Producers are unquestionably some of the most influential people making music today. They often determine the direction of entire projects, sonically and sometimes even thematically. Good producers stretch artists beyond their comfort zones, encouraging them to reach for a higher level in their art. Through their creative vision for an album, producers craft, mold and refine until it elevates from “good” to “better.” Occasionally their efforts can result in a landmark work that inspires us even years afterward. A "Lead Me On" (Amy Grant), a "Welcome to Paradise" (Randy Stonehill), a "Winds of Heaven, Stuff of Earth" (Rich Mullins) – the stuff legends are made of.

We recently had the opportunity to sit down one-on-one with five of today’s leading producers, so enjoy a rare look into the hearts and minds of these unsung music heroes, as they discuss trends, controversies, ministry, Whitney Houston and the future of Christian music.

CCM:  It seems like 10-15 years ago, it was fairly common for one producer to be at the helm of an entire record, while now it is very common for there to be anywhere from two to 12 producers, depending on the artist and the genre of music. Why do you think that is, and, from your perspective, is that a good or a bad thing?

Michael Omartian:  I think it really just comes down to taking people who’ve had a certain amount of success and saying, “If we put five producers together who do well, it increases our odds of doing well.” The trouble is the albums are pretty safe sounding – kind of a homogenized mish-mash of songs you hope you can get a hit with.

Steve Hindalong:  I think it’s because of radio. And that happens in the pop world, too. I’m not really comfortable with that, not really excited about doing just a couple of songs. I still think of an album as a whole, of the entire scope of the project. Although it can be successfully done; Nichole Nordeman’s latest album was a good example.

Tedd T:  It really depends on what sort of musical vision the artist or group has in mind.  Artists looking for an eclectic mix of music can benefit from each producer bringing in his or her different musical influences. But if you’re talking about a band that’s going after a particular direction and sound, having several producers can be a hindrance. Then you want someone who can help you define that sound and keep you focused.

Brown Bannister:  It’s kind of like everything else that we’ve done in Christian music: We sort of modeled ourselves after the secular market. It seems like kids, at least when I watch my own kids, they just check out things; and then they download. (My kids don’t download unless they pay for it.) They download everything, and then they put it in a playlist. With that in view, this sort of album-sculpting and album production is kind of falling out of vogue, in a sense, because of the way people listen to music now. Still, just being old school, I still prefer full albums.

CCM:  As digital downloading increases through legal sites like iTunes and the new Napster, there is talk throughout the industry at large that the full-length, 10-song CD as we know it is on its way out and that single-song releases from artists are the wave of the future. What is your reaction to that, both from a professional standpoint and a music-lover’s standpoint?

Bannister:  You know, part of it’s current technology, part of it is that I just don’t think the music business, in general, has done a great job at providing value and content of albums as a whole.

CCM:  Which I think has driven consumers to the point where they’d rather buy only one or two songs off an album.