If you’re thinking about becoming a music producer, you will already know that it is more than just a job or career. Your life will already revolve around music and you’ll love it with a passion (we hope!) - and that’s even before you’ve dived into the depths of the music production ocean of endless exploration!
We’re going to give you an insight on how to become a music producer but first, let’s start with the music producer job description… Something that always causes a debate in our classrooms!
The music producers job, at its fundamental stance, is the one that oversees the whole production process.
I’m going to list a few questions and they all have the same answer.
- Do we need a studio & has it been booked?
- Do we need an audio/studio engineer to come in to record the session?
- Do we need to audition multiple artists to see who fits best on the track?
- What’s the deadline for the track to be finished?
- Who’s controlling the projects budget (if any)?
The answer: Talk to the music producer. They will have the answers.
You get the picture now right? The music producer is involved in almost every aspect of the production process, from the very first idea all the way to the finished product and it is their responsibility to make sure that the initial idea is brought to life.
This is the question that causes the debate. YES. There is a difference BUT you can be both at the same time. Let us explain.
A typical beat maker will simply make the beat (backing track/instrumental). They will send an artist the beat and then the artist will do whatever they want over it without any further input from the beat maker. The artist may also request a ‘type beat’ for the beat maker to make and work that way too. For us, this does not qualify as a music producer because you are not overseeing the whole process. We’re not saying there’s anything wrong with just becoming a beat maker - there are some seriously talented ones out there! - it’s just people get the 2 roles confused. Some people are happy to be directed on what needs to be made or purely be asked if they have a certain style of beat in their catalogue. That’s where a beat makers limits are and that is totally fine because they can do what they do best and can crack on with making more beats! - There is however, one exception when the beat maker is actually the music producer and that is when they are solely creating an instrumental track or project that doesn’t require any direction from anyone else.
Becoming a music producer is more than becoming a beat maker. The music producer will work closely with the artist (or label), some even go as far to direct (or even play) every single note on the track, some may also be the engineer and record the artist in their own studio and then go on to mix and master the track by themselves. If they aren’t doing any of that, they are the one’s that are making it happen. They will help arrange the tracks, arrange for extra composition (if they can’t do it themselves) and help everyone involved to perform at their best.
The difference between todays music producer and a music producer from 20 years ago is that todays music producer can do most of the things a music producer from 20 years ago would’ve needed to get 6 people in to do. Think about it this way. You would’ve needed a studio that costed large amounts to hire in order to record your musicians in a fancy live room. That studio would’ve had an engineer, someone cutting/monitoring tape, a tea runner etc.. With the advancement of technology, music creation and recording has become so accessible that todays music producer can technically do it all in a project studio (owned by the music producer). You literally have the sound of an orchestra or live drummer triggered from your MIDI keyboard.
If you can offer all of those things to a high standard, you are a self sufficient music producer ready to take on the world BUT becoming a good music producer is knowing when you have to outsource for the overall benefit of the project. That is really important.
The music producer will have a network of great musicians, engineers, beat makers, recording studios, mix engineers, mastering engineers and anyone in-between to be able to call on to bring the vision to life.
This all might sound quite overwhelming now that you have got to grips with what a music producer does but everyone has to start somewhere and it doesn’t happen over night so in our next posts, we are going to go through some very important attributes that make a good music producer and how to take your first steps on actually becoming one.
Music producers can work anywhere these days and a lot of work can be done via a laptop. Some music producers carry out many different roles and the change of technology has assisted that lifestyle. Some producers may be performers or DJs so being able to work wherever they are is vital. Having a computer with a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) and an internet connection opens up the world of opportunity to make music on the go and allows constant (and in most cases, instant) connection with the people you need via online platforms and traditional phone calls. A music producer can manage the whole project in the room with people or they can direct people on certain aspects of the music and what they need via email instructions and voice note examples.
The dream of every music producer is to have their very own space that they can call a studio but everyone has to start somewhere and build themselves up, collating equipment and skills gradually over many years of practice and exploration.
A co-production is essentially a music producer collaborating with someone else on the major decisions of the direction of a track or project. A lot of the time, the actual artist will co-produce their own music as they have the vision but they need the overall ear of another producer in order to get the best out of the ideas.
Co-production can also be a learning process for music producers as they can collaborate with other producers who are more experienced or better than them at a certain skill. The learning producer will still be able to contribute ideas and share the overall vision for where the track or project is heading but they understand that they are working alongside someone who will show them how to get to the end goal in a quicker or better way. It’s also good to mention that co-production can be a mutual trade off in the fact that one music producer may be better at some parts of the production process but the other music producer is better at something else so they combine forces for the overall benefit of the project.
Co-production is quite a broad subject and can be interpreted in many ways but the fact still stands that the music producer is responsible for the delivery of the overall project, regardless of who else is involved.
When the initial idea is taken as far as you can take it on your own but you feel that it is still not a finished product, that is when you need a music producer. A music producer will lend a helping hand in bringing that vision to life as they have the necessary skills, experience, expertise and network in order to make that happen. They will also have the ear. Let’s not forget about the ear. They should be able to interpret your idea and know how to recreate that into a form that others can hear.
An example of this may be that you are a singer/songwriter and have a killer idea for a song. You have your lyrics, melody and guitar parts recorded in your DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) and a basic drum loop to help give it some groove but that’s where the limit of your capabilities kick in. You know it’s got potential and you know it isn’t finished but you have no idea how to progress any further. This is where you would approach a music producer to help you. They will listen to your ideas and suggest any changes (if any) to the fundamentals of the track, whether that being the lyrics or melody change or even a whole restructure of the arrangement. They could even point out a key part of the idea that you have overlooked, for example, you might have a really catchy hook line in the verse that could be taken out and used as the pre chorus instead or the guitar riff you had in the intro could be a major element in the drop - This is where the music producer can really use their ear to bring your ideas to life.
1) Are more instruments needed?
2) Do the drums have enough energy?
3) Is that even the right drum sound at all?
4) Are the vocals delivered properly?
This is just a few random example questions that the music producer will be asking you or themselves at this stage.
The next step is thinking about how the questions asked previously will be achieved and implemented. For example, responding to the questions above:
1) Yes. We need pianos, strings, bass, backing vocals etc. I can play the piano and can score a string part but we need to get a bass player in to give it some low end life.
2) No. The drums are just a static loop. We will need a to book a day in the studio with a live drummer who can give us some epic fills going into the chorus. On that note, I have a good relationship with a top engineer at a studio I use regularly. I know a great drummer and bassist who worked on a similar production of mine who would work perfectly too. I can sort out a session.
3) No. We need a live drum kit with a human touch.
4) No. We need to re-record the lead vocal in order to make sure that every phrase has the emotion required to connect with the audience. We will also record harmonies on certain sections to emphasise those messages.
The next step is actioning the answers to the questions and proving why using a music producer was the best thing to do.
There are so many music producers out there and it’s really opinion based on what ones are good and what ones aren’t. There are certain attributes and skills needed to be a music producer but it’s the results and experience that come with that person that makes them good.
If you’re on the lookout for a music producer, you should be looking at the track record of their previous work and whether any of them relate to the overall sound that you desire. You also want to find one that listens to and understands your ideas, someone that will dig deeper to get the result you are after. Music is meant to be enjoyed so making it should be just as, if not, more enjoyable. Working on your music should be a great experience and the music producer should be providing the atmosphere to thrive in so making sure you get along and feel comfortable with them is a good place to start.
In order to find a good music producer, you should be on the lookout for good music. When you come across good music, there will have been some form of music producer behind it. Music is being uploaded and sold on so many different platforms these days so find one that you feel comfortable with and start exploring. You should also go out to music networking events and get a feel for people before you decide you want to work with them. You’ll find the more serious music producers are out there building up their network alongside their production work as you never know who can add strength to your work moving forward.
The best opportunities aren’t advertised and generally come through your network and who knows, you might bump into a music producer who suits your needs.
A music producer can make or break your music so finding the right one to work with is an important decision. They are there to listen, support, guide and propel the process of making thoughts and ideas a reality.
If you want to become a music producer but don't know where to start, we run a Foundation Degree in Creative Music Production & Business in partnership with the University of Westminster which could set you on your path. We cover key aspects of producing music as well as an overview of the music business, including guest lectures from experts currently active in the music industry. Contact us using the information below to arrange an interview or further discussion.
Curious about how you can start making hit tracks that people love WITHOUT complicated training or a huge social media following? Click here to learn more! - The CM Sounds Team
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