You may not know what they do, but that doesn't mean you don't need one.
A producer in today's music industry can have many names:
Co-writer, collaborator, muse, scheduler, organizer, puppeteer, inspiration, and camp counselor.
Before assuming that the producer you hired will perform all of these tasks, please discuss with them first. But first off, lets ask the question:
"Should I hire a producer?"
The answer is YES! but it is also sometimes, maybe, and sometimes no. It really has to be right for your project. For example, if you are just a solo act recording a single to be sent to your local bar for a gig, the answer is probably not. But if your band is hitting the studio for it's first full-length album backed by a label then the answer is 100% yes. It's all about what fits your band and your needs and what you can afford. A producer isn't right for every project but the right producer can benefit any project with the right expectations/goals in advance. So lets break down the different roles of a producer and how it affects your project.
This is the primary reason to hire a producer and get them involved ASAP. If possible, get a producer in on the action during the pre production stage before you even book the studio. A good producer with lots of writing background can help you refine your music and improve it in so many ways. Maybe your music isn't easily digestible or doesn't quite hit the mark you're looking for. Producers can help you define your sound, your message, and your brand for the better. Don't skip on the opportunity to bring in a producer early and often to make the most out of your upcoming studio session.
Your producer is a partner, a co-worker, and a missing piece of the puzzle all in one. View them as a helping hand instead of an adversary and your record will be all the better for it. Bounce every idea you have off your producer to see what lights them up. They can be a great gauge for what your audience desires, what sells, and everything you can do to make it happen.
Do you lack inspiration or vision? Or maybe you lack a quality message or material for a song. Or just need a fun melody or call and response slogan? Let your producer help. A good producer will have a catalogue of ideas, inspiration, and suggestions to help you conquer even the worst of writers block.
Finding the right engineers or musicians for your record and coordinating all of them to be in the right spot at the right time can be a challenge. That's why you hired a producer. They have the skills and contacts to get the right musicians on your record with the right engineers at the helm.
Do you know how to keep a band, managers, a record label, a studio, or mixing and mastering engineers all organized and on task? Let your producer do it. That's what you're paying them for. View them as a conductor of a symphony and your job will be a lot easier. Remember, when you're in the studio, you only want to have to worry about your own performance and nothing else.
Sometimes the bassist isn't the best person to perform bass on the record. The same can be said for all aspects of the recording process. One job of the producer is to get the best performance possible in the studio whatever it takes. It's your job as the musician to put your ego aside, trust them, and support the band/record in whatever way gets the job done. If your guitarist can smash out a better bass performance than your bassist, then so be it. It's the bassists job to help write, compose, produce tones, learn the parts, and perform them well on stage. So what if it wasn't their performance on the record. Remember, you're paying too much money to let your ego ruin your record.
While in the studio, your producer's role is to inspire the best possible performance out of the entire band. They can certainly help you find your tone, your sound, and your energy, but helping you bring the best you out of you and capture it in the studio is one of the most important things your producer can help you do. Unlike you, they've spent 1000's of hours in the studio and can be your number one ally in getting the best performance for the record. Trust them and they'll take care of the rest.
Is your vocalist having lady troubles or your bassist too drunk or your drummer came unprepared? Sometimes having an outside person to break the hard news or be a shoulder to cry on can be exactly what's needed. I don't like to give negative feedback to my band mates but sometimes it's needed and I'm not the best person to deliver the news. Having an outsider deliver the news that a song doesn't flow, or a performance doesn't fit can be taken at face value since it doesn't come from somebody with years of history together. A second opinion should always be viewed as an asset.
Every project can use a Producer but not every project needs one. The first step is to decide if you need one and if you can afford one. Don't dismiss having a producer as a luxury. Not having a valuable producer on your side during this process can cause you an untold amount of lost revenue, distribution, and longevity. Place this expense as high on your budget as possible and you won't be disappointing.