How Executive Producers Work

Job Description of an Executive Producer

The Who's executive producer helped select the songs for their greatest hits compilation.
The Who's executive producer helped select the songs for their greatest hits compilation.
© Charles Gallay/Getty Images for MTV

What is an executive producer? As you've already seen, the term is difficult to define because the duties vary so much. Add to that the differences between a music producer, a motion picture producer or a television producer, and the definition gets even more complicated. We'll take a closer look at each of these types of executive producers in the pages to come, but first let's consider the job description of an executive producer more generally.

The simplest way of looking at it may be to say that an executive producer is the executive charged with producing the project, whether it's a film, an album or a TV series. That may mean taking charge of the entire project or providing some skill or resource that is absolutely vital to the project's success.

For example, an executive producer can be a "suit," someone who watches where the money goes and keeps the project on track. Often executive producers work for the studio or the record label to make sure the company's investment pays off.

Or an executive producer can be a backer who bankrolls the majority of the project or puts up a partial share and then brings in investors to fund the rest.

An executive producer can roll up his sleeves and really get into the production process, as Puffy Combs did with "Born Again," or take on a vital part of the project, as Chris Charlesworth did for The Who. Particularly in the independent music or film industries, an executive producer can wind up doing virtually everything not handled by artists and crew.

An executive producer also can be a well-known producer or director who lends his name to a project to give it greater visibility. Steven Spielberg, George Clooney and others have been listed as executive producers for films for name's sake -- even without taking any active role in the production process.

And there's no reason why a motion picture or record album needs to have only one executive producer. Several producers often share the title on a film, reflecting their varied input. In the case of The Who's retro albums, Charlesworth shared producer credit with John Astley, an experienced music producer who did the remastering, and Bill Curbishley, the band's manager [source: Richard James Burgess].

Next, let's look at what an executive producer does in the motion picture industry.