Today we hear the word music producer and associate it with the likes of Calvin Harris and Skrillex who are producers in their own right. However, we are taking a look behind the scenes at those who work with some of the top artists in the world to create silver, gold and platinum albums brining artists one Grammy nomination after another.
We are of course talking about the Rick Rubin’s and Jimmy Iovine’s of the world who have blessed us time and time again with iconic works like Kanye’s “Yeezus,” Adele’s “21″ and Bruce Springsteen’s extensive album collection.
Working among the greatest living artists is a massive advantage point of the career, but it takes time, perseverance and a lot of hard work to get there.
Years of work scaling the ladder, long hours, training and up-skilling, not only musical skills like playing instruments but mixing, mastering and recording, along with extensive knowledge of music genres, artists and trends.
Simply speaking, a music producer requires three things: a love of music, an ear for music and a head for business. But, if it were that straightforward everyone would be doing it, right?
A producer is generally a jack of all trades within their field. They understand the entire production process and more importantly, where each participant lies in the process.
On the creative spectrum, producers compose, arrange and write songs. On an industrial level, they can engineer, edit and master along with a knowledge of financing, budgeting and legal matters.
These steps should act as a guideline for those wishing to begin their career as a music producer.
Unfortunately, one can’t wake up in the morning and decide to become a producer. It takes years of grafting and experience. The best place to begin is at the very least, is a basic music education. Becoming musically fluent at an early stage will benefit you in the long term.
While a college degree isn’t a prerequisite, it certainly is a good place to start. If college is not an option for you, there are various accredited courses available online, not to mention the billions of online videos and tutorials which offer basic music theory, recording and editing to name a few, along with detailed videos to use the various DAW’s, editing and mixing software.
Top Tip; History and music history is a hugely important factor of songwriting.
Reach out to a recording studio and look for an internship placement. Some of the greatest producers have started out doing the most simple tasks like coffee runs and cleaning up the studio, a lá the legendary Jimmy Iovine and Supah Mario who has produced works for the likes of Drake and Young Thug.
While starting at the bottom sounds boring i.e. making tea, building a working relationship with a studio this way they will see you progress in leaps and bounds. An internship is a great opportunity to learn about audio equipment, the role of sound engineers and to gain exposure to various music styles and artists. An internship is sure to offer invaluable hands-on experience with consoles, microphones and studio set-up and break-down.
Top Tip; Here is a good place to begin training your ear to what sounds good and what works for certain instruments and voices.
There is a limit as to how much can be learned from books and online; here is where a real producer finds their flair. Listen to everything! We’re talking old/new records, various styles and genres which may or may not interest you.
A good producer will have extensive knowledge of what makes a good song, down to beats, drum fills, mood and tension. Listening will train your ear to hear what is and isn’t working for a song. While we can hear in the charts what’s ‘trending’ i.e. Latino-pop a lá Camilla or Drake’s revolutionary rap, it’s about digging deeper beyond the surface and being aware of the impact every note has on the record. Why did that bridge work? How was the tension built and suspended? How was the mood shaped and developed? How was emotion conveyed? Why were the lyrics catchy?
Top producers are listening to thousands of tracks a month to keep up to date and learning about what step they can make to make the “next big hit.” Iovine for example didn’t just know how to produce rock, but eventually branched out to rap through listening and knowing what was up and coming.
Top Tip; Exhaust every avenue before coming to a final conclusion for a record
What’s the point in making a record if it won’t sell?
A producer must have an understanding of music value, both its creative and commercial value, that fulfils everyone’s interest i.e. artist, label, investors.
Creating something unique takes time, patience and money. Producers reach out to the studios, additional artists, engineers and anyone else they need on their team for the project. Commercially, a producer setting out on a new project will look at other genres and artists, what has sold in the market, trends in the current market and what will sell in the future. As regards finances a producer will run a tight ship, completing the project within the budget and time limit.
Top Tip; At this stage skill-building across the board is a good idea but if there is something you are particularly good at, focus on it and hone your craft. It’s about asking what skills you have and how you can bring them into use in the overall production process.
As with any position in the industry, networking and connecting with people at all stages is a necessity. Many producers begin to hustle at a young age. Networking and connecting with new contacts at every stage is an essential part of the game may need them along the line.
As you climb the ladder to becoming a music producer you will meet a lot of people along the way. Be sure to get to know them, their skills and talents, you may never know when they may come in useful as you make your way to the top.
Connect with people online and stay in touch with them and what they are working on.
Top Tip; Manners and etiquette count for a huge part of the progress you will make in your career.
- Nurture Talent
As a leader you will be implementing a vision, supervising and leading a creative team. A good producer will look beyond what the artist offers and will be able to draw from them and nurture what the artists themselves were not aware they could do.
Focus on the small things and allow time and attention to detail in order to really get the best sound you can.
Nurture your own talent, artists talent and get your business on track.
Top Tip; If you’re really eager to start small with friends or local bands looking for advice and help, as Rick Rubin started in his college dorm and discovered LL Cool J at the tender age of 16, if you discover someone at this level you could develop them and nurture them.
Whether you decide to join a record label or to go solo, it is important to be aware of your rights as a producer and how much you are entitled to financially. More often than not, young producers are taken advantage of due to their lack of experience, regardless of their talent!
Design a website, and use social media to scout and reach out to prospective clients. Work hard and build up a good reputation among clients and never be afraid to reach out to your contacts as this is a great way to implement a collaborative relationship.
Top Tip; As a beginner, keep your fees low to attract clients but don’t be afraid to raise the steaks as you build a reputation.
Hopefully, these tips will serve as a guideline for you to begin your career as a music producer. Never take shortcuts in order to speed up the process, remember Rome wasn’t built in a day!
So stay focused and be patient with the craft.
Don’t give up, work hard, know your rights and love what you do!