I remember one day in 1975 when I went to a friend’s house to hear some new albums played through a state-of-the-art sound system. “This is going to totally blow you away,” he said, as he lowered the needle on the last track of Queen’s new album, “A Night at the Opera,” an ambitious little number called “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
The sound seemed to explode from the speakers. The lush harmonies, Freddie Mercury’s powerful lead vocals, the quasi-classical piano, the “Galileo/Magnifico” operatic portion, Brian May’s hard rock guitar solo — all of it sounded like it was right there in the room with me. “Holy crap,” I said, “the production is spectacular! How do they get it to sound so damn good?”
While the members of Queen deserve plenty of credit, the man chiefly responsible for the crystal-clear sound quality was producer Roy Thomas Baker, one of the titans of the recording studio in the ’70s, ’80s and beyond. He was a true innovator whose work includes some of the most successful albums of the era.
So what exactly is a record producer? What does he do?
That’s a loaded question, because he may wear many different hats, depending on the circumstances of the recording session.