The Recording Producer

When everyone assembles in the venue to make a recording, does the producer have the audiophile in mind or the average music listner with average playback equipment?
Depends on the engineer and the artist they are working with. Digital artists like Bjork leave less room for the engineer / producer to effect the end results.

By contrast, recent American Records sessions of Johnny Cash are almost as elegantly engineered as the old Rudy Van Gelder pressings. Very simple set up, very minimalist approach with stunning results.

Many pop artists are engineered and mixed to make the sound acceptable for FM reception (such as in an automobile), where most of us are most likely to hear the song the first time. Certainly these can be fun to listen to musically, but can be disappointing from a audiophile standpoint.
Albert pretty much hit the nail on the head, just as he usually does.

As mentioned, this will vary from artist to artist, producer to producer and engineer to engineer. I know of one specific band that used to do their final mix by listening to it on cassette via generic headphones and a Walkman. If it didn't sound like what they wanted when listening in that manner, they would re-mix and go from there until they got what they wanted. Quite honestly, i always thought that the finished product was not very good even though i liked the bands' music quite a bit.

I know of another band that used to do their final mixes using a bunch of crappy old car stereo speakers and listen to those when doing their final mix. They assumed that if they could get their recordings to sound good using what would represent a "junky" car stereo, it would sound even better with high quality equipment. Believe it or not, this band was very successful and their recordings really didn't sound that bad either.

The problem with using systems like the above is that the recording becomes "tainted" with the equalization and changes to the mix required to overcome the limitations of the low resolution system. For instance, mixing and EQ'ing a disc using speakers with very little bass output would require adding a ton of bottom end to the recording to get it to sound well balanced. If the band was looking for a "heavy" or "powerful" sound, they might throw in even more bottom end than what it would take to make a balanced sound on such a system. When those of us that have high resolution systems that are capable of full range reproduction listen to such a recording, it comes across as being bloated and muddy sounding. The same thing occurs when they use treble deficient systems to mix the recordings i.e. they end up too "hot" sounding on a decent system.

There is the opposite approach also. Many producers / engineers know that most systems are not capable of a lot of bottom end or extreme treble, so they try to cram as much info into the midrange as possible. As such, they end up with a recording that sounds very forward and lacking at the frequency extremes.

Now you know why some recordings sound the way that they do. Much of what we hear as a finished product has to do with a lack of resolution in the studio with a bit of it having to do with the personal tastes of the artist, engineer and producer. Combining the two ( non-linear monitor system with exagerated personal tastes ) can really produce some horrid results. Either way, most all of it could sound a LOT better if you ask me : ) Sean
I would say it's totally down to the artist,of course then the ability of the producer comes into play.
It's really what the artist wanys to protray and project with the music and in some cases the producer is almost like another member of the band in terms of his importance.
George Martin springs to mind.
It's also interesting to note some major artists particulary brilliant live bands have really struggled to nail their sound in the studio.
Also take someone like Dylan who probably since '66 has found the recording studio to be much more of an enemy than a friend.
I believe it is totally down to the artist the quality of the produced record-I would imagine if you are aiming at the mainstream or teen market then you would guess that their equipment would be reasonably cheap and therefore you produce with that in mind.
Likewise there are clearly "audiophile" artists who make sure their records fit that bill.
I would also imagine that some "audiophile" pleasing artists like Steely Dan say,are more of an accident because their perfectionism,musicianship and attention to detail naturally produce great sounding records but I would argue this is not because they set out to make a recording that is pleasing to audio fans.
It's also interesting to note the "artistic" input of the record producers-people like Brian Eno,Daniel Lanois and even the Mutt Lange's and Bob Rocks-sometimes the producer has saved the careers of artists or taken them to new found heights due to their input on the "sound" of a band.
However I do think it's always the artist that is the major player in terms of what they want to achieve in terms of sonics and the actual music.
It depends on the type of music and its targeted market.

Major label pop/rock releases are strongly influenced by marketing and demographic considerations. If the artist is a "boy band" and the target audience is young teen girls, then the assumption is made that the girls aren't listening on Revel/Levinson systems, but instead will hear it on a boombox, TV or car radio. The sound is tailored to sound best on these limited bandwidth, poor resolution systems. Specifically, the engineer (including the mastering engineer) makes sure that the lead vocal the beat (usually the snare drum) are clear and upfront in the mix. At the other end of the spectrum when Joni Mitchell goes into the studio with a full orchestra to record a selection of classic standards, then she, her producer and the engineers will try to faithfully capture the sound of the musicians performance without any real assumptions about the home listeners playback system. (Actually, for stereo releases they always check for mono compatibility and for multi-channel release they check for stereo playback.)

Over the last five years there's been a strong trend to increase the overall volume level in pop/rock releases. Mastering engineers say that clients (which can be a combination of the producer, artist and record label) are insisting that they make the final mixes as hot in level as possible. The mastering engineer applies a combination of limiting, EQ and compression to raise the average recorded level, sometimes to the point actually exceeding digital full scale. The end recording is dynamically limited and distorted, but it's very loud. Compare the first Sheryl Crow relase "Tuesday Night" to her last record "C'mon, C'mon". This maximum loudness trend is wide spread and has strongly anti-audiophile implications.
Seems as though the producer has influence over what gets laid down to a varying degree. One would hope that they have the ultimate listener in mind in their efforts, though clearly this is not always the case, whether it is by design or not.

While I have always liked the Beatles very, very much, I wonder if Sir George was the producer of choice for the best SOUND, or not.

Even wonderful artists like Miles Davis, who liked to tightly run his own ship, deferred to the genius of the aforementioned Rudy Van Gelder. Recall the LP Relaxin' and the cut "You're My Everything" where Davis stops the recording at its beginning and says, "Give me some block chords, Red (Garland)". Then he ASKS, "Alright, Rudy?", before reiterating "Block chords, Red".

Amazing what a producer can contribute to the same collection of songs, too. I have read several kudos on this forum with respect to the production capabilities of Doug Sax. Sax has had his moments, but is not always the best choice, IMHO. Witness the Analogue Production CD remastering of "Art Pepper meets Rhythm Section". Apparently, Bernie Grundman wanted to be involved and AP wanted Sax to do the remastering but ultimately asked both he and Grundman to remaster a separate version of the classic so that Grundman would not be offended. Well, at least on my deck, the Sax version reminds me that I have two distinct speakers, since the all of sound comes from there, ONLY. On the other hand, the Grundman version gives a wide, deep soundstage. Go Figure...though I hasten to add that the Sax remastering on 180gr vinyl is EXCELLENT
The use of compression and limiting is needed for airplay and with use of sub-standard electronics. (Some will distort heavily when pushed with too much dynamic contrast).

Other factors are microphones and recording components that limit the dynamics within the recording. For example, some mike pre-amps are more dynamic and therefore realistic than others. Better, more dynamic mike preamps cost more as well other higher grade components through the recording process.

Some engineers will only use computers and "Pro-Tools", which some feel reduces the fidelity of recordings, though is much easier to manage. Effort and concern is of importance; You can buy a 59 cent loaf of bread or spend $2.00 baking the perfect bread. It's all a matter of priorities. Some audiophile labels get it, some don't.