The culmination of a long association with pianist Matthew Mills, Bagatelles represents some 30 years of piano music by British composer Bernard Hughes.
It can be hard to define the job role of a music producer. Sometimes a producer encompasses everything from writing, music arrangement, sound creation and engineering. Sometimes it’s simply being in the room to nudge a band in a certain direction or to convey their vision of the album to the engineer. Ultimately, a Producer is in charge of making sure that a record is delivered and it’s delivered to a high quality. The buck stops with them.
Being a Producer means that with all respect to everyone else on the record, you have final say. The more bullish Producers will create a record completely in their vision with everyone else around them timidly bowing their heads and nodding along eagerly so they can leave in one piece at something resembling a reasonable hour of the day. Other more collaborate producers will allow everyone their say, create a mixture of ideas and potentially experiment a lot more with other peoples creative abilities. But still, their word is law. If they say it doesn’t go, generally, it doesn’t go.
I tend to sit somewhere in the middle of that and lean towards one or the other depending on the project. A band is less likely to want to work with someone who insists on not taking their ideas whereas solo singers tend to like having ideas thrown in front of them for them to pick. However, in both scenarios, with the weight of responsibility of creating a great record, it can be tough to let some things go.
We often have a set idea of the direction we want to take a record so when someone jumps in with an idea that isn’t quite on your palette, it can be distracting, and often annoying. I’ve often found myself a bit irritable when I’m in the middle of trying something and an eager beaver is throwing ideas at me that may not work with the current direction, or are just too far off my own ideas that I simply don’t want to try them. When this happens I have to pause, take a few moments to assess my reaction and then carefully think about their idea with all due consideration, because this is where the magic happens.
On the 28th August, 1963, possibly one of the most famous speeches in America was made. However, when Martin Luther King Jr stood up to the podium to deliver his now historical speech, he never intended to tell anyone about his dream.
The organisers of the rally were incredibly cautious when it came to the selection of speakers. MLK Jr was asked to go last simply because he was a great orator and the organisers knew that he would keep the crowd interested. We all know of his speech but there were plenty of other speakers that day included John Lewis, Randolph and Rustin as well as Walter Reuther and others. Each of them had to submit their speech which should be no longer than 5 minutes. The organisers would then agree whether the speech was suitable. Author James Baldwin was in fact excluded from giving his speech as organisers felt that his language was too inflammatory and would potentially cause a riot. There was no room for error and certainly no room for movement.
When MLK Jr stood up to the podium to deliver the final speech of the day, he captivated the crowds with incredibly perfected cadences, his well rehearsed pacing and the confidence of someone not only passionate but well versed in the subject of their talk. Then something magic happened.
Not too far away from MLK Jr was Gospel Singer Mahalia Jackson. Mahalia Jackson was considered the Queen of Gospel and was hugely involved in the civil rights movement, leading her to become well acquainted with Martin Luther King Jr. She had heard him speak many times and knew many of his speeches well.
As MLK Jr was going through his well rehearsed and approved speech, there was a deliberate pause in the delivery. A momentary silence to allow the crowd to digest his words. Mahalia Jackson shouts “Tell them about your dream”.
MLK Jr could have chosen to ignore her. He had a speech. He knew what he wanted to deliver, and the organisers had approved his words. They had not approved his “I have a dream” speech. This wasn’t what was on the menu for tonights oratory meal. He could have well finished his speech to a highly receptive and passionate crowd, gone home that night and that would have been the end of it.
But he didn’t. He allowed the magic to happen. He went against the wishes of the organisers, he went against his rehearsed and pre-written words and instead decided to ad-lib a version of his “I have a dream’ speech creating one of the most historically moving and significant moments of the 1900s.
That day he allowed something to happen, and magic was created. You can’t preplan or predict magic. Those lightning in a bottle moments happen at times of high levels of creativity and that flame of inspiration can easily be extinguished. As a Producer, it’s your job to fuel that flame and let those magic moments happen. Not get in the way of them.
So whilst what we are creating will never be as historically important as Martin Luther King Jr’s speech, it could potentially still have an incredible impact in the world. We just have to be willing to explore all the paths laid out in front of us when they are suggested and get over our moments of annoyance or our own egos that want to control the destiny of any given record.