The Creative System of Commercial Record Production

  • Paul Thompson
Part of the Leisure Studies in a Global Era book series (LSGE)


A system’s perspective sees the individual or agent as only one part of a system and underlines that creativity arises from the dynamic interaction between the agent and the system’s other elements: a domain and field. Systems are not isolated however, they are connected to, and dependent upon, other systems (Skyttner in General Systems Theory: Problems, Perspectives, Practice, World Scientific, River Edge, NJ, 2006). Their connections are so intricate and multi-layered that: ‘a system in one perspective is a subsystem in another’ (Laszlo in The Systems View of the World: The Natural Philosophy of the New Developments in the Sciences, George Braziller, New York, 1972, p. 14). Consequently, within the creative system of commercial record production, there are a series of multi-layered, vertical, horizontal and diagonally interconnected systems. In particular, the creative systems of songwriting, performing, engineering and producing can be seen to directly contribute to the production of the final recording (Zak in The Poetics of Rock: Cutting Tracks, Making Records, University of California Press, London, 2001). This chapter introduces the history, traditions and function of these distinct but interconnected systems beginning first with the creative system of songwriting.


  1. Barber, S. (2016). Will You Love Me Tomorrow: The Brill Building and the Creative Labor of the Professional Songwriter. In J. Williams & K. Williams (Eds.), The Cambridge Companion to the Singer-Songwriter. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  2. Becker, H. S. (1982). Art Worlds. Los Angeles: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  3. Beer, D. (2014). The Precarious Double Life of the Recording Engineer. Journal for Cultural Research, 18(3), 189–202.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Blier-Carruthers, A. (2013, April 6). The Performer’s Place in the Process and Product of Recording. Presented at the CMPCP Performance Studies Network International Conference, University of Cambridge.Google Scholar
  5. Burgess, R. (2013). The Art of Music Production: The Theory and Practice. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  6. Doyle, P. (2004). From ‘Blue Heaven’ to ‘Race with the Devil’: Echo, Reverb and (Dis)ordered Space in Early Popular Music Recording. Popular Music, 23(1), 31–49.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Erlewine, M., Thomas, S., & Woodstra, C. (1995). All Music Guide to Rock: The Definitive Guide to Rock, Pop and Soul. San Francsico: Miller Freeman Books.Google Scholar
  8. Feld, S. (1994). From Schizophrenia to Schitzmogenisis: On the Discourses and Commodification Practices of ‘World Music’ and ‘World Beat’. In C. Keil & S. Feld (Eds.), Music Grooves. Chicago: Chicago University Press.Google Scholar
  9. Fitzgerald, J. (1995). Motown Crossover Hits 1963–1966 and the Creative Process. Popular Music, 14(1), 1–11.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Foucault, M. (1979). Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. New York: Vintage Books.Google Scholar
  11. (2008). Producer Grammy® Award Eligibility, Crediting Definitions. Available from: Last accessed June 2018.
  12. Greig, D. (2009). Performing for (and Against) the Microphone. In N. Cook, E. Clarke, D. Leech Wilkinson, & J. Rink (Eds.), The Cambridge Companion to Recorded Music (pp. 16–29). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  13. Hayward, K. (2013). Tin Pan Alley: The Rise of Elton John. London: Soundcheck Books.Google Scholar
  14. Hennion, A. (1990). The Production of Success: An Anti-musicology of the Pop Song. In S. Frith & A. Goodwin (Eds.), On Record: Rock, Pop and the Written Word (pp. 185–206). London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  15. Horning, S. S. (2004). Engineering the Performance: Recording Engineers, Knowledge and the Art of Controlling Sound. Social Studies of Science, 34(5), 703–773.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Howlett, M. (2012, June). The Record Producer as Nexus. Journal on the Art of Record Production (6). Available from: Last accessed February 2015.
  17. Inglis, I. (2003). “Some Kind of Wonderful”: The Creative Legacy of the Brill Building. American Music, 21(2), 214–235.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Jasen, D. A. (2003). Tin Pan Alley: An Encyclopedia of the Golden Age of American Song. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  19. Katz, M. (2004). Capturing Sound: How Technology Has Changed Music. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  20. Kealy, E. R. (1990). From Craft to Art: The Case of Sound Mixers and Popular Music. In S. Frith & A. Goodwin (Eds.), On Record: Rock, Pop and the Written Word (pp. 207–220). London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  21. Koestler, A. (1975). The Act of Creation (2nd ed.). New York: Dell.Google Scholar
  22. Laing, D. (1969). The Sound of Our Time. Chicago: Quadrangle.Google Scholar
  23. Laszlo, E. (1972). The Systems View of the World: The Natural Philosophy of the New Developments in the Sciences. New York: George Braziller.Google Scholar
  24. Longhurst, B. (1995). Popular Music and Society. Cambridge: Polity Press.Google Scholar
  25. Long Lingo, E., & O’Mahony, S. (2010). Nexus Work: Brokerage on Creative Projects. Administrative Science Quarterly, 5, 47–81.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. McIntyre, P. (2008, November). The Systems Model of Creativity: Analyzing the Distribution of Power in the Studio. Journal on the Art of Record Production (3). Available from: Last accessed Oct 2018.
  27. McIntyre, P. (2012). Creativity and Cultural Production: Issues for Media Practice. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
  28. McIntyre, P. (2013). Creativity as a System in Action. In K. Thomas & J. Chan (Eds.), Handbook of Research on Creativity (pp. 84–97). Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar.Google Scholar
  29. Moorefield, V. (2005). The Producer as Composer: Shaping the Sounds of Popular Music. London: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  30. Neuenfeldt, K. (2004). ‘An Australian Case Study of Producing “World Music” Recordings’. In P. Greene & T. Porcello (Eds.), Wired for Sound: Engineering and Technologies in Sonic Cultures, pp. 84–102. Hanover NH: Wesleyan Press.Google Scholar
  31. Palmer, R. (1995). Rock and Roll: An Unruly History. New York: Harmony.Google Scholar
  32. Potter, J. (1998). Vocal Authority: Singing Style and Ideology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Potter, J. (2000). The Cambridge Companion to Singing. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Seabrook, J. (2015). The Song Machine, Inside the Hit Factory. London: Jonathan Cape/Vintage Publishing.Google Scholar
  35. Shuker, R. (1994). Understanding Popular Music. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  36. Shuker, R. (2006). Understanding Popular Music Culture (2nd ed.). London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  37. Skyttner, L. (2006). General Systems Theory: Problems, Perspectives, Practice (2nd ed.). River Edge, NJ: World Scientific.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Till, R. (2016). Singer-Songwriter Authenticity, the Unconscious and Emotions (Feat. Adele’s “Someone Like You”). In K. Williams & J. A. Williams (Eds.), The Cambridge Companion to the Singer-Songwriter (pp. 291–304). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Tingen, P. (2005). Steve Albini: Sound Engineer Extraordinaire. Available from: Last accessed May 2018.
  40. Williams, A. (2010, December 3–4). Celluloid Heroes: Fictional Truths of Recording Studio Practice on Film. In Proceedings of the 2010 Art of Record Production Conference. Leeds, UK: Leeds Metropolitan University. Available from: Last accessed Feb 2015.
  41. Zagorski-Thomas, S. (2006). “We Don’t Write Songs. We Write Records”: a compositional methodology based on late 20th century popular music. In Proceedings of the International Computer Music Association Conference (Vol. 2006, pp. 585–592). Available from: Last accessed Oct 2018.
  42. Zagorski-Thomas, S. (2012, December 2–4). Towards a Typology of Issues Affecting Performance in the Recording Studio. In Proceedings of the 2011 Art of Record Production Conference. San Francisco, CA: San Francisco State University.Google Scholar
  43. Zak, A. (2001). The Poetics of Rock: Cutting Tracks, Making Records. London: University of California Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Zak, A. (2013). I Don’t Sound Like Nobody: Remaking Music in 1950s America. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.Google Scholar

Recordings Cited

  1. Bowie, David. (1974). Diamond Dogs. RCA.Google Scholar
  2. Clarkson, Kelly. (2004). Breakaway. Walt Disney/RCA.Google Scholar
  3. Dr Ross. (1954). Boogie Disease. Sun Records.Google Scholar
  4. Frankie Goes to Hollywood. (1984). Welcome to the Pleasuredome. ZTT.Google Scholar
  5. Jackson, Michael. (1982). Thriller. Epic/CBS.Google Scholar
  6. Lennon, John. (1971). John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band. Apple.Google Scholar
  7. Little Walter. (1952). “Juke”. Chess Records.Google Scholar
  8. Perry, Katy. (2010). California Gurls. Capitol.Google Scholar
  9. Presley, Elvis. (1955). Mystery Train. Sun Records.Google Scholar
  10. Spears, Britney. (2001). Cinderella. Jive.Google Scholar
  11. U2. (1987). ‘Running to Stand Still’, The Joshua Tree. Island.Google Scholar
  12. West, Kanye. (2004). ‘Breath In, Breath Out’. The College Dropout. Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Paul Thompson
    • 1
  1. 1.Leeds Beckett UniversityLeedsUK

Personalised recommendations