Survival without the labels: The changing role of the recording producer #arp2015

Martha de Francisco, McGill University, Canada

Survival without the labels: The changing role of the recording producer. Experiences, exchanges and reflections of a veteran Tonmeister.

Lara St John

Abstract: In parallel with the growing digital distribution of musical content via new delivery channels over the Internet, the transformation of well­known structures for the production and dissemination of music such as the traditional record labels of past decades and the proliferation of independent labels are bringing about a shift in the way music is produced. Many productions are lead and financed by the performers themselves or by institutions of their affiliation. Acting as independent entrepreneurs, single musicians, chamber music formations, choirs, symphony orchestras and opera houses are commissioning recordings to be realized principally by producers and their recording teams. In many cases and without any increase in compensation, the producer’s competences are stretched to encompass tasks that were formerly taken care of by the label. Distribution and release are often realized online or on the artists’ own label. Alternatively a licensing contract with an existing record label may be pursued, which will lead to the recording being released exclusively online or as physical product, possibly incorporated into the label’s release catalogue.

Furthermore, the use of advanced postproduction technology is placing the recording producer in an increasingly exposed position in the creative process. Contemporary audio technology allows deeper access to the recorded performance than ever before. Sophisticated micro editing and exacting mixing and processing capabilities of powerful audio equipment and software allow extremely detailed adjustments to the audio and an unprecedented degree of influence on the recorded music. Without the control of the labels and attracted by the sophistication of the processing tools in the studio, excesses in the postproduction requests have become a real danger. In many respects recording producers would seem to be replacing the labels, as their influence and guidance of the artists in the creation of their products increases. Case studies and musical examples will be presented.

Final keynote: Martha de Francisco #arp13

One of Martha’s case studies was from her own work on this four-piano Bach recording.


Martha de Francisco is a record producer and recording engineer specializing in Classical music. She is a professor for Sound Recording at McGill University in Montreal. An internationally acknowledged leader in the field of sound recording and record production, Martha has recorded with some of the greatest classical musicians of our time for the major record labels and in the best concert halls. She has credits on hundreds of recordings, mostly for worldwide release, many distinguished with the most prestigious awards. A graduate from the renowned Tonmeister program at the Musikhochschule Detmold, Germany, Martha was one of the pioneers of digital recording and editing in Europe during the 1980s. On staff as producer/engineer/editor with Philips Classics, she developed long lasting working relationships with many prominent artists. Martha has been entrusted with the recording legacy of international artists from Alfred Brendel to the Philadelphia Orchestra. Her list of recording artists includes the Beaux Arts Trio, Heinz Holliger, Oliver Latry, Gustav Leonhardt, I Musici, Truls Mørk, Anne-Sophie Mutter, Jessye Norman, the conductors John Eliot Gardiner, Neville Marriner, Kent Nagano, Simon Rattle, the Symphony Orchestras of Vienna, Montreal, Philadelphia, London, Caracas and many more. Martha has recorded in a variety of venues throughout the world: Vienna Musikverein, New York Carnegie Hall, Moscow Conservatoire, Bayreuth Festspielhaus, Tokyo Suntory Hall, Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris. Martha de Francisco is appointed as Associate Professor at the Schulich School of Music of McGill University and a member of the Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Music Media and Technology CIRMMT. Her research topics include the latest surround-sound techniques, music recording with virtual acoustics, studies on piano brightness and the aesthetics of recorded music. She was the producer/engineer of the acclaimed research and production project “The Virtual Haydn”, a recreation of the sonic characteristics of Haydn’s music played on reconstructions of his instruments performed (virtually) in his original rooms, a study of acoustics and interpretation. Martha is a frequent lecturer at international professional conferences, a regular judge at the main international student recording competitions as well as a sought-after guest lecturer at leading schools for higher education in Audio in various countries.

Martha’s talk begins with a discussion of her project at McGill ‘The Virtual Haydn’. It is fascinating work and I will not attempt to summarise it here – everything you need is on the project website.