Who plays what in the recording studio?

One of the great vagaries of pop music is the role of the producer. What exactly does he do? I think it varies from recording to recording; sometimes he might be a mere cheerleader, and other times he’s writing and recording the bulk of the material.

I’ll often hear a band’s recording and marvel at the quality of playing. This is especially true for younger bands. And I find myself wondering whether some or all of it was played either by the producer, or musicians brought in by the producer.

But how would this process come about? I would think the band would be offended if they were denied the ability to play on the record which bears their name. It’s possible the producer may make a concerted effort to get a take, and when it becomes clear that it will be an impossibility, he simply screams, “Jesus Christ, you stupid fucking fuck! I’ll just recorded myself!” (I was once a fly in a wall for the recording session for a major label band and noticed the producer becoming visibly agitated with the inability of the guitar player to play his parts.)

I suspect another technique is something like the following. The producer records two or three takes with a member of the band, then says something like, “Okay, that’s great stuff, Jim. Why you take the rest of the day off? I’m just going to stick around and do some filing.” He then, of course, records the parts in a professional manner. The next day, the musician comes in, listens to the tracks he “recorded” and says, “Wow, it sounds even better than I remember.” This is possible because most rock musicians are narcissistic, drug addled morons.

This reminds me of a bit of rock guitarist lore. Towards the end of Ace Frehley’s career in KISS, the guitarist was often so drunk that he couldn’t record his parts. The band brought in session guitarist Bob Kulick* to record lead guitar parts. At one point after a recording session Bob ran into an inebriated Ace in the hallway. Ace asked, “How’d I sound?” Bob replied, “Never better.”

*Bob’s brother, guitarist Bruce Kulick, would ultimately become an official member of KISS.

1 Response to “Who plays what in the recording studio?”


  1. John Saleeby

    When Aerosmith was recording their second album they were playing very well but they were so inexperienced in working in the studio that it just took too much time. So Jack Douglas and Bob Ezrin brought the guys from The Alice Cooper Band in do a lot of the playing.

    I just felt like talking about that.

    Cheap Trick supposedly did a lot of the playing on those shitty Motley Crue records.