Do producers need to be musicians themselves? Tony Visconti weighs in

“Beethoven was a very accomplished musician, but he was never in a recording studio…”

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Tony Visconti performing

Image: Michael Hurcomb / Getty Images

Super-producer Tony Visconti has offered his thoughts on whether or not producers need to be musicians or understand music themselves to succeed at what they do.

In a new interview with Super Deluxe Edition, Visconti, who’s worked with the likes of David Bowie and Marc Bolan, speaks about the degree to which his musical knowledge has shaped his role as a producer.

“Well, in my case, I am musically trained, and I learned to write scores before I left high school,” Visconti explains. “So I was writing scores at 16 years old. And I was taken under the wing of the head of the music department, a lovely man called Dr. Silberman. And he gave me private lessons as well; my parents couldn’t afford to send me to a university. So this was it.”

“Shortly after I left high school, I was writing arrangements for people, always remembering the lessons of voicings that Dr. Silberman taught me.”

Citing Beethoven and George Martin as his musical idols, Visconti says that while the former was a “very accomplished musician”, he was “never in a recording studio”.

“But George Martin used all of his musical training, and it didn’t hurt, to have that kind of a background,” says the producer.

He adds: “I don’t have to impose that upon people, but when I’m called upon to help them with their backing vocals, that comes from my musical training background, I know a lot about this stuff, without coming down heavy on them, you know.”

“And a lot of people know that I have this and they want it. So it depends. I’m flexible.”

Also in the chat, Visconti discusses how the role of the record producer has changed in the modern age, saying “With the record industry now, they almost bypass producers completely and go with some young person who is a whiz on the laptop and make their own stuff.”

“They make their own videos. And I think that’s very admirable, but it has less dimensions in it than the organic music does.”

On the other side of the debate, joining those who believe producers don’t need to be musicians themselves, is Rick Rubin, who boldly admitted his lack of “technical ability” earlier this year, adding: “I know nothing about music.”

“I know what I like and what I don’t like. I’m decisive about what I like and what I don’t like,” he said. “The confidence that I have in my taste, and my ability to express what I feel, has proven helpful for artists.”


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