Want to know how to become a music producer? Did you ever dream about turning your hobby into a dream career? Becoming a professional musician or music producer must at the top of the most popular creative career options amongst young people. But there are no shortcuts into becoming a pro: becoming a fairly competent music producer typically takes years of learning and practise.
Our article aims to explain the career path of how to become a music producer in a simplified and in a more of an academic way. This essentially means, that although crafting your skills in bedroom studio and becoming successful without going to school is at least theoretically possible (ask Kanye West), our approach is to show the options to go after your dream job following the more academic path. So, what exactly are music producers and how to become one?
Music producers or record producers are the people who write, arrange, produce and record songs, who do the work for other artists or for their own projects.
In fact, the term music producer has changed a lot from the early days of recorded music, when they were considered project managers and alike. In today’s world music producers are sometimes also carrying titles such as writer, sound engineer, arranger, composer, musician or a studio owner, and as producers they will accomplish various music production tasks in the studio such as writing, arranging, tracking, mixing, mastering and even marketing related tasks. This big change is closely related to the changes in the music industry in general - music related technology has become significantly cheaper, more accessible and at the same time music has become more easily distributable through internet. Basically anyone can set up a studio in their bedroom (ever heard the term bedroom producer?), produce high quality music, and publish the music digitally all on their own.
In a more professional context, there are basically two types of music producers: in-house producers, that come included in the studio rental fee and who would get credited in song copyrights for their involvement in the process. Studios might use these well-established producers as a way to get more people to use their services. The second producer type is an independent producer, who has gained a desirable reputation in the industry and would be directly hired by a band or artist.
In general, music producers have to be comfortable working with both technical and creative aspects of music production, which requires them to be multi-talented and typically work on multiple projects at the same time, which requires them to be extremely flexible as well.
The final product that comes out from the production process is of course music. But how do we get there? The typical music production consists of various individual parts that shape the final outcome all the way from idea into music, that is ready to be shown to the world. Here is one example of the process:
A typical music producer is a freelancer, who many times has a background as musician. In a nutshell: you must love to listen to music and enjoy focusing on the listening experience. Every single day. This is something you simply cannot learn in school - it has to come from the heart.
Creating the best possible outcome from the available elements is what music production is essentially all about, which means that creativity is one of the most valued features of a music producer. The creative ability is key, when writing out a complete song from a simple demo and when crafting various versions of it. Music producer would also many times fill the seat of a composer, arranger or musician and mentoring artists with the creative process - all of which require a great deal of creativity. Although recording, mixing and mastering are considered to be mostly technical tasks, this technical side of music production needs a creative mind, too. There are no limits to what the machines can do, but it requires a lot of creativity to make them sing your song perfectly.
Playing any instrument is an advantage especially when working with musicians and alike. Ability to read sheet music or having a basic knowledge of music theory is also a plus, but even just a basic level playing skill makes music producer a much better team player with artists.
Music producer also needs to be a little bit of a gear head. An interest towards music technology and ability to work with studio hardware and software is essential. Let’s face it: most of the new music out there is produced mostly in-the-box and it will really help you, if you’re happy working with computers and software driven hardware solutions. An ability to solve hardware and software related problems in a tight schedule is important, especially when working in a recording facility.
The above mentioned are just the bare minimum. You also need to have great people skills, be able to budget, plan rehearsals, negotiate studio rates, and various other unmentioned skills that come with the role of producer.
Who do music producers work with?
Although sitting in a studio can sometimes be a very lonely business, there are still a lot of people music producers need around them, such as recording artists, recording engineers, session singers, session musicians, and many others.
All of the actual work can happen in a traditional studio setting or nowadays more increasingly online through various services, such as Splice and Vocalizr, or through live-session services, like Steinberg’s VST Connect Pro. Musicians and producers can now also collaborate on the same project inside Ableton Live using Ableton Link technology, when connected to same local network.
There is no single right answer on how to become a music producer: some study endless hours on their own, others end up working in a recording studio and find themselves gradually hired to more responsible project roles, and then there are the ones who pursue their dream through academic route. In today’s world where information is available to anyone, one could even learn the craft of music production just by watching online tutorials from various free or paid services. But without a doubt, becoming a music producer requires a lot more dedication than many other careers. In the end, only selected few will become successful in their career and endless numbers will end up battling their way working other careers just to keep the dream alive, others simply quit or find their talent elsewhere. Ask any of these legendary producers and they will tell you, that learning the craft and making your way in will typically takes many years.
There are many famous producers and musicians out there, who failed to pass a degree or even college. Just take a look at Shawn Carter (Jay-Z, never attended college), Trent Reznor (NiN, college dropout) or Quincy Jones (attended Berklee College of Music but never graduated), for example. This simply shows that although the academic route is possible, it’s not always the right path for everyone.
This said, choosing a school that focuses broadly to various sound related subjects, such as media and communication, sound for picture, live sound, sound engineering, etc. will give great insight into working with sound and within the industry. One unspoken advantage of going to school is to get to be part of a tightly-knit group of people, who share the same passion, goals and dreams as you. Often the direction of a career is found during the years of studying, and the value of gained confidence in the field should not be underestimated.
There are also some good options if you’re serious about learning the craft but need to be flexible with time and location. Take a look at Berklee Online, which offers both undergraduate and graduate degree programs, or Point Blank Music School, where you can complete an internationally valid BA degree in Music Production & Sound Engineering - completely online.
Learning about music production doesn’t always have to aim for a degree. Dubspot for example focuses on electronic music production and DJ:ing, whereas class or course based learning platforms such as Udemy or Creativelive offer more specific courses that range from software tools, creative processes and digital audio environments to recording techniques, individual plugins and giving insight working in various roles within the industry.
There is really only one aspect of music production that you cannot get from school: experience, which can only be gained through countless hours of working with actual projects.
Production or engineering jobs are not the easiest to find, but the experience of working in a recording studio is a great way to improve your skills and gain confidence as a music producer.
Get a job in a studio that focuses on producing the music that you’d love to produce. The reasoning behind this is simple: you will meet people who already do your dream job and the clients, who could potentially be your future customers.
It is also one of the few places where you can learn directly from the professionals. Sit and watch as the professional producers work on their mixes, take notes. Ask questions after the session in the coffee room. You’ll learn an absolutely crazy amount of valuable information about their workflow, production tricks and how they manage their projects. This is also the best place to learn how engineers, composers, arrangers, studio musicians, programmers and performers work. There will be success stories and absolute failures. You need to be constantly awake, show interest and be around to help even in the late hours, but it will be absolutely worth it.
When you’re proven your worth, you might get an opportunity to help out with the sessions and get hands-on experience doing the actual work. Any studio owner will appreciate a capable pair of hands to help out and clients will notice you too. This makes it easy to connect with the people and connects you with the community, who loves exactly the same style of music you love.
Any kind of music needs a platform for sharing it to the public. Some music producers create multiple versions of their music and target it to be sold as library music (or production music) for various different needs, such as movies, advertisements, podcasts and live streams. This is essentially music licensing on a digital platform.
Then there is the traditional work of record labels, who distribute the finalized body of work to various digital music stores, such as Beatport or Apple Music and digital streaming services, like Spotify or Tidal.
Because of the digital nature of all of the above mentioned, it’s not uncommon for the music producer to nowadays have their own record label in order to manage the whole creative product lifecycle from start to finish.
It’s quite easy to see from all of the variables described above, that there is perhaps no single right route of how to become a music producer.
As the music industry continues to evolve and restructure itself in the digital world, the role of producer is continuously expanding, changing its form, and it’s becoming more difficult to clearly describe, what the job of a music producer actually consists of. But one thing is certain: music production is still a valued creative job that combines creativity and technical ability in a unique way, and requires a certain spark within an individual to pursue music production as a career. Weather a producer is fascinated about bringing their craft to be heard in movies, concerts, albums and playlists or in art events, one can be almost certain that it requires a certain level of skill and insight into the art of music production - and a big heart, that is pounding for music.
But don’t take it from me. Let the likes of Marc Kinchen (MK) or Clyde Sergio Narain (DJ Chuckie) tell you their opinion on what it takes to be a music producer.
Let us hear your tips on how to become a music producer in the comments below!