Often cited as being an extra member of a band, the role of the record producer has changed dramatically over the past few decades, particularly during the 1960s and 1990s. Early producers ran artists’ careers, signing them to record labels, choosing songs and arranging and producing the finished product. Producers built small rosters of artists, and became known as starmakers, especially in the first era of rock ’n’ roll. Significant names during this period include Joe Meek, Denis Preston and George Martin, all of whom shaped British popular music in some way. Meek in particular followed the American format of becoming a Svengali-like producer, assembling a stable of British stars who competed with American artists during the mid-to-late 1950s. Ironically, it was the production and arrangements of Martin that put an end to Meek’s career in the early 1960s, as the global phenomenon of the Beatles (and of the many similar sounding bands of the era) swept aside the rock ’n’ roll that Meek was so found of. Unable to cope with the changes in production, Meek committed suicide in 1967.
   Martin himself changed the way producers were employed during the 1960s, as most were tied down to long contracts with record companies and had to fulfil the needs of both the artist and the record label (although Meek especially was known as a maverick, independent producer). Martin’s involvement and input into the work of the Beatles led to a reassessment of the producer’s role, and also brought the idea of the freelancer into being. The studio role of the producer had not changed to a great extent, but the new creative power of artists in the 1960s led to a lessening of the producer’s input in terms of song choice and arrangement. Many artists became producers of their own work themselves, leading to problems within the hierarchical structures of the music industry. The 1970s saw the ‘producer for hire’ phenomenon reach its height, as many record companies refused to keep studio staff on contracts. Producers as performers became the byword during the late 1980s and 1990s, with many studio staff becoming as famous as their protégés, notably Pete Waterman, Nelle Hooper and Norman Cook. The role of producer had turned full circle, with, at one point in 1994, six of the top ten selling singles in the UK being created and performed by producers.
   See also: music industry

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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