Well, every production is a recording. But not every recording is a production.
When we play live we may start quiet, get louder, drop down to a middle section then get big to finish. So one person with a guitar has a presence in the room and that person’s visible emotions are in the performance that brings the song to life. The listener has two dimensions to experience: the audio and visual.
But when we make a recording we want to convey all that you are seeing in the live performance. And somehow you have to reproduce the visual element when you don’t have it.
That’s where production comes in. It assesses how to convey the wider emotion of the song through the arrangement and its dynamics.
In a recording the dynamics aren’t just about loud and quiet. They are principally about the frequency bandwidth in the song’s arrangement.
What does that mean? It means that the song, when it is recorded, will feel like it’s getting louder because you add more instruments or sounds in the low frequencies or higher frequencies. So the spectrum of sound gets wider givvng the impression of loudness.
If you simply record the perfromance that works at a club, going from soft to loud won’t have the same effect, principally because the quiet bits will be inaudible when someone listens to it at home. The song will make no impression.
A production has to compensate for this in a number of ways. Instead of simply starting quiet, it has to imply intimacy in the quieter sections by making the vocal drier (less reverb so it sounds closer to you) and maybe some of the accompanying instruments too. And then should the vocal get louder you need to increase the scale of the track to get bigger. For instance you will add more depth of the sound through the right reverbs and delays, and you will make the vocal sound like it’s filling the acoustic space you are creating in the recording. You’ll probably slightly overdrive some of the instruments to give the impression of being in a room when the singer has got loud, as our ears naturally start to crunch or distort the sound.
So the second thing the producer is listening to when you bring a song to them is how they will interpret the emotional range of the song thrugh a good arrangement. (The first thing is of course, ‘is the song in the right order?’, with the right flow and pace to make the best use of its components)
You want to keep all the feel of the song that made it work in other settings, but now in a recording. That’s an art and craft in itself.