Creative persons raise existential questions…
The difference producer artist is not a big deal for everybody. Some people feel safer when they know where their place is. They don’t mind belonging to a category. It might even give them a feeling of empowerment, because it helps define who they are.
But some don’t…
To me categories and definitions have always been a problem. I love words because they are a way to express ideas. But when it comes to defining human beings, I instantly feel a thrill of panic on the back of my neck, like a sudden cold wind blowing from a painful past…
I never fit any category. I always feel like all definitions could apply to me in a certain proportion. So I always ask things like: “If I think all definitions could apply to me, does that mean I am skyzo? If, in the end, I don’t really fit any definition or category, does it mean I have no personality? Will I ever find a place in such a society that puts people in checkboxes, or am I supposed to live apart, alone, or maybe just die?!!”
Difference producer artist exists… And does not.
To people working as professionals in the music industry the difference between producer and artist is quite obvious. But it is also obvious that if you get back to what the words mean, and not what they describe, things get instantly blurry. Let me tell you about that.
Saying an artist is an artist, and a producer is not, does NOT MEAN producers have nothing to do with artistic creation! If you want to push forward in the world of music production, the one who is supposedly not involved in artistic creation is the audio engineer. This one is supposed to be a pure technician, cold as a robot! The one that could be turned into an AI… Well that’s also a false idea but we’ll leave that for another day.
Artist, as the name suggests, is a job about artistic, but producer too! We need to define what these words mean at a legal level to see things clearly.
The official meaning of being an artist
You might be surprised, but from a legal point of view, being a producer is a creative job and being an artist is not!
Regarding legal status, artist means performer. The artist is the person that “embodies” the music. The artist “plays” the music, but does not create it. The creator is the composer (and the author when you are talking about lyrics). The artist is the one that performs what’s been composed. Most identified artists are the singers that perform at the same time the lyrics written by the author and the melody of the vocal part, created by the composer.
Forget about that, even if they (we) are the majority creating, performing, and producing our own music. We’re trying to explain things here. Yes, most of the time you carry different hats at the same time. We’ll get back to this later.
Artists are also instrument performers on instrumental music or the band behind the singer. They play music too. We easily identify “front artists” or “lead artists” but the rest of the musicians are legally artists too. Their job is to play music. If they don’t play, they have no income.
What is the difference between a music producer and a musician?
The producer does not play any music. He has nothing to do with performing anything. It’s a “colder” job. To summarize, I’d say the producer’s job is to turn music into a product. What is a product? It is something that can be commercially exploited, see?
A farmer is someone running a farm. A potato producer is someone creating sellable goods out of raw potatoes. Farmer would be the word describing the activity while potato producer is the legal definition of what is his commercial activity.
The artist performs raw music and the producer turns it into something that can be exploited. The process to go through this can vary from recording and mixing, to composing full instrumental parts, call them “beats”, if you’re under 40. Don’t care, because that’s not what defines what the producer is. Producer is, first of all, the first element in the process of commercializing music. He is the one that turns a composition performed by an artist into something that can be exploited.
What is the product created by the producer?
Remember that music once existed but there was no electricity? Ok so it’s easy to imagine there were no recordings then. No radio, no Spotify, no CDs or any other records. So there was no producers, no labels, no nothing like that. But there were already artists! There were already composers, performers, and also publishers (but let’s forget about publishers for the moment). The important point is that you figure out that there were no producers at that time.
Then came the electricity and recording systems. Guys had machines and invited performers to capture their voices or instruments. They paid artists for that and then they exploited these recordings anyway they could, to earn a living. That is a producer!
Yes and no. Of course I guess most of them were geeks running high-tech of their time. But that’s not what defined them legally. Their commercial activity was to exploit a music production, and that product was a recording.
difference producer artist is not the only trick
Be careful not to mix up with labels, or record companies. They exploit, they sell records. And records are multiple copies of an original genuine recording.
The producer creates a product that is a recording. For decades these recordings were on stereo tapes called master tapes (to make a difference with the multi-track tapes). To get these master tapes, producers record multiple tracks on tapes then mix them together into a stereophonic recording called the master recording.
This is what producers produce. And for decades the main exploitation of these master recordings was to deal with labels that would create copies of it and sell them.
Finally the significant point to define the producer is that he is the owner of the copyright of a recording. He is the one with the initiative of creating a recording and who pays what’s needed to achieve it.
Do producers pay artists? Yes! The artists are one of the ingredients needed to achieve the creation of the product. So he has to be paid in a way or another. If he is not paid it legally means he is co-producing the recording. It’s like when you are developing a company. Working for free is ok if you are one of the associates. But you’d better have clearly written that in a contract.
Difference producer artist nowadays
Back to the present days, we have a debate here. What about modern producers? Especially people creating electronic or urban music. What about beatmakers?
At that point, you might experience a feedback of blur, don’t you?!
Today someone called a producer is most often someone that starts with creating an instrumental (so he is often, first of all, a composer) but that is able to go further than a beatmaker. A beatmaker creates and sells beats, so in a way he’s exactly what I defined as a producer because he exploits music recordings. Let’s say a beatmaker is a producer with limited skills.
But the one we call a “real” producer is able to invite an artist (musicians or singers). He can ask him to perform in the artistic direction he has chosen. He has the skills to record the performance and mix it with his instrumental parts. He is willing to go to the end of the process of creating a master recording, and knows how to do it. If there is one thing he can’t do himself, he will assume to pay someone to do it for him.
By the way, I said a producer has the copyright on his recordings, and he might sell it or make deals to earn money. But he can also be mandated by other companies to produce a recording for them. In that case he is realizing a production as a service and he does not own the copyright. This is called “executive-production”.
In real life, do producers do more than artists?
If you’re asking this question you’d better ask yourself what are your motivations!
Producers and artists are not doing the same job. If you’re only talking about the production of a single, or an album, and only counting hours, obviously, the producer is the worthy worker and the artist’s life is easy!
Producers are usually (too) passionate workers and they can spend hours and hours on a sneaky detail they are the only human that will ever hear about! When they are working on a project they do everything: They create, they record, they mix, and so more! The amount of work done by a producer is colossal.
The artist “only” comes to the studio and sings… No comparison.
Ok but what about sincerity? What about the “vibe”? The artist performs, he’s not working on plugins and tapes. The artist tries to deliver his very soul, to an audience, or to be recorded in the studio. He is giving little parts of himself away everytime he’s doing his job… So definitely NO COMPARISON!
But over all don’t forget that producers work once on a recording. When the production process is done the recording can be exploited forever, and the producer can work on other projects and create new recordings.
The artist’s work is performing at the moment, it is ephemere. It is the exact opposite! Remember what I told earlier: Artists play to earn an income. An artist that stops performing has no more income, while a lucky producer can still earn money during all his life for a work that is over for long.
How do you balance that? What is the split between artist and producer?
This evolves depending on periods of time, countries, music genres, but over all things, it depends on the scale you’re working at. I mean it is nonsense to compare a deal between small indie artists and producers and a contract that aims to get you on major channels and become mainstream.
Cool for you if you are about to sign a deal and need to know if it is fair. In my reality most artists don’t really fit all I’ve just explained. Most artists feel like me, that all the checkboxes could fit, but none really does either…
That is why I wanted to explain what the difference between producer and artist is, at a legal level. Just so that you realize we finally don’t live “at a legal level”.
Most of the artists do everything by themselves. In the legal realm, DIY is King!
So most of the artists compose, most also perform, then most even record themselves, or finance their recordings, and finally, instead of waiting for something, they just produce by themselves their very own recordings.
It’s as simple as that. But sometimes it creates a surface schizophrenia because the legal organization of the industry might force them to sometimes use more one identity or the other. Let’s say that’s part of the price to pay.
So the true question is WHY is there a difference producer artist?
Let’s forget about all the industry and professional issues, and just get back to the creative level. I mean these legal questions finally only concern professionals, it has nothing to do with real artistic existential questions.
If you erase all legal sense from the words, a producer is a creative person. He is an artist. Ok he’s not performing but he is obviously making an artistic creation.
An artist that composes his beats on his computer and records himself, then invites friends for a featuring is more than just a performer. Why should he choose this identity more than another?
Asking the question is the good path. Trying to answer is not.
Everyone has his own motivations, I believe the most important is to understand what really drives you.
I have all the identities. I do everything. I can decide to say I’m an artist because I want to push the “apart-from-society” button. I can say I’m a producer to insist on the professional, skillful part of me. I can say I am everything because I want everyone to bow and admire me because I have so much creativity. I can just summarize to one category or another because I need to promote myself, and web marketing needs simple checkboxes and can’t include all parts of a complexe creative mind… etc etc.
You choose, but what finally brings you the most information about yourself is not really what you chose but why you chose.
There is a difference between producer and artist at a certain level for legal reasons, ok. But on a lower scale, we make a distinction between one kind of artist and another only for specific reasons, and they are so personal they reveal a point of view. And the point of view gives a lot of information about who you are.