During the recording of Leonard Cohen's Death of a Ladies' Man LP in 1978, producer Phil Spector supposedly kept a loaded gun on the console and picked it up when Cohen demanded that he be allowed to re-record his vocals. It may or may not have been the same gun he supposedly brandished in order to persuade the Ramones to add strings to their Christmas song. Whether or not these stories are gospel truth doesn't diminish the power of the creative relationships they evoke: record producer as paranoid warlord, band as lowly serfs.
Spector is one of the more vivid examples that there are, as there are as many different kinds of producers as there are kinds of bands. Look only to George Martin for an antidote to Spector's megalomaniacal tendencies, and find a benevolent, parental wizard coaxing greatness out of the Beatles, adding masterful orchestral arrangements or boiling down the work and inventing new sounds. The nature of the relationship between band and producer can be symbiotic, parasitic, or just plain hopeless, depending on the players and the stakes. And although the Spectors and Martins are generally the most fun to fantasize over, the real truth about the producer-band interface is usually far less glamorous.
If you're in a band and have never worked with a producer, or if you're just curious about what the hell a producer does, here are a couple totally subjective observations. It's important to remember that requirements vary from project to project, and every band is different, and blah-dee blah-dee bloo.
¥Producers want to make records. Seattle is lousy with producers, many of them world-class and willing to work for very little money if they like your band. A good first step is to try and meet people whose work you admire and think is compatible with the music you want to make. Most people are flattered when you compliment them by noticing their prowess. They also like doing what they do. Despite appearances to the contrary, this town's music community is distinguished by the accessibility of its inhabitants--you can find them at shows, through mutual acquaintances, or even in the phone book. It will probably take repeated efforts. Don't be overly aggressive, but don't be afraid, either. Even if you can't connect with your dream date, there are plenty of other options.
¥Producers know more than you. Contrary to what you've seen in the movies, the job of the producer (or at least the producer/engineer) has a lot more to do with wires and buttons and math than it does with guns and blow. Though the "artist" may be responsible for the performances, it falls to the producer (who is every inch an artist) to record, foster, inspire, manipulate, and judge every facet of those performances against not only the common-ear standard (is the music "good"?), but the secret world of sonic science that only producers and engineers can hear (is the high end too wiggly?). Of course, your ideas are important; they're just not as important as you think. Recording isn't an employer-employee situation. It's a collaboration. Don't be sheepish, but don't tell them to make it sound punchier.
¥Producers are human beings. The studio can become a smelly, claustrophobic environment even under the best circumstances, but especially when time is short, budgets are tight, and space is cramped. As with every other area in life, basic manners and common sense are invaluable tools. Be on time. Pay what you owe. Clean up after yourself. Know your music and your gear. Don't touch anything that looks expensive. And for god's sake, don't hover.