Cast Album Producer

  • Cast Album Producer

For both the preservation of musical theater history and entertainment value, the producers of a Broadway or off-Broadway musical regularly commission the production of a cast album for new shows and popular revivals. Occasionally live performances are recorded and produced for sale as albums, but more often, the entire cast and orchestra are brought to a recording studio to lay down tracks.


Duties

The cast album producer is hired by the show producer (or another controlling entity who will release the album) to oversee and direct the production of the recording. Among the album producer’s primary responsibilities are securing time and space with a studio, hiring the recording engineer and mix engineer, and scheduling sessions with the cast and musicians. He or she will work closely with the show’s composer and lyricist, if they’re available. The cast album producer’s chief concerns are to stay true to the composer’s and lyricist’s vision and to replicate the feel of the live show.

For each album, the producer will determine the most effective means of reproducing the aural quality of being there, listening to the live performance. Traditionally, the orchestration is recorded separately from the lead vocals, then layered in the mixing phase. Those tracks are then combined with a third recording of an ensemble of background vocalists, otherwise known as the chorus. However, different techniques are employed for scores that are more complex. In recording the cast album for the 2009 revival of Hair, where nearly every performer sings on every track, the entire cast and orchestra were placed in the studio together, with the actors rotating amongst several microphones (each on a separately tuned channel) then blended and balanced in post-production. The trick for the producer and recording engineer is to determine the proper isolation patterns (physically separating the vocalists in the studio) to accomplish the full, rich, depth of a big chorus number, while still achieving the clarity of individual lead voices.

Skills & Education

A formal education in recording arts, music, or theatrical production is encouraged, but not required. However, professional training in music production is necessary. The producer must be knowledgeable about audio consoles, mixing, and audio equipment like microphones and related outboard gear. Similarly, familiarity with systems like Pro Tools is crucial. This career demands an individual who is technically skilled and artistically talented. You should consider studying composition and music history, as well as the science of audio engineering. A love and appreciation for theater is also important. As a genre, musicals have a distinct quality and style that separates them from popular music.

What to Expect

Recording cast albums is, by necessity, a rushed process. Broadway shows run eight performances per week with Monday as the only day off. Therefore, the cast album producer sometimes has barely 24 hours to lay down an entire musical—Hair lists 37 tracks. To the producer’s advantage, the cast and orchestra are so well-rehearsed and so comfortable with the material after a few months of production that it may only require two takes to achieve a perfect recording. Post-production and mixing allow the producer more time to perfect the album and finesse each track. Employment in this career is typically on a freelance basis, where cast album producers obtain work based on their reputation or by bidding on a project. Many working producers own and operate their own independent labels or production companies that specialize in albums for Broadway and live theater.

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