Becoming a successful music producer

Josh Monroy, producer/engineer and Recording Connection mentor

There is no concise definition of what a music producer does. Ask a dozen music producers what their role is in the creation of a song and you’ll get back a dozen answers. That being said, bare this in mind, nearly all music producers agree—beatmakers are not music producers.

The music producer has a unique position in the music industry. It’s the music producer who bridges the gap between the creativity of the artist and the realities of the business side of music all in the interest of good music getting made and brought to market. There’s no absolute single right or wrong way to do this but no matter how you pave your way, here are some skills you need to become a successful music producer:

Get Your Music Down.

A savvy music producer should know their genre backwards and forwards, know the trends, the old school stuff (that’s probably going to come back and some point) and it pays to know a fair bit about other related genres as well as their recording practices and techniques. You should know the basic song structure for the genre you’re producing as well as alternative structures you can add to a song to enliven it and grab the listeners’ ear drums. A solid music producer will also know a fair bit about “music theory” and the recording process. While it’s not essential that the music producer has the talent and skill to be a music artist themselves, they should know about keys, sharps, flats, beats, measures, etc. If you know your theory, when a session musician asks you “what key is the song in?” you’ll have an answer. And if you’ve got your recording skills down, when an audio engineer asks you if you want to stack the lead vocals or how you’re planning on tackling the mix. Furthermore, it’s the music producer who’s in charge of running the recording session. So, it only makes sense that in order to do that well, you need to have an understanding of the recording process so you can keep everyone focused and on-schedule and on budget for achieving the vision of the song or track you’re producing. How Recording Connection mentor, engineer/producer Josh Monroy got working with Ludacris!

Business acumen.

The music producer does not need a college degree in business but they need to at least have some refined street smarts. This includes knowing what things cost, how to put together—and stick to—a budget, how to negotiate and how to work with artistic temperaments. As the producer, you need to lock up the rights for a song the minute it is finished. Before then, you should be having discussions with all involved in the music project to make sure everyone knows what they will be getting that they agree to it in writing. If you wait until everyone has gone their separate ways, you’re just inviting trouble and are making a classic newbie mistake which really can cost you dearly. In other words, a good music producer must be a leader, capable of inspiring creation and collaboration and carrying that over right to the nuts and bolts of striking a deal. Knowing the standard songwriting and producing contracts and deal structures will you apart from the novices who may have some great producing chops but who lack the detailed smarts that go into getting solid deals and collaborations struck, settled, and ultimately getting that music released to the world.

Relationships.

Can you motivate people to get their best every time? Can you get those who come in disengaged, reengaged? Can you make people feel essential to the work at hand and genuinely glad to be there? When it comes to the magic of producing music, this is where the stars shine and the duds fall flat.
In music it really is all about relationships. The quality of your networking skills matters a lot! Your ability to connect well and inspire trust and creativity is what develops these relationships. Do you have roster of artists who trust you and your abilities? Do you have recording studios that you work well with and do you know which of these studios is best for particular music genre or particular artist you’re working with? Do you have distribution channels, music labels and music supervisors who call you to see if you’ve got anything new coming up, or are you always the one to initiate the calls to them?

The Other Esoteric Stuff.

The preceding three skills, are just that, skills. You can learn and develop them over time—and if you want to be successful you’ll need to. There are also a host of important traits that are part of your innate personality. These are harder to develop but can be just as fundamental to your success. You need to be passionate about music and respect those you work with within the often oh-so-personal process of creating music. You need to find your own lane—you want to develop your own style, signature, or approach. This all starts with analyzing why you like certain music but not others. You also need to be dedicated to achieving success—this often means long hours over extended periods of time. Are you willing to sacrifice what you want to do right now for what you have to do which may not pay off for months or years? Especially at the beginning of your career, you’ll need to be self-sufficient and stock up on meditating, investing, and believing in your purpose. You’ll also have to be willing to wear many hats, even engineer the sessions you produce on, even grab lunch and cater to the needs of your artists, and even clean the control room, the studio, and even the bathroom if need be. You want to be a pro? Having the attitude that no job is beneath you will take you farther than being too fly, or Mr. or Ms. Know It All.

Becoming a successful music producer requires a lot of talent, insight, knowledge, skills, magic and heaps of hard work and dedication. Heed the above advice and repeat again and again and you can build the music career you want to have and achieve a great deal of personal fulfillment too. If music really and truly is in your heart and soul, press on!

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