You might think a Music Producer’s job is similar to a film producer’s, but actually, they’re more like a film director! The work requires a mixture of creative and technical skills, to help artists realize the full potential of their song ideas. Some are more directly involved in the actual creation of each song, while others guide the vision for an album as a whole. Many Music Producers are, in fact, talented musicians in their own right.
They not only work with artists but also with audio engineers and session players in the studio, as tracks are being recorded. Ultimately, a Music Producer bears enormous responsibility for the quality of a finished album, which is why top record labels and musicians try to collaborate with the best producers in the business—like Dr. Dre, Quincy Jones, Pharrell Williams, Chad Hugo, Rick Rubin, and the late Sir George Martin!
- Having direct creative and technical involvement with song and album creation
- Helping to boost an album’s production value
- Contributing to the commercial success of new and established artists and bands
- Potential to earn a very lucrative income, if you can produce hit songs or earn recurring royalties
- Music Producers may work full- or part-time jobs, depending on their position. Some work in a freelance contract capacity (getting paid per project or per hour) while others are employed by media companies where they get to work on multiple projects. Some producers get paid “per beat” they produce, and many receive royalty payments. Most work in or around entertainment hub cities like Los Angeles and New York City.
- Listen to demo tapes and assess the potential of each song
- Collaborate closely with artists to select the best ideas and demos to record and include on an album
- Offer input into each song’s arrangement (for example, which instruments to incorporate or how long a certain part should be)
- Suggest ideas for changing a song’s sound, such as altering the key, increasing the tempo, adding more bass, or crafting a catchier hook
- Sample other songs and create original beats (mostly for hip-hop/rap genres)
- Maintain a roster of talented session musicians that can come in to play various parts during the recording sessions, if full-time band members cannot
- Review anticipated costs with the applicable record label or other financiers of a recording session. Costs include studio time and pay for engineers (and producers!)
- Agree upon a budget and rights ownership of the master recording, prior to beginning. Secure or confirm funding
- Discuss recording studio options with the artists and record label/financier, based on budgets, geographic preferences, and unique studio attributes
- Organize the recording schedule with all applicable musicians, based on their availability and that of the studio’s
- Ensure the studio rental fee is paid, as well as any additional services such as mixing and mastering (unless the label has its own studio)
- Bring in the artists to start recording the tracks over a pre-arranged number of days (or weeks!)
- Oversee the recordings’ mix and master processes. Make final decisions on which songs will be included and in which order
- Keep up to date on current music, artists, and trends
- Study a broad range of music genres
- Build strong relationships with artists, record labels, and other musical intellectual property holders
- Mentor new artists and help develop their careers
- Ensure all rights and royalties are properly secured. Some Music Producers receive co-writing credits and ownership, which can amount to a lifetime of future royalty payments for hit songs
- Attention to detail
- Leadership skills
- Highly organized
- Passion for music
- Strong communication skills
- Time management
- Cultural awareness
- Familiarity with music licensing, rights, and royalties
- Good “ear” for music
- Solid grasp of music production equipment and audio engineerings, such as Digital Audio Workstations (DAW), Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI) technology, audio interfaces, studio recording microphones, and studio headphones,
- Understanding of copyright infringement laws
- Very broad knowledge of many music genres, artists, music theory, and history
- Film, television, and video game studios
- Record labels and studios
Music Producers have varying degrees of input and influence on the songs and albums they produce. Some are heavily involved, helping develop new artists, co-writing songs, rearranging them, overhauling an album’s overall vibe or theme, or laying down catchy beat tracks that artists can sing over. In the case of long-time Beatles producer George Martin, Sir Paul McCartney stated, “If anyone earned the title of the fifth Beatle, it was [George Martin].”
Whether an album takes off like a rocket or sinks like a stone, often the producer bears a share of the responsibility. For those who consistently produce hit albums, their earnings potential may skyrocket. Those who work on albums that fail commercially may struggle to overcome a negative reputation, even if there wasn’t much they could do to save a bad record (or an unprofessional band). In some cases, artists and their producers have public feuds that can damage one’s career!
For years, alarmists have shouted that the concept of a full “album” of recorded music is dead. Album sales trends over the years seem to support that conclusion. Streaming has revolutionized how music is bought and listened to, with many consumers simply subscribing to services like Spotify or buying individual songs (aka singles).
Meanwhile, technology is always advancing, and because music production involves high-tech studio hardware and software, Music Producers need to keep up with the changes. Artificial Intelligence has infiltrated the industry via AI-assisted songwriting as well as automated music soundtrack creation tools like OpenAI’s MuseNet and Jukebox.
AI-based mixing and mastering is also saving producers and engineers time (or cutting into their jobs, depending on how you look at it). Some predict that as music-generating AI becomes more user-friendly, music creation will be more gamified, allowing listeners to compose their own songs and essentially become producers, too!
Music Producers usually grow up as avid music fans who enjoy reading or watching documentaries about their favorite artists and bands. They are often musicians themselves and learn how to compose songs and find ways to make them better. Many hone their people skills at an early age, perhaps through activities at school or from being part of a large family. They’re creative but also technical-minded, and could have enjoyed tinkering with audio-related hardware and software as part of an AV club.
- There is no specific educational route to becoming a Music Producer, but Zippia notes that ~59% of workers in this field hold a bachelor’s degree
- The most common majors are music (or music production), business, and communications
- Music courses may include audio workstations, music arrangement, and recording principles
- Music Producers also need to learn about intellectual property, licensing rights, royalties, and music trends
- An internship with a Music Producer is a great way to gain practical real-world experience, regardless of whether you complete a college degree or not
- Check out Intelligent’s 10 Best Online Music Production Courses of 2023 for a list of ad hoc classes from Coursera, Skillshare, MasterClass, and Udemy
- Some schools offer certificates such as Berklee Online’s 9-course Electronic Music Production and Sound Design cert or the 5-course Advanced Music Production cert
- If you decide to pursue a bachelor’s or master’s to help you land a job as a Music Producer, look for music or music business programs that feature courses related to the career field.
- Check out the program’s alumni to see how many made it into the music production business!
- Always compare the costs of tuition and other fees, and review your options for scholarships and financial aid. Some schools, like Berklee College of Music or NYU Steinhardt, can be very expensive and competitive!
- Read about the career field and how people get started. Check out the MasterClass article How to Become a Music Producer
- Sign up for the MasterClass on producing and beat-making by Grammy-winning music producer Timbaland, who has created “iconic tracks with artists like Jay-Z, Missy Elliott, Justin Timberlake, Beyoncé, and Aaliyah”
- Listen to a wide range of music. Sign up for accounts on streaming music services and tune in to different stations so you can gain exposure to new artists and songs
- Pay attention to the elements that make the song catchy. Take notes and study trends
- Learn how to play an instrument and join a band to get practical experience
- Train your aural skills so you can develop an “ear” for music
- Take music classes in high school to learn about theory, composition, and arrangement
- Boost your professional skills by taking classes or enrolling in a music production degree program
- Volunteer or apply to part-time jobs or freelance gigs where you can practice your skills in a recording studio, such as with small-budget independent band projects
- Save up to invest in some home studio software and equipment (including a laptop that’s capable of quality music production)
- Apply to internships with music labels and start working on building your professional network
- Get some freelance practice through sites like Upwork, where clients can hire you to work on projects remotely
- Participate in online discussion forums and groups. Ask questions and read through technical answers. Look up terms you don’t understand
- Watch YouTube videos and read articles featuring interviews with Music Producers and tips about the profession. Read the biographies of popular modern producers like Dr. Dre to see how they got into the business
- There isn't a straightforward path to becoming a Music Producer. Many are self-employed or work on a project basis
- It’s critical to have strong industry connections to find work. Many jobs in this field aren’t advertised; they are gotten through word-of-mouth!
- Many start out as musicians and get to know fellow artists, bands, sound engineers, agents, A&R reps, and other producers. Some start by making recordings with a home studio and laptop or they get involved with film and video music production
- Exploit the power of the Internet! Having a website with a portfolio of your applicable work can help you get some visibility, but you’ll also need to showcase your work on social media platforms (as long as it doesn’t breach copyright policies)
- You may need to break into the industry as an assistant at a recording studio or some entry-level role at a record label
- Having a relevant music degree or certificate can boost your odds of getting interviewed
- Move to cities where there are more recording studios and record labels, like LA, NYC, Nashville, Chicago, Miami, and Atlanta
- Review job postings on Indeed, ZipRecruiter, and industry job boards like Music Business Worldwide, Music Industry Careers, Synchtank, and MusicCareers
- Upload your resume on these sites, when possible, so recruiters can find you even when you’re not actively looking
- Create an outstanding profile on LinkedIn and advertise yourself as Open for Business
- If taking college classes, ask your program faculty if they have tips or connections that could help you
- Contact clients or teachers who would be willing to serve as personal references or write reviews about your work
- Attend music events, try to score VIP passes, and get yourself in front of industry insiders!
- The music industry is a somewhat tight-knit community so it’s important to always invest time and energy to grow your network and influence
- Develop a reputation as a person that’s motivated, passionate, knowledgeable, creative, and easy to work with. Display a genuine interest in helping artists reach their fullest potential
- Music Producers can increase their earnings by producing hit records and helping artists grow their careers. Those who are full-time employees may eventually want to launch their own companies and be their own bosses. On the other hand, those who are self-employed in a freelance/contract capacity might apply for full-time jobs that offer more regular pay and job security!
- Join professional organizations such as the Association of Music Producers. Participate in music-industry events and get to know the movers and shakers in the business
- Collaborate well with artists, session players, sound engineers, record label and A&R reps, managers, and talent agencies
- American Federation of Musicians
- American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers
- Association of Independent Music Publishers
- Association of Music Producers
- Audio Engineering Society
- Berklee College of Music
- Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI)
- Help Musicians
- International Society for the Performing Arts
- Music Business Association
- National Association for Music Education
- National Association of Music Merchants
- National Association of Record Industry Professionals
- Recording Industry Association of America
- The Recording Academy
- Hip-Hop Production: Inside the Beats, by Prince Charles Alexander |
- Music Habits - The Mental Game of Electronic Music Production: Finish Songs Fast, Beat Procrastination and Find Your Creative Flow, by Jason Timothy
- Music Production (2020 edition): The Advanced Guide On How to Produce for Music Producers, by Tommy Swindali
- Step By Step Mixing: How to Create Great Mixes Using Only 5 Plug-ins, by Bjorgvin Benediktsson and James Wasem
- The Process For Electronic Music Production, by Jason Timothy
It’s hard to break into a career as a Music Producer, and many toils for years before being able to make a living in this line of work. The rewards can be high for those who make it, but if you’re interested in exploring some alternative career choices, consider the following related occupations!
- A&R Representative
- Audio-Visual Specialists
- Film Producer
- Music Director and Composer
- Music Video Director
- Sound Engineer
- Studio Manager
- Talent Director
- Video Editor