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How Can I Become a Music Producer?
If you want to be a music producer, it starts with considering what the job fully entails.The role of music producer can be one of the most exciting and creative jobs within the music industry, but it can also be one of the most hectic. As a producer, you’ll need to be willing to work long hours, wear a variety of “hats,” and know a thing or two about how to work with different types of people, both on the business and the artistic sides of the aisle. A good music producer understands music on two different levels: the creative/artistic and the commercial. Regarding the artistry, you need to understand some things about the nature of music, and you need to know what makes music “good.” Playing an instrument is not a requirement, but a thorough understanding of music definitely is—which is why many producers are themselves musicians. Regarding the commercial aspect, depending on the goals of your artist and the label who might have hired you, you’ll need a good understanding of musical trends—what has sold in the past, what is expected to sell in the future, etc. You’ll also be handling the budget for a record, and you’ll need to know how to put those dollars to good use. In many ways, a music producer becomes a jack-of-all-trades in the music industry, working with both creative and business aspects of the recording process. That being said, the first step to being a successful music producer is to be yourself. Or, more appropriately, be original.
There’s No One Like YouIn the beginning, it’s unavoidable to follow in the footsteps of the producers you admire, creating similar (or just copying) their beats to understand how they are created. Just be sure not to spend too much time mimicking your favorites. You may find you’re losing your own vibe – and isn’t that reason you want to do this in the first place? So be yourself. It’s fine to be inspired by those you hold in high esteem. However, to get to their level, you’ll need to set yourself apart. Your career won’t get very far if there isn’t more of you and less of them.
Pick Up a BookWe know you’re here to make music, not do a bunch of reading. But understanding music theory is a key component of being a successful producer. This will allow you to compose the music, relate to engineers, and communicate with the artists. What is composition? Why are keys important? How do rhythm and harmony work together? If you already have a background with music, you’ll be ahead of the game when it comes to learning music theory. And once you know music theory, you’ll set yourself apart from many producers as well.
Don’t Be A SnobBeing an individual is important, but you can’t concentrate on an individual genre. One of the most heralded producers of our lifetime is Rick Rubin. He won Grammy awards with country, rock, pop, and blues artists and was a key player in the rise of hip hop. Would the Beastie Boys be as big if he stayed in the punk scene? To be successful, you need to be available. You may have grown up on hip hop, but having the ability to work with rock, pop, and even country artists will only grow your name in the industry. Think of the crossover hits that achieved massive airplay, starting with the Aerosmith-Run DMC hit “Walk This Way.” Not only did that song make Aerosmith mainstream again, but it was also one of the first hip hop songs to be heard on urban as well as suburban stereos. And you know who was behind that decision, right? Rubin’s openness and inability to make rash judgments has a lot to do with his success. Definitely, do the same if you want to be ahead of the game.
Make Friends, Not EnemiesAlong with being open-minded to all varieties of music, you must be open to many different relationships. Networking is a key part of any industry, and music is no different. Meeting as many different industry folks as you can, as early as you can, can pay dividends down the road. Just make sure you don’t burn any bridges along the way. It’s true, there will be times you just can’t work with someone – or they can’t work with you. But that can’t be a weekly occurrence. Being able to work in different genres means being able to work with different personalities. You’re here to make them sound as good as possible. Do that enough and you’ll be able to pick and choose who you work with in the future. At the start, you’ll need to check your ego at the studio door.
The Other Side of Being a ProducerBeyond the creative side of being a producer, there are times you’ll have to grab the business suit out of the closet. Not literally of course, but there is more to the industry than just making music:
- Working with label executives. If you’re hired by a label to work with an artist, you won’t just answer to the artist—you’ll also answer to the label executives who expect you to develop the artist and release a record that will turn a profit. This is where the business and commercial know-how comes into play. You’ll sometimes have to conduct a balancing act between the conflicting visions of the artists and the label.
- Working with money. You’ll be the person who hires the studio and musicians, appropriates money for recording, mixing, mastering and printing, etc. You’ll need to have an understanding of how to do this wisely.
- Marketing skills. Many times, producers also take on certain marketing roles similar to that of a manager or promoter. You’ll need some basic understanding of how to sell the record once it’s made, how to get it distributed, etc. You might not just be selling the record, but the artist, as well.