded above this section hit me.
“You know what occurs to me, now that you say that?” I asked.
“Back in the early days—in the fifties? Not a lot of people really wrote their own stuff. Artists had to fight to write. Now we’re almost kind of back there. The producer oversaw the writing back then and the producer does the same thing now, with less input from the artists.”
"Well, I'd be careful about that," Jayme said. "Artists still have a ton of input—in fact, still the most input on their records. Producers are getting a lot of shine now, but we still answer to the artist, and unfortunately to the label."
"But in the way producers orchestrate the writing, arrangement and what have you—"
“—Yeah, it’s kinda back to the fifties," Jayme interrupted, with a bit of a laugh.