Now it’s time we take a look at music production as a career. Additionally, we’ll show you what producers, artists, and DJs do and tell you some of the necessary skills to make it in this industry.
So, you’re flirting with the idea of becoming a music producer, but you don’t really know if it’s a good choice. No worries! In the following paragraphs, we’ll show you some of the ins and outs of the profession. Hopefully, this will give you the confidence to decide whether producing music is your dream job or not. Let’s dig in!
Is Music Production a Good Career?
Music production is an excellent career for those who are genuinely passionate about music. Producers are creative beings who trade nights of rest and peace of mind for songs. If thinking on your feet, solving issues, and leading people are some of your virtues, music production is a great career.
Nowadays, the lines that separate an artist from a music producer are fragile, especially in the independent world. If you’re writing and recording music at home, you’re also producing. If you’re mixing or mastering songs, you can consider yourself a producer, too. However, to truly become a professional, you must focus and develop the necessary skills to go pro. Sometimes, online courses can help, but nothing beats real-life experience in the field.
Most people start in the music business as artists. They are creative and empowered by music and most likely learn how to play an instrument very early. But as life progresses, some feel more drawn to the recording process; others fall in love with mixing or beatmaking. But the genuine producers are those that understand the process of making records. They are the ones who can figure out what’s truly excellent work amidst a sea of similar sounds. They have a keen eye for talent, and the ears open like radars all the time. Producers can hear what others can’t in a song that’s just sprung to life. But more importantly, if they can’t do something, they know how to find someone who can.
Some great producers of our time don’t play a single instrument but still manage to get the best out of their artists and come up with terrific performances. How do they do that? If you’re considering following music production as a profession, you must be full of questions now. Good, let’s start by understanding the different kinds of producers.
How to Become a Music Producer?
To become a music producer, you must develop skills that allow you to work professionally within your chosen area. Music Producers are all those who work in the making and recording of music. They can be artists, DJs, record producers, and recording, mixing, and mastering engineers. Additionally, wide networking is required.
The necessary skills include:
- Knowledge of multiple writing, recording, and production techniques;
- Deep understanding of arrangement, performance, and emotion for several instruments and genres;
- Efficient audio editing, mixing, and mastering;
- Intense networking and knowledge of the music business;
- Knowing different audiences and current and past trends;
- Understanding all the steps of music marketing and distribution;
These skills are vital for anyone aspiring to work as a music producer in any genre. Today’s independent possibilities ensure you can make and release music from home, but simply putting your work out is pointless unless you have mastered the skillset. In short, to enter the industry and become a professional, you should consider these steps:
- Network with artists and industry insiders on LinkedIn and Instagram;
- Learn and practice how to use a DAW;
- Study music marketing continuously;
- Listen to all genres of music;
- Practice mixing and mastering;
- Sell your services as a mix and mastering engineer on Fiverr, UpWork, SoundBetter, and DJ Center;
- Produce another artist’s work;
- Produce your own music;
- Send your work for feedback on platforms such as Groover;
- Send your portfolio to labels;
- Perform your music as an artist or DJ;
These are just a few steps you can take to enter the independent music business. Obviously, there is no straight line as each person is free to make their own plan and decide how they’ll turn music production into a career.
What Are The Different Roles In Music Production?
It’s a long process for a song to grow from a simple idea into a mega-hit. And it takes a lot of people, too! Some of the different roles in music production are the record producer, the recording, mixing, mastering engineers, and the beatmaker. They’re certainly as essential for the development of a modern hit song as the artists.
Frequently, especially in low-budget projects, a producer is required to do all these things. That is currently becoming the norm, as record labels cut costs and hire fewer and fewer artists every year. If you’re producing an independent artist, which happens initially, you must have an extensive skill set. That will enable you to craft great recordings from anywhere for anybody.
Here are the most common types of producers acting in the industry and some famous names:
- Electronic Music Producer:
An Electronic Music Producer is an artist that most likely started out making songs, got picked up by a label, and makes money from performing as a DJ. Some famous names include Tiësto, Calvin Harris, and Avicii. These producers hardly ever produce other artists, mainly focusing on developing their own careers.
- Record Producers:
Producers like Pharell Williams, Dr. Dre, and Mark Ronson started as artists and still put their music out or appear as collaborators in other artists’ works. But this kind of producer’s immediate recognition comes from being in the studio nurturing other artist’s recordings.
- Recording, Mixing, and Mastering Engineer:
Sometimes your career as an engineer leads to production roles. That’s what happened to people like Sylvia Massy, Geoff Emerick, and Bruce Swedien. Recording, mixing, and mastering engineers are valued for their expertise in the recording process and creative thinking.
The beatmaker is currently the hardest-working producer in the game; since all styles of music are looking for beats and samples to create the next big hit. Everybody wants to be the next Teddy Walton or TBHits, but it also takes a focused producer to determine which beats fit which artists.
- Ghost Producer:
This type of producer creates tracks mainly for DJs who don’t have enough time to develop new material as often as necessary. Depending on the artist, they trade their royalties in the production for a considerable amount of money. Also, since they’re “ghosts,” no one knows their names.
- Sound Designers:
Sound Designers use their musical and technical abilities to create varied soundtracks for music, games, and video. Ben Burtt and Chris Thomas are among some famous examples. Nowadays, sound designers are extremely in demand as media evolves, and delivering a sonic experience becomes important from brands of all kinds.
Some artists produce their own music or get side gigs as producers from time to time. That’s what happens to people like Trent Reznor, Dan Auerbach, and Nile Rogers. Not only do these artists seek complete control of their material, but they also have a deep understanding of how the business works.
After they’ve made names for themselves in the industry, it’s not uncommon for record producers or artists to start labels or entire business operations. That’s what happened to Rick Rubin, Jimmy Iovine, and Clive Davis. These people know so much about the business they’re underused by performing a producer’s everyday duties. But some still find time to produce outstanding new records almost every year.
What Does a Music Artist Do?
Music artists express their feelings and thoughts through singing or playing instruments. They can be performers, songwriters, or both. Some artists can only write melodies, while others can come up with lyrics that complement the songs. An artist is usually years in the making, as learning instruments takes time and effort.
Music artists make money from royalties, live performances, and selling albums and songs. Major label artists work for the record companies and get better opportunities in exchange. Meanwhile, independent artists have more freedom to shape their careers, although achieving financial stability is a lot harder.
An artist becomes a music producer the moment they start writing and making decisions about their compositions. Even though several artists produce themselves, it’s essential to seek external feedback from more seasoned producers, especially when you’re just starting.
What Does a DJ Do?
Disc Jockeys, or DJs, play recorded music for live audiences or via radio broadcast. Nowadays, you can find most DJs performing EDM at clubs. They are artists with a strong sense of rhythm and a gift for keeping people energized. A DJ needs to mix different songs to create transitions that keep the party going.
An EDM artist can climb up the music business ladder and become an established DJ. They would then make money from playing live events and the label’s advance to produce new material. When a DJ goes big, it’s not uncommon to find them playing festivals the world over.
What Does a Record Producer Do?
A record producer is the one responsible for making sure all the artist’s visions come to life. They select beats, recording locations, players, and songs to match them with specific artists. More than that, record producers channel and choose the best ideas to make the best possible product come to life.
A record producer is such a multilayered job it’s hard to put into words. They do everything from helping artists overcome self-confidence obstacles to playing the piano in the recording. It all depends on the artist and what the song needs. Some producers write the entire tune’s arrangement; others overview the whole distribution process through the song’s release. Here are some of the most common roles of a producer:
- Finance & Schedule Management
The producer is responsible for keeping all recording sessions under budget and within schedule. Booking an affordable studio with attainable personnel, conducting the sessions, and paying everyone are producers’ primary jobs.
- Product Development
Balancing the artist’s intent with commercial compromises is also a producer’s responsibility. The goal is to develop a finished product that delivers unique artistic expression and appeals to the right audiences.
- Performance and Quality Check
The producer is entitled to decide whether a song’s performance is good enough to deliver the right emotional message. Gut feeling is essential here, but also is a vast knowledge of other pieces in similar genres. Additionally, the record producer must decide if every step of the recording process is up to par with the quality standards.
- Session Management
Maintaining a lightweight work environment also falls on the producer’s back. That means encouraging and nurturing the artists and keeping any egos from getting in the way of the music. A great environment brings excellent music every time.
- Artist Support
Being a record producer means staying in direct touch with the artist during the recording process and coming up with solutions. While making a record, some producers are available 24/7 over the phone or in the studio to listen and test all the artist’s ideas. Sometimes the artists need to take a load off. Producers have to be there to listen and offer a shoulder the artist can cry on. Therefore, the producer’s goal is to create the perfect environment for the artist to feel comfortable in and be as creative as possible.
From this quick overview, you can see that being a record producer can be excruciating and take a lot of your time. That’s why most producers focus on taking a single job at a time for good pay. That is primarily true for household names working for world-class artists with a record company’s budget. Either way, even the hustling beginners have to be as focused as possible. Can you imagine handling multiple artists asking you for stuff all at once? How could you possibly deliver the best for each production? If you’re working with more than one artist, the key is making sure you can provide 100% on more than one end and get the job done successfully.
What Skills Must a Record Producer Have?
An essential skill a record producer must have is managing people. They will need it to deal with the artists and make enough connections in the music industry to have everything they need at any time. Another necessary skill is having a thorough database of musical references to know what’s good or not.
Furthermore, it doesn’t harm knowing music theory and how to play as many instruments as possible. That makes it easier to describe musical ideas to musicians and even write parts for a better instrumentalist to perform. You don’t have to know everything, but you must make sure you can express what you believe is suitable for the song in the most understandable way possible. That makes the work easier for musicians and technicians working in the recording process.
No producer needs to be a musical genius. You can leave that to the artists. Even so, all producers are required to have a deep understanding of music genres and what differentiates them from other styles. No exceptions. They have to know sounds, melodies, lyrics, and, most importantly, structures. A producer must understand what makes a strong hook or chorus, what is wrong with the rhythm, etc. They have to be avid consumers of current music and know everything that came before and why it sounds like this now. Nowadays, streaming platforms make that extremely easy. Understanding what happened in the past is essential for knowing where to draw from and what to avoid when creating records. A producer’s ear is their most important instrument.
A record producer doesn’t need to know how to make a beat or even operate a DAW. Of course, professionals know all these things, but a producer needs to know who makes awesome beats and how to reach them. Then, they have to talk the beatmaker into collaborating. Sometimes that means buying the beat’s rights; other times, it means giving the beatmaker production credits. The producer is the mastermind connecting all the dots that make a musical recording possible.
Additionally, most producers nowadays have a team around them that helps put a project together. Some producers have a go-to mix engineer they trust will consistently deliver consistent results. Others will always work with the same recording engineer because they like how they capture sound. But not only that, a producer needs a gofer to run around town and rent a piece of equipment that’s missing. Having and managing a team you can trust will solve all incoming problems the record-making process brings is essential for a producer.
How to Make Money as a Beginning Producer?
A beginning producer can make money from mixing or mastering other people’s work, writing music for lyrics, etc. Some artists need ghost producers for their tracks, and unknown producers can start that way. You can find some gigs on websites like UpWork or SoundBetter, and it all depends on the skills you’re pursuing.
The easiest way to start making money as a producer is by creating a consistent portfolio focused on the job you’re looking for. Later, you’ll use it to pitch your services to other producers. The key here is really focusing on your best skills rather than trying at everything. Additionally, you need to aim your pitch at the right people in need of that service. That means if you’re offering mixing services, look for producers who can’t mix as well as you.
A Few Friend’s Recommendations:
If you’re considering a career in music production, there is essential knowledge out there that needs to be shared. Here’s a shortlist of recommended content you can look up to learn more about the role of the music producer:
- Netflix Show
Song Exploder: This series started originally as a podcast but found its way to Netflix. It’s a great show if you want to know more about the process of conceiving and producing music. Attentive ears will hear how a song progresses from its rawest form into a huge hit.
Broken Record: This podcast brings in musicians and producers to talk about their careers and the music producer’s profession as a whole. Some episodes are hosted by Rick Rubin, especially when the invitee is another producer.
- YouTube Channels
If you’re like most of the world’s population and you spend a lot of time on YouTube, why not use it to learn a bit? Some great channels can teach you significant stuff about recording, mixing, and producing. Additionally, you also get to see and hear the pros in action.
Produce Like a Pro: Created by Warren Huart, this channel aims at giving you all the knowledge you need to start in the profession. Warren also interviews famous producers in what is genuinely an online masterclass channel from mixing to recording techniques.
Pensado’s Place: This classic show hosted by legendary producer Dave Pensado has lots of must-watch episodes. Dave and his invitees discuss mixing techniques, recording tips, and the overall producer life.
All You Need to Know About the Music Business: This book is a must-read for anyone entering the industry. Donald Passman is a long-time music business lawyer that breaks down all the industry’s games in a way you can easily understand. The book is aimed at artists, producers, and all other people in the music industry.
Quincy Jones: One of the greatest producers alive tells his life and career in this Netflix documentary. The film gives a glimpse of the genius behind years of music history, including the greatest selling album of all time.
Working as a music producer is not for the faint of heart. Additionally, it takes years to finally say you’re a professional and start making any real money. Meanwhile, it’s a passion-driven job, and if you have that, all you need is focus and determination.
If you are a musician considering producing as a less demanding job, forget it. It’s as hard as any other job out there. But still, if you make outstanding records, finding your way into the music business shouldn’t be a problem. Since the music business is all about connections, you must be fearless and be where the right people are. Only then will you be able to get better and better gigs. Who knows, eventually, you’ll be the hottest DJ on Earth or producing a platinum-selling album for the world’s greatest star.
Pedro Nascente is an artist, record producer, and mix engineer, currently operating his own studio and working with his band, Yellow Boulevard. Believing that music should convey experiences and feelings, Pedro is known for applying design thinking to his workflow to achieve different sounds and deliver the right messages.