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Notes on Music Production: The Journey from Queen to Queen Bey

During my daily wanderings through the vast reaches of the digital world, where music and culture collide in unexpected ways, life once again hit me with a very strong meme that has provoked considerable debate and a lot of curiosity online. The meme in question brought together two iconic songs, each remarkable in their own right but very different in their creation. The meme not only humoured some of us, but also sparked a juicy debate about the role and recognition of music producers and songwriters in the big-bucks music industry, both today and in the past.



The image in question give us Beyoncé's "Run the World (Girls)" off of her studio album 4 (2011) on one side, with a stunning photo of Queen Bey accompanied by credits for six songwriters, four producers, and the full lyrics of the song. Even fans of Beyoncé will note that this song, despite its powerful message, revolves mainly around the repetition of a few lines rather than a wide range of lyrics. On the other hand, the meme features the legendary Freddie Mercury and "Bohemian Rhapsody" (1975), emphasising that it was the work of a single writer and producer. This image was accompanied by a presentation of the song's complex and varied lyrics, underlining its complexity and depth. This visual comparison triggered an avalanche of reactions and interpretations, with which I somewhat agreed... but not entirely.


Adding to the superficial debate about musical quality, the discussion ventured into far worse territory, including the implications of comparing Beyoncé–a black female icon–to Freddie Mercury, a revered queer legend from another era. There is no point in pitting identity communities against themselves and one another when we can learn from all of them. I won't get too much into the extremely nuanced debates about race and gender here, but the impact of the meme raises other intriguing questions, too.


Why do some songs have multiple credited producers, while others have far fewer?

I wanted to learn more about the world of music production to find out what really goes on behind the scenes. It's an exploration that goes beyond simply writing lyrics, because ultimately it's the execution of a song, rather than the number of contributors, that defines its success and lasting impact.


 

A music producer and a composer play different roles in the musical production process, although sometimes their responsibilities may overlap, especially in today's music production environment.



What goes on into today's music production process?

The music production process is a versatile undertaking in which songwriters and producers collaborate, each playing different but complementary roles. Songwriters are primarily responsible for composing the lyrics and sometimes the harmony of songs. Like composers, songwriters work in collaboration with others to create distinctive, original, and inspiring music that can be purchased and marketed to consumers. They often expect a percentage of the revenue from the performance rights of their work once the song is published. The music producer, on the other hand, is a strategist at the head of the creative team. He or she is primarily responsible for the results of the studio work, shaping the artist's sonic style and ensuring the success of the recording.


The career path of today's music producer reflects the seismic shifts in technology in recent years, where the arts of collaboration and versatility shine brighter than ever. In this dynamic landscape, technology stands as the mastermind, sometimes controlling industry moves that allow artists and producers to create tunes that are as flexible as they are innovative. Do you want a whole band and a recording studio tucked into your laptop? As producers know, that's what virtual studio technology (VST) is for, allowing you to mix, match, and play with sounds in ways you never thought possible in just a few clicks.


And AI, of course, now comes more and more to the mix. Artificial intelligence has long been learning how musicians work together, capturing how they exchange ideas and using that knowledge to help create and tweak music in new and exciting ways. For the last 30 years, AI has been used in the collaborative process of composing and producing music by modeling interactions between songwriters and training computational systems to understand and adapt to their patterns. It's no surprise, therefore, that the biggest change in music production since the "Bohemian Rhapsody" era has undoubtedly been the digital revolution. The internet, streaming services, and social media platforms have also made it easier for artists to distribute their music worldwide and connect directly with fans, bypassing the traditional talent gatekeepers of the 1970s entertainment industry. With this in mind, let's look at how the two aforementioned songs were produced.


 

The production of Bohemian Rhapsody


The creation of Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" certainly had a relatively small core team, but it required the combined efforts of multiple professionals to achieve its final form. A masterpiece that grand was not the product of just one producer and writer.


The heart of the song's creation were the four members of Queen:


  • Freddie Mercury - Lead vocals, piano, and writer of the song.

  • Brian May - Electric guitar, backing vocals.

  • Roger Taylor - Drums, backing vocals.

  • John Deacon - Bass guitar.


In addition to the band members, other key professionals involved included the following:


  • Roy Thomas Baker - Producer of the song, who played a crucial role in bringing Freddie Mercury's vision to life through innovative studio techniques.

  • Mike Stone - Engineer who also played a significant part in the technical aspects of recording the song.

  • Gary Langan - An assistant engineer who worked on the song, later recounting the complexity of the recording process in interviews.


I'm a big fan of this song, as are a lot of people all over the English-speaking world. But here's the thing: what really blows me away about this song, and the genius of Freddie Mercury, is that it is an unabashed anthem about homosexuality for those who have ears to hear it. And let me tell you, it doesn't play with queer stereotypes; it goes beyond that and grabs them by the horns, dresses them up in opera costumes, and struts them down Main Street proudly and with all the ostentation of a high-drama theatre show. This song is not shy. It's as if Mercury and his band had stormed the opera house, taken all the glitz and drama and said, "let's shake up the mainstream with this opera." Watching the mini-doc on the song, you can almost feel the excitement (and maybe a little anxiety?) of borrowing those lofty operatic vibes. And yes, I bet some classical opera fans in the 70s choked on their monocles when Queen called their album A Night At The Opera. I don't necessarily disagree with the video's premise that this song also communicates the inability to live an open queer life, but I also have a strong sense that the song is empowering despite so much struggle.


But let's not forget, "Bohemian Rhapsody" isn’t just about being bold. It’s got the chops, musically speaking, mingling with the high-brow technicalities of classical music in a way that’s downright cheeky. The song’s structure, its lyrical depth... it's all discussed way at the end of that documentary, emphasizing how lines like, “I killed a man,” or, “anywhere the wind blows,” resonate with the queer experience and the secrecy and struggles of living a life that was not widely accepted at the time of the song's creation. It’s a message that’s still punch-in-the-gut powerful today for anyone grappling with their sexuality. And then there’s the music itself: those iconic riffs and the harmonic brilliance. It's like getting a backstage pass to Freddie's mind when you hear those isolated tracks. The discussion about his rhythmic genius within the classical frame just shows how deep and layered this song really is. It’s not just a hit; it’s a masterpiece of complexity and emotional depth that keeps speaking to us, loud and proud, through the decades.


In short, "Bohemian Rhapsody" is a bold, brilliant, queer-as-hell opera that rocked the 70s and hasn’t stopped since.


 

The production of Beyoncé Who Run The World (Girls)

The creation of "Run the World (Girls)" by Beyoncé involved a considerably larger and more diverse team than Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody," reflecting changes in music production techniques, technology, and the music industry from the 1970s to the 2010s. "Run the World (Girls)" showcases modern digital production, sampling, and a global approach to music creation.


For "Run the World (Girls)," key professionals involved included:


  • Beyoncé - Lead vocals, songwriter, and producer. She was actively involved in the song's creative process, from its conception to its final mix.

  • The-Dream (Terius Nash) - Songwriter and producer. Known for his work across multiple hit songs, he played a significant role in crafting the song's underlying themes and production.

  • Switch (Dave Taylor) - Producer and co-writer, notable for his work in electronic and dance music, contributed to the song's distinctive sound, which includes elements of EDM and world music.

  • Shea Taylor - Co-producer who has worked closely with Beyoncé on various projects.

  • Diplo (Thomas Wesley Pentz) - Co-producer, known for his influence on electronic dance music and global sounds, Diplo's involvement added a unique layer to the song's production.


The song prominently features a sample from "Pon de Floor" by Major Lazer, a collaborative project involving Diplo, which itself required coordination with additional songwriters and producers associated with the original track. Additionally, the production of "Run the World (Girls)" would have involved various engineers, mixers, mastering engineers, and possibly additional musicians and vocalists for backing vocals, instrumentation, and effects. The music video production for the song, known for its elaborate choreography and visual effects, brought in a separate team of professionals, including directors, choreographers, cinematographers, and many others.


Beyoncé’s "Who Run The World (Girls)" isn't just a song; it's a whole vibe, and it’s got more layers than an onion. It's not just about the lyrics; it’s the beats, the dance moves, and a big shout out to African culture. The making of the music video was basically a love letter to African American creativity, with a behind-the-scenes crew that was as passionate about the project as Beyoncé herself. Then there's Tofo Tofo, the dance gurus Beyoncé brought in. Because, let’s be honest, if your dance moves need a boost, who else are you going to call? Their influence on the choreography was like adding hot sauce to an already spicy dish–it really brought the whole thing to life.


Critics who only focus on the lyrics are missing out. It’s like going to a party and only eating the celery sticks on a snack spread–why would you do that when there’s so much more on offer? "Who Run The World (Girls)" is a celebration packed into a song, and it’s impossible not to catch the dance bug when you hear it. I mean, if you can listen to it without even a toe tap, are you even alive? So, no, it might not be the deepest poem ever sung, but who cares? It's fun, it's fierce, and it makes you want to dance like nobody's watching. And that’s why it’s a banger in my book. Let’s not overthink it – just turn up the volume and let loose!


 

To compare the brilliance of Beyoncé's "Run the World (Girls)" and Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" on the basis of a single parameter, such as lyrical content, is to overlook the rich and complex layers of creativity, production, and cultural meaning embedded in the music industry. The process of musical production is a multi-faceted art form that goes beyond lyrics and encompasses sound engineering, instrumental composition, vocal performance, and the integration of cultural themes. In addition, the evolution of technology and the music market over time has expanded the opportunities for artists to express themselves and connect with audiences.


"Run the World (Girls)" is a powerful cultural anthem that resonates deeply in African communities, celebrating female empowerment and resilience. On the other hand, "Bohemian Rhapsody" stands out as a poignant masterpiece, subtly reflecting the struggles and narratives of the queer community since the 1970s. To reduce these works to a comparison of their textual content is to miss the essence of their impact and the diversity of their appeal.


Music transcends words, offering a range of experiences, emotions, and reflections on society. In celebrating the diverse and rich ways in which we can enjoy and interpret music today, we recognise the extraordinary talent and vision of artists like Beyoncé and Queen, whose contributions continue to inspire and move people around the world.


What do you want to see covered on Enharmonic Magazine next? Let us know.


1 Comment


Guest
Mar 05

29 March couldn't come any sooner haha.



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